Social and economic marginalisation in European cities is a key factor in radicalisation, sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar warns

In his recent article, the sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar writes that a significant factor in jihadist radicalisation in Europe is the “jihadogenous urban structure”, a type of city district which produces jihadists at a much higher rate than other districts by shaping “the identity of those who are socially excluded and culturally stigmatised”.

He observes that in almost all countries in Europe exist cities where the numbers of those who have left to fight with ISIS in Syria, as well as the numbers of those who have committed domestic acts of terrorism, are much higher than the national average. One example of such an area is the social housing district of Abrivados in the French town of Lunel. Twenty young people who travelled to Syria from here between 2013 and 2015 and survived are now on trial, illustrating just how many people in the area were the victims of radicalisation.

Khosrokhavar writes that the higher levels of radicalisation in these areas may be due to two distinct types of effect. The first are the formal and informal networks which exist between young people in these neighbourhoods. The second is “the specificity of the urban structure”; the concentration of young people of a similar ethnic origin in areas characterised by stigmatisation and anger amongst a group of the population, the development of an underground economy and ghettoization which attracts youth and turns them against ‘normal’ economic ventures, a high unemployment rate in comparison to the national rate, a high school drop-rate, a higher-than-average delinquency rate, fragmented family structure, a strong sense of stigma, and the isolation of the district from the wider area.

Urban structures such as these shape the identities of the culturally stigmatised and socially excluded. As Khosrokhavar writes, young people in these areas “internalise social exclusion and make it an identity principle as well as a way of life. In turn, victimisation accentuates exclusion and becomes an aggravating factor insofar as the individual separates himself from society and no longer tries to enter it through normal channels”. Internalising their predicaments means these individuals define themselves in an antagonistic manner towards society and become deviant in order to ensure their social promotion.

The ethnic minority status of these individuals is hugely significant to this radicalisation. Khosrokhavar writes that they “feel coerced” by belonging to neither their ethnic identity nor the identity of their country of residence and also might find themselves bearing the societal stigma which is attached to this double “non-identity”. Thus, he writes, “They find a substitute identity in Islam, and by espousing it, they put an end to their dual non-identity”.

In fact, it is their non-citizenship, their non-identity with their country of origin, which they seek to accentuate through aggression and other provocative means. These include creating their own slang through which to refer to those who do fit the identity of the country of origin. Khosrokhavar writes that the result is a “mirror game” as racism and counter-racism mix.

In their climate of double non-identity then, “The transition to jihadism of a small minority of them restores, on the imaginary plane, pride, even dignity in opposition to society, legitimising blind violence against it”.

Of course, not all radicalisation of jihadists happens under these conditions. Recruitment of young people to jihadist movements happens in middle-class neighbourhoods and other factors are certainly at play in the radicalisation process, such as the establishment of domestic branches of Islamist groups by European countries in the latter half of the last century in order to influence Middle Eastern conflicts. However, Khosrokhavar argues that most European jihadists do come from the urban areas described above.

He concludes, “In short, Europe is sick of its enclaved and impoverished neighbourhoods where young people, mostly of immigrant origin and economically marginalised, are locked up. Not knowing how to integrate them, and as long as this urban structure is not challenged, we can expect either jihadism or a frenzied delinquency in an enclosed environment where at the same time we have the development of puritanical and sectarian religiosity, a pietist Salafism”. Implicit in his analysis, is the need to address not only the ideological causes of radicalisation, but also the social and economic causes, something that has often been lacking in literature on the subject.

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Khosrokhavar, F. (2018) ‘Hotbeds of anger and resentment’. [online] 30 July. [Accessed 5 August 2018].