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July 13, 2011

Canadian Muslim youth

The Canadian Charger

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University of Toronto political science lecturer Dr. Katherine Bullock and co-author Dr. Paul Nesbitt-Larking said that Canadian Muslim youth have far more in common with Canadian young people across the country, than the mainstream media stereotype of "radicalized Muslim youth."

Bullock and Nesbitt-Larking are the authors of a recently published research paper entitled “Canadian Muslim Youth and Political Participation: A Willingness to Engage”.

The persistent claims that terrorism is largely conducted in the name of Islam are not only misleading, and racist, but crowd out the countervailing message of our interviewees that they want to contribute positively to the development of our political society,” Dr. Bullock and Dr. Nesbitt-Larking state in their report.

The research paper was published by The Tessellate Institute (TTI), a private, not-for-profit, non-partisan research institute that aims to provide Canadian policymakers and the general public academically-rigorous research about policy relevant issues, particularly on topics pertaining to ethnic and religious minorities. This policy report forms part of a larger study of Muslim civic and political engagement.

Dr. Bullock, president of TTI, and Dr. Nesbitt-Larking each conducted in-depth interviews with 10 Muslim Canadian youth. Dr. Bullock said that after reviewing her co-author's interview transcripts she was surprised that a lot of the interviewees in the London area hadn't heard of the Toronto 18, of group charged with conspiracy to commit terrorist acts, resulting in a minority of them being convicted. The case received saturation coverage in the Toronto media, and thus had a dominant role in the discourse in the Toronto area.

Dr. Bullock said that even the Muslim youth in the Toronto area she interviewed – most of whom were familiar with the Toronto 18 – seemed to have only a vague awareness of the case.

“Especially amongst youth groups, it was distant. They would often say, 'Oh yeah, I heard about that.' It's just not part of their world.”

She then asked why these Muslim youths should be asked to condemn radical terrorism, when it's just not part of their lives.

“When they get together with their friends, they talk about movies, and music and what they did on the weekend. While the media often portrays them as being alienated and engaged in radical discourse – and I'm not saying there aren't people like that - we found that many (Muslim Canadian youth) feel attached to Canada and want to contribute.”

She added that as a professor of Islamic studies in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) who works with student organizations, she feels the interviewees in her study are representative of the Muslim youth she meets in the course of her work.

“They tend to feel misunderstood – that everyone thinks they're terrorists. It makes them feel sad. Overwhelmingly they're eager to transcend the negative stereotype of Muslims and make a positive contribution to Canadian society.”

While Dr. Bullock and Dr. Nesbit-Larking found that religion is an important part of the interviewees' identity, they conclude in their study that “Canadian values are very close to Islamic values in the estimation of their interviewees, with some exceptions around social practices, such as sex, and dress.”

The findings of Dr. Bullock's and Dr. Nesbitt-Larking's study debunk the media stereotype of Muslim women in traditional dress, whom Dr. Bullock said the media often portray as oppressed and submissive.

“We found that the most active and committed (women interviewees) were the most religious and dedicated; and the majority of these women wore headscarves, and one had a face veil.”

If the mainstream media would show the positive contribution Muslim young people are making and Canadians in general were more familiar with basic Muslim tenets, it would help dispel the negative stereotype of Muslims as the “other,” Dr. Bullock said.

“We need more educational outreach programs from the mainstream political parties. Politicians need to listen to what the issues are. Many Muslim youth said the political parties didn't mean anything to them. They're not relevant to their lives.”

She added that at the same time, many Muslim youths run for student council on campus because they see it as relevant to their lives.

Their attitude toward the Canadian justice system, which Muslim youths interviewed in the study feel has let them down, is perhaps one area where Muslims differ from some other groups of Canadian young people.

Dr. Bullock said many of the young Canadian Muslims interviewed feel that although their citizenship is legal, they could be deported at the drop of a hat, accused of being terrorists on flimsy evidence and never get to see the evidence because of security laws.

“They feel they're second-class citizens,” Dr. Bullock said. “There's a big disconnect. Almost all of them mentioned the Omar Khadr case. Because of his young age, and the interviewees' young ages, they felt resonated with him. They felt the Canadian government treated him unjustly, and thus it could treat them unjustly as well.”

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