How to radicalize Muslims

Hasna-Aitboulahcen-620x330Hasna Aitboulahcen was an attractive and fun-loving young woman: a rebellious tomboy since childhood. She enjoyed wearing cowboy hats, jeans and tee-shirts. She liked clubbing and drinking alcohol. Though a Muslim, she never wore the all-concealing burqa and among the many images of her online there are few, if any, of her wearing the hijab, which covers hair, arms, and shoulders. Friends and relatives report she was frequently reading Facebook and WhatsApp on her phone, but none recalled seeing her reading the Koran. She was a typical young Frenchwoman. 

If you were a recruiter for Da’esh or any other terrorist group, you would be unlikely to see Hasna in the role of Europe’s first female suicide bomber. Even the video she made after being radicalized showed her with the niqab – veil – hanging off her face and adopting a “gangsta” pose. Somehow the rebellion against her upbringing had been rechanneled into a war on the French state. 

It seems that the key event in this transformation was a French law banning the burqa. Even among the large majority of Western Muslims who never wear the burqa and niqab the law banning it seems oppressive and spiteful. The French law – a similar one applies in Belgium – was upheld in the European Court of Human Rights in 2014. The French claim the law is not anti-Muslim, as it also includes balaclavas or other face coverings, but it follows a previous law banning overt religious symbols in public spaces such as schools. Though that covered people wearing “large” crucifixes and orthodox Jewish clothing that was also, principally, an attempt to suppress the burqa. 

Your columnist works in an “access” university, which targets its recruitment on underrepresented groups such as ethnic minorities and is based in a town with a very large South Asian – Indian and Pakistani – population. He lives in the bustling metropolises of London and New York and previously lived in the town which contains Britain’s oldest mosque. The sight of women wearing the burqa and niqab is rare. At the university, while many colleagues – students and staff – wear the modest hijab, burqa and niqab are almost never seen. But if Britain or the US attempted to ban the burqa as France and Belgium have done the reaction of moderate and even lapsed Muslims would be one of anger. To claim that a ban is not targeted at a particular religion would be inane: like saying that a ban on worshipping on Saturday would not be targeted at Jews. 

Donald Trump’s suggestion that the US should “close” mosques in response to terrorism threats is to take a foolish idea such as the extreme secularism of the French state and turn it into a parody of a misdirected tantrum. Trump claims his policy would be aimed only at mosques where there is “talk of jihad.” How is “talk” going to be suppressed by closing a building and angering a population? Trump claims America may “have no choice”. In the sense that any such action would be precluded to the authorities by the First Amendment, he’s correct, though that is not what he meant. He meant that advantage could be gained by it, a proposition so improbable that it would be laughable if it were not likely to help radicalize new suicide bombers. 

qlQuentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at


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