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Re-linking suburban youths in Madrid and Paris. The “new localism” and the rol of social and ethnic networks in the integration of youth from immigrant origin

Final Report Summary - LOCALYOUTH (Re-linking suburban youths in Madrid and Paris. The “new localism” and the rol of social and ethnic networks in the integration of youth from immigrant origin.)

LOCALYOUTH focus on the role of civil society in the integration processes of young people from a Muslim background. The objective of this project is twofold. Firstly, it tries to understand the effect of intermediary structures —those places situated somewhere between institutions and citizens (neighborhood associations, churches and mosques)— in providing young people access to educational and employment opportunities with ethnic diversity and a gender perspective or dimension. And secondly, it seeks to evaluate innovative social programs that show the need for new kinds of relationships among the State, the local representatives and social organizations. To this end, this research engages with a French banlieue (Les Bosquets in Clichy Montfermeil) and a barrio of Madrid (San Cristobal de Los Angeles in the district of Villaverde) and a monitoring of youth (18-25 years old) from a Muslim background (children and grandchildren of immigrants from Morocco, Algeria, Senegal and Mali).
The field work began in October 2013 and the same process of inquiry was developed in the selected areas: a combination of case study, a comparative-historical perspective and a sociological intervention (confronting speakers in meetings to try to recreate the social reality). Four months of participant observation in local associations initially allowed me to approach youths, adults and elder people in the neighborhood. I was a participant in oriental dance training with young ladies, in a cook training with moms, in excursions and trips with the young people and I accompanied leaders of the Social Centre to meet members of local government. Almost 50 interviews and 10 focus groups have been carried out in Paris and Madrid.
This exploratory field work allowed me to select a strategic sample of 15 young people (8 women and 7 men) in both countries to prepare a Sociological Intervention. During the spring and the summer 2014, I organized eight sessions of three hours in each city with the following interlocutors: a successful businessman, an artist, a teacher, two policemen, a local politician, an imam and the leader of an anti-racism and anti-islamophobia social movement. Furthermore, two closed sessions with each group were also organized to verify the initial hypothesis through a cross analysis of the results. To finalize the experiment, a biographical interview during the month of October, November and December 2014 with each participant was performed. And finally, a youth exchange was organized in Madrid in spring 2015, bringing together the youth from both countries included a new Sociological Intervention with one close session and five debates with a theologian, a teacher, an antiracism militant, a policy maker, and a leader of a community project . The nineteen month-long field work allowed me to develop a well-rounded sociological experience (with a sample of 30 youths), bringing into further relief the contrast between young Muslims from poor areas in France and Spain. The French experience has shed light on prospects for the future of Spain, while the Spanish case has contributed to an understanding of both the limitations and benefits of the French model.

Three fundamental results can summarize the findings of this research:
1) The first one is about the process of re-traditionalisation of the way of living in the suburbs of Paris and Madrid.
This research has detected a return to Islamic dogmas and norms in the selected neighborhoods. The microanalysis allows to identify a similar phenomenon in both sites: the emergence of a minority (composed by middle-age men and women congregated in the cafes and shops near the Mosques) who acquired the legitimacy to control the behavior of the inhabitants and to watch their Muslim norms observance. However, this major presence of the religion has had a different effect in youth people lives in each context.
In France one success of the new Islamic movement has been to define the cultural identity primarily in terms of religion. The 80-90s generation built their identity through the faith against racism and classism.
Nowadays the youth has stopped imagining a new society and have walled themselves in family and tradition to claim their rights to belong to the Muslim community with its norms and values. This new feeling has been constructed in opposition to the French identity for three reasons:1) The values of la Republique (liberté, égalité et fraternité) become unreal. 2) The French identity is the cause of rampant islamophobia and the urban segregation and 3) The decadence of the French identity is clear: there is a lack of morality in families and in society as a whole. The principal example is gay marriage. This new way of belonging protects them from discrimination, but at the same time (and this is where historical perspective is useful) producing an important confusion in young people ´s minds concerning tradition and freedom of choice. The opposition between the mystification of the Muslim tradition and the rejection of the French way of life clashes with young people´s real lives. They defend tradition with determination and pride, but at the same time they are moving forward to a new kind of Muslim life (new relationships between boys and girls, a new organization of the household and different way of raising their children). In some cases, the opposition between these two worlds generates an uncomfortable ambivalence, and schizophrenic and unbearable feelings. So, something is missing (like a new interpretation of tradition) to make their lives in France more conformable.
In contrast, in Spain there is no conformism to traditional norms, yet the opposite: a conflict within the families and with the agents of the community who try to control their behavior. Cultural identity does not define itself only through religion and there is no confrontation between Spanish identity and Muslim identity as is found in France. In San Cristóbal, young people develop a mixed identity. Less segregation, the mixité between races and religions within the district and easier access to the city centre, does generate intergenerational conflicts but, paradoxically, it creates less anger and tensions for young people. They are very proud to be Muslim, but they also defend their right to choose their way of life.

2) The effects of the Muslim Community on youth integration. This research target Muslims associations

The research identifies two effects of this kind of social control, depending on gender dimension. For the girls in both contexts, this social control encourages them to explore the city centre to develop their social life. This experience allows them to open their minds and to avoid the risks of the segregated space. They also acquire study routines that improve their educational progress. In the case of men, social control helps them in late adolescence but not in the moment of first adolescence. They pay a high cost for their freedom, because neither their family nor the community protects them, as they do for the girls, from the risks of their environment. However, as they say, when they reach 20, religion prevents them from drugs, delinquency and bad attitudes. On the negative side, we can say that social control in France and also in Spain generates a lack of conscious freedom. Apostasy is shunned upon and young people who abandon their religion suffer from isolation and violence (they are a minority within the minority). In France, even atheist educators from African or Maghreb origins do not dare confess their apostasy. More and more, the construction of a cohesive community generates a lack of freedom of choice and freedom of expression. In addition, the influence of tradition sometimes discouraged them from changing cities to go to university and leads many young men and women to marry before they want with partners whom they have not chosen of their own free will.

3) The community social work. This research target local policy-makers and civil associations

In France, since the riots in 2005 a greater presence of the State can be felt and young men and women with less educational aspiration are benefitting from the social work developed in the structures of civil society. But, at the same time, the State control of social participation and Civil Society structures become institutionalized. The laicité (the secular state) and the impossibility to deal with religious issues increases the gap and the isolation between, on one side, the Social organizations and the State and, on the other, Islamic associations and Mosques. As a result, young people are stuck between the laic State and the religion. This separation damages the intervention with young people and blocks the construction of intermediate spaces where a mix and alternative interpretations of Muslim rules and Republican values could be developed. The trajectory of one of the members of the French sample could illustrate this situation. A twenty-two years old young boy who was involved in a radical Islamic group, asked the social centre for help. The educators saw this as a religious and psychological problem and not as a social problem. The lack of communication between Muslim associations and the secular centre caused this young boy to be arrested and locked up in a psychiatric institution.
In the Spanish context the situation is different. A lack of State and a lack of opportunities leave young people in a vulnerable situation. Civil society in this quarter survives thanks to the collaboration between associations and volunteers. The neighbors invented a decade later a new system of tables of participation where leaders of secular and religious associations share the problems of coexistence and contact local representatives to ask for change. Youth participation has increased in the last few years and has been influenced by the Indignados Movement. The apostasy, one of the reasons for discrimination in this neighborhood and within the Muslim Community, can be dealt through this collaboration. A girl (Spanish sample) who had been thrown out of her home and family, because she stopped to believe and feel as a Muslim, was able to regain contact with her mother and re-integrate in the quarter through collaboration between a secular structure (where this girl participated in a community social project) and the Mosque. The Muslim leader and the educators spoke with the parents and met with key persons who spread and transmit social information in the neighborhood to try to renew and construct a positive image of her, to allow her to put life back together without having to alienate herself from her family. To conclude, less segregation, social participation and the daily contact between secular and religious groups make the life of Spanish Muslims more flexible and adaptable. On the contrary, ethnic isolation and the separation between State and Muslim community make the life of French Muslims more difficult and stressful.

1 This sociological intervention was possible thanks to a subsidy for the development of youth exchanges in the framework of the Erasmus Plus Program of the European Commission.