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What is “ radical ” about Islam?. Citizenship and Immigration Canada Ottawa 28 April 2009. A seminar by Dr Sara Silvestri Cambridge University and City University London. My areas of work. RESEARCH: Interdisciplinary (across Internat.Politics and Sociology)

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What is radical about islam l.jpg

What is “radical” about Islam?

Citizenship and Immigration Canada

Ottawa 28 April 2009

A seminar by Dr Sara Silvestri

Cambridge University and City University London

Dr Sara Silvestri


My areas of work l.jpg
My areas of work


  • Interdisciplinary (across Internat.Politics and Sociology)

  • mainly qualitative + collaboration on quantitative projects


    - Muslim political mobilisation and institutions in Europe- European public policies towards religion and Muslim communities- Suspect Communities (counter-terrorism effects on Irish & Muslims in UK)

    - Radicalisation: secular and religious

    - Migration, integration and social cohesion, gender


    Political Islam & Muslims in EuropeReligion in Global Politics, EU, International Relations


    consultant/advisor on Muslims in Europe, intercultural dialogue, counter-terrorism (EuroMed, EU, UN Alliance of Civilisations, UK gov, think thanks)

Dr Sara Silvestri


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Religion: what it is

  • Spiritual search

  • Answer to the mystery of death & life,

  • Source of ethical values

  • Externalised through practices and rituals which reinforce belonging

  • A way to organise society

  • An element ofculture or shaped by culture?

  • Theologians have distinguished between FAITH (belief, spirituality) and RELIGION (as set of practices, anthropocentric)

Dr Sara Silvestri


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Religion: what it does

  • Connects transcendent (supra-natural dimension of immortality and perfection) with immanent (mortal, earthly and imperfect dimension of humans)

  • Proposes a unique universal truth that provides a comprehensive belief system, a view of world order that also suggest how to organise human relations

  • Calls for personal engagement


Dr Sara Silvestri


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The political dimension of religions (esp.monotheistic)

  • Refer to a holy scripture that is unchanging and that indicates values inform family structures and norms for social organisation

  • In their effort to connect transcendent and immanent they impinge on real life

  • In time religions have enabled political leaders or social groups embracing a particular religion to create boundaries and to strengthen their authority

Dr Sara Silvestri


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Radicalisation (official def.)

  • European Commission (2005): “Violent radicalisation” is the phenomenon of people embracing opinions, views and ideas which could lead to acts of terrorism

  • UK Gov. (2009): “process by which people come to support violent extremism and, in some cases, join terrorist groups”.Contest II addresses long term causes, before radicalisation becomes “violent”; entails monitoring adherence to ideologies

  • Dutch Gov. (2004): “Radicalism is an (increasing) readiness to pursue and/or support one’s own political or social beliefs, which may imply far -reaching changes in society and a threat to the democratic legal system and/or may involve the application of undemocratic means to that end”. (2005 doc.) 3 types of radicalism: Islamist, right wing, animalists

Dr Sara Silvestri


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Radicalisation (cont.)

Research shows that:

  • It is a process

  • No one pattern (personal psychology, ideology, domestic or international causes, socio-economic conditions)

  • Entails opposition, resistance, dissent

Dr Sara Silvestri


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Key terms in Islamic theology and history used by Islamists

  • Acceptance of Mohammad’s message calling for total submission to God written in Quran by following principles and examples of religious life provided by Quran & Hadith (Sunna) and by adhering to the 5 pillars

  • Tawhid (unity and unique sovereignty of God)

  • Ummah (global, transnational community, sense of universality)

  • Tradition: Quran+Hadith (sources of inspiration and authority) + Salaf (ancestors)

  • Societal reform based on sense of divine justice

  • Recreation of the Caliphate (perfect harmonious polity)

  • Sharia (set of legal principles enshrined in holy scriptures, provides framework, point of reference)

Dr Sara Silvestri


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Islamists’ Characteristics

  • Narrative: revival of mythical past, alternative polity, resistance, identification with oppression of Muslims throughout the world, assimilation of third-worldist causes

  • Strategy: opposition, dissent, collaboration, undermine the establishment, adaptation

  • Location: mosques, educational centres, private associations/ civil society

  • Membership: middle classes & students (often socialised in West) + masses

Dr Sara Silvestri


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Islamist groups (some with extreme-violent offshoots)

  • Salafist family (revivalism)

  • Muslim Brothers & Jamaat-i-Islami (reform, renewal)

  • Takfiri (reject politics)

  • Tablighi (pietists, reject politics, traditionalists)

  • Salafi-Jihadi (hybrid recent development)

  • Hitz-ut-Tahrir (yes political engagement no democracy)

  • Fetullah Gulen - conservative

  • Islamic Jihad, Al Qaeda & co.

Dr Sara Silvestri


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The “radical” messages of Islam & Islamism

  • POLITICAL: Questions secular authority and power relations. Absolute sovereignty of God

  • PHILOSOPHICAL: Calls for societal transformation > potential for dissidence, subversion, revolution (already since Ibn Taymiyyaa, 14th cent.)

  • PHYSICAL & HISTORICAL: Violence nexus in Mohammad’s life (but needs be contextualised and historicised) and in path undertaken by Islamist groups once mainstream political engagement closed

Dr Sara Silvestri


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Frame of understanding: Orientations and objectives

  • RESISTANCE Towards country of origin: reform, against corruption

  • RESISTANCE Towards country of settlement: Islamisation, Dawah, advocacy of minority rights, awareness of Islam

  • Commitment to global transnational project

Dr Sara Silvestri


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Project on Secular and Religious forms of Radicalisation(ESF sponsored with colleagues at ISIM and London Metropolitan Univ.)

  • Extreme right & left movements in Europe since 60s

  • Interconnection between the secular, the political and the religious dimensions

  • The role of political culture and lifestyle

  • The historical context (national, local, international, + grievances & understandings of identity)

  • Global transformations of youth culture and of established forms of authority in both Western and non-Western societies

Dr Sara Silvestri


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Religion’s (&Islam’s) contribution to Radicalisation?

  • Assumption that theology and religious leaders endorse violence – not always valid

  • Political Theology (world order, authority)

  • Narrative, history (events, stepping stones, figures)

  • Symbols and rituals

  • Socialisation (family, friends, community)

  • Fluidity and osmosis – religious shopping, in and out of networks

    >> Religion as a vehicle, provider of powerful narrative and symbols

Dr Sara Silvestri