Young British Muslims alienated by ‘us versus them’ rhetoric of counter-terrorism

The government’s “Prevent” counter-terrorism strategy is proving counter-productive, engulfing British Muslims further in the political rhetoric of the global “war on terror”. It has contributed to a growing moral panic between a British “us” and a Muslim “other”.

A hostile attitude towards Islam and Muslims and a tendency to associate Islam with intolerance and extremism, effectively asks British Muslims to decide whether they are Muslim or British by constructing these two facets of identity as incompatible.

Teenagers I’ve talked to for my research have told me they feel they’re not considered “British” because of cultural and religious differences and the colour of their skin. Yet they’re dismissed by Bangladeshis as “tourists”, “Londonis” and “British” and view their parents’ or grandparents’ country as a place of “holiday” and not “home”. They feel they don’t fit in to British society, yet experience cultural and language barriers with their closest relatives at home.

Their stories are stories of identity crisis, dislocation, alienation, exclusion and upheaval. There are struggles with poverty, deprivation, disengagement, disconnection from language and culture, racism, Islamophobia, the complexity of “home” and the question of “Britishness”.

At the same time, I’ve seen them create a new British-Islamic identity – a new Islam for a new generation. With its emphasis on banking, fashion, entertainment, travel, education – this new trendy and chic British-Islamic identity is highly modern, “western” and “British” in its outlook. The only difference is that many of these young people have a higher degree of spirituality and faith – and perhaps have more facial hair or wear the headscarf.

But they are living inside a moral panic that has been constructed by the government and the tabloid press that depicts British Muslims as the un-British, violent, irrational and terrorist “other”. I’d argue that instead, British Islam is actually a peaceful, spiritual and very “British” community.

Schools are one of the key sites of these tensions, particularly with the onus now on teachers to ensure they are teaching children “British values”. The coalition government introduced the Prevent strategy as part of counter-terrorism measures in 2011, but new legislation that came into force on July 1 formalised the strategy and gave the policy much greater prominence in English and Welsh schools.

Prevent remains problematic. Although the guidelines speak about tackling radicalisation and extremism in all communities, in practice there has been a disproportionately negative gaze and focus on the many Muslim communities across Britain – the vast majority of whom are hard-working, honest and law-abiding citizens.

This has been picked up by the National Union of Students whose “Students not Suspects” campaign is calling for a boycott of the government’s counter-radicalisation strategy. It argues that the policy will have a “chilling effect” on academic freedom, debate and free speech and also contribute further to a rise in Islamophobia and racial profiling of Muslim students.

The vast majority of people attracted to the ideology of terror, violence and murder suffer from deep social alienation and are psychologically disconnected from mainstream society. A study from the Hoover Institution at Stanford University suggests that among other complex motivations, righting perceived wrongs is a major terrorist motivation.

Theresa May considers ‘second-tier’ banning orders

Ministers are “actively considering” a second-tier banning order that would outlaw groups that are not outright terrorist organisations but promote extremism and hatred on the streets, the home secretary, Theresa May, has confirmed. Ministers continue to be concerned about pockets of activity by Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is believed to have several thousand members in Britain, and is particularly active in radicalising young British Muslims on university campuses.


Tackling Radicalisation of Young British Muslims (VIDEO)

17 February 2011

The Government is to publish its review of Britain’s strategy to stop young British Muslims becoming radicalised and potentially committing terrorist acts. State money has been given to voluntary groups to help protect vulnerable youngsters from terrorist recruiters and the coalition might change the way projects are delivered. BBC spoke to former Communities Secretary Hazel Blears MP, and Hanif Qadir of the Active Change Foundation.

New Book: Nahid Afrose Kabir, “Young British Muslims: Identity, Culture, Politics and the Media”, Edinburgh University Press

In Britain’s highly politicized social climate in the aftermath of the 7/7 London bombings, this book provides an in-depth understanding of British Muslim identity. The author conducted ethnographic fieldwork in the form of in-depth, semi-structured interviews of over 200 young Muslims in five British cities: London, Leicester, Bradford, Leeds and Cardiff.

Kabir’s careful analysis of interview responses offers insights into the hopes and aspirations of British Muslims from remarkably diverse ethnicities. By emphasizing the importance of biculturalism, the author conveys a realistic and hopeful vision for their successful integration into British society.

Young British Muslims is available for purchase from Edinburgh University Press.

Nahid Afrose Kabir is a visiting fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, USA. She is the author of Muslims in Australia: Immigration, Race Relations and Cultural History (London: Routledge 2005).

Counseling services don’t understand young British Muslims, report says

9 October 2010
The Muslim Youth Helpline (MYH) has published a new report, Young British Muslims and Relationships. The report, which is the first in a series of seven by MYH, is the first research of its kind to be produced in Britain. The report, funded by London Councils as part of a project aiming to improve services for young Muslims in London, found that there is still a lack of understanding amongst support services in assisting young British Muslims facing difficult issues. Often faith and cultural sensitivities are overlooked in tackling issues such as forced marriage, sexual abuse, family pressures, sexuality and domestic violence.
Akeela Ahmed, Chief Executive of MYH said, “Since our inception nearly 10 years ago, young British Muslims are still reluctant to get the help they need from mainstream services for fear of being misunderstood. In the worst cases this can result in further isolation and marginalisation. Statutory agencies need to further develop the capacity to provide faith and culturally sensitive support to Muslim youth in the UK. Meaningful community engagement and support can be empowering and transformative, helping young British Muslims to overcome barriers to social inclusion and have better access to the services and ultimately opportunities that promote good psychological and emotional wellbeing.”

[read report]

To fight radicalism, de-glamorise al-Qaeda and laugh about it, report suggests

The British think tank Demos has published a report on radical Islam, the bottom line of which is that it can be defeated by making it boring or ridiculous. The report, entitled “The Edge of Violence: A Radical Approach to Extremism”, examined the differences between violent radicals and non-violent radicals, finding that violent radicals had a poor understanding of Islam, compared with non-violent radical followers, and had more in common with football hooligans.

The study also found the “cool factor” was the biggest draw to al-Qaeda and that terrorism could be defeated by demystifying and deglamorizing jihad. Satire could be used to undermine any “cool” image and governments should channel radical Muslims’ rebellious tendencies into activities like overseas volunteering.

Demos interviewed 200 people – experts, young Muslims and 58 violent radicals in the UK, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and France.

Reactions to fatwa against terrorism

Fear of Muslim extremists is rampant these days in Britain. According to the British Secret Service, supposedly well over 1,000 Muslim extremists live on the island who are prepared to resort to violence to achieve their goals. The government in London is hence desperately searching for ways to prevent young British Muslims from being radicalized, trying to reverse the trend toward violence.

In this article, the author summarizes measures taken by the British government against radical Islam, including the sponsorship of the Quilliam Foundation, and very critically examines the recent publication of Tahir ul-Qadri, in which he condemns suicide bombings and terrorism from an Islamic point of view. The author claims that this publication has received disproportionate media attention, while there have been other Muslim scholars in Britain and elsewhere condemning terrorism, which has caused little attention. Furthermore, Tahir ul-Qadri, who is not the most liberal and tolerant scholar himself and also, his fatwa does not seem to reach out far enough. In Germany at any rate, the secret service did not observe any reaction from the jihadi scene.

High number of British Muslims has allegedly been tortured overseas

A growing number of young British Muslims say they have been tortured overseas with the apparent complicity of MI5 or MI6 officers. Not all are still considered terrorism suspects — many were released without charge — but the intelligence and security committee has never sought to interview any of them, or their lawyers.

Two young British Muslim ex-prisoners unrepentant on views

Two young British Muslims who have served short prison sentences for terrorism offenses have spoken frankly about their views to a new BBC documentary investigation into the extent of the radicalization of Muslims in the UK. The views of Rizwan Ditta and Bilal Mohammed, two young Muslims born and brought up in Britain, will be anathema to the vast majority of people including many British Muslims.

Both received prison sentences for possessing material likely to be useful to terrorists, most of it downloaded from the internet. They were sentenced to four and two years, respectively, were released last year and are now out on license with strict conditions. Both had pleaded guilty. Mohammed has the dubious distinction of being the first to be convicted under the new offense of glorifying terrorism.

Both of them are unrepentant. Mohammed says that he was welcomed home with flowers and presents. He claims that none of the Muslim community views him as a terrorist.

Al-Azhar scholars and Saudi Wahabist fight over followers among British Muslims

When two young British Muslims debate whether or not it is religiously permissible to wish their neighbors a “happy Christmas”, this indicates an ideological battle between prominent Sunni scholars of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, fought over in the UK.

Such a debate would have been almost unthinkable in London two decades ago. But today it is frequently the internet that young Muslims turn to when looking for spiritual advice. And what they find in cyberspace is often shockingly intolerant. “Do not congratulate [the unbeliever] on their festivals in any way whatsoever,” warns one prominent site. “That implies approval of their festival and not denouncing them.”

While the real world provides a vast array of interpretations from a variety of Islamic schools, more often than not it is the intolerant strands of Islam taught by Saudi Arabia’s fundamentalist Wahabi scholars that dominate online. Backed by billions of petrodollars and an army of tech-savvy graduates who are more than capable of capturing the YouTube generation’s imagination, the internet has long been a stronghold for the most intolerant forms of Islam.

But now, as the Hajj gets under way in Mecca, one of the world’s oldest Islamic institutions has come to Britain to remind young Muslims who might be tempted by the Wahabi rhetoric that there is an alternative way to worship. Scholars from Al-Azhar in Cairo have been touring Britain’s mosques to launch a new online book of fatwas (Islamic judgments) which directly challenge the Saudi way of thinking.

The 200-page book, entitled “The Response” and published by the Islamic Hotline Service, has been available in the Middle East in Arabic for two years but this is the first time a comprehensive list of some of the most commonly asked questions encountered by Al-Azhar’s scholars has been available in English, and equally importantly, Urdu, the national language of Pakistan. The issues answered in the book range from whether the Earth revolves around the Sun (Sheikh Ibn Baaz, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti during the 1990s, insisted that the Sun revolved around the Earth) to whether a Muslim is allowed to perform magic tricks (Wahabis forbid it).