After major terrorist attacks hit Brussels and Paris, Europe is still reeling. These atrocities prompted a heated dispute between two noted French scholars of political Islam, Gilles Kepel and Olivier Roy, over why a handful of European Muslims become terrorists.

Their disagreement isn’t just an intellectual squabble. It strikes to the heart of how the West understands violent Islamist extremism — and what the appropriate policy responses might be.

European terrorists are mostly homegrown

Most of the assailants in the recent Brussels and Paris attacks were raised in either France or Belgium. As were those who carried out the January 2015 assault on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris. Why did these people turn against their own countrymen — and who or what is to blame?

Both Kepel and Roy are leading experts on political Islam whose works are widely read by policymakers. And they disagree vigorously about why French and Belgian citizens of Muslim extraction turn to terrorism.

Is Islam to blame?

In the wake of the Paris attacks last November, Roy wrote in Le Monde that we shouldn’t be talking about the “radicalization of Islam” but rather the “Islamization of radicalism.” Roy doesn’t see radicalization as the result of a country’s failure to integrate immigrant communities. Even more controversially, he downplays the role of religion.

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Image courtesy of Reuters

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