This article forms part of the Religion, State and Society special issue on young Muslims in the UK and Russia. The author presents from primary research that she has undertaken into youth work with young Muslims in Britain, as part of a team based at the University of Birmingham and funded by the AHRC/ESRC Religion & Society Programme.
In tackling the issue of identity of young British Muslims the author makes a number of interesting and significant points. Firstly, that UK government and al Qaeda discourse on the relationship between British and Islamic identity are frequently inversely related to each other. UK policy has (due to state responses to the 2001 Northern Disturbances, 9/11 and 7/7) focused on the explanation that Muslim violence was due to the failure of their communities to properly integrate which therefore led to their disloyalty to the country. Al Qaeda discourses, meanwhile, have argued that Muslim violence and disloyalty to the UK are necessary because Muslims cannot (should not) integrate and are therefore part of a global Islamic community. Tackling both of these discourses is essential if young Muslims are not to feel isolated from their British identity.
The next significant point is that frequently the threat to their identity comes not from their self-understanding, but from ascripted identities generated through the above discourses, for example. These ascripted identities (that because they are British and Muslim they therefore must be unable to integrate) are forced upon them, and these external influences form the bigger threat to their identity.
Throughout the article the author highlights the role of Muslim youth workers in tackling these issues and seeking to help young British Muslims embrace Islamic identity and British belonging. She argues that their difficult job can be imperiled both through engagement with the stigmatising policies and practices of state security and through delegitimisation and exclusion by government policy that sees some non-violent Islamic groups as part of the problem.
The article is a good introduction to the issues and benefits around a community-based approach to tackling violent radicalisation through Muslim youth work.