Linking Muslim youth in Madrid and Paris

Blog by Cecilia Eseverri Mayer

18 Dec 2018, 5:55 p.m.
Cecilia Eseverri Mayer



Understanding the nuances of the social integration of Muslim Youth in European cities requires detailed fieldwork. The debate in the media, and in much of the academic world, following the attacks in both Paris in November 2015 and the van attacks on the Ramblas in Barcelona in the summer of 2017, was largely dominated by people who had hardly ever set foot in neighbourhoods where most Muslim youth live, but who nevertheless felt obliged to come up with a theory and a rational explanation for the violence.

For this research, the method of immersion into the urban setting was used because it is based on the conviction that "being there" is the only way of building understanding, of overcoming ambiguity and difficulties, as well as identifying the solutions or possible outcomes for combating them. Local Youth is a research initiative funded by the EU and the BBVA Foundation in which two specific urban settings are compared: one banlieue located in north-eastern Paris and a barrio located in southern Madrid. Both have significant Muslim populations and young people trying to find networks or support that might help them overcome social and economic precariousness, while also coping with everyday Islamophobia and discrimination. But they are two very different places in terms of their historical evolutions, the type of population living in each, their relationship with institutions, and their proximity to, and connections with, urban centres.

The aim of this article is to answer one specific question about these two urban areas: What impact do the local social and ethnic networks have on the lives of young people of North African and sub-Saharan origin, specifically on their social mobility and their sense of belonging? And striking differences are found between the two places, showing the importance of the environment (the circumstances that shape the young people), of which the most important is the degree of ethnic/religious diversity in the local population.

In the Parisian neighbourhood, this paper finds the positive effect that State investment has on the social mobility of young people. It presents a more negative outlook with regard to their sense of belonging:  urban isolation, a lack of ethnic and religious diversity, a drop in social and political participation and the alienation between Muslim and secular associations put young people into a vulnerable situation, having to choose between secularism (and their belonging to the French State) and their religion.

In the Madrid neighbourhood, on the other hand, the opportunities for upward mobility are much scarcer. However, the daily contact that young people have with the urban centre, youth membership in mixed social groups (in terms of gender, ethnicity and religion), the possibility of getting involved in community social projects, the relationship (within the neighbourhood) between Muslim and non-confessional associations allow young people to develop a mixed, local and urban belonging.

Nevertheless, and in spite of the differences, this research shows that young Muslims in Europe today are fully immersed in an ongoing process of searching for meaning and belonging. This article also aims to provide some specific keys to helping pave the way for them.


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