The purpose of this paper is to examine the phenomenon of the Muslim ghetto in areas of Western Europe from a strictly sociological perspective. It shall thus attempt to steer clear of whatever political polemics and partisan politics. As such, its findings – at all times tentative and merely based on the limited sources available to us – should not be seen as expressive of any particular ideology, be that of the so-called Left or Right. Whatever be our findings, these ought not to be seen as data justifying proclivities towards “hate speech”. Likewise, however, they ought not to be taken as arguments for “love speech”. It should perhaps not be at all necessary to point out that all forms of emotional attachment (or sentimental partisanship for or against Muslim communities) are absolutely alien to the discipline of sociology (or whatever happens to remain of such discipline, following the nihilism of the post-modern intellectual catastrophe).
Our paper shall commence with a rather tentative postulate (or set of postulates) – viz. that when (or if) a Muslim community in the Western world comes to crystallize into some form of ghetto, such social formation can yield a certain radical “politicization” of its residents. Such “politicization” can take on particular forms that are very specific to that community. It shall be our task here to analyze such possibility, and to either verify or falsify (or either way qualify) such position, and we can only do that on the basis of available empirical data.
Our research work shall be organized around a set number of themes, each of which shall remain open to further investigation and possible validation of findings. These themes are the following:
GENERAL THEME 1: The structure and practices of the Muslim ghetto as a “local” system (vis-à-vis the “global” system of any country’s particular social formation).
THEME 1a: The demographics of the “local” system.
THEME 1b: The social structure of the Muslim ghetto – a “closed” system.
THEME 1c: The sub-cultural order of the Muslim ghetto – the specifics of its sub-cultural worldview.
THEME 1d: The socio-cultural hubs of the Muslim ghetto – identifying these, as also delineating their structures and functions (such delineation remaining an open field for further research).
THEME 1e: The practices of the Muslim ghetto, with special reference to their “outward radiation” vis-à-vis the suburbs of various European countries.
THEME 1f: The Muslim ghetto versus White suburbs.
THEME 1g: The question of “White Flight”.
THEME 1h: The issue of the Muslim ghetto, the related issue of Muslim migrants, and socio-political reactions in various European countries.
GENERAL THEME 2: The Muslim ghetto, European Jihadists, and the “terror-crime nexus”.
THEME 2a: The “terror-crime nexus”: Jihadist terrorist networks vis-à-vis criminal networks – the structures and practices of a new milieu.
THEME 2b: The terrorist networks, the gang milieu – a survey of the engaged age-groups.
THEME 2c: The “terror-crime nexus”: from drug trafficking to migrant trafficking; from migrant trafficking to child trafficking (such practices remaining an open field for further sociological research – this field being either under-researched or abused by those involved in partisan politics).
THEME 2d: The “terror-crime nexus”: the role of certain NGO’s (again a field for further sociological research, and similarly under-researched or abused by those involved in partisan politics).
GENERAL THEME 3: Towards a sociological analysis of Muslim class structure, stratification, and other Muslim social categories in European social formations.
THEME 3a: The “informal” middle and upper-middle class.
THEME 3b: The lumpen social stratum; the central role of unemployment.
THEME 3c: The interaction of the different social strata, and implications.
THEME 3d: The Muslim civil élites.
THEME 3e: The Muslim religious élites.
THEME 3f: The Muslim “informal” religious élites.
THEME 3g: Muslim élites generally: internal relationships, and their relationships with the Muslim grassroots.
GENERAL THEME 4: A different methodological perspective: the “outsiders”-“insiders” interface.
THEME 4a: Jihadist networks: the interaction between the “outsiders” and the “insiders”.
THEME 4b: “Outsider”-“insider” social relationships, as embedded in the “Internal No-Go Zones” (I.N.-G.Z.’s).
THEME 4c: The role of university campuses.
THEME 4d: The role of the Internet.
THEME 4e: “Outsiders”, “insiders”, and global relations, with specific reference to the Muslim world.
GENERAL THEME 5: The Greek case.
A SET OF TENTATIVE POSTULATES
On the one hand, it would be absolutely simplistic to wish to reduce whichever Western-based Muslim community – even if that be the most down-and-out of ghettoes – to the world of Jihadist terrorist networks. Such an approach would deny the rich complexities of whatever community. On the other hand, we well know that Jihadist terrorist networks may be located within certain Muslim communities. Here, the question that arises is obvious: what happens to be the exact relationship between a terrorist network and the community within which it is located?
Defining such a relationship – to the extent that it actually exists – would allow us to raise yet another question: what could that possibly suggest as to the socio-political consciousness of that community?
Various analysts have attempted to answer such types of questions, and almost all have been doing so from highly partisan positions. Perhaps it would be safest for us to begin by bracketing the views of analysts belonging to groupings of the so-called Right (be these of the conventional or alternative variety), and rather focus on those aligned with some intellectual stream of the so-called Left (presumably the latter would be less prone to anti-Muslim sentiments). One such position coming from the Left, with respect to the relationship between terrorist networks and Muslim communities, has been put as follows:
“… the capital accumulation by terrorist networks will mean profit in aiding and assisting political projects – the politicization of neighbourhoods into anti-state feeling (as we see in the French banlieues)… Non-white neighbourhoods are obviously susceptible to this…” (cf. Tim Pendry, British Politics After Brexit, 4.1.2017).
Such a succinct position presents us with a tight ensemble of social factors, all of which are taken to constitute a de facto, cohesive reality – all at once, this position postulates the following important points:
a) Social entities defined as terrorist networks actually exist – that these are described as “networks” points to the socially entangled nature of such entities (they are not isolated units of solely private initiative).
b) These terrorist networks are located in neighbourhoods – this suggests that such networks do not exist in some sort of social vacuum.
c) The practices of these terrorist networks are in some manner entangled with criminal activities – such activities lead to a “capital accumulation” which yields “profit”.
d) Such “profit” is used to further specific “political projects”.
e) These “political projects” aim at the “politicization” of the community within which the terrorist networks are rooted.
f) “Politicization” in this case means an “anti-state feeling”.
g) The communities within which the terrorist networks are rooted are “obviously susceptible” to such anti-state political consciousness.
All at once, we are saying, this position clearly tables the argument that Jihadist terrorist networks are closely related to criminal activities, and that such activities yield capital which is used to fund a socially acceptable form of an ultra-radical politicization aimed against Western States. Generally, it points to what we may call the “politicized ghetto”. Now, this position constitutes a set of integrated postulates that cannot be assumed to be necessarily accurate (the fact that such position reflects the thinking of certain elements of the intellectual Left is in itself certainly not enough to render it infallible). The purpose of this research project is to show whether or not such postulates hold water on the basis of empirical data available. The specific interpretation of such data must itself remain tentative.
GENERAL THEME 1: The structure and practices of the Muslim ghetto as a “local” system.
THEME 1a: The demographics of the “local” system.
This section does not at all pretend to constitute a comprehensive or rigorous analysis of the demographics of whichever Muslim ghetto in Europe. We shall simply present here a number of facts and figures which may give us some rough idea of Muslim communities spread across parts of Western Europe, and which will pave the way for our analysis of the structures and practices of the Muslim ghetto as a fairly distinct “local” and “closed” system located within the “global” structure of a country’s social formation.
The National Post (11.10.2016) has suggested that countries such as France and Belgium have “ethnic enclaves” (we shall have to come back to this particular term) that are almost exclusively populated by Muslims. With respect to France, it states that the dwellers of such “enclaves” are largely Muslims from North Africa and former French West Africa. Of these, some are French citizens and some illegal residents.
According to the New York Post (22.3.2016), “Roughly 5 million Muslims, Europe’s biggest Islamic population, live in France, most of them in the housing projects surrounding Paris…” With reference to Muslim ghettoes in Belgium, it notes: “Roughly 500.000 Muslims are believed to live in Belgium, about 6 percent of the [country’s] population” (the figure is at times also said to come to 640.000 Muslims).
The same source (ibid.) refers to the well-known suburban neighbourhood of Gennevilliers. We know that this “commune” is located in the north-western suburbs of Paris, in the Hauts-de-Seine department of France, 9.1 kilometers from the center of Paris. The New York Post states that this ghetto area is “home” to 10.000 Muslims (we shall have to investigate below the extent to which this sprawling Muslim ghetto is also “home” to terrorist networks – for the moment, this need remain an open and highly problematic question). Mail Online (9.1.2015) refers to Gennevilliers as a characteristic example of “immigrant ghettoes where terror breeds”. It describes the area as a “Concrete warren divided into ‘boxes’…”, and further confirms that it houses a population of 10.000 Muslims. According to Mail Online, the Gennevilliers ghetto is composed of dwellers isolated in-themselves: one can walk its streets without seeing a solitary White Frenchman.
We know that France’s Gennevilliers ghetto is highly reminiscent of that of Belgium’s Sint-Jans-Molenbeek. The latter is one of the 19 municipalities in the Brussels-Capital Region. Located in the west of that region, it is bordered by the City of Brussels and by the municipalities of Anderlecht, Dilbeek, Jette, Koekelberg and Sint-Agatha-Berchem. It is said that, at least as of 2006, the ghetto areas of Molenbeek are populated by one main minority group, that of Moroccans. As such, these areas are characterized by a distinct lack of diversity in their foreign population. Such lack of diversity has meant that the dwellers of these areas constitute a self-consciously cohesive group of foreigners. They nurture a social unity based on their national and religious identity. As of January 2015, the official population of Molenbeek as a whole was said to total 95.576 mainly Muslim residents. As is often the case with ghetto areas, the exact number of dwellers therein remains unknown (for official data, cf., inter alia, Population.City/Belgium/molenbeek-saint-jean). More specifically, Molenbeek is said to be composed of two distinct geographical segments, a “lower” and a “higher” area. It is the former that consists mainly of migrant communities. Apart from the Moroccans, the area is also home to migrants of Turkish descent. Many members of these migrant communities are second and third generation migrants.
The town of Monfalcone, in the north Italian province of Gorizia, is said to be yet another case where one has a dense concentration of Muslim migrants. Exact figures regarding the presence of Muslims in this area are not available – on the other hand, it has been stated that Muslim migrants have completely taken over this particular town (cf., for instance, https://reelstube.com: “Muslim migrants have overrun the town of Monfalcone in Italy; it now looks like Pakistan”; “Islamabad in Italy (Monfalcone)”, etc.). Of course, such information must be taken with a pinch of salt. Yet still, facts point to a cultural and demographic transformation of Italy. Official statistics regarding the presence of Muslim migrants in Italy as a whole reveal that, while only 2.000 Muslims lived in that country in 1970, the figure had risen to nearly 2m by 2015. As of June 2016, reports were suggesting that Italy was hosting 4m migrants (cf., inter alia, Express, 31.10.2016).
Generally speaking, it is well known that it is Muslims who dominate numerically in most European migrant communities. A report published by the Council on Foreign Relations (July/August 2005), verified this fact – it stated:
“Today, Muslims constitute the majority of immigrants in most western European countries, including Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, and the largest single component of the immigration population in the United Kingdom…”
With respect to 2005, this Council’s report gave the following general statistics for Western Europe:
“… it is estimated that between 15 and 20 million Muslims now call Europe home and make up four to five percent of its total population…”
Ed Husain, who has undertaken research work in the field of Muslim presence in Europe, would confirm the above statistics and draw further conclusions with respect to the European continent as a whole (i.e. also covering countries outside the EU member-states). In a March 29, 2016 report, Husain would note:
“Approximately,… Europe is now home to twenty-two million Muslims – the European Union is, at least – and, writ large, Europe is home to 44 million Muslims” (cf. Ed Husain, Tony Blair Faith Foundation; The Quilliam [think tank] Foundation, 29.3.2016).
Finally, the US-based National Intelligence Council has predicted that Europe’s Muslim population will double by 2025, thus amounting to approximately 10% of the EU population. Such projected increase is put down to the continued immigration and the high Muslim fertility rates (cf., as well, the Council on Foreign Relations report, July/August 2005).
THEME 1b: The social structure of the Muslim ghetto – a “closed” system.
The Council on Foreign Relations (op. cit.) has observed that the phenomenon of the Muslim ghetto is scattered in very many areas of the European continent and the United Kingdom. Wishing to merely give examples of some such places, it speaks of what it describes as “hardscrabble suburbs”, and mentions ghettoes or perhaps quasi-ghettoes of Marseilles, Lyon and Paris. It further mentions former mill towns such as Bradford and Leicester.
Literature on the grassroots functioning of Muslim ghettoes in European countries abounds. One interesting example is the work of Scott H. Decker and Frank M. Weerman (eds.), European street gangs and troublesome youth groups, AltaMira Press, 2005. This work, simply mentioned here by way of an example, focuses on Moroccan youth gangs hanging out in various ghetto areas of Europe. One such gang, based in the Netherlands, is what is known as “The Windmill Square Group”. It is said that the members of this group – composed of Moroccan male youths – usually spend their time hanging out in certain places of their ghetto neighbourhood, located in Amsterdam-West. They are involved in regular criminal activity, such as street robberies and stick ups (below, we shall have to examine the tight but at the same time contradictory relationships that hold between such gangs and the rest of their ghetto community). It is of interest to note that the Dutch media regularly refers to such Moroccan youth groups as “jeugdbendes” (“gangs”).
Of course, the milieu of the Muslim ghetto – and the concomitant functioning of its gangs – is certainly not limited to the Netherlands. And neither is it limited to Europe and the United Kingdom. We may consider, for instance, the case of Lakemba, Australia’s unofficial “Muslim capital” (cf. The Australian, 13.4.2013 – some of the data presented here are based on this source). Lakemba is a suburb in south-western Sydney, in the state of Australia’s New South Wales. It is located 15 kilometers from that metropolis. As is well known, the area of Lakemba is referred to as a “Muslim capital” as it is a predominantly Arab and Muslim suburb. It is mainly populated by Lebanese migrants (100.000 strong). In recent times, Lakemba has also seen a large increase of migrants from, inter alia, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
It would of course be absolutely inaccurate to insinuate that the mere concentration of Arabs or Muslims in a particular geographical area renders such an area automatically a “ghetto”. And yet, there are specific zones within Lakemba which may definitely be considered to function as ghettoes. One such zone within Lakemba happens to be Gillies Lane, and the streets around it. According to The Australian, this zone is home to gang networks and has been the terrain of regular gang fights.
Gang violence is not limited to the area around Gillies Lane or to the fratricidal in-fighting between different gangs. Violence radiates outwards and can take the form of attacks against institutions of the local State. In 1998, for instance, there was an attack against the Lakemba Police Station.
Muslim youth within Lakemba is said to be teetering on the edge of “extremism” – many of its everyday social practices are said to unfold within the world of “the underground”. It has also been observed that a major social gulf has emerged between Muslim elders and their offspring (apart from The Australian, cf., also, “Why are young Australians being drawn to Islamic State?”, ABC NEWS, www.abc.net.au; the latter source also includes material from The International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence (ICSR), King’s College, London).
Various other sources concentrating on the Australian ghetto phenomenon go even further – they point to Bankstown as “Sydney’s Muslim Ghetto” par excellence. The suburb of Lakemba itself is located in the local government area of the Canterbury-Bankstown Council. Bankstown has been described as “a Middle Eastern ghetto” that is systematically being terrorized by members of gang-networks belonging to that community. Restauranteurs in Bankstown, amongst other residents, have to pay up to $50.000 a year in protection money or risk having their premises fire bombed. There is, therefore, a well-established “protection racket” operating in the area, and which is very much reminiscent of the type of “protection rackets” that had been operating in various Black townships of South Africa at least up until the 1950’s (cf., for instance, P.N. Tourikis, The Political Economy of Alexandra Township, 1905-1958, University of the Witwatersrand, Cambridge, Mass., 1981; cf. also, Wendy Z. Goldman, Joe William Trotter Jr., The ghetto in global history: 1500 to the present, Routledge, 2018). It has also been observed that there are familial networks in operation – usually extended family units – that are directly or indirectly involved in criminal activities. Such activities include trade in narcotics. It is also of much importance to note that Bankstown is riddled with fratricidal relations between Shia and Sunni Muslims – according to observers, “Shia and Sunni Muslims exchange invectives and blows in the streets [of Bankstown]” (cf. “Muslim Ghettos: Bankstown, Sydney’s Muslim ghetto”, muslimghettos.blogspot.com, 22.10.2013; also cf. http://world.time.com, 11.10.2013, which refers to Bankstown as a “sprawling migrant belt” and describes a situation where “disaffected Lebanese kids [are] caught in spiraling gang violence”; finally, cf. the 2007 report on the case of Australia’s Muslims by the Rand-National Security Research Division, https://www.rand.org/nsrd.html).
The USA, it is often suggested, has managed to avoid the specific problem of the Muslim ghetto. Observers usually refer to the small town of Dearborn, Michigan – where one certainly has a dense concentration of Arab Muslims – and which is nowhere near to what may be said to constitute a “ghetto”. According to The Huffpost (26.2.2017), Arabs make up approximately 44% of Dearborn residents, and – as its analysts insist – it would be unfair to dub the area “Little Baghdad” or “Dearbornistan” (as it has been stigmatized – cf. https://www.huffingtonpost.com). Such stigmatization would not even apply to that part of Dearborn, called Southend, the dwellers of which are about 97% Muslim (cf. Center for Immigration Studies, 1.8.2002 – https://cis.org). Keeping in mind the ideological polemics that have been characterizing most analyses around such issues, one nonetheless has no reason to assume – as already mentioned above – that the mere concentration of Muslims in a particular area would inevitably yield a “ghetto”. This would be a pedantic oversimplification ignoring the very specific material and ideological conditions that may overdetermine the emergence of a ghetto phenomenon. One may therefore surely accept that Dearborn cannot be reduced to a “Dearbornistan”, let alone the implications of such ideologically-ridden stigma.
On the other hand, one may also consider analyses that persistently refer to “The Resurrection of America’s Slums” (9.8.2015) – cf. The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com. For our purposes, one here needs to carefully consider the extent to which such “resurrection” of ghetto-areas in the USA is in fact related to whatever presence of the Muslim element. An area that one needs to mention in this instance is that of Hamtramck. This is a city of Michigan located north of Detroit and fairly near Dearborn itself. The city of Hamtramck has a distinct Muslim majority (51%), and its City Council is run by a Muslim majority as well. Many or most of its residents are of Yemeni, Bangladeshi and Bosnian origin. For reasons that seem rather obvious, Hamtramck has been categorized as a “ghetto city”. The dropout rate amongst its youth comes to 40%. Officially, it is one of the most dangerous areas in Michigan, with one of the highest crime rates – as also poverty rates – in that State (cf. The Washington Post, 21.11.2015 – https://www.washingtonpost.com; cf. also Frontpage Mag, https://www.frontpage.mag, which has stated that “Muslim Majority Hamtramck has one of the highest murder rates in America”, 25.1.2016).
The purpose of such facts – as briefly presented here and as always with a certain reservation – is meant to simply give us some rough idea of the extent to which the Western world as a whole has seen the emergence of the phenomenon of the “Muslim ghetto”. Such introductory notes are meant to pave the way for the consideration of a central question at this point in our paper: in what exact sense does such a social phenomenon as is the Muslim ghetto constitute a “closed” system?
It is true to say that there is a variety of methodological vantage points via which a sociologist may approach the phenomenon of the Muslim ghetto. The different vantage points may certainly yield different results in one’s findings. For us, the attempt to map the socio-economic and socio-cultural practices within the structures of the Muslim ghetto has led us to draw one central finding: the Muslim ghetto constitutes a “local” structure which is, in the last instance, essentially “disarticulated” from the “global” structure of a particular capitalist social formation, be it that of Britain, France, Belgium, and so on (the term “global” should here not be confused with whatever relates to “globalism”, as is currently used by all and sundry). We shall attempt to show that, as a social structure reproducing its “disarticulation” from the “global” structure of a society, the Muslim ghetto is essentially an “anti-State” phenomenon. Especially in terms of its socio-cultural practices – and thus also in terms of its own “holistic communal consciousness” – the Muslim ghetto belongs unto itself (however, and as we shall see, such “holistic” self-consciousness is itself characterized by deep internal contradictions the implications of which cannot be underestimated). The fact that the Muslim ghetto belongs to itself – or at least as it sees itself as such – renders it a self-autonomous social structure. Such self-autonomy allows us to refer to the Muslim ghetto as an “Internal No-Go Zone”.
The term “no-go zone”, as applied to Muslim ghettoes, has of course been used by a near-endless string of analysts and commentators – such term has at times been deliberately chosen so as to stigmatize a community for political reasons; at other times, it has merely constituted a relatively impartial attempt to describe a specific state of affairs. In its attempt to describe the Muslim ghetto generally (and especially the case of Molenbeek), the National Post has used the term “ethnic enclave” and has related that type of self-conscious “enclave” to a “no-go zone” within a Western European society. We read, for instance:
“French and Belgium no-go zones have a distinct profile. They are… ethnic enclaves in otherwise prosperous cities, like Paris and Brussels” (op. cit.).
This phenomenon of the specifically Muslim “no-go zone” is to be found scattered around different parts of the European continent. Writing specifically of Paris and Brussels, the New York Post goes on to observe:
“These ghettos are called ‘no-go zones’, very deprived areas in many northern European cities” (op. cit.).
Other analysts have gone even further – wishing to underline that such “no-go zones” are in fact “internal” social structures embedded within Western social formations, they have named such zones “internal colonies”. The implication here is that the socio-economic and socio-cultural milieu of these “disarticulated” social structures is nonetheless such as to radiate outwards and permeate the rest of the social formation (the use of the term “internal colony” can be confusing: the term “colony” is not used in the classical sense as in describing, say, British colonialism – it is in fact quite reminiscent of the manner in which the term “internal colonialism” had once been used to describe the rule of the Apartheid regime over the Black people of South Africa, whereby the “colonial power” was located within the country). How such internal permeation may happen – and the degree to which that actually happens – is a complex issue that we shall have to deal with below. Here, we merely note that whatever external radiation and permeation of Muslim ghetto culture within the rest of a society would be dependent, not only on that culture per se, but also on the degree of receptivity and “openness” of the society that “hosts” it. We further note here that, to the extent that such permeation is a reality, we would have that rather paradoxical situation wherein a “no-go zone” that is “closed” unto itself nonetheless maintains the capacity to ideologically “colonize” a powerful capitalist State such as that of, say, France. Such questions remain as open as they are pertinent. One important think tank that has considered the notion of the Muslim “internal colony” has been that of the Council on Foreign Relations (op. cit.). Its 2005 study of Jihadist groups and Muslim communities in Europe would allow it to raise a central question of major historical interest: is it possible, it would ask, that a “colonial power” as France once was is now mutating into a society that is itself being “internally colonized”?
Whether one speaks of “no-go zone”, “ethnic enclave” or “internal colony”, one still comes up with one common denominator: the implication is that the Muslim ghetto is essentially a “local” social entity functioning in a manner that is beyond the Law of the State that “hosts” it. The National Post (op. cit.) observes:
“In August 2014, the French magazine Contemporary Values suggested that France had more than 750 areas of ‘lawlessness’…”
And it continues further:
“In a 2011 study… Giles Kepel, a political scientist and specialist on Islam at the Institut Montaigne, and his colleagues conclude that these no-go zones are now becoming separate Islamic societies”.
Such observations, on the part of the National Post, are based on data published by the Gatestone Institute – International Policy Council (https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org, 20.1.2015 – the organization in question is definitely biased, though its findings still need to be borne in mind). This New York-based think tank introduces its numerous data on Muslim ghettoes as follows:
“A 120-page research paper entitled No-Go Zones in the French Republic: Myth or Reality? documented dozens of French neighborhoods ‘where police and gendarmerie cannot enforce the Republican order or even enter without risking confrontation, projectiles, or even fatal shootings’... In October 2011, a 2.200-page report, Banlieue de la Republique (Suburbs of the Republic) found that Seine-Saint-Denis and other Parisian suburbs are becoming ‘separate Islamic societies’ cut off from the French state and where Islamic Sharia law is rapidly displacing French civil law”.
The Gatestone Institute provides very many concrete examples of French suburbs where conditions amounting to a “no-go zone” are said to apply.
What we have referred to as the “disarticulation” between the “global” structure of a social formation and certain of its “local” structures – and which may yield what we have called an “Internal No-Go Zone” situation – is perhaps most succinctly encapsulated in the words of the New York Post – writing of the Muslim ghettoes in Europe, it speaks of these as grounds “where police fear to tread” (op. cit., my emph.).
Now, to suggest that an “Internal No-Go Zone” operates beyond the Law of the State could imply that such zone is “stateless”. Further, the suggestion that the community of a Muslim ghetto is generally wrapped up in some form of ideological “anti-State” consciousness may again imply some form of “statelessness”. While such implications may to some extent be true, these only tell us half the story. What calls for further research is to identify the extent to which an “Internal No-Go Zone” has been able to gradually establish its own set of laws, at least as these may be inscribed in the socio-cultural practices of the community’s everyday life. One area that has been much discussed – and as mentioned above – is the gradual dislocation of a Western State’s civil law and its replacement by Sharia law, at least in certain aspects of ghetto life. Such dislocation of formal law by Sharia practices seems to be a definite reality – on the other hand, the realities of the Muslim ghetto seem to be just a bit more complex than that.
What we wish to tentatively suggest is that the life of the Muslim ghetto is neither, on the one hand, “lawless”, but nor, on the other, is it simply regulated by the religious precepts of Islam – viz. the legal system of Sharia law, itself being in any case broad enough to be interpreted differently by various subjects that may prevail in a community.
To begin with, we may say that the National Post text (op. cit.) seems to be quite accurate when it states:
“[These zones] are not quite lawless, given that a new set of laws is replacing those of secular France or Belgium in many of these areas” (my emph.).
That such “new set of laws” prevail within the Muslim ghetto seems to be verified by research work undertaken by Frank van Gemert, Dana Peterson and Inger-Lise Lein (eds.), in their book entitled Street gangs, migration and ethnicity (Routledge, 2012). With reference to European Muslim ghettoes, and especially as regards Sweden, the writers mention cases of highly experienced police officers assigned with the task of interviewing different groups of immigrants on issues related to the idea of “democratic policing”. According to one police officer, that type of interview –
“… creates a situation where many Muslim people ask me this question: ‘Why should we talk to you when we have our own rules?’…” (p. 245, my emph.).
Such “rules” embody very specific cultural values and ethical codes of conduct expressive of the social structures of a self-organized Muslim ghetto that consciously rejects the formal laws of the State that “hosts” its dwellers. In their research work, Frank van Gemert (et al) have found that Muslim ghettoes are characterized, inter alia, by patron-client networks which can determine particular cultural values and ethical codes of conduct defining exclusively what is “proper” for its members – we read:
“… according to… patron-client notions of appropriate Muslim conduct, ‘Those who submit to state law and put their trust in it tend to lose their natural courage and vigour’…” (ibid.).
Of course, when any community has its “own rules” which dictate that its members should not “submit” to the central State, one can certainly draw the conclusion that such a community is de facto “stateless” or “anti-state”. This is what allows a specialist in the field of Muslim ghettoes, Soeren Kern, who is a senior fellow at the above-mentioned Gatestone Institute (op. cit.) to assert: “I call them stateless”. And yet, such “statelessness” is what it is only vis-à-vis the central State itself – with respect to itself, the Muslim ghetto preserves its own rationale.
Such rationale constitutes an “order” for-itself: apart from socio-cultural practices based on Sharia law, and apart from the patron-client codes of conduct demanding disobedience to the central State, one also has a set of laws, rules and codes established by the operation of gang-networks and their concomitant gang culture. Soeren Kern provides us with some clue of the power relations prevailing within the Muslim ghetto when she states that “No go zones… [are] run by drug dealers and gangs” (my emph.; cf., as well, the New York Post, op. cit.).
Keeping all this in mind, one may at this point draw a number of tentative conclusions:
- We observe that the Muslim ghetto may be characterized by a socio-cultural combinatory comprised of at least three types of practices: a) Sharia religious-cultural practices; b) practices expressive of patron-client networks; c) practices expressive of gang-networks, and which themselves determine a particular code of ethics. Such practices form what we here call a “combinatory” since each one of these three practices cannot easily be reduced to any of the other two practices.
- Although such reductionism would be an oversimplification, all three such socio-cultural practices are nonetheless entangled with respect to one another – the entanglement is such as to form ideological hybrids. For instance, specific Sharia religious precepts may cross-breed with gang-network socio-cultural practices and yield a hybrid ideological mindset.
- The prevalence of such ideological hybrids within the Muslim ghetto may be spread unevenly across the community, depending on a variety of factors such as class position, age-group, sex, etc.
- Ideological hybrids may at times clash with one another, or they could complement one another. One may further speak of internally complementary ideological hybrids or internally contradictory ideological hybrids.
As is obvious, such observations must at this point remain rather abstract. Below, we shall attempt to thrash out and concretize our picture of the social practices of the Muslim ghetto (and which may mean that we could come up with a wider variety of ideological hybrids well beyond the three identified above). Yet still, and before we engage in such an undertaking, we need point to two obstacles that can only but place limits to the concreteness of this study: a) we shall have to make do with a certain level of abstraction since we shall not focus on any one particular Muslim ghetto – we shall here approach the phenomenon in its manifestation as a generic type, and which could possibly be representative of most such ghettoes; b) a rigorous analysis of any one Muslim ghetto can only be properly undertaken by the on-the-spot and long-term observations of social anthropologists.
Now, our use of the term “socio-cultural combinatory” in describing a Muslim ghetto may point to a central characteristic of such a social phenomenon – i.e. the Muslim ghetto may be presented as a “closed total system”. Both the “anti-State” ideological posture of such “local” formations, as also (and especially) their internal self-organization, seems to verify such a central characteristic. But the usage of a term such as that of “closed total system” needs to be qualified. On the one hand, it would be inaccurate to suggest that the Muslim ghetto is a “closed total system” in the sense that Southern African mine compounds had been (as described by Charles van Onselen, in his Chibaro: African mine labour in Southern Rhodesia, 1900-1933, London, Pluto Press, 1976). It would of course be even more inaccurate to suggest that the Muslim ghetto is a “closed total system” in the sense used by Erving Goffman (cf. his Asylums, Penguin Random Press, 1961). In contrast to mine compounds and mental asylums, the Muslim ghetto is apparently a much more porous formation – it, in any case, can hardly be compared to an “institution” organized by some central power structure operating from “above”. Further, the Muslim ghetto operates in a manner which allows its ideological practices to radiate outwards (as suggested above) – its “closedness”, therefore, requires some degree of delimitation. And yet, on the other hand, it may be argued that the Muslim ghetto is – in a very specific sense – more of a “closed total system” than either mine compounds or asylums. In contrast to mine workers or asylum inmates, the dwellers of the Muslim ghetto are characterized by a “psyche” noted for its self-assertive vitality – above, we have referred to a self-consciousness encompassing elements such as: a sense of belonging; a will for independence; a distinct profile; a sense of being a law unto oneself; a self-respecting will for “natural courage” and “vigour”, etc.). These are positive elements of consciousness which do inevitably co-exist with whatever negative features make up a slum or quasi-slum area – but it is precisely both the blessings and the curses of Muslim ghetto culture that can yield such a “closed total system”.
But what is it, in the last instance, that holds the Muslim ghetto together? To argue that it is the self-consciousness of such communities which cements their ideological cohesion is not sufficient to reproduce them as a “closed total system”. And it is not sufficient because the plurality of ideological hybrids would yield an array of social forces with a centrifugal effect. There need be some centripetal social force that has the capacity to operate as an alternative “informal State” and which would act as a substitute in the absence of the central State. Further, such “informal State” would need to exercise a socio-cultural and ideological power capable of welding the different ideological hybrids together. And apart from such an ideological function, such “informal State” would also need to make use of force to assert its relative dominance. It could be argued that, to some important extent, the social block operating as an “informal State” and reproducing the “closed total system” is the complex networks of gangs operating in the Muslim ghetto (below, we shall examine how such gang networks interact and/or share power with various “informal elites” within their community, be these “civil” or “religious”).
The relative dominance of gang networks in reproducing the “closed total system” may be explained by the fact that such networks have the capacity to exercise power both through coercion and through consent. But it should also be emphasized that the dominance of gang culture within Muslim ghettoes is closely related to the deep economic crisis of capitalist social formations dating back to the 1970’s. In fact, the very existence of a “closed total system” may be put down to that economic crisis. Of course, the “closedness” and “totality” of such social system should at the same time be related to a series of international events that threw the Muslim world into a spiral of chaos (but which will not be discussed here – cf., for instance, the excellent journalistic work of Patrick Cockburn, The Jihadis return, ISIS and the new Sunni uprising, OR Books LLC, New York, 2014).
It has been this combination of a long-term economic crisis within the Western capitalist world, together with the politico-ideological crisis within the Arab world, which has yielded the Muslim ghetto as a highly politicized “closed total system”. The economic crisis has given birth to the gang-network phenomenon; the politico-ideological crisis of the Arab world has given birth to an Islamic radicalization (with respect to the latter crisis, we should note that it has been determined by a multiplicity of causes, some of which may be traced to the history of the Muslim world itself – cf. P. Cockburn, op. cit.).
Connecting the dots between economic crisis and Islamic radicalization is no simple matter – how such connections may be drawn so as to yield a “closed total system” complicates things even further, and which shall occupy us throughout this paper. At this point, we may sketchily present such connections as follows:
- The economic crisis that has beset the Western capitalist world since the 1970’s (and which was further exacerbated by the global financial crisis of 2007-2008) would lead to a long-term crisis of welfare spending and thus to a crisis of the Welfare State (cf., inter alia, Klaus Busch, “World economic crisis and the Welfare State”, 2010, International Policy Analysis, https://www.fes).
- Specifically with respect to various social strata of Muslim communities in the Western world, such crisis of welfare would lead to a series of survivalist economic practices.
- One major survivalist economic practice would be so-called “petty crime”. Such burgeoning practice – or practices – would come to prevail amongst the unemployed (we shall have to refer to statistics describing the reality of unemployment). This form of economic survivalism would characterize what would gradually crystallize as the lumpen elements of the Muslim ghetto (cf., inter alia, https://www.alaraby.co.uk, which has observed that “Unemployment and poverty often trap some Muslim youth in a web of petty and not-so-petty crime…”, 1.12.2015, their emph.).
- Paradoxically, the long-term economic crisis has also yielded what we shall be describing as a Muslim lower and/or upper “informal middle class” which has been engaging in a wide variety of criminal rackets (here, survivalist economic practices translate into capital accumulation – and cf. Tim Pendry above). We would here speak of an informal middle class as much of the activities of such a social stratum belong to the informal (at times criminal) sector of the economy. The bibliography on this phenomenon, albeit often biased, is voluminous – cf., for instance, Sandra M. Bucerius, Unwanted: Muslim immigrants, dignity and drug dealing, Oxford Scholarship Online, 2014. This work constitutes an ethnocentric research project undertaken with an all-male group of fifty-five Muslim second generation immigrants involved in the drug-dealing rackets of Frankfurt, Germany (as also presented in www.oxfordscholarship.com). Research work has also been undertaken on the Arab Mafia – cf., inter alia, www.financetwitter.com, which presents us with a text examining how “… The Arab Mafia Families Control [the] Berlin Underworld”. Finally, cf. https://www.vice.com, “How Muslim Drug Dealers Square Their Job with Their Faith”.
- Now, it is absolutely crucial to observe that there exists a deep social entanglement between, on the one hand, the lumpen-unemployed elements of the Muslim ghetto and, on the other, the informal middle class strata. It is precisely this almost inextricable entanglement between these social groupings that comes to constitute a vicious circle forming that “closed total system” of the ghetto zone.
- We note that the process of ghettoization leading to a “closed total system” is ipso facto a vicious circle, suggesting that the actors involved in it find themselves stuck within such circle. Of course, the majority of people experiencing the negative aspects of ghettoization are the young and the unemployed. Despite their self-conscious “vigour”, they nonetheless have to face hard material conditions of life usually related to slum areas – cf., for instance, Ross Douthat, “A Muslim Europe?”, who makes the obvious point that “The inhabitants of these Muslim ghettos are vulnerable to the woes that usually afflict marginalized populations: high crime rates, poor education, rampant unemployment” (https://www.theatlantic.com, January/February 2005 Issue).
- The viciousness of such “closed total system”, one would assume, would rock the “system’s” foundations through a series of internal social implosions (and which could presumably have allowed the central State to move in and establish its own “order” within the problematic areas). And yet, this “system” has survived and even thrived all by itself, independently of the central State. It has done so because it has nurtured a central internal safety valve functioning as an outlet in response to the viciousness – this outlet has been a form of radicalization specific to the Muslim ghetto. One useful source discussing such specific radicalization is Robert S. Leiken’s work with the telling title, Europe’s angry Muslims – the revolt of the second generation, 2011, Oxford University Press (and cf., also, a review of this book, www.arabnews.com, 4.7.2012).
- This radicalization – as internal safety valve or singular outlet – has taken on very specific forms for a number of fairly clear-cut reasons (and which would also include the international events mentioned above). We know that such radicalization has crystallized in a variety of manners all of which have one common denominator – viz. a politicization of Islam itself, yielding a religious ideology with an intense socio-political content. As Ross Douthat (op. cit.) writes, the “woes” afflicting the dwellers of Muslim ghettos “may make them receptive to the lure of radical Islam”.
- Such radicalization has given birth to local organizational structures – which may be formal, informal or something in-between – which express this politicization. They may be legal, semi-legal or operating in the underground as “cells” (for a detailed survey of the array of Islamic organizational structures in Europe, cf. “Muslim Networks and Movements in Western Europe”, Pew Research Center – Religion & Public Life, www.pewforum.org, 15.9.2010).
- Some of these grassroots organizational structures have been either directly or indirectly related to ISIS (which, as we know, can be traced back to 2004). Alternatively, such structures may be directly or indirectly related to other forms of Muslim political forces, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots (much of the available bibliography has overemphasized connections with ISIS – we believe one should also look beyond ISIS to fully understand trends in Islamic radicalization).
- The question pertaining to the direct/indirect relationships between these grassroots organizational structures and other “external” political forces requires further clarification. Direct organizational links could perhaps be fairly easy to assume from a sociological perspective, although actually unveiling such links ultimately remains the work of European security and intelligence organizations. What is of much greater interest here is the indirect ideological connection between Ghetto grassroots structures and practices and the various organized forces such as those of ISIS – such connection constitutes a vital field of sociological research as it may be taken to represent a widespread manifestation of radicalization at the level of society (in that sense, an Islamic so-called “lone-wolf terrorist” may be much more representative of community sentiment than would an underground “cell” itself).
- As vital a field of sociological research is the manner in which the “woes” of the lumpen-unemployed interact with the informal middle class strata within such radicalized organizational structures of the Muslim ghetto.
- As already suggested, we shall argue that it is such social intra-class interaction – and as that has been embedded in various social structures and practices – that has bolstered the widespread ideology of what has been described as “Euro-Islam” (a term coined by Olivier Roy of the French National Center for Scientific Research, cf., inter alia, his “The Challenges of Euro-Islam”, [undated], https://www.hoover.org; also, “Euro-Islam: The Jihad within?”, National Interest, Spring, 2003).
The “closed total system” that we have been describing above – together with all of the factors that make up such social configuration – is clearly evident in the ghetto areas of Belgium’s Muslim-dominated Molenbeek. This is one place where radical Islam, criminal racketeering and so-called “lawlessness” intertwine to yield a “closed system” autonomous of the “global political economy” of the Belgian social formation. Writing, inter alia, of the November 2015 Paris attacks, the New York Post (op. cit.) points out:
“… the perpetrators of last November’s bloody attack on Paris and other terror strikes in Belgium and France hailed from Molenbeek, a Brussels slum that has long been a hotbed for radical Islam, drugs and lawlessness”.
The French “banlieues” are yet another much-discussed case where the idea of a “closed total system” may apply. Therein, as well, one may observe the operation of Islamic terrorist networks. With respect to other perpetrators of terror strikes in 2015, the New York Post continues:
“Others, including the brothers who carried out the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January 2015, lived in the “banlieues”, or suburbs of Paris, desolate, rundown neighborhoods of shops, mosques, and high-rise apartment buildings built 50 years ago to house waves of immigrants from former French colonies in Africa”.
What remains to be researched are the practices that constitute the “inner workings” of this “closed total system” of the Muslim microworld. Precisely because the object of such research work is “closed” unto itself, it makes it especially difficult to gather data and draw conclusions that avoid both conjecture and bias. This is more or less the point that the Council on Foreign Relations (op. cit.) wished to make in 2005 – as it put it:
“To make matters worse, the very isolation of these diaspora communities obscures their inner workings…” (my emph.).
What is it that obstructs systematic observation of such microcosmic social entities? It is their “isolation” (or “closedness”). What is it that is – or may be – obscured? The almost impenetrable element of such “closed” systems is the manner in which religion, culture, crime, politics and terrorist networks fuse into a constellation that yields the “politicized” Muslim community. But it is the particular form of this constellation that overdetermines the microcosmic “ghetto” as an entity that is autonomous of the rest of the social formation. And it is just such autonomy that allows Jihadist terrorist networks to operate freely therein. As the Council goes on to suggest, such autonomous “isolation” constitutes the infrastructure for Jihadist underground operations – it observes:
“[Isolation allows] mujahideen to fundraise, prepare, and recruit for jihad with a freedom available in few Muslim countries” (ibid., my emph.).
Any serious attempt to understand such constellation of “inner workings” shall need to further examine the relationship between the Muslim ghetto as a “survival economy” and the Muslim ghetto as an “incubator” for political radicalization and/or the operation of terrorist networks.
We have already referred to the survivalist economic practices of the lumpen-unemployed social strata. Such survivalist economic practices form the “habitat” of ghetto migrants. According to the Left-wing analyst Tim Pendry (cf. British Politics After Brexit, 7.1.2017), such practices come to constitute what he calls “the criminalized survival economy” of the Muslim ghetto (and which inevitably raises the question of what he refers to as “homeland security”, something we shall have to address further below). It is such “criminalized survival economy” that forms the “political economy” of the typical Muslim ghetto. There are numerous references to such “criminalized political economy” which describe Muslim ghettoes as “poverty traps”. For what it is worth, one may begin by citing Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org), which has this to say of the French “banlieues”:
“… since the 1970’s, banlieues increasingly means… low-income housing projects (HLMs) in which mainly foreign immigrants… reside, in what is often called poverty traps”.
But there are other, perhaps more reliable sources, that use the term “poverty traps” to describe the Muslim ghetto. One such is a research study focusing on various ethnic communities in the city of Birmingham, located in the West Midlands of England – cf. Alessio Cangiano, “Mapping of race and poverty in Birmingham”, ESRC Centre on Migration, Policy and Society, COMPAS, University of Oxford, 2008. While, on the one hand, Cangiano’s study is riddled with ideologically-laden terms (such as “deprived wards”, “disadvantaged”, “dimensions of exclusion”, etc. – all of which wish to imply that ethnic communities are simply “victims” of State policy), on the other hand, the study does provide us with hard statistics mapping the “poverty traps” of Birmingham’s ghettoes. Based on his statistical analyses, Cangiano presents us with elements of the “survival economy” in a variety of findings. Explaining that “The paper’s geographical focus is on areas with a large concentration of ethnic minority groups and especially on deprived wards in south-central Birmingham”, some of his observations include the following:
● “The territorial mapping of poverty in Birmingham shows that most wards in the south-central part of the city and some western wards are seriously deprived. In some neighbourhoods – mainly Sparkbrook, Aston and Handsworth – most ethnic groups experience a higher disadvantage in comparison to the members of the same communities residing in other wards. This could suggest that people living in these areas are more likely to find themselves in a poverty ‘trap’ in which the different dimensions of exclusion are mutually related…”
● “Different ethnic groups experience different levels and patterns of deprivation. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are generally the most deprived groups. The disadvantage of these communities is apparent in multiple domains – especially access to the labour market, working conditions, health, and quality of their accommodation”.
● “A strong correlation between poverty and concentration of ethnic minorities in the wards is found, especially in terms of employment, income, health conditions and deprivation of the elderly population”.
● “The reasons for the strong ethnic-based segregation revealed by the data – shown by a rather clear-cut division of the wards into those highly deprived with significant ethnic minority populations and those relatively less deprived with a vast majority of white British – have to be found in past economic and demographic trends…”
Cangiano’s work on areas of Birmingham does verify that the “survival economy” of the Muslim ghetto is a “poverty trap”. But one can move from the at times abstract statistical conclusions drawn by Cangiano to a more pictorial representation of the abysmal poverty of such areas. A photographer by the name of Mahtab Hussain has undertaken just such work, and which has been published by The Guardian (13.8.2015 – cf. https://www.theguardian.com). Of course, and as in the case of Cangiano’s paper, this newspaper’s presentation of the relevant pictures is itself ideologically-laden, again wishing to explain the poverty of Muslim ghettoes in terms of a “neglect” perpetrated by “society”. In any case, this is how The Guardian presents Hussain’s work:
“Muslim Ghettos: poverty and exclusion in Birmingham – in pictures… ‘One day I realized I had grown up in a place that had been ghettoised’, says photographer Mahtab Hussain, whose series Muslim Ghettoes shows the areas of Birmingham shaped by immigration. His photographs document the poverty in communities like Small Heath, Sparkhill, Sparkbrook and Alum Rock, where the first migrants settled in the postwar era, and areas that have recently become home to refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Syria. ‘My pictures show that Britain isn’t immune from poverty, that there are people who have been seriously neglected by society and whose only real salvation is religion’…”
A “survival economy” riddled with “poverty traps” is manifested in its internal social stratification (we intend to devote a separate section covering all social strata of a generic Muslim community in the West). That category of ghetto dwellers which we have referred to as the lumpen-unemployed has been identified as belonging to the “European underclasses”. Above all, it has been The International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence (ICSR), based at King’s College, London, that has attempted to record the “workings” of such “underclass”. It was under the auspices of this important think tank that Rajan Basra, Peter R. Neumann and Claudia Brunner would publish a detailed study that would, inter alia, examine the relationship between crime, terror and this particular “underclass” – cf. “Criminal Pasts, Terrorist Futures: European Jihadists and the New Crime-Terror Nexus” (icsr.info/wp-content/updates/2016/Crimnal-Pasts-Futures.pdf – we shall be making extensive use of this source further below). Basra et al observe:
“… Islamic State and/or its successors increasingly find recruits in European ‘ghettos’, in prisons, as well as among the European ‘underclasses’ and those who have previously engaged in violence and illegal acts” (my emph.).
The “European underclasses”, which encompass the “Muslim underclasses”, cannot possibly be understood as social strata if abstracted from their social practices – the project of the ICSR has attempted to keep that in mind throughout. Very many other social theorists have similarly attempted to identify the existence of such Muslim social strata. Generally speaking, one may observe that all (or most) such attempts do not come up with any rigorous sociological definition of the phenomenon – in fact, following the irreversible implosion of all Marxian theories of class stratification, whatever reference to social strata has remained strictly empirical and thus merely descriptive. And yet, one still needs to appreciate the work of social researchers that has in any case tried to map the stratification of Muslim “underclasses” and the “workings” of these social categories. One such attempt has been that of Farhad Khosrokhavar, in his Radicalization: why some people choose the path of violence, The New Press, 2017. Inter alia, he observes:
“Unlike the situation in the Muslim world, in Europe it is primarily the young from the lower social strata who form the hard core of jihadism. Although a few members of the middle classes embrace that vision by imitation, the great majority of the radicalized are recruited in so-called tough neighborhoods or among the young of the working classes… These are often the children or grandchildren of immigrants from Muslim countries…” (my emph.).
Yet another study referring to the Muslim “underclasses” is that of Jonathan Scourfield, Sophie Gilliat-Ray, Asma Khan and Sameh Otri, Muslim childhood: religious nurture in a European context, Oxford University Press, 2013. The findings of this collective work may roughly be summarized as follows:
“… [There is a]… relatively successful religious transmission in [the case of] lower social class Muslims…”
Very much similar to the observations of Mahtab Hussain (op. cit.), Scourfield et al identify a tight entanglement between the Muslim “lower” strata and receptivity to religious ideology. In examining the cultural worldview of the Muslim ghetto, we shall see how religiosity may be further entangled with radicalization.
Now, there is that general tendency on the part of analysts and observers to wish to directly relate Muslim religiosity to the reality of ghettoes as “poverty traps” – Hussain does just that when he states that religion is the “only real salvation” in response to conditions of poverty. We believe that explaining religion (or religious radicalization) purely in terms of material conditions is an oversimplification. And yet, we know that, with special reference to the Muslim ghetto in Western societies, the entanglement (albeit complex) between religion, radicalization and criminality is verifiable at least with respect to certain segments of the Muslim “underclasses” (cf., here, also the New York Post, op. cit.).
The criminality of the Muslim “survival economy” is defined by a variety of very specific practices. The research project of the ICSR (op. cit.) has listed a series of criminal practices evident in the Muslim ghetto (and which are at the same time linked to Jihadist terrorist networks). This is what it notes:
“Already, up to 40 per cent of terrorist plots in Europe are at least part-financed through ‘petty crime’…”
And, importantly, ICSR goes on to list the specific practices constituting the ‘pretty crime’ of the Muslim ghetto as a generic social phenomenon in the West – such practices include the following:
● theft, robberies, burglaries
● the sale of counterfeit goods
● loan fraud
It remains the task of sociologists to undertake field research around each of these Muslim ghetto practices. While such practices may be encountered in whatever slum area, these are here manifested in a unique manner, being deeply entangled – as we are suggesting – with a religiously-orientated radicalization.
Elsewhere, and with more specific reference to the sale of counterfeit goods, the ICSR research project lists various examples of the types of goods involved in this racket – such items include:
● electrical items
● computer games
The ICSR focuses on the sale of counterfeit goods as this seems to be one of the prevailing informal economic practices within the Muslim “survival economy” – it is also a practice that is said to closely interact with the politically-oriented practices of terrorist and/or other radical networks. Such interaction has been documented in the greatest of detail by a variety of sources (some of which are definitely reliable).
One source dealing with rackets involving counterfeit goods is the work of Donald E. deKieffer, Underground economies and illegal imports: business and legal strategies to address illegitimate commerce, Oxford University Press, 2010. This book presents us with numerous cases of illegitimate commerce linked to Islamic radicalism. Although its main focus is on the situation within the USA, it also refers to rackets around the world (the practice is by definition a “globalized” phenomenon). We merely present here a few representative samples of its findings:
“In recent years, ‘patriots’ have tended to be Islamic radicals, intent upon re-establishment of the Caliphate by selling fake products, smuggling cigarettes, and dealing in relabeled infant formula” (p. 113).
“The first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 was partially financed by a coupon fraud scheme in which the conspirators raised cash by counterfeiting grocery coupons, which were redeemed at conveniences stores throughout the New York area” (ibid.).
“In 2007, the Counterfeiting Intelligence Bureau reported that federal authorities who earlier in the year busted a multimillion-dollar international counterfeit clothing ring based in New York City had concluded that at least three of those arrested had definitive ties to the terrorist organization Jamaat ul Fuqra and its front group, Muslims of the Americas. The ring was estimated to have generated over $7 million in revenue” (ibid.).
Yet another source detailing the “underground economy” of the counterfeit goods racket is that of Hitha Prabhakar, Black market billions: how organized retail crime funds global terrorists, FT Press, 2012. One sample of this work’s findings reads as follows:
“The TTP [Tehreek-e-Taliban] is known to get its funding from the smuggling of cigarettes, electronics, counterfeit clothing, handbags, CD’s, and DVD’s by colluding with the Afghan Trade and Transit (ATT) association” (p. 165).
But the most important – as also perhaps the most reliable – source on the counterfeit goods racket is that of INTERPOL. The Secretary General of INTERPOL, Ronald K. Noble, published a briefing on the racket – which he quite accurately refers to as IPC (Intellectual Property Crime) – in 2003. Part of this text reads as follows:
“INTERPOL possesses information that indicates the following in relation to IPC and terrorist financing in Europe to radical fundamentalist networks. Sympathizers and militants of these groups may engage in a range of criminal activity including IPC. Sympathizers will indirectly pass a portion of the funds generated from their illicit activity to radical fundamentalist networks. The sympathizer passes money in the form of charitable giving or zakat (charitable giving based on a religious obligation in Islam) via Mosques, Imams or non-profit organizations that are sympathetic to radical fundamentalist causes. This money is eventually moved to the radical fundamentalist terrorist grouping. The transactions are predominantly cash-based leaving no paper trail or way of verifying the origin or final destination of the funds. In terms of radical fundamentalist militants, these persons may for long periods of time not be directly involved in terrorist activity. During these periods, while not on active service duty, they support themselves through criminal activity like IPC or credit card fraud. A portion of the money earned in these activities is kept while a portion is remitted to radical fundamentalist terrorist groups in cash form, in ways similar to the ways used by sympathizers” (cf. Ronald K. Noble, Secretary General, INTERPOL, “The links between intellectual property crime and terrorist financing” – file:///C:/Users/user/Downloads/SG20030716.pdf).
Apart from practices related to what the ICSR refers to as ‘petty crime’, the Muslim ghetto informal “survival economy” may also be engaged in the avoidance of paying taxes to the State, be that central or local. Such avoidance goes hand-in-hand with the workings of a “closed total system” asserting its independence vis-à-vis the “global” structure of the social formation. To the extent that the informal economy of a Muslim ghetto is deeply entangled with the gang milieu and Jihadist sub-culture, such tax avoidance may be an ideologically functional economic practice protecting the “closedness” of the ghetto system (as we shall further see below in examining the ghetto cultural worldview, such tax avoidance may also be accompanied by an encouragement to avoid seeking a regular salary – cf. Basra et al, ICSR).
Perhaps the central most important manifestation of tax evasion or tax avoidance is in the field of the informal labour market related to “ethnic enclaves”. One research work that has delved into this aspect of the Muslim ghetto is the work of Muhammad Shehryar Shahid, “Size and nature of paid informal work amongst the Pakistani community of Sheffield: a case study”, PhD Thesis, The University of Sheffield, School of Management, July 2011 (cf. etheses.whiterose.ac.uk). This work on the Pakistani community in UK’s Sheffield is typical of the type of PhD theses churned out by universities in the early 21st century: it is badly written, biased and highly subjective (its writer openly suggests that only a Pakistani Muslim can possibly study the case of Pakistanis if one is to ensure “an impartial perspective”). Yet still, it can provide one with fairly useful evidence of how the Pakistani “survival economy” can and does function well outside the legitimate structures and practices of the State (whichever form that may take, including local and central structures). It is suggested throughout this case study that a major economic activity in this Sheffield Pakistani community is the illegal practice of tax evasion and/or avoidance in informal employment, and it is this phenomenon that Shahid wishes to explore. We shall here dwell on the work of the latter, despite its serious shortcomings. Shahid begins his study with the following important observation:
“While the formal labour market of the UK is shrinking, there has been a massive influx of immigrant workers over the last decade [1999-2008]” (p. 9).
The combination of these two phenomena – market shrinkage together with the migrant influx – has led to an inevitable consequence: the inability of such in-coming migrants to “insert” themselves into the formal labour market – Shahid continues:
“Increases in the rate of immigration has [sic] been so enormous that the annual influx of immigrants in the UK has jumped from almost 450.000 in 1999 to 600.000 in 2008, depicting a rise of 34% in just 10 years. Confronted with the recession of the labour market, immigrant and ethnic minority workers are finding it very hard to insert themselves into the regular economy of the UK… Growing rates of immigration along with their higher exclusion from the labour market have caused ethnic minorities and immigrants to be trapped in a vicious circle, where further immigration is causing further exclusion” (p. 10, my emph.).
Of course, Shahid’s suggestion that migrants are “trapped in a vicious circle” converges with the notion of “poverty traps” as mentioned above. And yet, the “viciousness” of such “traps” – symptomatic of a non-insertion into the economic structures of a country’s “global” social formation – has nonetheless yielded an increase in various “economic activities” within such “traps”. To put it otherwise, one may say that within the UK “global” structure of that country’s political economy – and despite the conditions of an on-going influx of migrants in a receding labour market – one observes a sprouting of particular economic practices within the “local” structures of the Sheffield Pakistani community. These practices, which are on the increase, constitute the community’s thriving informal sector (throughout Shahid’s study, one can clearly see that such practices involve all the socio-economic strata of the Pakistani community, be these doctors, shopkeepers, imams, workers, lumpen elements, and so on – we shall have to examine the implications of such intra-class entanglements further below). Specifically as regards the flourishing of such informal economic practices, Shahid writes:
“There is, however, a very interesting phenomenon going on within the functioning of the UK economy. Under the scenario in which the unemployment rate is constantly rising, job opportunities are reducing, average earnings are declining and more and more foreign workers are entering the labour market, it might be surprising to know that the economic activity of people [in places such as the Sheffield Pakistani community] has gone up…” (ibid., my emph.).
Shahid’s “surprise” is neither unintentional nor at all “innocent” – he merely wishes to tell us that, whilst the formal economy of Britain as a whole is withering, the informal sector of the Pakistanis is burgeoning, thus constituting Britain’s future economic “hope”. He continues:
“The situation is certainly paradoxical… It compels academics and policy makers to think about what is enabling people to enhance their economic activity when the whole labour market is experiencing a terrible turmoil… The answers to these questions lie within an understanding of the dynamics of the informal labour market…” (pp. 10-11, my emph.).
The real “paradox”, however, lies elsewhere. One needs to examine the real nature of such “dynamics” of the informal sector and, having done that, to consider how such “dynamics” relate to a country’s political economy as a whole. Were such relationship to be “paradoxical” (or contradictory), one need further examine what that would mean both for the central State and for a “local” Pakistani community such as the one that Shahid wishes to study. The point is that all such economic practices taking place in the informal sector of the Pakistani community are essentially illegal, being deliberately hidden from the State and its various organs. Shahid has no choice but to admit:
“The informal labour market, or informal employment, refers to the paid production and sale of goods and services that are unregistered by or hidden from, the state for tax, social security services and/or labour law purposes… It entails businesses that keep a part, or sometimes all, of their income hidden from tax and social security authorities…” (ibid., my emph.).
The “unregistered” or “hidden” nature of such practices is symptomatic of a “local” system asserting its independence vis-à-vis the “global” structure of Britain’s social formation. It is precisely the independence of such socio-economic space that allows for the rise of illegal activities, be these ‘petty crime’, drug-dealing, theft, counterfeit goods transactions, and so on. And it is within such context that one need place practices that Shahid describes as “unregistered” and/or “hidden” (it would be of some interest to note here that it is at this point of Shahid’s study that one can clearly see the ideological bias of his work – while fully recognizing that the informal economic activities of the Pakistani community are “hidden” from the State, he nonetheless goes on to drop the hint that these very same activities “are legal in all other aspects”; one should also note here that the study, in its entirety, presents a picture of the Pakistani community as being altogether crime-free – but cf., for instance, Jo Goodey, “The criminalization of British Asian youth: research from Bradford and Sheffield”, Journal of youth studies, 4 (4), 2001, pp. 429-450).
Despite the ideological bias of the study, the facts of the matter force Shahid to observe that the informal economy of the Pakistani community is, by its very nature, a “hidden” phenomenon. Further, the secretness of its economic practices is hermetically sealed from the State and is thus predicated on the ignorance of the State and its various organs (and which may further verify the suggestion that the Muslim ghetto is a “closed total system” in the sense defined above). This is what Shahid observes:
“Given the fact that the informal economy is by its nature hidden from tax authorities and other state departments, it has always been a challenge to estimate its absolute size in every part of the world. The UK is no exception in this regard” (p. 61, my emph.).
That which cannot be “hidden” is that the informal sector – a euphemism for illegal, extra-State activities – is a socio-economic (and, as we shall further see, a socio-cultural) terrain materialized by specific social “agents”. These “agents” are essentially ethnic minority groups and/or immigrants. Shahid writes:
“The importance of ethnic minorities and immigrants as economic agents of informal economy has been recognized by a vast array of literature” (p. 155).
The inexorable correlation between ethnic minorities and the informal sector suggests that such sector is not merely “economic” in nature – it also constitutes a cultural or sub-cultural phenomenon, and thus Shahid himself – at least implicitly – refers to the reality of the “ethnic enclave” (as does, inter alia, the National Post, op. cit.). Further, such “ethnic enclave” constitutes a “closed system” to the extent that it functions as a “dual economy”. Such sociological interpretations are more or less implied in Shahid’s own conclusions, and which he draws from research work undertaken by the Sheffield City Council. We shall have to deal with Shahid’s emphasis on the question of “ethnic” identity in our section focusing on Muslim ghetto sub-cultural activities – here, we merely note one of his typical references to the reality of the “dual economy” as operated by Sheffield’s Pakistani community – we read:
“As cited in the Pakistani Community Profile… published by the Sheffield City Council, ‘the Pakistani community have twice the likelihood to have no qualifications than the City average, this is clearly a barrier which is contributing to ‘dual economy’ which would seem to be of increasing importance in shaping the city i.e. Pakistani young adults feeling unable, or being disheartened, to compete for jobs in the mainstream economy and are looking for employment or other forms of income generation with their own community’…” (p. 162, my emph.).
Active participation in such “dual economy”, according to Shahid’s findings, is near-ubiquitous amongst Pakistanis. Further, such participation is not merely a consequence of being “pushed out” from the mainstream economy – Pakistanis find themselves being “pulled in” by the informal sector itself (with respect to the “pushed out” and/or “pulled in” factors amongst individuals living in UK’s “ethnic enclaves”, cf., as well, https://www.sciencedirect.com). In fact, Shahid’s findings indicate that the near-ubiquitous participation in “hidden” activities is an “addiction” amongst Sheffield’s Pakistani dwellers – some of them would even describe the opportunity of “hiding income” as “just perfect”. Without really drawing any critical conclusions from his interviews of Pakistani respondents, Shahid nonetheless writes:
“… the majority of respondents reported that at least one out of every two Pakistanis working in Sheffield is likely to work on an informal basis. Interestingly, some of the respondents were assertive about the belief that it is actually more than 90% of the working Pakistanis living in Sheffield who tend to be a part of informal economic activity” (p. 202).
But even more interestingly for our purposes, Shahid presents us with a series of oral responses on the part of his respondents, some of which went as follows:
● “I think all of us are in the professions where the opportunity of hiding income is just perfect” (ibid., my emph.).
● “I have been living here in the Pakistani community for the last 10 years or so, and I have not known any one [sic] who has never worked in the informal sector” (ibid.)
● “Informal businesses – for Pakistanis it is as common as beer for English people. You can find everyone being addicted of it [sic]” (ibid., my emph.).
The suggestion that social practices “hidden” from the State are “perfect”, or that these constitute an “addiction”, further connotes that such practices are “deeply embedded” within the milieu of the Pakistani community. At this point, Shahid cannot avoid observing:
“The conclusion is that both the Pakistani male and female respondents perceived informal work as being deeply embedded in the working practices of their community” (p. 204, my emph.).
This notion of embeddedness – with respect to a proclivity for “the illegal” amongst Pakistanis – is inescapable for whichever social researcher in the field. We present here the views of some of Shahid’s respondents on the matter:
● “Informal work is all what I have done since I came to the UK” (p. 206).
● “Yes, I have carried out a variety of informal businesses in Sheffield at different points in time. It is the most permanent source of my livelihood” (ibid.).
● “You can not [sic] expect me or any other Pakistani for that matter to remain totally aloof of cash-in-hand (informal) activities – it is everywhere inside the community, and you eventually fall for it at one stage or the other” (ibid., my emph.; it is definitely important to note here that this particular quote comes from a Mosque imam living in the area covered by Shahid’s study).
The embedded social practices revolving around “hidden” or “illegal” activities constitute a socio-economic and cultural milieu which willingly and/or consciously espouses such practices. As to this, Shahid is himself altogether crystal-clear – he writes:
“All these statements, and many more, given by the respondents of the survey report a strong tendency on the part of Pakistani households to engage themselves in informal economic activities whilst refusing jobs available in the formal sector. One can see an ‘expression of willingness’ amongst the majority of Pakistani respondents with regard to working as the suppliers of informal work” (p. 207, my emph.).
Such conscious rejection of the informal sector – or such ‘expression of willingness’ to engage in illegal, “hidden” practices – prompts Shahid to undertake some kind of an analysis around the “rationales” explaining that kind of Muslim mindset. His findings are especially interesting – some definitely confirm the overall postulates of our own study. On the one hand, respondents would explain such “pull” towards the informal sector by referring to the high taxation that would face them were they to participate in the formal economy. Further, and in any case, respondents would speak of their “exclusion” from the formal labour market. On the other hand – and here lies the special interest – respondents would explain that they engaged in practices of the informal sector simply because doing this was “common practice”. Further, and even more importantly, respondents would argue that Pakistani engagement in informal economic activities was a “right” due to them as a community. In a section entitled “Rationales for Pakistanis performing informal work” (p. 246), Shahid presents his findings as follows:
“When the participants were asked to share their perceptions about why Pakistani households in Sheffield tend to conduct informal work,… almost 40% of them answered that it was because the ‘taxes were too high’. Slightly more than one-third (34%) of the participants were of the view that the Pakistanis living in Sheffield engage in informal work simply because it has become a ‘common practice’ within the community’. Following this were the group of participants (10% of the total surveyed) who believed that the engagement of Pakistani workers in informal work was mainly due to their ‘exclusion’ from the formal labour market where ethnic minorities and immigrants are not given equal opportunities…” (ibid., my emph.).
Significantly – albeit rather ambiguously, given the problematic use of language – Shahid continues:
“The last significant reason for which a reasonable amount of response was recorded was that ‘people feel they have the right to do so’, with 8% of the participants mentioned [sic] it as the prime reason for the Pakistani workers to save taxes and social security contributions” (ibid., my emph.).
Elsewhere, Shahid again notes:
“… a reasonable fraction of the respondents… believed that the majority of the Pakistanis, who chose to operate outside the legal ambit of the British economy, do so because they simply consider it their ‘right’ not to be always restricted by state-enforced business regulations…” (p. 249, my emph.).
But it is not simply that the Pakistani “ethnic enclave” could – according to at least some Pakistanis – see whatever engagement in “illegal” practices as its own “right” vis-à-vis the State. What Shahid would also go on to discover was that the mindset of Pakistanis was further characterized by “anti-State sentiments”. Thus, their perceived “right” to illegality, and which would lead them to participate in extra-State activities, would at the same time be coloured by an anti-State popular ideology. We read:
“The survey records another very interesting perception prevailing amongst the members of the Pakistani community in Sheffield… 10% of the Pakistani households described the participation of Pakistani immigrants in informal economic activities as a repercussion of what can be termed as an ‘anti-state’ sentiment” (ibid., my emph.).
Of course, this finding seems to fully confirm what we have presented above as our set of tentative postulates (cf. our discussion of Tim Pendry’s text, British Politics After Brexit, 4.1.2017). It is also possible that such “anti-state sentiments” could secrete an ethical system which is endogenic to the Muslim ghetto. Shahid’s own conclusions seem to suggest the existence of such independent ethical worldview when he refers to the “cultural alienation” of Sheffield’s Pakistanis. The existence of such an ethical paradigm amongst Muslims is also suggested when Shahid presents attitudes towards taxation in terms of a “low tax morality”. We shall here present a rather lengthy quote from Shahid’s work which, albeit more closely related to a discussion of the sub-cultural practices of a typical Muslim ghetto, is nonetheless relevant to our present purposes in that it relates a particular cultural/ethical mindset to the economic “workings” of Muslim ghettoes. We read:
“More than one-third (34%) of the respondents described the informal ventures of the Pakistani community as a time-honoured mode of employment, which itself is a product of community culture that is comprised of certain norms and values favourable for the propagation of the informal economy. Any common practice within a society always depends on established traditions, cultural norms and moralities, the significance of which as a determinant of the extent of informal work in general and in ethnic minority populations more particularly has already been recognized by various researchers… In the case of the Pakistani community, the transfer of informal culture and low tax morality from the home country caused the initial lot of immigrants to participate actively in informal employment and set a kind of career path for the subsequent generations. The concept of ‘cultural alienation’, as presented by Roberts et al (1985), seems to find an ideal illustration in the form of the Pakistani community living in Sheffield” (p. 251, my emph.).
Here, a “community culture” informed by “low tax morality” is directly related to “time-honoured” practices that have been imported into the UK from the Pakistani’s own home country. In itself, this particular point opens up a whole new field of research in trying to understand the Muslim ghetto as a possibly “closed total system” (thus, and despite the inescapable weaknesses of Shahid’s work, one should credit him for that). On the other hand, Shahid wishes to convince us that such “transfer of informal culture” was merely instrumental in establishing “career paths” for members of the various Pakistani communities. There must definitely be much truth in this – yet still, such an approach does not tell us the full story of the typical Muslim ghetto. And it does not tell us the whole story as Shahid systematically tries to present the informal sector as a crime-free phenomenon which simply yields various “career paths” for subsequent generations of Pakistani immigrants. Of course, what he utterly fails to consider are all the possible ramifications of transferring an “informal culture” from, say, a South Asian village to a city such as Sheffield. Put slightly otherwise, Shahid’s study neglects to examine what it could possibly mean to transfer a “primitive” culture to a “modern” Western cultural context and to allow these (or to even force them) to articulate with each other. Such articulation could function as a catalyst for explosive socio-cultural consequences, such as the emergence of various gang networks operating in terms of imported cultural norms. Just one example of this has been the emergence of so-called “grooming gangs” (something to be discussed further below, and which has been dealt with in an objective, non-partisan manner by the Leftwing analyst, Tim Pendry, op. cit.). Similarly, the articulation could further lead to the emergence of gang networks interacting with Jihadist-prone social networks and their various terrorist by-products. Here, we are not at all attempting to reduce whichever Pakistani informal sector to Jihadist political practices – we are merely suggesting that sub-sectors of such informal sector could function as “incubators” of Islamic radicalization, given certain specific conditions (and which would mean that the articulation of the “primitive” culture with the Western “modern” cultural context would be overdetermined by these specific conditions). In contrast, Shahid’s approach would not allow for the consideration of such possibly catalytic consequences – his understanding of the Pakistani informal sector is far too narrow (it being limited to “career paths”) to enable him to explore socio-economic and cultural practices hidden deeply within the underground of an already illegal informal economy.
Here, one could consider – by way of an example – the manner in which participation in the sector of informal work could at the same time be combined with activities related to Jihadist radicalism. It has been observed that people working in the apparently innocuous field of construction would use such opportunity to facilitate their involvement in the Jihadist movement. Certain pieces of available information may be briefly presented here to at least partly verify such a reality. On the one hand, Shahid’s research work has come up with the following observation:
“Drawing quantitative evidence from various surveys conducted in different parts of the country, one can easily see that more than 70% of informal work is associated with the… [sector of] construction…” (p. 90).
We know that such extensive participation of migrants in informal work related to construction is also evident, inter alia, in Germany (cf., for example, Daniel Detzer et al, The German financial system and the financial and economic crisis, Springer International Publishing, 2017, p. 235; cf., also, Social and labour issues concerning migrant workers in the construction industry, ILO, Sectoral Activities Programme, 1995, p.2; p. 61). Now, and on the other hand, consider what the ICSR study of 2016 (op. cit.) had found with respect to informal workers employed in the German construction industry – we read:
“… a group of would-be foreign fighters from Germany worked in construction, and funded their journey [to Syria] by selling copper they had stolen from a building site… (p. 45).
It may of course be argued that what we have here is mere circumstantial evidence. That may be so, though the case may also be symptomatic of a wider social practice. The real issue raised here is the extent to which a “closed total system”, yielding a “closed” web of social networks, constitutes a social infrastructure functioning as a potential “incubator” for radicalization. The practice of a closed circuit “networking”, informed by an anti-State consciousness, can create incubational conditions breeding terrorist or terrorist-prone Jihadist cells. It is, inter alia, the relative “tightness” of the social networking that may determine such incubational propensity. Throughout Shahid’s work, one comes across this persistent social will, on the part of Pakistanis, to engage in “dense” networking practices. Consider the following string of respondents quoted by Shahid with respect to informal networking proclivities (pp. 252-3, my emph.):
● “I think it is something that comes inherently to the Pakistanis living in Sheffield…”
● “In my opinion, it is not about money any more [sic]… I would say it is mainly the culture they are living in”.
● “Doing what most of the Pakistanis are doing helps you build better relationships in the community and these relationships are of course very important for me as an immigrant”.
● “It is traditional for the Pakistanis to do informal work… (but) this tradition is very helpful for them to improve their networking within the community”.
The “tight” networking goes hand in hand with the “closed” nature of such networks – again throughout Shahid’s work, one comes across observations referring to “the social isolation of the Pakistani community” (p. 223, my emph. – by way of an example).
Yet still, all this does not in itself point to whatever necessary “incubation” of practices related to Jihadist radicalism. On the other hand, numerous references are available that indicate such “incubation” and/or the ultimate consequences of such “incubation” within the social networks of Muslim ghettoes (or, perhaps more accurately, within particular segments of Muslim networks).
To begin with, we know that in 2016 the New York Post (op. cit.) would openly state:
“Muslim ghettoes in Europe are breeding grounds for terror”.
“Muslim ghettoes in Paris and Brussels are incubators of Islamic extremism…” (ibid., my emph.).
Of course, and naturally so, one could immediately retort here by pointing to the unreliability of both these quotes – the New York Post is said to be a tabloid representative of a conservative bias that renders it one of the least-credible major news outlets. But, then, one may also consider data regarding British Muslims presented to us by The Guardian, said to be the world’s leading Left-Liberal voice and with editorials informed by a definitely Left-wing political correctness. Its September 19, 2014 issue carried an article signed by Afua Hirsch and entitled as follows:
“The root cause of extremism among British Muslims is alienation” (my emph.).
As is obvious, Hirsch simply takes the question of Muslim “extremism” as a de facto reality. And the writer goes on to make a number of observations that verify precisely such reality – for instance:
● “It struck me how many young Muslims want to travel to Syria… to join rebels trying to bring down President Assad…” (my emph.).
● “As Shahid Butt, who fought in support of Bosnian Muslims in the 1990’s, told me: ‘Islam is a very powerful tool. It’s like a nuclear bomb’…” (my emph.).
● “… many of the young Muslims now suspected of moving towards extremism are the second- or third-generation descendants of migrants who came to this country [the UK] from Pakistan, Bangladesh or Somalia in the 1970s, 80s and 90s” (my emph.).
● “… Muslims have something to cling on to. As Kash Choudhary, a rapper on the Asian grime scene, told me: ‘For British Pakistanis like me there is a gap. I don’t feel British. When I go to Pakistan, I don’t feel Pakistani. But I do know that I’m a Muslim – Islam fills the gap’…” (my emph.).
Yet another source which – while toeing an apparently Left-Liberal line – also points to the potentially “incubational” proclivity for “extremism” amongst Muslims, is the work of Peter Clarke and Peter Beyer (eds.), The world’s religions: continuities and transformations, Routledge, 2009. The following sample quote clearly refers to the idea of a Muslim “closed” community functioning as an “incubator” of radicalism:
“In many of the… cities of Europe Muslims live segregated from the rest of society, isolated so that they are less easily able to learn the new language… [etc.]. They continue mainly as labourers, their inclinations to stay grouped together rather than try to integrate reinforced by societies that basically are not welcoming… It is in such circumstances that the seeds of radicalism find the soil in which to grow…” (p. 160, my emph.; also of relevance here is the work of Zachary Shore, Breeding Bin Ladens – America, Islam, and the future of Europe, The John Hopkins University Press, 2006).
The functioning of Muslim ghettoes as “incubators” for Jihadist terrorist networks has been observed in a variety of concrete cases – of these, perhaps the case of Molenbeek has been most frequently discussed (and cf. above). With respect to Molenbeek, we shall here begin by quoting just two sources, both of which cannot possibly be accused of whatever anti-Muslim bias. One of these is Alex Forsyth, who reported the following on the BBC News (17.11.2015):
“… Molenbeek has a history of connections with cases of extremism” (my emph.).
“Belgium’s Interior Minister Jan Jambon admitted a high proportion of those who left Belgium to join Islamist groups came from the area [of Molenbeek]…” (my emph.).
Our second source with respect to the case of Molenbeek is Ian Traynor writing in, again, The Guardian (15.11.2015). We present the following sample observations:
● “Molenbeek… has a reputation for its battle-hardened militants” (my emph.).
● “Molenbeek is the source of the highest concentration in Europe of jihadi foreign fighters going to fight in Syria and Iraq and returning battle-hardened and determined to take their fight to the capitals of Europe” (my emph.).
● “… the hardline Salafist circles and recruiting sergeants for holy war have clandestine prayer sites and meeting points, usually in the front rooms of houses and apartments” (my emph.).
● Traynor quotes Ahmed El Khannouss, deputy mayor of Molenbeek, as saying: “It’s all about the networks” (my emph.). This need be compared to what we have stated above with respect to the term “terrorist networks” and how this may suggest the “socially entangled nature” of such entities.
● It is the operation of such “networks” that renders the community of Molenbeek a “base” for Jihadist underground activity – Traynor himself writes that “… several of those said to be involved in various jihadi plots and foreign fighter networks appear to be non-Belgian nationals using the borough [of Molenbeek] as a base” (my emph.).
● It is in its capacity as “base” that the community of Molenbeek allows for the existence and functioning of organizations such as “Sharia4Belgium” – according to Traynor, this organization operates “an effective and sophisticated recruiting programme highly active in Molenbeek” (my emph.).
● Finally, Traynor attempts to sum up the whole picture of Molenbeek by quoting, as does Forsyth (op. cit.), Belgium’s Interior Minister Jambon, who rather wryly observes: “We don’t have things under control in Molenbeek” (my emph.). This verifies our position – argued above – that the “local closed system” of the Muslim ghetto reserves its autonomy vis-à-vis the “global” structure of a country’s social formation. And it is such autonomy that may render a Muslim ghetto such as Molenbeek a “safe haven” for Jihadist political radicalization, thereby breeding, supporting and protecting the networks that accompany such radicalization.
One even comes across the notion of a “safe haven” – as applied to places such as Molenbeek – in the pages of Wikipedia (the contents of which, nonetheless, can be either biased or unreliable, or both). This is what this source has to say of Sint-Jans-Molenbeek:
“The commune of Molenbeek has gained a reputation for being a safe haven for jihadists in relation to the support shown by some residents towards the bombers who carried out terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels [2015-2016]”.
One should note here that the Wikipedia article openly points to the “support” of terrorists on the part of at least certain segments of the Molenbeek community. The article speaks of “some residents”, and there is no reason why we should necessarily doubt such an observation. On the other hand, the text makes no serious attempt to unpack its use of the term “support”. One may, for instance, speak of “direct support” and/or of “indirect support” – alternatively, one may refer to “active support” and the possible reality of “passive support” on the part of a community. It is truly impossible to gauge the extent to which such differential factors of collective consciousness actually apply to whichever Muslim community unless one undertakes ground research of case studies (and we make no pretentions as to that).
Regarding the crucial question of grassroots support for radical Islam – and the forms it may or may not take amongst Muslim communities – some analysts have dwelt on the stance of the Muslim majority in European countries, pointing to what has been said to be a deafening “silence” on their behalf following some terrorist attack. For some writers, such “silence” may even be interpreted as some form of “tacit support” for the Jihadist activists. Bruce Bawer, for instance, has raised questions such as the following:
“What did it mean to claim that European Muslims were overwhelmingly moderate when, as Kevin Myers noted in the Telegraph, ‘11 percent of Britain’s two million Muslims approved of the attacks of 9/11, and 40 percent support Osama Bin Laden’? Was one seriously supposed to consider these people ‘moderates’...?” (cf. Bruce Bawer, While Europe slept: how radical Islam is destroying the West from within, Doubleday, 2006, p. 227).
Specifically as regards Molenbeek, The Washington Post itself has gone so far as to suggest that the whole community in the area is somehow characterized by an ingrained affinity for Islamic radicalism – according to Steven Mufson (15.11.2015) –
“The Belgian neighborhood [is] indelibly linked to jihad” (my emph).
Confirming all of the above references is a report published by the French international news agency, Agence France-Press (AFP), on April 16, 2016. The agency reported that during the Molenbeek capture of Salah Abdeslam, an accomplice of the Paris bombers (13.11.2015), protesters “threw stones and bottles at police and press during the arrest” (my emph.). The agency’s report was based on a statement made by Jan Jambon (op. cit.). It is important to note that the latter had also stated that “many Muslims [had] danced after the attacks” (my emph.).
Now, neither the so-called “silence” of the Muslim majority (whether at Molenbeek or elsewhere), nor the “indelible” links of Muslim neighbourhoods to jihadist ideology, and not even the behaviour of “many Muslims” following a terrorist attack – none of all this – is meant to imply that the whole of a Muslim community residing in any country of the West necessarily expresses some sort of “sympathy” for the revolutionary activities of someone such as Abdeslam. One could very simply go back to the Bruce Bawer quote (op. cit.) and read it in a manner that draws conclusions rather opposite to those intended – if it be true that 40% of British Muslims support Osama Bin Laden, what of the rest? And further, it is not exactly accurate to speak of the “silence” of the Muslim majority following some attack – in fact, we have all too often heard of leaders of Muslim communities in the West denounce terrorist attacks undertaken in the name of Islam.
We have here an apparent obfuscation of the real reality, and such obfuscation is actually quite explainable. The problem is that what constitutes an essentially sociological phenomenon has been handled by “intellectuals” without an inkling of sociology – these are usually journalists (or even mere penny-a-liners) who simply report on an array of empirical data without bothering to order these in terms of some theoretical frame of reference. Academics who do happen to adhere to some sort of methodology simply reproduce the current deep crisis in the field of sociology itself.
The mere reference to some “Muslim majority” (or “minority”, for that matter) is ipso facto problematic. One cannot attain some understanding of the ideological mindsets of people constituting the Muslim ghetto without at least some understanding of the social stratification of such “local” structure. And one cannot understand the role of Jihadist ideology within a Muslim ghetto unless one undertakes research work on the specific social and cultural interaction amongst the various strata composing such ghetto. Such work would raise at least one central question: what is it that defines the relationship between the Muslim middle classes and the anti-State ideology especially prevalent amongst certain strata of Muslim youths?
We shall have to deal with such types of questions much further below (GENERAL THEME 3) – for the moment, we shall end this section on the Muslim ghetto as a “closed” system by emphasizing the following observations, from which more general conclusions could perhaps be drawn (and which seem to verify what we have been arguing thus far):
● A Council on Foreign Relations report (29.3.2016) has placed great emphasis on what it sees as a very close relationship between Jihadist radicalism and the phenomenon of gangster networks in Muslim townships – it has, for instance, quoted Ed Husain (op. cit.) as saying: “… Abdeslam… gained cover and immunity from state prosecution since November  until now [March 2016] because of the protection he’s enjoyed from radicalized jihadi gangsters, a new phenomenon now here in Europe” (my emph.).
● The ICSR (op. cit.) has confirmed what much of the mainstream media has often been reporting as regards the “jihadist milieu” entrenched in the Muslim ghettoes of Western Europe – it notes: “In addition, there is an unknown number of ‘stay-home-supporters’ [in Western Europe] who are often part of the same jihadist milieus from which the foreign fighters are recruited…” (my emph.).
● It is definitely an article written by Alissa J. Rubin for the New York Times (dated 21.3.2016) that best encapsulates this section on the social structure of the Muslim ghetto as a “closed” system potentially operating as a “social base” for Jihadist networks. Parts of this text are especially insightful – we read with reference to the case of Abdeslam: “For 125 days, the authorities in Belgium had failed to find Salah Abdeslam… holed up in or near the insular immigrant section of Brussels where he had grown up… Mr. Abdeslam’s Molenbeek was… [an] insular sub-community, made up of small-time drug dealers and petty criminals, unemployed young men with few prospects… It was this Molenbeek that sustained him before and after the attacks…” (my emph.). And specifically as regards the “atmosphere” of Molenbeek, the text continues: “It can seem at times as if a community has migrated to Belgium with its customs, loyalties and language intact, putting a premium on family ties and fostering an insularity that made finding Mr. Abdeslam that much harder. Johan Leman, an anthropologist who works in Molenbeek, said the atmosphere resembled the culture of omertà, the code of silence followed by the Mafia” (my emph.).
To be continued… [Theme 1c: The sub-cultural order of the Muslim ghetto – the specifics of its sub-cultural worldview].