Young Scottish Muslims put off from political engagement by Islamophobia

Glasgow Central Mosque

Young Muslims could play a much bigger role in politics in Scotland but many are put off engaging because of Islamophobia, according to new research.

A study carried out by academics at Newcastle University and the University of St Andrews found that the majority of young Muslims in Scotland are actively engaged in politics and public life, driven by an interest in political issues at both a global and community level.

Many show this interest in a variety of ways including voting, activism, and volunteering and other charity work. For some this was seen as a way to be positive role models for their communities, while others were motivated to respond to global issues that often incorporate negative, and often sensationalist, rhetoric against Muslims.

However, the research team found that everyday experiences of Islamophobia and racism made young Muslims anxious about participating in public life because they didn’t want to appear to be overly-politicised.

They also felt that the positive contributions of Muslims to Scottish society was rarely reported by the media and that this added to the biased image of them.

Many Scottish Muslims support independence

Peter Hopkins, Professor of Social Geography at Newcastle University and one of the report authors, said: “The political participation of young Muslims in Scotland is largely shaped by global political issues and their experiences of Scottish politics, such as the independence referendum and debates about nationalism. But Islamophobia and negative representation in the media is damaging their confidence to play a much more visible role in society.

“Political leaders should take the participation of young Muslims seriously as they are a politically engaged and interested group, whose resources could be drawn upon for the better of Scottish society.”

The research was carried out in response to the lack of in-depth research with young Muslims in Scotland about the different ways that they participate in politics, their political concerns and the barriers and challenges they encounter when engaging with political issues.

Co-author of the report, Dr Robin Finlay, from the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology at Newcastle University, added: “Many young Muslims in Scotland perceive Scottish nationalism as a more inclusive and civic form of nationalism, as opposed to the type of nationalist movements we’re seeing across Europe which are partly based on a divisive rejection of multiculturalism.  Scottish nationalism is something that many young Muslims feel they can support as an ethnic minority as it offers a way to engage in mainstream politics.”

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