Universiteit Leiden

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Leiden University Centre for the Study of Islam and Society

Islam in North Africa: a Critical Return to Youth

In recent years, and especially since the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011, a growing body of research, media reporting, and scholarly literature has focused on the role of ‘Arab youth’ as the drivers of social and political movements across the Middle East and North Africa.

Youth across the region have attracted increasing attention from international scholars, pundits, strategic think tanks, and popular media in articles carrying titles such as “Young, Angry, and Wired”, in which they are often depicted as inhabiting a spectrum divided between heroic revolutionary acts or Islamic radicalization tendencies.

Not only does such writing leave unquestioned terms that need to be critically deconstructed, and imply a masculinist bias in its definitional approach, but it also excludes large swathes of diverse local social geographies and their complex internal dynamics. Significantly, it omits to consider how questions of gender, ethnicity, social class, urban vs rural histories, migration dynamics, cultural aspirations, and stagnant labor markets factor into the local struggles faced by youth. Lately, this warped view has been coupled with a focus on the role and use of new media (social media) as part of organizing and mobilizing popular dissent and protest movements across the world, but specifically in the region, as well as being employed by groups such as ISIS as a recruitment tool. These increasingly reified analyses tend to occlude rather than reveal the immense complexities of youths’ lives in the region.

The 2019 focus of the North Africa program would be to provide a critical and timely re-visitation of the politics and realities of youth in North Africa combining the perspectives of ‘law and governance’ as well as ‘everyday Islam’ approaches. For this we envision organizing a combination of lively, multi-disciplinary debates, as well as more conventional scholarly lectures.

Anciens Abattoirs, an alternative space for youth, Casablanca 2013 | photo by Cristiana Strava

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