London Youth, Religion, and Politics: Engagement and Activism from Brixton to Brick Lane

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By: Daniel Nilsson DeHanas

Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. 264pp. $90.00 (hardcover), ISBN: 9780198743675

Volume: 6 Issue: 1

January 2018

Review by:

Moja Ennaji

University of Fes

Morocco

This book is outstanding in that it focuses on one city, London, and compares the political and social evolution of second-generation British youth of different migrant origins: British Muslim Bengladeshis, British Christian Jamaicans and non-religious youth. It is original because no other book – to my knowledge – to date has presented such a comparative study and comprehensive findings on the integration process of youth from different immigrant ethnic backgrounds. Its comparative dimension allows the reader to examine and understand the effects of religion, citizenship, culture, migration and internal and external forces on ethnic minorities in the United Kingdom. The first major advantage of this approach is that it can be used as a model for the study of other countries and regions. The second advantage is that a number of theories are discussed with their range of concepts applied to the immigrant issues (Merton’s Middle-range theory and Caldwell’s theory about Muslims in Europe), and the reader is able to appreciate variation in the similarities and differences between Black British and British South Asians and the problems they face.

The book is divided into seven chapters. The first chapter shows the kinds of citizens that both groups are becoming. It reveals that both share the same relatively high level of political awareness, and the same low level of identification with British culture and citizenship. The author argues that in these two domains, religion and ethnicity do not have a significant impact.  Nevertheless, both religion and politics have a major role in political participation. In fact the data analysis shows that Bengladeshis are more active politically than their Jamaican counterparts.

The second chapter focuses on identity issues of second-generation youth, and discusses how they purposefully use self-identification to achieve their own goals. The author finds out that “deculturation” is strong among British Bengladeshis, who are more akin to move away from their Bengladeshi tainted culture toward a more universal vision of Islam. For this reason, they identify first as Muslim.  By contrast, British Jamaicans display a form of fragmented cultural identity patterns in the sense that they often adopt situational and hybrid stances to identity (Chapter 3).

Chapter 4 covers the way churches and mosques contribute to the evolution of these young people as citizens. The author provides examples and case studies of varied mosques and churches in order to represent the religious diversity in the districts under study. While outlining the generation gap and the differences between youth and their parents so far as religious practices and institutions, the author argues that youth have developed their own understanding and attitudes to religious belief and self with, as they are more interested in community life than the Christian Jamaicans who are more interested in individualistic self (Chapter 5). These differences impact the ability and the degree of mobilization and participation.

In Chapter 6, the author studies the effects of religious mobilization on social and political change. Both groups of youth are involved in activism to fight against youth violence (British Christian Jamaicans) or to raise funds to struggle against poverty and hunger (British Muslim Bengladeshis).

Chapter 7 draws interesting conclusions trying to explain how political and civic participation of British Jamaicans may possibly increase in the future in order to match the strongly mobilization of British Muslim youth around religious and political matters.

Against all populist Islamophobic discourses in the West, the book reveals that ethnic minorities – Muslim communities included –participate in various degrees in British politics through their activism and participation. Today, both British Bengladeshis and British Jamaicans of the second-generation positively contribute to the common good and are becoming visible as participants in the top decision-making positions, thus emphasizing their very strong engagement and citizenship.

The analysis and comparison come to the conclusion that, despite the differences in the levels of participation and mobilization, both groups have very high rates of commitment to the British society and integration.

To sum up, I would like to state that this book is innovative and well-timed for many reasons. First, it compares Muslim and Christian British citizens of immigrant origins and sets them in context with non-religious youth. Second, this comparative approach underscores the impact of religiosity on political change and social integration, and reveals the various religious practices among Europe’s second-generation youth. Third, this comparative objective study shows clearly hat Muslims are not an exceptional ethnic group that is a threat to society or that requires a specific urgent treatment. Fourth, the book shows that some of the concerns and problems associated with Muslim youth in Europe are shared by other youth and migrant communities. Fifth, the book reveals that Muslim South Asians seem to be more integrated and politically active as British citizens than their Christian Black British Jamaicans. Sixth, it shows that Islam is compatible with democratic values and it can be integrated in European society and in the West in general. Seventh, it shows that it is possible to create understanding between people from different faiths and ethnicities when there is social justice and intercultural dialogue.

To conclude, this book is an interesting contribution to our understanding of the integration and political participation of British citizens of different immigrant origins, namely British Muslim, Christian, and non-religious young people in a socially and culturally changing United Kingdom.  As such, it is of significant importance to readers, graduate students and researchers of migration and cultural studies, government, and sociology.

Reference

Caldwell, Christopher (2009). Reflections on a Revolution in Europe: Can Europe Be the Same with Different People in It? London: Allen Lane.

Ennaji, Moha (2016). Muslim Moroccan Migrants in Europe. New York: Palgrave.

Merton, Robert K. (1967). Social Theory and Social Structure. New York: Free Press.

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