More to identity than religion

Social workers must reflect on the role they can play in forging a
renewed alliance with young British Muslims.

What is clear is that the debate since the London bombings has
moved on to what it is to be British and Muslim, and the
disaffection that some feel.

Whether or not this disaffection was becoming more connected to
political extremism had been difficult to judge for social workers
seeking to engage Muslim youth. The London bombings suggest that
for a small minority, extremism has become the answer.

The Muslim Youth Helpline is in a good position to assess what is
going on. It is the UK’s only confidential advice line for young
Muslims and has recently expanded its service because up to
two-thirds of callers could not get through.

According to the helpline, the top problems raised by callers are
family, relationships, sexuality, drugs and mental health issues
such as depression – the sorts of things that are familiar to
social workers engaging with other groups of young people.

But what exacerbates the problems for these young people is that
there are few support services or little support from within the
Muslim community for people who are also struggling with identity

Social services departments tend to see Muslim communities as
inward-looking, where problems are dealt with “by the community”.
Consequently, specific services which target and seek to understand
the concerns of Muslim youth are limited. Most are left to just get
on with their lives and some young Muslims involved with extremism
may have found their way there because of identity issues.

In order to address some of the disaffection, social workers will
need to consider wider access to services and deeper understanding
of the complexities of being young, Muslim and British.

The London attacks have shown that radicalisation is happening. As
it does so, the role social workers can play to engage with Muslim
youth and bring their concerns into the mainstream of service
provision, will be vital.

Lee Clark is a lecturer at Goldsmiths College, University
of London

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