Tag Archives: citizenship

Radicalization: Inclusivity, Poverty, and other Factors


Michael Adebowale, one of the suspects in the Woolwich (London) murder.

Michael Adebowale, one of the suspects in the Woolwich (London) murder.

A British soldier was beheaded in an attack by two Muslims on the streets of London earlier this week. The two men who murdered Lee Rigby, a soldier in the British army, who had served in Afghanistan and Cyprus, were described as Nigerian-British who converted to Islam after college. The attacks have sparked concerns about the threat of reprisal attacks against Muslims in England, and raise concerns about a general anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe.

Muslims in Europe were already concerned about laws they perceive as undermining the practice of their faith. While the United Kingdom had historically avoided much of the attention, Muslims in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands had complained of discriminatory laws which they argue impinge on their religious freedoms. A 2004 French law, for example, banned the wearing of the conspicuous display of religious symbols in school, a move which French Muslims claimed was intended to prohibit wearing the burqa or hijab. In 2010, a more expansive law was passed, prohibiting the wearing of face coverings (like the burqa) in public. Belgium and the Netherlands have passed a similar “burqa bans” in public spaces.

Such bans have proven wildly popular among the electorates. Even in countries without such prohibitions—like Sweden and Denmark—public opinion polling regularly finds support for such bans exceeding 60 percent of respondents.

Why is there so much concern over Islamic religious practices in Europe?

Muslims in Europe are a growing and highly visible minority population. Across Europe, approximately 6 percent of the total population is Muslim. Many far-right European political parties have painted immigration—particularly Muslim immigrants—as a threat to the “traditional way of life,” arguing that immigrants pose a threat to national identity. Europe’s current economic instability no doubt contributes as well. And in the United Kingdom, British involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan likely also plays a role.

The nature of citizenship in Europe is an important underlying factor. In the United States, citizenship is based on is determined by birthplace. People born in the United States are American citizens, regardless of the citizenship of their parents. In international law, this is referred to as jus soil, the right of the soil. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, about 8 percent of all children born in the United States are born to parents who were not citizens of the United States. Many European countries, by contrast, base citizenship not on birthplace but on the citizenship of the parents. This is referred to as jus sanguinis the right of blood. Children born to German parents, for example, are German citizens regardless of where they were born. People born in Germany to non-German parents, by contrast, do not necessarily receive German citizenship. In the case of Germany, this has created a problem for millions of Turks born to parents who were guestworkers in Germany but who lacked German citizenship.

Some observers note that the differing conceptions of citizenship under such a system can help to radicalize the minority population. Because they are not accepted as “true” citizens, members of such minority populations may become more radicalized and embrace violence as a vehicle for addressing perceived grievances.

Radicalization, of course, is a far more complicated process than can be attributed to citizenship laws. Indeed, Britain is one of the most diverse countries in Europe, and London, its capital, is among the most diverse cities in the world, and Britain has been more accepting of immigrants—and their diverse identities—than has been the case in many other countries.

What do you think? What is the most important factor in explaining the radicalization of minority populations? Does citizenship play a role? Is citizenship and inclusion more important than economic factors? And what do you think will happen in Europe as Islam continues to grow as a minority religion? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Updates to Recent Stories

Two quick updates on recent stories:

Two interesting developments on the situation in Haiti occurred late last week. First, the Obama administration announced it would grant Temporary Protected Status in the United States. This has the effect of temporary suspending deportation proceedings against the estimated 30,0000 Haitians currently pending in the United States. A number of groups have been campaigning for TPS for Haiti.

The International Monetary Fund announced it would make available $100 million in credit for the government of Haiti to fund relief efforts. While the government could certainly use assistance, the debt forgiveness group Jubilee has condemned the use of long-term loans to finance relief efforts, arguing that this will only exacerbate Haiti’s debt problems.

Finally, with respect to the French identity debates, Time magazine on Monday published a story on the problem many French citizens now face in proving their citizenship. According to the story, many people born to French parents abroad are having difficulty proving their citizenship under strict new rules designed restrict the ability of foreigners to obtain French citizenship. Some French citizens have been asked to prove the nationality of their parents and grandparents, providing original birth certificates to support their claims. The policy has been condemned, however, as running the risk of creating new populations of stateless persons.

The Politics of Nationalism and Identity

A fascinating discussion on the politics of citizenship in Africa is taking place on the SSRC’s African Arguments blog. As described by Sebastian Kohn,

Millions of people in Africa are stateless. Some because their births were never recorded, others because they belong to the ‘wrong’ ethnic group. Civil conflicts in Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo and numerous other countries have been fuelled if not created by pernicious citizenship policies that sever the link between certain parts of the population and the state. The politics of statelessness and citizenship discrimination in Africa are complex and potentially explosive.

While certainly important in the context of the struggle for political power and resources, this debate is certainly not unique to the African continent. The French government is currently in the midst of a three-month series of meetings to “reaffirm the values of national identity and pride in being French.” The discussions were prompted by the rise of the far-right French nationalists, who objected to the increasing multiculturalism of French society.

Citizenship (and national identity more generally) has long been a contested political concept. Identity politics can be used in a progressive, inclusive sense. But far more often identity politics are used to exclude certain members of the polity from participating in the body politic. In the context of post-colonial Africa, this is particularly problematic because the borders of state [glossary] and nation [glossary] bear little historical connection to the actual on the ground identities of the people. The creation of artificial states as a result of colonialism has been a problem recognized since the early days of African independence. Indeed, many of Africa’s most celebrated leaders—Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, to name but a few—rose to prominence preaching a message of inclusion. For them, the only solution to the divisions created by colonialism was to establish a new, Pan-African political identity, essentially transcending the political divisions of statehood to create a unified African community.

This vision never materialized. Instead, the politics of identity came to be characterized by exclusion and hierarchy, frequently motivating political violence: Hutus vs. Tutsis in Rwanda, Yoruba vs. Igbo in Nigeria, Xhosas vs. Zulus in South Africa, Shona vs. Ndebele in Zimbabwe, and so on. But rethinking the nature of citizenship and constructing a politics of inclusiveness may represent an important step towards national reconciliation and development. The Truth and Reconcilliation Commission in South Africa sought to address the injustices of apartheid by brining the violence of the apartheid system to public light. Similarly, efforts at national reconciliation following the Rwandan genocide centered on overcoming the divisive politics of ethnicity that characterized the genocide.

Contributing to the discussion on the African Arguments blog, Bronwen Manby offers a powerful conclusion, describing citizenship as “the most important right of all.”  Manby writing,

“Give us our identity cards and we hand over our Kalashnikovs”, said the leader of the rebel forces in Côte d’Ivoire. Those who have never been deprived of official papers may find it hard to imagine the powerlessness that results: powerlessness that can and does lead people to take up arms. Even in the poorest countries, a passport or identity card does not just provide the right to travel, but forms the basis of the right to almost everything else.