We’re Not Seen As Scots As We Don’t Drink’; Revealed: Fragile National Identity Of Young Muslims

By Mona McAlinden YOUNG Muslim men born in Scotland do not feel completely Scottish because they believe the prevailing drinking culture excludes them. A three-year study by a Glasgow University researcher also found that young Asians faced racist abuse on a daily basis. The research – based on interviews and focus groups involving mostly teenage males from the Muslim community in Glasgow and Edinburgh – reveals a “fragile Scottish national identity”, despite the vast majority of those involved being born and educated in this country. The belief among male Muslims aged 16-25 that drinking alcohol and going to nightclubs is a major part of Scottish culture acts as a barrier to feeling completely Scottish, according to the study. Some of the interviewees spoke of how the drinking culture, described by one as a “Scottish trademark”, further excludes young Muslim men by increasing the likelihood of racist abuse or attacks. Dr Peter Hopkins, a research fellow in the university’s Centre for the Child and Society, said: “The participants see drinking as an integral part of life in Scotland, not just among young people but among Scots generally. Some mentioned that the drinking culture actually encouraged racism as they felt that people were more likely to be racist if they had a drink in them. “Many of their comments appear to suggest that the young men think that they would feel more Scottish, and be less likely to experience racism, if they actively participated in drinking and clubbing. They felt that would make them part of the mainstream culture and that white Scots wouldn’t see them as different. But they were drawing on a stereotype that drinking is important to all Scots.” The study reveals that a small minority of Muslim men are actively embracing aspects of what they regard as Scottish culture by visiting nightclubs and drinking alcohol, against the wishes of their family and some of their peers. The report highlights a no-win situation for those living in Scotland’s largest cities as they feel “excluded” from Scottish society by trying to adhere to their religious principles but are also isolated from the Muslim community if they stretch the boundaries of their religious beliefs. One interviewee from Edinburgh said: “I don’t indulge in the pub culture and things like that, so I can’t say I’m completely Scottish. Alcohol plays a big part in people’s lives. Something like the Hogmanay set-up, yeah, it’s New Year but I don’t consider it my New Year.” Another major barrier to young Muslim males feeling a sense of Scottish national identity, according to the report, is the level of racist abuse they face on a daily basis. Although many said they felt part of Scotland because they were educated here, have a Scottish accent and follow football, the interviewees said the insidious nature of the racism distances them from Scottish society. Many reported that racist name-calling was perpetrated mostly by young white people but is not only confined to that generation. Hopkins explained: “Many suggest that markers of their religious identity, such as keeping a beard, lead to a lack of job opportunities as employers choose to appoint people who are not visibly Muslim.” ?One Glaswegian Asian said: “My sister used to always wear the headscarf and she got knocked back when she went for quite a few interviews … she actually got a job the second time after not wearing it.” While Hopkins admits it may be easy for the young men to argue that they are unemployed because of their religion, as opposed to possible unsuitability for the job, he says the frequency of such comments suggests that some employers are racist and Islamophobic. He continued: “They face racism on a daily basis everywhere – in school and on the streets, especially after the September 11 attacks. In response to that, some were apprehensive about going to mosques, scared of going out on their own and withdrew from their social networks. There was some talk about no-go areas, normally in the most deprived parts of the city.” Osama Saeed, for the Muslim Association of Britain, agreed that some face a no-win situation. He said: “Some young Muslims have been distanced from feeling Scottish and part of Scottish culture because they feel alienated by racist abuse. “Life in Scotland is sometimes a very difficult balancing act for young Muslim men because so much revolves around drinking here, whether it’s after work or socialising at the weekends. “So there is pressure to conform with the habits of mainstream society but young Muslims also risk upsetting their family if they try to do so.” Scottish actor Atta Yakub, who starred in Ken Loach’s mixed-race romance Ae Fond Kiss in 2003, has also experienced racism but refuses to allow that to affect his sense of Scottishness. “It’s disappointing to hear that because it shouldn’t make them feel or act any differently, regardless of what other people might say.” Despite a high-profile career which inevitably involves endless events and ceremonies, Yakub says he feels no pressure to drink alcohol to socialise. “Unfortunately there is quite a lot of focus on drinking in Scotland. But if I go to a bar it doesn’t mean I have to drink. You can still get involved in the culture and make a go of it without compromising your principles, rather than sitting back saying I can’t do that. I would rather invite Scottish people into our community and culture and go out for dinner on Saturday night instead. “It’s hard trying to get the best of both worlds, there’s only certain parents who are liberal enough to have that understanding. But it comes back to a generational thing — there’s an element of having to balance things that some parents don’t allow just now.”