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Globalized Muslim Youth in the Asia Pacific

Globalized Muslim Youth in the Asia Pacific: Popular Culture in Singapore and Sydney

  • Book Title:
 Globalized Muslim Youth In The Asia Pacific
  • Book Author:
Kamaludeen Mohamed Nasir
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The attacks on the World Trade Centre on September 11, the Arab Spring, and the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East have all directed the attention of politicians, scholars, and the media on the role that young Muslims play in their countries.

 Observers have noted that the active military campaigns in Muslim countries contribute to the increasing global awareness of young minority Muslims today. With the upsurge in migration into Western countries and the rise of Islamophobia, the social conditions of Muslim youth have now become a litmus test to the success of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism in many states around the world.

It is against these seismic shifts in the world we are in today that it becomes pertinent to analyze how Muslim youth respond to these global processes in the context of their specific localities. These will also enable us to imagine the social conditions of Muslims in the decades to come.

Undoubtedly, the fate of contemporary Muslim youth is not only vital to the sustainability of states, kingdoms, and republics in Muslim majority countries but also where they form significant minority communities.

Much has been said about a globalized Muslim identity that is forming among the young. Often, this notion of globality among Muslims takes on a somewhat paradoxical and communal slant. It is often described as a growing consciousness and a sense of belonging to an imagined community, loosely termed the ummah.

Hence, it is not that Muslims are becoming truly global; they are just getting together with other Muslims to form a larger transnational enclave. What is seldom mentioned is that the youth today are burdened by the conflicting cultural and sociopolitical influences emanating from the Islamic, Western, and traditional cultures.

 Young Muslims strug- gle to make sense of their Islamic identities in the different secular domains where they are situated. Because cultures have become so porous and are transmitted at such a rapid pace, it is important to delve into the ways in which the local and the global, the religious and the secular, the spiritual and the political, the cultural and the social intersect. This challenge of reconciling competing ways of life is something that this book is concerned with.

Young Muslims today ought to be analyzed through the dialectics of popular culture and Islamic piety. To be sure, there is no mono- lithic youth culture or Islamic piety. Many studies of young Muslims have committed the error of assuming a trend toward a homogenization of Muslim youth culture by giving primacy to the sweeping influence of the new media.

 This obscures the attempts by young Muslims to marry Islamic piety to their encounters with diverse forms of popular cultures. Put differently, past scholarship has ignored the possibilities of a glocalization of Muslim youth culture.

While stud- ies of contemporary youth culture in general have moved to concep- tualize hybrid identities, biculturalism, and the formation of urban tribes, there is an inclination to treat Muslims as immutable objects, and Islam as resilient and unchanging.

Consequently, even though some recent studies have acknowledged the emergence of a pop, chic, and cool Islam, there is still a strong tendency toward understanding youth piety in terms of traditional rituals such as the strict observance of dress codes, participation in religious activities, and heightened halal consciousness that spawns from a lucrative multibillion-dollar industry

. There has been little consideration of the everyday manifes- tations of Islam that are grafted with global popular culture. Hence, young Muslims are made out to live compartmentalized and seg- mented lives. Singapore and Sydney addresses such gaps in the literature through a sociological study of popular Muslim youth culture in two economically dynamic and globalized cities in the Asia Pacific—Singapore and Sydney. These two cities feature as sites of contestations, where the contradictions and paradoxes of Muslim life are most stark.

This book attempts to make a methodological contribution by taking on a comparative transnational perspective and introducing the Asia Pacific as an important unit of analysis. Australia’s and Singapore’s proximity with other Southeast Asian countries is all the more significant as about 240 million or around 40 percent of the Muslims in the world are located here.

They both share as neighbors Indonesia—the most populous Muslim country in the world—as well as Malaysia and Brunei, which possess significant Muslim majorities.

Hence, Muslims in Singapore and in Australia find themselves in a very unique position when juxtaposed spatially with their neighbors.  Their  Muslim population  can therefore  be said to be in a double bind. First, it is odd for them to be in a position of minority within Australia and Singapore; second, it is odd that they find themselves as a minority community within a larger geographical region of Muslim-dominated countries.

 Furthermore, from a public policy perspective, with the increasing focus on Indonesia as the alleged breeding ground and exporter of Islamic radicalism in the region, it would be interesting to look at how the two governments have come to manage the increase in Muslim piety observed within their Muslim populations and how local communities, and Muslim youth specifically, are responding to these approaches.

 The use of a comparative framework also enables a comparison of the positive and negative features of both the liberal and authoritarian models and explains differences between countries in specific patterns of behavior, implying that a given outcome may be expected in all countries of a similar type.

It is important to provincialize the Middle East in the study of Islam and Muslims around the world. The comparative angle enables us to challenge the notion of center-periphery relationships as espoused by world system theorists.

The nodes of influence in the modern world are increasingly proliferated. Although scholars should not ignore the relationships of power in the globalization of culture, and these con- figurations are shifting, gone are the days where Muslims all over the world, by and large, look to the Middle East as a source of authentic Islam.

Conversely, young Muslims from the streets of Gaza, Tehran, and Dubai are presently ingesting various derivatives of global culture to make sense of their place in this world, recognizing that their aspirations and predicaments are not merely personal troubles.

Hence, in comparing young Muslims in Singapore and Sydney, this book locates the dilemmas of the Muslim youth squarely within a transnational perspective. Only then can the complexities of globalization, nation- state, religion, and youth culture be appreciated in all its nuances.

Popular youth culture provides the lens to understand the lived experiences of these young Muslims within secular, multicultural set- tings. Over the past few years, there has been a flurry of books pub- lished on popular culture in Muslim Southeast Asia (Heryanto, 2008; Weintraub, 2011; Seneviratne, 2012; Daniels, 2013; Mueller, 2014). Despite the extensive research, all the works focus almost exclusively on the Muslim majority countries of Malaysia and Indonesia.

In this book, I focus on Muslim youth’s engagement in three aspects of popular culture—hip-hop music, tattooing, and cultural consumption—to show the impact of globalization on Muslims in global cities, in a way that not only emphasizes the “flattening of the world” but also the differential paths that Muslims in these cities follow in the process of globalization.

This is so because different social cultural actors in these cities function as crucial mediators of popular Muslim youth culture. As a result of this, young Muslims in Singapore and Sydney adopt a range of attitudes and strategies to reconcile popular youth culture with piety.

Examining these struggles allows us to capture the range of responses among young Muslim practitioners. This study of the practice of youth culture will take into account the matrices of power that are ingrained in these relationships.

One central question grounds the book. To what extent does globalization result in a convergence of popular culture among young Muslims in Singapore and Sydney?

 I demonstrate how Muslim youth employ a globalized identity as a strategy to circumnavigate local constraints. This is reflected in their musical choices, use of language, Islamic performativity, and consumption patterns. This strategy leads to a rereading of Islam as the younger generation contests the conven- tional wisdoms of the preceding generation of Muslims and their interpretations of the religion. Such a rereading should not be con- ceived easily as either “liberal” or “conservative.”

 This is evident when we examine the variegated responses to the boycott movements in support of Palestine. The reactions of my respondents with regard to this global call defy these labels as they highlight the complex relationship of young Muslims toward national identity, religious author- ity, and basic human rights.

A set of corollary questions results from this: how does Muslim youth reconcile competing ethnic and religious identities with secular, national identities and other sources of selfhood through their participation in popular culture?

How do the state and other social actors interact with global cultural flows to mediate cultural homogenization and shape different manifestations of Muslim youth culture? Answering these ques- tions necessitates an examination of the varying responses and the pluralization of youth culture and the issues of governmentality.

 The roles of states are pivotal in shaping the disparate or common expres- sions of youth culture. It has become trendy since the Digital Age to downplay the role of governments in shaping the predispositions of their respective citizens. The notion that technology has equalized the playing field, leading to free and uninterrupted global cultural flow is flawed.

Alternatively, I call for bringing the state back in the study of popular youth culture. The state, through the enactment of various laws, cooption of community icons, and appropriation of a global youth culture, to various degrees, aims to control the perim- eters of what can and cannot develop in their respective countries.

Bycomparing Muslim youth culture in authoritarian Singapore and lib- eral Sydney, I make evident the tensions within state-youth relation- ships; how governments’ positions shift and at times appear out of sync with regard to its management of other spheres, as states attempt to play an instrumental role in shaping youth culture.

Book Organization

This book is divided into seven chapters. The first couple of chapters serves as a foundation and provides a framework to broach the more substantive topics. It provides some historical and structural perspec- tives on the micro-contexts of peripheralized communities.

Chapter 2 lays the groundwork for a comparison between the two global cities and provides a brief description of my research methods. Chapter 3 problematizes and deconstructs the idea of a Muslim youth identity. It presents the social worlds of the youth in the two cities and illumi- nates divergent and convergent trends in their lived experiences, espe- cially since the minority status of Muslim youth in both societies has placed them in a disadvantaged position with regard to economic and social capital.

 To wholly grasp the context in which Muslim youth culture has developed in the two cities, the chapter also goes on to map the status indicators of the Muslim youth in question, charting employment and education statistics, intergenerational differences, and residential arrangement.

The next three chapters examine the Muslim youth cultures of hip-hop, tattooing, and cultural consumption. As a collective, the case studies illustrate, among other things, whether discussions, fat- was, and discourses that evolve in cyberspace remain as virtual seman- tics or if they have the potential to impact everyday practices.

 They provide insights into pietization by focusing on the more worldly sociopolitical actions of globalized Muslim populations rather than looking at conventional religious rituals and performances. In this way, it opens up discussions for new Islamic public spheres by illuminating how young Muslims are tweaking their social interactions to adjust to other communities locally and globally.

Chapter 4 deals with the Muslim youth’s consumption of hip-hop music in the two cities. Hip-hop and rap are increasingly Islamicized and appropriated by Muslim youth in many parts of the world. It provides a vehicle for Muslim youth to fight publ….

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