On the 5th December 2016, Dame Louise Casey’s review into opportunity and integration was published. The review aims to consider what could be done to boost opportunity and integration in our most isolated and deprived communities. It is quoted that our population today in the UK ‘remains predominantly religious, with nearly 7 out of 10 of us belonging to a religion’. In light of this statement, this blog will look into how integration within the diaspora can avoid radicalisation, with a particular focus on Islam and Women.
Muslims in the West are looking for ways they can reconcile some aspects of Islam that seem incompatible with ‘modern western societies’. Being away from their country of origin and in a foreign society can leave individuals feeling marginalised in their communities . At times members of the diaspora can feel as though they do not belong to either society, feeling alienated from their culture of origin whilst at the same time feeling like they are not integrated into the culture of the host community. This can lead to feelings of ‘disembeddedness’ from society and can influence vulnerability to radicalisation as feelings of not belonging and a confused identity can result in people searching for answers. Casey states that ‘Prominent Islamist and far right extremist groups are peddling fear and hatred and pushing communities further apart’. Despite their narratives being diametrically opposed to each other, they are both ‘pushing an ideology that Islam and British values are incompatible’, these accounts go on to create fear and prejudice can ultimately alienation. This problem is further exacerbated if you are unsure of where to turn to for answers, and how this decision can lead to radicalisation. It is worth noting that it is too simplistic to make a causal link between disenfranchisement and radicalisation and this needs to be explored in a way that recognises the complexities in the relationship.
This therefore highlights the need for ‘safe spaces’ in the local community in parallel to religious spaces such as the mosque, so that individuals who are most vulnerable in society are able to access information from a variety of sources, enabling them to make more informed decisions on the information they wish to discover. Strengthening and empowering communities, and framing outreach holistically tends to be most effective rather than directing specific communities as threats. Particularly, spaces where not only men, but also women and the wider family can enter discussions on issues which feel most important to them. It is important that women are not seen as silent, but rather as potential influential advocates of anti-extremist measures. Casey’s example from within this Somali Community in Leicester seconds this point about the power a mother’s voice can have in countering hate narratives’ – however, despair was expressed about not being able to communicate with children regarding such issues, due to a ‘poor sense of awareness about the internet’.
An example of how these spaces in the local community can address issues of vulnerability can be seen through a project which empowers women. Empowering women can be defined as an ‘expansion of agency throughout women’s lives, not in individual sectors’. First of all, women may feel able to be much more candid when sat in a community-based project. Women play a significant role, specifically when it comes to the protection and safeguarding of their children. Therefore, providing women with the necessary skills and experience which they can then transfer to other members of the family is crucial in ensuring the community is safe. Deducing whether this is from violent extremism, anti-social behaviour or young people feeling isolated and disengaged women is key in combating these threats. Women are placed in the unique position of being mothers and, as mothers, they are able to talk with their children, listen to them, advise them and provide a positive role model. Ensuring integration of the family is key, and it is stated that the ‘failure of integration and marginalisation can make diaspora communities vulnerable to radicalisation’.
At present Casey states that ‘not enough has been done to help the hardest to reach … nor to address the concerns of ‘host communities’ in areas experiencing the highest levels of immigration and change’. Integration support is something which community groups can better address; given their connection to the local community and the understanding they have their beneficiaries. This connection also ensures the target community do not feel stigmatised, as the support is more holistic and the gap between individuals and mainstream support is filled through individuals who are more relatable and projects where they feel more at home.
Community led projects are often successful in equipping the most vulnerable sectors of society with the necessary skills to counter narratives and challenge radical views that might persists within their families or community. Having the ability to apply critical thinking skills to ideological challenges will ensure that people are able to better respond to intolerant and hateful messages either face to face or materials propagated on the internet. Therefore, having reputable and respectable spaces within the community available to turn to for guidance as well as integration support can be useful when in search for support.
Feature Image: Michael Coghlan
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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