For over a decade, Europe’s struggle to successfully integrate certain segments of its urban Muslim population has been evident. But throughout the years a new and distinctly European phenomenon arose, which is as significant as it is underreported: Gangster Islam. It entails the conflation of the seemingly a-religious street culture of youths from a Muslim background on the one hand, and elements of the Islamic religion on the other.
The German publication Der Spiegel once briefly touched on the matter, a Danish documentary highlighted Islamic extremists recruiting gang members from a Muslim background, and a Dutch terrorism expert pointed out how Syrian returnees were more likely to live a life of crime in order to finance the jihad than to actually commit a terror attack.
One would think that after having spent millions of euros on interreligious dialogues, cultural sensitivity training and moral diversity chairs, Europe’s social scientists would have punctured the surface by now. But a fundamental discussion on how and why street culture and religion conflate, and the implications of this new hybrid culture, seems so far to have been shied away from.
The analyses that have been made conclude that gang members and jihadist mostly resemble one another in their tendency towards and fascination with violence. However, the resemblances between seemingly a-religious street youths from a Muslim background and Islamists, are actually more numerous and way less generic. Their main parallels are:
- Both harbour subversive intentions toward their European host societies.
- Both primarily identify as Muslim.
- Both are vocal in their hatred for Jews.
- Both glorify violence.
For brevity’s sake, in the exploration of these parallels, “street youths from a Muslim background” will henceforth be referred to simply as “youths“.
Islamists have a historical and highly detailed system of beliefs dictating not to integrate into host societies, and when possible to subvert that social fabric by missionary work (Dawah).
Youths, on the other hand, seem to feel a more diffuse, a-historical and a-religious aversion toward their societies. It’s mostly a combination of conducting themselves in a manner that makes them very hard to live with (committing robberies, public intimidation and drug trafficking), being angry at their non-Muslim environment for thinking they’re hard to live with, and acting out frustrations over their alleged ‘exclusion and disenfranchisement’ by being even more insufferable.
In large cities such as Amsterdam, The Hauge, Rotterdam and Utrecht, this manifests itself as a crime wave that undermines the general sense of security and social cohesion to the point where people are terrorised out of their neighbourhoods, or preemptively leave by choice.
This is a form of subversion without a clear ideological underpinning, but like their Islamist counterparts, it’s subversion nonetheless.
Both primarily identify as Muslim
Robberies, public intimidation, drug trafficking, and soft drug and alcohol usage by youths might not appear to be all that pious. However, their sense of identity and outward presentation definitely does have a distinctly religious character, as is the case with the majority of the overall European Muslim population.
“Religion is central to the identity of European Muslims. With the exception of Muslims in France, they tend to identify themselves primarily as Muslim rather than as British, Spanish, or German. In France, Muslims are split almost evenly on this question. The level of Muslim identification in Britain, Spain, and Germany is similar to that in Pakistan, Nigeria, and Jordan, and even higher than levels in Egypt, Turkey, and Indonesia.”
Youths view themselves as a part of the worldwide Islamic nation (Ummah), and no matter how subversive their actions get, they would never speak of Islam with disdain, or openly obstruct the ‘Islamic cause‘.
They have the utmost contempt for European authorities, but if they were to accept any authority at all, it’s very likely one that’s religious in nature. This is, for example, why the city of The Hague actively allows members of a Salafist mosque to patrol the streets to keep youths at bay.
That Islamists also primarily identify themselves as Muslim, needs little explanation.
Just listen to their rap videos
It is thus no coincidence that some of these youths’ cultural expressions such as rap videos are laced with Islamic themes, terms and symbols. Take the Dutch-Moroccan rapper Ismo for example. In his debut video (which garnered more than 7.4 million views on YouTube in a country of only 17 million people), he can be heard bragging about his earthly success as a street hustler, as well as rapping highly religious lines:
“I believe nothing blindly except the Quran.” “The devil calls but I won’t give him a chance.” “I hate the Jews even more than the Nazis” and “I won’t shake hands with faggots”.
(Milo must feel devastated).
Both groups hate Jews
Multiple studies by the professor of sociology Mark Elchardus showed that more than half of all Muslim students in Brussels, Gent and Antwerp harbour antisemitic views; a percentage that’s probably even higher among youths with sociopathic tendencies. And it’s not exactly as if they’re trying to hide it either.
Examples of youths saying things like “whenever I see them [Jews] I want to stab them“, performing Nazi salutes at Jews, or plainly saying that they hate Jews, are numerous. That a similar antisemitism is also practised daily by Islamists, is sadly self-evident.
Both glorify violence
A shared tendency towards and admiration for violence is so obvious even Europe’s social scientists picked up on it. But, as was described, this is actually just the most generic resemblance. Youths glorify gang-related violence. Islamists glorify religious violence. However, it is also very common for youths to rejoice in religious violence. They can, for example, be seen praising Osama Bin Laden – “He hates Jews, we hate Jews” – or the Al-Qaeda operators who massacred the Charlie Hebdo staff.
What seems to stand out is that Islamists only very rarely address or condemn the subversive behaviour of their not-so-pious youths. One might wonder why. After all, they put the Muslim population as a whole in a bad light.
But actually, it seems to make perfect sense.
While Islamists subvert their societies in a religiously inspired manner, Muslim street youths do so in a more earthly fashion. The latter is highly advantageous to Islamists because, in the end, it is the subversion of non-Muslim societies by people who primarily identify as Muslim.
European lawmakers and pundits think Europe’s problem with Islam is solely that of Islamism. But in fact, the problem is more pervasive and widespread. Unless they start to acknowledge how the Gangster Islam dynamic is eroding European social fabrics, their policies will lag behind reality for decades to come.