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48 by researchers for several years, was confirmed by Britain’s 2001 census. Religion has undoubtedly emerged as a major social signifier among young Muslims, but not primarily as an “outcome of parental or community influence.”20 Muslim youth do not identify with the Islam of their parents, which they often reject as archaic or embedded in local traditions and cultural practices. On the contrary, it is the lack of a welcoming and sufficiently representative alternative that makes the Islamic identity (as each individual defines it) particularly appealing to many Muslims; “religion has become a stable and fixed identifier in a sea of changes marked by migration, sociocultural differences, political upheaval and economic globalization.”21 For the Muslim youth that choose an Islamic identity, Islam provides a much-needed sense of belonging, solidarity, and a means of political mobilization.22 Islam constitutes a chosen identity for many by emphasizing difference.23 Kepel has also argued that by choosing Islam, young Muslims choose a collective identity that enables them to negotiate and improve their position.24 Poston has suggested that Islam is appealing because it offers “a structure to individuals' lives at a time when they feel their life chances are determined wholly by external forces over which they have no control.” 25 The raised international profile of the faith is likely also adding to the popularity of Islam as an identifier for young Muslims.26 Islam is not only internationally visible today but it is also perceived as the primary 'other,' thus developing into a resistance identity for those seeking one.27 As one scholar explains, “what attracts is the idea of resisting the dominant, negative hegemony. Islam provides the vehicle for political mobilization in relation to economic exclusion, and group solidarity in connection with social exclusion.”28 Olivier Roy also points out that this appeal is not limited to Muslims: “for a rebel, to convert is to find a cause.”29 Islam is also proving particularly appealing to younger generations of Muslims due to their sense of 'statelessness.' Islam is by its nature a supra-national institution. Belonging to the global community of Muslims, the umma, is not a matter of being British, Pakistani, or recognized as such.30 The terms of reference change altogether and ethnicity and geography are rendered irrelevant.31 Young Muslims


Peach, “Muslims in the UK, 12. Husain and O'Brien, “Muslim Communities in Europe,” 1-13. Akhtar, “’(Re)turn to Religion’ and Radical Islam,” 165. 23 Robins and Morley, Spaces of Identity. According to Robins and Morley, “difference is constitutive of identity.” 24 Kepel, Allah and the West. 25 As mentioned in Kepel, Allah in the West. 26 Peach, “Muslims in the UK,” 18. 27 Ameli, Globalization, Americanization and British Muslim Identity. 28 Akhtar, “’(Re)turn to Religion’ and Radical Islam,” 169. 29 Roy, Globalized Islam, 49. 30 Akhtar, “’(Re)turn to Religion’ and Radical Islam,” 168. 31 Schmidt, “Islamic Identity Formation among Young Muslims,” 3145. 21

“strongly identify with the message of Allah because it transcends them all.”32

FROM ISLAMIC REVIVALISM TO EXTREMISM As young Muslims question the 'purity' of their parents' religious faith and practices, they attempt to reinvent or redefine “an Islam free of local traditions and cultural practices.”33 According to Olivier Roy, this rejection of family and communal tradition “privileges selfinstruction and an insistence on emotional faith rather than theology and traditional rituals” and in this way “intellectual and theological debates give way to the expression of a personal relationship to faith, deity and knowledge.”34 This personalization of the faith can make it ideal as an identifier for individuals who are in search of an identity and also find traditional ethnic or national affiliations insufficient. For similar reasons, though, neofundamentalism and extremism seem to be enjoying a disturbing popularity among Muslim youth. “Neofundamentalism is particularly appealing to alienated youth because it turns their cultural alienation into a justification for forging a universal Islam stripped of customs and traditions and thus adaptable to all societies... [F]undamentalism offers a system for regulating behavior in any situation.”35 Radical Islam has benefited significantly from this turn to religion and has very successfully utilized to its advantage the frustrations and concerns of its target audience, as well as this need for a 'personal relationship' with the faith. Although radicalization paths may vary and in most cases can only be identified as such and examined with hindsight, they rarely involve exposure to the radical message from the beginning. Radicalization seems to be gradual, with the conversation, in the early stages, focusing on issues of common or personal relevance that can eventually be tied to Islam and serve as an entry-point to a more radical rhetoric.36 Issues like how to be a good Muslim in a non-Muslim country, unemployment, or how to stay away from drugs and crime can be of great concern to young Muslims and focusing discussions on such issues at the outset can also result in building trust and credibility. After identifying the most relevant concerns and issues, “[activists] are careful to let the individual come to his or her own conclusion about the issue through conversation and dialogue... The objective is to give the individual ownership over his or her decision to look deeper into Islam.”37


Gradually, disparate issues are framed as evidence of a “widespread war against Islam” and a “simple 32

Khosrokhavar, Suicide Bomb, 186. Husain and O'Brien, “Muslim Communities in Europe,” 1-13. 34 Roy, Globalized Islam, 28-29. 35 Ibid. 36 More on this in Wiktorowicz, Radical Islam Rising. 37 Wiktorowicz, Radical Islam Rising, 97 33