Muslims in Britain

Islamophobia, Multiculturalism and the State

Radicalisation of young British Muslims is not primarily a question of social status, writes Tahis Abbas. In his analysis, he looks at the alienation of young, seemingly successful, British Muslims and at the weakness of local Muslim leadership

Two Pakistanis are reading the newspaper
In effect, the nation-state has failed Muslims at many different levels, writes Tahir Abbas

​​After 7/7, Muslims have felt a double whammy. As Britons, many were frightened by the terrible acts of indiscriminate violence. As Muslims, communities did not have the confidence of leaders to take on the establishment.

Inevitably, there has been a backlash as Muslim criticism in relation to such matters is often dismissed out of hand. Six Muslim parliamentarians and twenty-eight leading organisations published an open letter to the Prime Minister two days after the recent 'foiled plot' of 10 August 2006. It spoke of the role of foreign policy and how it was furthering the causes of militant suicide cults. However, they found themselves ostracised by the Blair government and the mainstream media and their criticism dismissed.

Why Pakistanis?

A particular question in relation to 10/8 and the events before it is, 'why Pakistanis?' Why are other South Asian groups who arrived to and settled in this country at the same time not implicated in such acts of terror? The answer is not entirely about ethnicity, rather is it more to do with factors such as social class and community cohesion.

Clearly, when we speak of young Muslims who are involved or suspected of being involved in terrorist attacks, a great many do emerge from poor neighbourhoods, including 'reverts'. But, a number do not.

However what these sets of people share are characteristics in relation to the limited opportunities to engage with others in particular spheres, not being able to feel a certain sense of belonging, there is a lacking in cultural awareness per se, an under-appreciation of the position of Britain in relation to, say, the rest of Western Europe, and not having the confidence to take part in mainstream politics, for example.

Radicalisation of poorer and richer Muslims

Notions of cultural and social capital are implicit concepts behind the ideas of community cohesion but alienation, disaffection, disenfranchisement and isolation are functions of both poorer and richer Muslims, and enough to lead either into radicalisation, although clearly the latter are less susceptible.

In effect, the nation-state has failed Muslims at many different levels. Last year, as the British Home Office appointed working groups detailed their recommendations and suggestions in how to tackle extremism, only a small number have been taken forward, many with limited long-term benefits. Indeed, there has been a wholesale failure on the part of the state to implement the vast majority of the recommendations of the working groups.

Internationally, how foreign policy impacts on the perceptions of already severely disaffected groups is dismissed if not entirely negated. Nationally, we are continuing to witness a shift to new right politics and an unadulterated sympathy with a neo-conservative agenda. Locally, there is limited if no inward investment whatsoever in the areas in which South Asian Muslims are concentrated. Poor education and high unemployment continue to influence life chances in starkly negative ways.

"Local Muslim leadership is weak"

These circumstances are further compounded by the relatively limited rural origins of first-generation migrants, who have largely organised community and political culture around clan-based kinship networks, where opportunities for the subsequent generations to breakout do not always exist. Local Muslim leadership is weak, including its capacity and the vision it has for the future.

Indeed, inter-generational tensions are not being resolved, particularly in relation to patriarchy. And, for the most part, Mosques and Imams have failed their communities, not in how the young are thought to have become radicalised, in fact quite the opposite. But, rather, in how they have been removed from the direct religious edification of Muslims, who have subsequently gone on to form their own study circles, use the internet for their information, and utilise modes of communication familiar to them, i.e., the English language.

Here, the already disposed are particularly vulnerable to negative influences from outside when all else has failed them inside.

Religion instead of class and social status

In the current climate, it is quite apparent we now need to refer to the notion of 'British Muslim communities', not 'Muslim community'. Many South Asian Muslims trapped by a cycle of decline are far removed from a growing body of high-income, well-integrated and savvy class of professional Muslims. As part of this analysis, what is also clear is that the debates in relation to integration and multiculturalism have been sidelined by a focus on religious minorities and their supposedly alien ways.

What we are also witnessing is the formalisation of the discussion on multiculturalism away from a concentration on equality and diversity to one which emphasises culture and values. If one peels away the layers it becomes obvious enough that this sentiment refers to Muslims. How long we are to endure this phenomenon is yet to be determined.

Tahir Abbas

© 2006

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