Scottish Muslims have done better economically and live in less segregated environments than in other European countries
by ROBERT BECKHUSEN
One of the most serious national security issues facing Western Europe is the radicalization of young, alienated Muslim men living on the margins of society. In Belgium and France, hundreds of men have joined the Islamic State — pointing to radicalization affecting whole communities.
The problem is fueling an anti-refugee and anti-immigrant backlash coupled with widespread anti-Muslim sentiment. But it’s possible to have an inclusive, immigrant-friendly society where the Islamic State’s propaganda fails to find support.
Just look at Scotland.
In an April article for CTC Sentinel, the monthly newsletter of West Point’s Combat Terrorism Center, social scientist Stefano Bonino wrote that Scotland’s relatively more immigrant-friendly culture is a poor fit for radical Islam, and Scottish Muslims are far less likely to find the Islamic State’s propaganda attractive.
“There are lessons that counterterrorism experts can learn from Scotland,” Bonino wrote. “Some trans-Atlantic similarities emerge between Scotland and Canada and explain how a social democratic politics with relaxed attitudes toward immigration and less aggressive foreign policies is attractive to Muslim communities, potentially reducing the appeal of grievance-based jihadi propaganda.”
But Bonino cautioned that “there remain questions as to whether the allure of violent Islamism is reduced or simply hidden.”
The allure exists, although Scottish recruits to the Islamic State are relatively small in number. Several Scots have joined the Islamic State, and one prominent recruiter was killed in a British drone strike in Syria last year. Nor is Scotland immune to terrorist attacks. In 2007, two men attempted to bomb the Glasgow airport, but the perpetrators were not from Scotland.
Bonino suggests a combination of socio-economic circumstances, lower levels of segregation between Muslims and non-Muslims and the peculiar character of Scottish politics has much to do with reducing the appeal of radical Islam.
Scots of Pakistani descent comprise the largest Muslim community in the country, and these immigrants and their descendants came from relatively wealthier Punjab. Scottish Pakistanis are also more likely than other immigrant groups to own their own businesses. Belgium is the opposite — the Muslim community is poorer and far more segregated.
“Overall, Scottish Pakistanis have sown the seeds for economic success in the country and have offered a public image as a hard-working community, bestowing on younger generations a future of relative financial stability,” Bonino wrote.
Another factor is the success of the Scottish National Party, which combines separatist nationalism with democratic socialist policies. The SNP failed to pull Scotland out of the United Kingdom in a 2014 referendum, but later swept the Labour Party — the traditional heavyweight in Scottish politics — in the 2015 U.K. general election.
The SNP also takes an anti-interventionist but pro-NATO stance. Bonino added:
While the spectre of populism looms behind any type of nationalism, and the SNP has ostensibly embraced anti-British positions, the political stance taken by the party have undoubtedly gained unprecedented domestic support from the Scottish Muslim population.
Arguably, domestic and foreign policies should consider longer-term, wider national and geopolitical dynamics and interests. However, for local exercises of community cohesion and the prevention of violent extremism, the Scottish government could not find any better marketing tool to draw Muslims into their ideological ranks than to oppose many of the policies rolled out by the disliked London elites. Being Scottish “because we are not English” may well be the new badge of identity for a generation of Scottish Muslims, who are disenfranchised by a political system that they perceive to be concentrated in the faraway palaces of power in London. Overall, Scottish political astuteness could well help to starve violent Islamist recruiters of the oxygen that they need to turn young Muslims against Scottish society.
But notice the dynamic at work — an Islamist tribalism hasn’t caught on in Scotland. More popular is a Scottish identity that is less enthusiastic about staying in the United Kingdom.
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