What role does colonial history play?
Khosrokhavar: Unlike the relationship between France and North Africa, Germanyʹs history with Turkey does not include colonialism. The Turkish Muslims have strong ties within the community, working for the family and the community is highly valued, which is not the case among Algerians or Moroccans in France. Historically Algerians and Moroccans have been exposed to very different pressures. In the case of Algeria, there was the civil war between the military and radical Islamists from 1991 until 2002/03, which cost 200,000 lives. Among Moroccans, itʹs primarily the Berbers who stand out. They experience rejection and poor treatment from all directions. A large proportion of Moroccan jihadists are Berbers. They struggle with major identity issues, being seen as neither French nor Arab. Such pressures lead to more attacks happening in France than in other countries.
Youʹve spoken of the attackers as "born-again Muslims" who originally come from de-Islamised families and then rediscover religion in a radical form. What role does Islam play in that radicalisation?
Khosrokhavar: That varies from country to country. In France it is indeed the younger generation that has lost its ties to Islam and is now seeking a new identity in jihadism. These youngsters want to reverse the role imposed on them. That means they transform their inferiority into superiority by becoming jihadists. In many cases, these attackers started out as petty criminals sentenced to prison. Behind bars, they turn the equation around and sentence society to death. As jihadists, they become international celebrities. Their photos are broadcast around the world at peak time. So itʹs this re-evaluation that describes their path to radical Islam.
Does the same apply in other European countries?
Khosrokhavar: In the UK thereʹs a closer link between traditionalist Islam and radicalisation. In France, strict laicism has to a certain extent meant cutting the cultural continuity of Islam, which is not really the case in Britain. The Turkish community in Germany is strongly influenced by the Turkish religious affairs authority Diyanet. This institution makes sure that imams donʹt become too radical, meaning Germany experiences a controlled form of Islam with little scope for radicalisation.
When someone attacks passers-by with a knife, it usually prompts a local news item about a criminal offence. As soon as they do so in the name of Islam, the story goes international. What makes this kind of murder so horrifying?
Khosrokhavar: Itʹs because Islam is seen as something absolutely alien in Europeʹs largely secular societies. If someone kills in the name of Corsican or Northern Irish nationalism, people reject it of course, but they understand the historical context. For Europeans, jihad comes from a completely different world. At the same time, it has symbolic meaning, which is central. Anyone killing in the name of jihad is revoking peaceful co-existence at a fundamental level.