The Rise of Radical Islam & Western Societies

The rise of radical Islamist ideology in recent years has emerged as a grave threat to the stability and values of Western democracies. This concerning trend is closely intertwined with the unprecedented challenges posed by mass migration and a resurgence of anti-Semitism not seen since the dark days of the 1930s. As these forces collide and intensify, they are testing the resilience and cohesion of diverse societies and raising uncomfortable questions about identity, integration, and the limits of tolerance.

In the wake of the 2015 migrant crisis, when over a million refugees from predominantly Muslim countries sought asylum in Europe, the continent has struggled to integrate these newcomers while ensuring security and social harmony. The vast majority of these migrants are fleeing conflict and persecution, seeking a better life for themselves and their families. However, even a small minority harboring extremist views can have an outsized impact, straining social services, challenging liberal values, and potentially radicalizing disaffected youth.

Estimates suggest that over 50,000 EU citizens joined brutal Islamist terrorist groups like ISIS in Iraq and Syria between 2011-2016, with many returning battle-hardened and further radicalized. Attacks in Paris, Brussels, Nice, Berlin, and other cities have shattered any illusions that Europe’s open societies are immune to the forces of jihadist extremism. These atrocities have fueled a backlash against migration, with far-right populist parties gaining ground by exploiting fears over Islam, terrorism, and the erosion of national identity.

British author Douglas Murray delves into these fraught issues in his provocative 2017 book “The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam.” Murray paints a bleak picture of a continent on the brink of cultural suicide, arguing that Europe’s political and intellectual elites have failed to address the existential challenges arising from mass migration and the clash of fundamentally different value systems. He contends that a toxic mix of historical guilt, moral relativism, and misguided multiculturalism has left Europe unable to defend its Enlightenment values and assert its cultural identity in the face of an increasingly assertive and politicized Islam.

Critics accuse Murray of overstatement and fearmongering, pointing out that the vast majority of Muslims in the West are peaceful, law-abiding citizens seeking to integrate and contribute to their adopted societies. They argue that singling out Islam as uniquely problematic risks alienating Muslim communities, feeding into the very narrative of victimhood and grievance that radicals exploit. Moreover, they stress that the challenges of integration are not insurmountable, citing examples of successful programs that emphasize language skills, job training, civic education, and interfaith dialogue.

Yet even as this debate rages, another ancient hatred has resurged with alarming intensity: anti-Semitism. Islamist extremists have cynically leveraged the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to spread their ideology and incite violence against Jews, often under the guise of “anti-Zionism.” The year 2021 saw record numbers of anti-Semitic incidents in many Western countries, from vandalism of synagogues to physical assaults on Jews. In the US, the Anti-Defamation League tallied 2,717 incidents, a 34% jump from 2020 and the highest figure since 1979. The UK saw a shocking 78% spike in violent attacks on Jews, while Germany and France also reported sharp increases.

Disturbingly, this trend has only accelerated in the aftermath of the conflict between Israel and Hamas in May 2021. The events surrounding the planned evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem and clashes at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound sparked a new wave of violence, with Hamas and other militant groups launching thousands of rockets at Israeli cities and Israel responding with airstrikes on Gaza. The conflict claimed over 250 lives, mostly Palestinian civilians, and caused widespread destruction.

In the wake of these events, anti-Israel protests erupted in cities around the world, ostensibly in solidarity with the Palestinian cause. However, many of these demonstrations quickly devolved into blatant displays of anti-Semitism, with protesters chanting “Death to Jews,” attacking Jewish businesses and institutions, and assaulting visibly identifiable Jews on the streets. In London, a convoy of cars drove through Jewish neighborhoods with loudspeakers blaring “F*** the Jews, rape their daughters.” In Los Angeles, a mob of pro-Palestinian protesters attacked Jewish diners at a sushi restaurant, screaming anti-Semitic slurs.

Islamist extremist groups have cynically seized on the Palestinian issue as a pretext to advance their hateful agenda and incite violence against Jews and the West more broadly. Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, and ISIS have all invoked the Palestinian cause in their propaganda, presenting themselves as the defenders of an oppressed Muslim community while advocating for the destruction of Israel and the subjugation of Jews. By framing their struggle in religious terms, these groups seek to rally support from disaffected Muslim youth worldwide and legitimize their violent, totalitarian ideologies.

This dynamic was on full display after the events of October 7th in Israel, when a Hamas terrorist brutally murdered a young Israeli mother and seriously wounded her four-year-old son in a shooting attack in the West Bank. The attack was widely celebrated by Islamist extremists online, with many praising the shooter as a hero and martyr for the Palestinian cause. Disturbingly, some of these same voices were at the forefront of “Free Palestine” protests in Western cities, exposing the insidious overlap between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

These incidents underscore the urgent need for Western societies to confront the rising tide of radical Islamism and anti-Semitism head-on. Governments, civil society groups, and moderate Muslim leaders must work together to promote tolerant, pluralistic interpretations of Islam that categorically reject extremism. Integration efforts must be redoubled, with a focus on fostering democratic values, social cohesion, and economic opportunity. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies need the tools and resources to identify and neutralize extremist networks before they can strike.

At the same time, Western societies must not compromise on their core values of freedom, equality, and the rule of law in the name of accommodating cultural differences. A zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism, hate speech, and bigotry must be paired with determined efforts to promote inclusive national identities that transcend race, religion, and ethnicity. Crucially, all attempts to exploit the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to justify radicalism and anti-Jewish hatred must be firmly rejected, even as good-faith efforts to achieve a just and lasting peace continue.

There are no easy answers to these complex, deeply rooted challenges. Painful conversations about identity, belonging, and the limits of pluralism will be necessary, as will good-faith efforts to build trust and understanding between communities. Mistakes will be made, setbacks will occur, and the forces of division and extremism will not yield easily.

But for all the daunting obstacles ahead, there is also reason for hope. The vast majority of people in Western societies, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, reject the poison of radicalism and hatred. They believe in the promise of liberty, democracy, and human rights, and are willing to work hard to build a future of greater opportunity and understanding for all. By reaffirming these universal values, by standing united against bigotry and extremism in all their forms, and by investing in the hard work of integration and community-building, Western societies can emerge stronger, more cohesive, and better equipped to face the challenges of a rapidly changing world. The stakes could not be higher, nor the urgency greater, for the fight against radical Islamism, anti-Semitism, and the forces of division is nothing less than a battle for the soul of Western civilization itself.

About the Author
Yoni Diller is an Israeli terror attack survivor and advocate who focuses on Jewish resilience, fighting antisemitism, Israeli affairs, and geopolitics. He has a degree in political science and extensive experience in leadership, activism, and public speaking.