Is a form of violence returning that Europe once considered overcome?
Khosrokhavar: Thatʹs exactly it – in the European secular model, violence on religious grounds was considered a thing of the past. Jihad is all about religion, about God. These are very different categories, incomprehensible to Europeans. Thatʹs why the impact of jihadism on society is so different compared to that of left-wing or right-wing terror, for instance.
Aside from that, in jihadism indiscriminate violence erupts in a very different brutality than the violent left-wing extremism of the Red Army Faction in Germany or the Italian Red Brigades. These groups were also violent, but they focused on certain groups of people such as capitalists, the military or politicians, not just anybody. Jihadists murder randomly, however. That dimension is very frightening.
Do you share the assessment that Islamist terror is the main threat to Europe?
Khosrokhavar: In my view, the threat is more of a symbolic one than a real danger, even though it has killed 200 people in France over the past two years. Under symbolic aspects, it is a serious threat because Islamist terrorism is driving Europe into the hands of right-wing populists. Thatʹs the great danger, be it PEGIDA and the AfD in Germany, the Front National in France or the Dutch right-wing populists. In the context of Europe as a whole, the numbers of victims arenʹt huge but theyʹre always innocent people, which we have to condemn outright. Itʹs especially the questioning of European civilisation with its secular democracy in combination with indiscriminate violence that whips up so much fear.
How can Europe react adequately?
Khosrokhavar: Thereʹs a short-term option and a long-term one. In the short term, the security apparatus and the police have to react, but in the long time we have to take a look at the social dimension as well. Urban structures can create jihadism. We have more and more deprived areas in our cities, where migrants have no perspectives at all. We have to try to offer these young people the same opportunities to participate in society. Sociological studies show that a young man named Mohammed does not have the same opportunities in Germany, France or the UK as someone called Robert.
Another factor is that about a quarter to a third of Muslims hold fundamentalist views. That doesnʹt mean theyʹre jihadists. But it does show how much work we have cut out for us. We have to explain more strongly what it means to be a citizen, what democracy means – and at the same time create genuine equal opportunities. We can only solve the problem of terrorism in the long term if we tackle these issues. Itʹs an illusion to believe we could fight terrorism by means of security policy alone.
Youʹve written that the decline of political institutions is alarming in this context. Why is that?
Khosrokhavar: Political institutions lend meaning to our living together. There have been many different utopias for co-existence in Europe – socialist or republican utopias in France, feminist and nation-state utopias – but all of them have been lost. Thatʹs what makes the repressive utopia of "Islamic State" (IS) attractive for some young people. Societies need utopias, but they have to be governable. Be it a utopia of human rights, feminism, ecology or social justice: people need these visions of the future.
Interview by Claudia Mende
© Qantara.de 2018
Translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire
The French-Iranian sociologist Farhard Khosrokhavar is director of studies at the Ecole des hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. His book "Radicalisation" was published in German translation by the Europaische Verlagsanstalt in 2016.