Listen to the full interview.
Marco Werman: In Britain, the story that’s dominating the news today is about three girls who left the country to go to the Middle East. These three Muslim girls, just 15 and 16-years-old, were last seen on airport security camera footage boarding a plane from London to Turkey. Authorities and their families worry they’re planning to join ISIS in Syria. Two of the three missing girls are from east London’s Bangladeshi community and one who knows that community well is Aminul Hoque. He’s the author of “British Islamic Identity: Third Generation Bangladeshis From East London.”
Aminul Hoque: It’s a hardworking community, it’s a law-abiding community, it’s an honest community, but we also have lots of issues. One of the key issues is deprivation--poverty seems to always be an ongoing issue within the community; one of the key issues is the disconnection between the British born Bangladeshi youth who speak english, who dress english, whose ideology and lifestyle resembles more of a Westernized English lifestyle, who are extremely disconnected from their parents and their grandparents in terms of language, culture, history, and identity. This disconnection is quite a pivotal one.
Werman: These British Muslim teenage girls, were they born in the UK as far as you know?
Hoque: As far as I know, they were born in the UK and they would be technically constituted as either the third or the fourth British born generation. That’s quite important to make that distinction--they weren’t born in the so-called “motherland” of Bangladesh, their motherland is London, Britain.
Werman: What does that actually mean in terms of what they might be looking for if they did join ISIS and attaching themselves to a group like that?
Hoque: The identity conundrum is in the notion of feeling like a tourist. They’re British born, they seem themselves as British, they seem themselves as Londoners, they see themselves as Muslim, they see themselves as Bangladeshi, a combination of all of these facets, yet they’re reminded here that they’re not British. One of the young people in my book, she was told continuously to go back home, a racial slur, and she poignantly reminded the person who said this to her “Where is it that I’m exactly supposed to go back to?” and that person didn’t have an answer, and neither do I. When they go back to Bangladesh, they’re reminded by the Bangladeshis that they’re British. So, this is a ping pong generation, a generation in exile who have no sense of belonging, and this non-belonging--I argue that with it comes religion to fill the void. With the vast majority of young British born Muslims, religion is very positive. That fringe minority which we’re looking at here, it gives them an ideology, a sense of purpose which is not Islam, which is not Bangladeshi, which is not British in nature. With these young people, there’s lots of bravado, lots of exuberance, a sense of adventure, of rebellion. That’s my humble take on what’s happened with these young girls unfortunately.
Werman: What was your response, your reaction when you heard that they might have gone to join ISIS?
Hoque: When I first saw this, I was in shock, I looked at the screen, at the CCTV images, I had to do a double take. These young women, they look like my nieces, they look like my students, they look like every day young women that I see on the streets of east London. I could not, and neither could the community, believe that this has happened. We’re all in shock and we have no straightforward answers, and the family I know are devastated. So, we don’t have any answers, we do not know why these young women went.
Werman: Given that they look like your nieces, they were straight A students, how concerned are you that the recent recruitment tactics on social media sites like Twitter, which is apparently how these young women got recruited, how concerned are you that the recruitment is more powerful than the resistance?
Hoque: It’s a concern but this puts it into perspective. It’s a concern, social media is extremely powerful, extremely pervasive and extremely private, but I also need to say that this is fringe minority, that one of my students who I just had a supervision with half an hour ago, a Bangladeshi student from east London, she said “Aminul, I can’t believe these girls have done this. I don’t understand why they’ve done this.” She represents the majority viewpoint. She says “I don’t understand why they’ve given up this life to go over there. I do not see the appeal.” So, we’re still searching for the answers too.
Werman: Aminul Hoque, author of “British Islamic Identity: Third Generation Bangladeshis From East London.” Thanks for your thoughts.
Hoque: Thank you.