Contemporary Islam

, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp 109–122 | Cite as

A theory of Islamic political radicalism in Britain: sociology, theology and international political economy

  • Tahir AbbasEmail author


This polemical essay based on on-going ethnographic research explores the phenomenon of Islamic political radicalism in Western Europe, in particular Britain, and the challenges that emerge in relation to the maintenance of a successful multicultural project. Analysing recent events in Western Europe, namely the Madrid train bombings and the murder of Theo van Gogh in 2004 and the London suicide bombings in 2005, this paper argues that Islamic political radicalism is on the increase because of factors that are both endogenous and exogenous to the various Muslim minority communities. Local, national and international pressures conspire to compound the aspirations, expectations, attitudes and perceptions of already disenfranchised groups. First, the layers of the ‘radicalisation onion’ are peeled away to explore the nature of the experience of Muslim minorities, analysing questions of evolving Islamic political identities in the context of the 2001 terrorist attacks and subsequent ‘war on terror.’ Second, the dynamics of Islamic political radicalisation are discussed, specifically alluding to the Qur’anic ideals that ‘Jihadis’ variously appropriate. Finally, the discussion explores the ways in which the nation-state has involved Muslim elite groups in acting as a bridge between government and the Muslim citizen. Many young Muslims view these actions cynically with elites vying for position and profile in an intensely active period of political manoeuvring. In conclusion, it is argued that should the status quo remain intact, the threat of Islamic political radicalisation will persist and solutions will be as much dependent on the nation-state becoming aware of its potential role while disaffected Muslim minorities continue to develop theological and sociological approaches to life in the non-Muslim West.


Radicalism Islamism Multiculturalism New Labour Britain 



This article develops and extends arguments first published by Abbas (2001) and in the introduction to Abbas (2005) and Abbas (2007). It has been presented and benefited from discussion at a number of domestic venues, including at foreign and Commonwealth office, Prison service Headquarters, Franco-British Council and Oxford University Centre for Islamic Studies. And, Internationally, on foreign office and British Council funded trips to Indonesia and Singapore in 2006 and to Pakistan in 2007, and at the September 2006 Association of Muslim of Social Scientists International Conference, ‘Citizenship, Security and Democracy,’ Istanbul, Turkey. I should also like to thank Dr Laura Zahra Macdonald, Dr Aslam Khaki and Shamila Ahmed of the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Culture at the University of Birminghan for valuable comments on an earlier version of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Reader in Sociology, Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and CultureBirmingham UniversityBirminghamUK

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