Terror, terrorism and the search for destructive forms of reparative justice

International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES)[1] from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses developments in the Middle East, Balkans and around the world. Dr. Danila Genovese is a researcher in the field of Islamism, Critical Race Theory, Gender Studies, Critical Terrorism Studies and Animal Ethics. In her text entitled “Terror, terrorism and the search for destructive forms of reparative justice” she analyses social and political factors that enabled process of ideological radicalization in Britain and the dynamics of radicalization among young Islamists, as members of a minority community in Britain.

● Dr. Danila Genovese, Researcher in the field of Islamism, Critical Race Theory and Gender studies


Terror, terrorism and the search for destructive forms of reparative justice


The occurrence of a terror attack, whose toll of dead and injured represents an irreparable human loss and a gross human rights violation, should encourage everyone, from the media to government representatives, to refrain from an ideological reading of the facts, and to examine instead the circumstances, the reasons and the motives behind it, in order to understand the root causes and thus help to prevent future strikes. 

Similarly, it should be generally acknowledged that a terror attack is the product of several factors, connected at a deeper level than the doctrinal or theological choices made by the perpetrators. 

By presenting an analysis of my four-year ethnographical work with members of al Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect, two British Islamist parties banned for glorifying terrorism (Terrorism Act 2006, section 2), and partially involved in terrorist attacks in Britain and abroad, this article attempts to open up new lines of enquiry on Islamism, Islamists in Britain and the dynamics of radicalization among young Islamists, as members of a minority community in Britain. 

By presenting an overview of the political agenda of al Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect, I analyse the two parties’ political discourse and practices, through the vocabulary of a fetishist desire for politics nurtured by their members. 

I attempt to discuss the reasons that persuaded many young Islamists to believe in the apparent alternative of a better future, proposed by leaders like Anjoum Choudary and Abu Izzadeen, whom I define as an elite of grievances. I analyse the social and political factors that enabled their process of ideological radicalization and eventually contributed to the tragic choice taken by one of them, Khuram Butt, to carry out a terroristic attack on the 3rd of June 2017. 

Al Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect: an overview   

Al Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect were both the offspring of al Muhagiroun: their plan was to Islamize Britain and “to establish a Khilafa in Downing Street” (Abu Izzadeen, the Saved Sect, personal conversation with the author, June 6, 2006).                   

Al Ghurabaa was headed by Anjoum Choudary and the Saved Sect by Abu Izzadeen. They were banned in 2006 for “glorifying terrorism” (Terrorism Act 2006, section 2). Once the parties had been formally banned by the Home Office, Mr Choudary and Mr Izzadeen re-formed them under different names. They were banned again. This did not stop them from publicly declaring their allegiance to ISIS and the caliph al-Baghdadi or from spreading their message of an incumbent jihad to their young followers.   

In September 2016, Mr Choudary was sentenced to 5 years and 6 months in jail, along with his acolyte Muhammad Rahman.  They were both accused of funding and organizing terrorist acts. 

In January 2016, Mr Izzadeen was sentenced to two years in jail for breaching the Terrorism Act and for leaving the UK illegally. I interviewed Mr Choudary and Mr Izzadeen several times.

Al Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect openly supported al-Qaeda, the 9/11 attacks, the 7/7 suicide bombers, hailing them as the “Magnificent 19” and “avenging heroes”, respectively, and they declared their allegiance to al Baghdadi and to the Islamic state of Iraq and the Levant. 

Mr Choudary and Mr Izzadeen follow the ahl al Sunna wal Jamaa (ASWJ). That means that follow only the Quran and the Sunnah, in accordance with the understanding of the Companions and the family of the prophet Muhammad.     

Overall, the syntax of my meetings, interviews, informal conversations with party members was political, not religious: they reported personal experiences of racism and violence, they spoke of practices of social and economic marginalization in the UK, they expressed hostility to British strategies in the Middle East. My interviewees regarded these as important grievances that led them to oppose the “persecution of Muslims in the UK and its aggressive foreign policy” (Ibrahim, the Saved Sect, personal conversation with the author, April 7, 2007) and to join parties such as Al Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect. 

A detail that emerged from the qualitative research is that the epistemic representation of Islamist leaders as “evil forces”, “hate preachers”, routinely performed by UK officials and media outlets, paradoxically consolidated their popularity among their young followers.   

In the realm of their political practice, my fieldwork revealed that that those parties’ leaders have developed a sort of fetishism for politics, one nurtured through their Islamist discourse of an “Islamic state where the political is at the service of the spiritual” (Anjoum Choudary, al Ghurabaa, personal conversation with the author, June 10, 2006). However, my fieldwork showed that, paradoxically, those leaders aimed at the exact opposite of the spiritualization of politics: the supremacy of politics over religion.

The day after al Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect were banned, on the 18th of July 2006,  I interviewed Mr Choudary at his family home in Redbridge, East London. My first question to him was about his reaction to the decision taken by the Home Secretary John Reid to ban the parties. His view was that the action represented “a total failure of the British government and their capitalistic ideology. Al Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect are ideological movements and political movements for a future of radical justice. The Government rather than engaging in dialogue and discussion, they have tried to silence and repress our voices. I think this is a victory for us” (Anjoum Choudary, al Ghurabaa, personal conversation with the author, July 18, 2006). My next question was strictly related to my surprise at hearing the event being described as a victory and learning, for the first time in my long fieldwork, that al Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect were ideological and political movements. Those attributes were novel and mostly extraneous to the vocabulary and discourses of ASWJ Islamist movements, like al Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect. The fundamental core of their discourse, as Mr Choudary had declared many times previously, “is that Islam comprises all, the true path and it is not absolutely a mere ideology or vulgar politics” (Anjoum Choudary, al Ghurabaa, personal conversation with the author, June 10, 2006). Mr Choudary elaborated on why that was a victory, affirming that “when someone doesn’t have a good counter argument, the easy thing is try to ban the other voices”, but instead of explaining the use of the terms ideological and political, he reinforced that conceptualization by affirming that “if you start to stop people propagating their thoughts and ideas, you push them underground. Ultimately, I think that this will quicken the victory for Islam and the Caliphate, because when you ban something, people will become more interested in it” (Anjoum Choudary, al Ghurabaa, personal conversation with the author, July 18, 2006). 

One could see that a discursive practice and a signifying practice were at work, which ultimately conformed to different audiences and contexts, and were schizophrenic in their content, to the point of utterly denying what had previously been advanced as absolute truth. There was an open play of sheer fascination with power and a preoccupation with taking power, free from any religious or spiritual connotation. My point is that al Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect practices and discourses developed under the constraint of a denial of what was ultimately desired but not expressed: the fetishism for politics. This contributed to their delegitimization as political actors and inflated their narratives of insecurity. 

Another consideration that I reached in the course of my empirical research is that there seemed to be a sort of reflective dynamic between the institutional representation (in the anti-terror laws) of Islamist parties and their own self-representation. The outcome was an imaginary flux of projected knowledge between the two poles of the UK government and the extremist Islamist parties: a sort of meta-politics of a deflected political action. 

Parties like al Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect, banned under the 2006 Terrorism Act, are labelled by the Home Office and the representatives of the UK Government as “terrorists” or “glorifiers of terrorism”. The dimension denied to them, by institutional power, is politics. That means that there is no possibility of having a political dialogue or clash with them. 

On the other hand, those same parties refused the label of political, while pursuing a political discourse and practice, as the fieldwork revealed. Their official narrative was that their actions were religious, prevailing over politics (Anjoum Choudary, al Ghurabaa, personal conversation with the author, June 10, 2006). This is the reason––they affirmed––that they could not have “any meaningful relation or exchange with the UK political government, because representatives of an alien system” (Anjoum Choudary, al Ghurabaa, personal conversation with the author, June 10, 2006). 

In both cases, the dimension excised was the political one and the main preoccupation has been with taking Power. In the specific case of leaders like Mr Choudary and Abu Izzadeen, the deep fascination with gaining the upper hand was also shown in relation to the young members of their parties, whose political hopes had been eroded by the top-down culturalist deployment of multiculturalism, carried out by the local councils, and a necro-politics performed by Islamist leaders like Mr Choudary and Mr Izzadeen. The latter exploited any serious issue of social and economic discrimination as a means to coalesce a group around their own leadership. This is what I call an elite of grievances: a segment that exploits grievances (experienced by their members) to eventually expand their constituency (by planning the institution of a dictatorial regime like the Caliphate) in order to keep their elite status.

It is crucial, in the light of this study, to reflect upon the circumstances that enabled eloquent leaders like Mr Izzadeen and Mr Choudary to be successful in attracting young people and in apparently radicalising them. 

Young Islamists and their search for destructive forms of reparative justice

My empirical work with the young members of Al Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect revealed that it is paramount for local and national institutions to acknowledge the social and political grievances of some members of society; likewise, it is important to ascertain whether a social actor, who feels wronged, can successfully negotiate an institutional channel to gain justice. However, studies and national inquiries have too often revealed that, historically, British institutions and public bodies have been afflicted by forms of structural racism, which have favoured the concealment of racist behaviour, and prevented minority members from obtaining fair, equal treatment and from accessing justice. 

My fieldwork has also suggested that it is vital for young activists to be able to express their grievances in social and institutional contexts, without fear of being censored, or belittled, or being involved in counter-terrorism measures and a system of surveillance that have promoted greater alienation of minority members, rather than their inclusion. 

When I approached the young members of al Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect, they all shared with me their personal life stories: at what age they joined the party, what Islamism meant for them, and what the institution of the Khalifa would achieve for the global Muslim community.   

From their accounts, it emerged that the reasons that led them to embrace Islamism as their political ideology, in the version propounded by Anjoum Choudary and Abu Izzadeen, were directly connected to their desire to avenge the racism and discrimination they had experienced in their lives, which “no one ever acknowledged” (Khuram Butt, Al Ghurabaa, personal conversation with the author, June 16, 2008). They were determined to attain “a form of justice that the Caliphate will constitute for the global Muslim community” (Khuram Butt, al Ghurabaa, personal conversation with the author, June 16, 2008). 

Every young man, all members of those twin parties, told me that “every daily activity had the potentiality of turning into an incident of racism” (Ibrahim, the Saved Sect, personal conversation with the author, June 16, 2008), and they all reported experiencing at least one serious case of anti-Muslim racism. As someone recalled, there was never a “sorry or the intervention of the police to arrest the abuser and eventually heal the wound by taking us to a hospital” (Ali, the Saved Sect, personal conversation with the author, April 24, 2007). 

After the racist attack, “you will see a bleeding young boy who would try to walk home and bear the brunt of the cuts and the injustice” (Jamal, al Ghurabaa, personal conversation with the author, May 7, 2006).

During my fieldwork, I collected many stories like the above, in which the circumstances and the pretext for the attack would vary. What remained constant, in their accounts, was the experience of feeling “humiliated, inferior and excluded” (Khuram Butt, al Ghurabaa, personal conversation with the author, May 7, 2006) from a social context, the colonial concept of race seemingly replaced by ones of culture and immigration.

When I asked my interviewees, if they had reported those attacks to the police or if they had consulted their imam or any other Islamist organization, such as the Muslim Council of Britain or the Muslim Association of Britain, their answer was negative on both counts. 

They believed the police would have done nothing: they would have “downplayed the attacks as a brawl among young boys. They would have denied that it was racially motivated. They are useless and racist” (Khuram Butt, al Ghurabaa, personal conversation with the author, May 7, 2006). Their experience with the associations and imams was of “government puppets and chimpanzee to sold their beliefs to become MPs, judges, doctors and police chiefs” (Khuram Butt, al Ghurabaa, personal conversation with the author, April 6, 2006). When I asked them to explain what they meant, the most frequent response was mired in cultural talk. My interviewees clarified that every discourse about current affairs pronounced by their imams and the “big Islamist parties leaders” was delivered in relation to the framework of the “ignorance of the Muslim culture and the need to explain it to people who don’t know our culture”, which made them feel in a way ‘to blame for the racism we experience” (Majid, the Saved Sect, personal conversation with the author, April 18, 2006). The young Khuram was quite forthright in his comments, saying that even when he got beaten up for “being Muslim”, his local imam adduced the “ignorance of our culture” to explain the event (Khuram Butt, al Ghurabaa, personal conversation with the author, May 8, 2007). Khuram then added, with some vehemence, “F*** this culture, I want to be respected, I want to be important, I want my Islam to avenge the wrongs and not to blame Muslims for their culture. I don’t know what culture is. I am Muslim and I know Islam. Al Ghurabaa has helped me in finding my identity and it gives Muslims a future of justice. I will fight and do whatever necessary to establish the Khalifa in the world” (Khuram Butt, al Ghurabaa, personal conversation with the author, May 8, 2007).

Such comments, expressed so colorfully, were crucial to grasp the circumstances that led some young people, like my interviewees, to join parties like al Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect. Analysing my personal conversations with them offered an important framework to understand the development of a process of radicalization, one which occurred socially, before assuming any ideological character. Only later in their lives did the young Islamist activists interviewed decide to embrace a radical ideology, one that seemed to make sense of their daily struggles.

For a young man like Khuram Butt, guilty of the London Bridge attack, the process of radicalization was spun deep within the social fabric and in his life experience. His decision to embrace the version of Islamism offered by Anjoum Choudary and Abu Izzadeen should be considered a consequence of his feelings of humiliation, his experience of discrimination and his desire for revenge. The fact that he decided to act upon those emotional impulses, on the 3rd of June 2017, should not be related to the ideology he chose, but to the way he elaborated his life experience, where violence, in the absence of other institutional channels, would achieve a form of justice for him and the rest of the Muslim community. 

Based on my numerous conversations with Khuram, I argue that what pushed him to embrace violence was the firm belief that the society he lived in was so corrupt that it legitimated and justified the discrimination he had experienced as a Muslim. The latter ranged from anti-Muslim racism to anti-terror policies, all of which seemed to target Muslims and their Muslimness. 

It was not any specific theological or ideological discourse that radicalized an activist like Khuram, and led him to choose violence, but the combination of his social and political circumstances and his feeling of the “failure” of the society he lived in. 

Radicalization models that fail to distinguish between radical beliefs and violent methods seem to assume that certain ideologies or theologies are inherently violent and to be blamed in a terror attack. On the basis of my empirical work, I argue that this is not demonstrated by the data. I also advance the idea that applying those models to counter-terrorism policies paradoxically promotes a dynamic of radicalization among Islamist activists, who feel discriminated, targeted and unable to express their discontent.

The young members of al Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect whom I met and talked to had, as minority members, too long experienced a sort of institutional discrimination related to culture, as a substitute for race. Policy making also contributed to preserving a status quo that made the idea of a post-racial society a “myth”. 

Leaders like Anjoum Choudary and Abu Izadeen promoted a militant Islamist agenda, instead of the passive acceptance of their minority status and the rarefied understanding of Muslim culture proposed by imams and the various leaders of the more moderate Islamist parties. 

Al Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect leaders offered the prospect of an Islamic state for Muslims, one that would avenge all their members’ grievances, grievances that had been sublimated and rarely addressed by national institutions. In this context, it is also important to remember that their perception of the War on Terror was of “a global war on Islam and Muslims” (Khuram Butt, al Ghurabaa, personal conversation with the author, June 9, 2007).

The young members of al Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect did not want to “talk any more about the need to understand society ignorance about Islam and the Muslim culture” (Khuram Butt, al Ghurabaa, personal conversation with the author, August 3, 2007); they wanted that the abuses they “had endured for too long were finally denounced and sanctioned, because no one would do that for us” (Khuram Butt, al Ghurabaa, personal conversation with the author, August 3, 2007). 

Clearly, it was easy to inflame those young men’s hearts and minds with the prospect of revenge, omitting to state that the price they would pay for reprisal would be a substantial restriction on their rights. Such a restriction would be even greater if an Islamic state were instituted. In such a state, they would experience total submission to their leaders. Besides, in the existing order of things, by fighting the battle against the munafeqeen (the infidels) they would be sent to jail or eventually killed (like the young Khuram Butt). 

If leaders like Anjoum Choudary and Abu Izadeen had a role in their radicalization, this was confined to their rhetorical ability in promising them forms of reparative justice, coalesced around the idea of an Islamic state for the Muslim community. 

The members’ young age and their frustration at the wrongs they felt society unable to correct, were fertile soil for the advancement of a hegemonic plan of revenge, elaborated by an elite of grievances, like Anjoum Choudary and Abu Izadeen. 

It goes without saying that elaborating a political plan for a future of radical justice should not be criminalized as a terror attack, even if the political plan itself (a Caliphate) rests on a non-Western ontology and is perceived as subversive of the current British political system.

Similarly, the public expression of such plans by some political actors should not be interpreted as a warning sign about an impending terror attack; rather, it constitutes an imperative, for policy makers, to analyse the circumstances and the factors contributing to forms of social and political injustice, which affect some members of society. Hence, policy makers should strive to find political and social strategies to rectify gaps in justice, in order to prevent future disruptions of the social fabric, like a terror attack. 


Terrorism remains a real political threat, but one which could be dealt with more effectively by using better intelligence, by investigating active incitement, financing and the preparation of terrorist violence, by promoting less racist policy tools, and by not waging wars. Counter-terrorism strategies that imply that Muslims are prey to an inherent radicalism are faulty and counter-productive. They are based on a culturalist and Orientalist reading of Islam; above all, they contribute to marginalizing minority members, whose social experience, as my fieldwork shows, has already marked them as racialized, second class, immigrant children. 

Terrorism, like racism, seems to be an ideological “scrounger”, as it has historically demonstrated its ability to “dress up” in various disparate ideologies, even as the irreparable and destructive effects of its practices on its victims remain the same. 

What this should suggest is that, beyond ideologies and radical rhetoric, the spectre of violence seems to find fertile soil, to be endlessly regenerated, in the practices of those who feel entitled to discriminate and of those who feel wrongly discriminated against. My empirical work suggests that terrorists are people who look for a form of justice that the society they live in seems unable to provide.

For policy makers, it is imperative to elaborate security policies that consider forms of violence and social terror in a broader sense, reflecting that those who feel terrorised, as victims of violence and discrimination, without the prospect of obtaining justice from institutions, may eventually entertain the idea of employing disruptive means of bringing about a change, in a perpetual War of Terrors. 

It is also reasonable to argue that a project of political and social justice for all should be the driving force behind an anti-terror campaign, to “win the hearts and minds of British Muslims” as Prime Minister Tony Blair declared, ironically, on the eve of the War on Terror. 

About the author: 

Dr. Danila Genovese has been researching on Islamism, Critical Race Theory, Gender Studies, Critical Terrorism Studies and Animal Ethics since 2006. After completing her PhD in Social Science at the University of Westminster, London, she held several research and teaching positions on Critical Terrorism Studies and Critical Race theory in the UK and in Italy. She is the author of many peer-reviewed academic articles and book chapters. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect IFIMES official position.

Ljubljana/Campobasso, 11 March 2024

[1] IFIMES – International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies, based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, has Special Consultative status at ECOSOC/UN, New York, since 2018 and is the publisher of the international scientific journal “European Perspectives”.