“People are looking for the message that they belong, that they are part of something, that they are seen and heard and that despite, or perhaps because of, their experience, they are valued. They want to feel represented. In that task we have failed.”
These are some of Riz Ahmed’s remarks during his speech on the Channel 4 annual diversity lecture in the British Parliament. Ahmed, British born son of Pakistani immigrants from Karachi has risen to fame notably for his roles in the film Nightcrawler, the HBO show The Night of and most recently Star Wars: Rogue One.
Achieving this was not an easy task for Ahmed. While growing up, Ahmed said that the lack of diversity on British television left him without any hope of achieving his dream of becoming an actor and if it was not for the tremendous support he received from people both emotionally and financially, he would not have gone through drama school or have landed his first film role. Fast forwarding to today, not much has changed in British television: the lack of diversity is more prevalent now than ever, and according to Ahmed, it is that lack of diversity in television that alienates today’s youth from feeling part of British society, thus opening the doors to radicalization.
Ahmed couldn’t be more right. It is a known fact that throughout the last five years or so British, French, American, Belgian, and other foreign youth go to Syria and Iraq to join the ranks of ISIS and fight for them. The most obvious question one may ask is “Why would these young people leave their life and families to go to an unknown country to fight for a cause that is not even a just or religious one?” The answer is simple: sense of belonging.
In his speech Ahmed mentioned the propaganda videos of ISIS and how effective they are in recruiting disfranchised youth mostly from Europe. In most of these videos, there is a notion of “brotherhood and belonging”. These notions appeal to many young Muslims who do not feel they are accepted in their adaptive and more often birth countries. There are many factors which contribute to this idea. For one, the obsession of “secularism” in countries like France, the rise of xenophobia and Islamophobia and last the lack of representation in the film industry.
For years now, ever since the creation of the film industry, directors and scriptwriters have always created characters who are relatable to the common people, or relatable to a part of history. Young Muslims do not have that sort of luxury, they do not have the opportunity to see a young Muslim in a role other than one of a terrorist or a store clerk.
While lack of representation in the British film industry is not the only reason why youth are getting radicalized, it is definitely one of them and if that does not change in the immediate future, then like Ahmed accurately points out, more youth will go searching for their desire to feel accepted in Syria and Iraq.
This article is written by Nikolaos Barbaressos.