Youth Views - Islam in modern Europe: revivalism or alienation?
06 June, 2007
By Talajeh Livani
Washington, DC - A recent poll looking at the viewpoints of young Muslims in the United Kingdom shows some shocking results. According to this January 2007 poll conducted for UK think tank Policy Exchange by the polling company Populus, young Muslims in the UK are much more likely than their parents to be attracted to political forms of Islam.
The following are some of the startling statistics that this survey of 1000 UK Muslims found: only 62% of 16 to 24-year-olds, compared with 71% of over-55s, feel they have as much, if not more, in common with non-Muslims in Britain than with Muslims abroad; 37%, compared with 19% of over-55s, would prefer to send their children to Islamic state schools; 37%, compared with 17% of over-55s, would prefer living under shari'a law than British law; 74%, compared with 28% of over-55s, prefer Muslim women to choose to wear the hijab (headscarf); and 13%, compared with 3% of over-55s, admire organisations like al-Qaeda that are prepared to fight the West.
At first glance, some may find these numbers alarming. Others may be encouraged that Muslim youth, despite the environment of their upbringing, have a desire to keep alive their culture and religion.
One must be cautious in interpreting these data. The situation in Europe in general and its immigrant minority is more complex than one may think.
There are two possible scenarios. One is that these youth genuinely find their native culture and religion more appealing. Having experienced both, they may be drawn to one more than the other. Also, the foreign policies of Western countries may influence their opinions and push them away from Western culture.
The other scenario, which I believe is more likely, is that these youth are being drawn to their roots not because they are judging between cultures, but because of the feeling and conviction that they will never be accepted as natives in the European countries in which they grew up. In contrast to the United States, where an American can be white, black, Asian, Latino, Middle Eastern etc., in Europe, and most other parts of the world, there is an image of what a native of a given country looks like.
There are several reasons why there may be a difference in how the older versus younger Muslim generations in Europe view their present country versus their native one. First, the older generations left their countries due to social, political, economic and/or other reasons. In other words, for them, it was a matter of survival or search for a better life, and the demands from the new country were very low. In fact, they were simply happy that someone had been kind enough to offer them a home and a chance for a better future.
The younger generations, on the other hand, view themselves on equal footing with the natives of the new countries. These are youth who have gone to European schools, grown up with European friends, speak the country's language without any accent, and have childhood memories from the same streets, malls and cinemas. They are frustrated when society does not treat them as equals of their English, French or German peers. This discrimination occurs in all spheres of life - from employment opportunities to being able to enter a dancing club as easily as a native would.
Another reason why there is divergence between the older and younger Muslim generations in Europe can be explained by the idea of the "homeland". Despite the fact that the older generations may be more nostalgic in thinking about the homeland, they also have a vivid memory of the hardships that caused their leaving. The younger generations, on the other hand, have grown up hearing great stories from their parents about their native country. Therefore, despite the fact that they may not have many memories from the "homeland", they may have created a fantasy of what that homeland is. This is reinforced by the occasional travel to their native countries in which they are warmly welcomed and shown extreme love and caring by their relatives.
I don't believe that these youth realise to what extent the countries in which they grew up have shaped them and how much of that culture is really ingrained in them unless they leave. Were they to move to their native countries, or any other country, they would feel equally estranged if not more than they do in the countries in which they grew up.
In fact, it is very encouraging to see so many young Muslims in European states who refuse to allow this division to further alienate them in society. There are currently many movements by young people of foreign origin in Europe who are vocal about these issues and very active in the aspiration to change things in the country which they view as their own.
One example of that is Zanyar Adami, the editor-in-Chief of Gringo Magazine, who is attempting, through a humoristic journalistic style, to break down prejudice in Swedish society and "update Swedishness".
Instead of viewing this poll as evidence of division within European societies, it is important to take lessons from it and focus on what is missing in European integration policies. Finding out and implementing necessary changes to European integration policies will inevitably lead to less division and fear, and more prosperity and development, not to mention a sense of shared national unity.