Interview with Matenia Sirseloudi: What Drives Young People to Jihad?

What is behind the Islamicisation and radicalisation of young people in Europe? To what extent do European foreign policies and military interventions abroad play a role in this? Albrecht Metzger spoke to sociologist Dr Matenia Sirseloudi about politically motivated violence and radicalisation processes

Why are jihadists attacking the West? Do they hate us for what we are or for what we do?

Matenia Sirseloudi: There is, of course, a part of the jihadist ideology that wants to attack us for what we are. On the other hand, the impetus to take action and attack us comes from a declaration of defensive jihad against us. This relates to our actions and in particular to our foreign policy actions. The jihadists consider these actions to be an attack on the Muslim world.

You are conducting research into something known as “spill-over effects”, in other words the extent to which western intervention in Muslim countries could contribute to the radicalisation of Muslims in Europe. What led you to this subject?

Sirseloudi: After the attacks in Madrid and London, the European Commission decided to invest more in prevention and to focus on radicalisation processes in the Islamist environment that could lead to terrorist acts in Europe. Within this context, I conducted an initial study of the impact of external conflicts on Islamist radicalisation processes in Europe.

In our project, which is supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), we are now researching the effect that these external factors – including Germany’s foreign and security policy behaviour – have on the jihadist discourse and on three different radicalised environments: the jihadists, the Islamists, and vulnerable youths.

As you know, the argument used by the jihadist-inspired perpetrators to justify the attacks on the commuter trains in Madrid in 2004 was that they wanted to force Spain out of the alliance of countries that had been involved in the military intervention in Iraq. Similarly, the French gunman Mohammed Merah used external conflicts – in his case the Middle East and Afghanistan – to justify his targeted murders.