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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 March, 2004, 13:00 GMT 14:00 UK
Disaffection among British Muslim youth
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

Terror arrests: Young Muslims believe they are being targeted

There is a political debate within Britain's Muslim youth - and it is getting louder in the wake of continued scrutiny of their communities and faith.

It is taking many forms and the outcome is uncertain.

What is clear is that it is not just about how their world changed following the September 11 attacks - it's about what it is to be British and Muslim, and disaffection with their place in society.

Whether or not this disaffection is worsening - and how it relates to political extremism - is difficult to judge.

I hope that we can stop people radicalising - but the social alienation will, for some people, lead them to exist in their own bubble, compounding what they believe
Shareefa Choudhury, Muslim Youth Helpline
The Muslim Youth Helpline is in a good position to assess what is going on. It is the UK's only confidential agony-aunt phone service for the community.

It will soon expand its service because up to two-thirds of callers cannot get through.

When it comes to disaffection, says Shareefa Fulat of the hotline, the top problems raised by callers are family, relationships, sexuality, drugs and mental health issues such as depression.

"What exacerbates these problems is that there are no support services, or support from within the [Muslim] community, for people struggling with resolving their identities," says Ms Fulat.

"There are huge cultural and generational differences within the community which also play a role."

What their experience suggests, says Ms Fulat, is that most young people just get on with their lives.

Siege mentality

But she adds young Muslims involved with or on the fringe of extremism may have found their way there because they had basic unresolved problems in their life.

This anger is being compounded by international events where they believe Muslims are being treated as inferiors.

Birmingham Central Mosque
Mosques: Debate inside among the young
"I hope that we can stop people radicalising. But the social alienation we come across will, for some people, lead them to exist in their own bubble, compounding what they believe."

The continued politically awakening among young Muslims is seen by many within the generation as a force for good - even though there are unresolved debates about whether voting is allowed under Islam.

The role of fringe radical groups on this awakening is hard to measure, however.

On the one hand, they are dismissed as having their influence restricted to leafleting mosque-goers at Friday prayers.

But on the other, many progressive young thinkers believe the older generations have taken a head-in-the-sand approach for too long.

"We can't deny that radicalisation is happening," says Shareefa Fulat. "It's too hard to say whether it's got worse, but the debate has got louder.

"The instinct of [older generations] has been to be defensive."

Political activity

Bilal Patel, now 35, stood as an independent Muslim candidate in Preston at the 2001 general election.

I think we have got to the point where many young Muslims feel cornered and will not give an inch to their elders or politicians
Bilal Patel
He canvassed young men and women and picked up 1,300 votes - not enough to save his deposit, but enough to make him think about doing it again.

Mr Patel says young British Muslim disaffection comes from a belief that their elders "kow-tow" to politicians who refuse to give them an equal stake in society.

"Many of us are annoyed with the older generations. The sort of leadership we need is something more radical than what we have. But if you speak out as a young Muslim you are labelled extremist.

"And then that makes more of us into activists and creates the strong undercurrent of distrust among the young which exists for politicians and the media, not least because we see hypocrisy in the treatment of Muslims around the world.

"At the moment, it's not enough to make them do anything - but it's enough to make them question."

But it's also the small things which anger people and lead to radicalisation, he says.

"For instance, David Blunkett worked wonders to radicalise the young when he told people to speak English at home," says Mr Patel.

"Well, those who rioted in Bradford were speaking English - and rioting didn't strike me as the norm.

"I think we have got to the point where many young Muslims feel cornered and will not give an inch to their elders or politicians.

"They are seeking to carve out their British identity and politicians should wake up to this fact."

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