Alienated and Engaged Muslims in the West

Justin Gest

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Apart Hardback
August 2010£50.00
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Apart Paperback
August 2010£17.99
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Muslim minorities comprise an ever-increasing proportion of Europe’s population, but are official strategies to thwart home-grown terrorism forcing Muslims further to the fringe of our societies? For every terror suspect we see handcuffed in a televised trial, thousands of young Muslims outside the courtroom live an alienated existence in the boroughs and barrios of the Western world. Apart explores the nature of their disaffection and attraction to groups that undermine the system that remains their primary means of inclusion in society.

Based on research conducted in London’s East End and Madrid’s Lavapies district, and drawing on over one hundred interviews with extremists, gangsters, imams, elders, politicians, and those just trying to get by, Justin Gest explores young Muslims’ daily realities. Taking issue with conventional interpretations of inequality, discrimination and religion, he argues that alienated behaviour is distinguished not by structural factors, but by the expectations and perceptions of social agents. Gest shows that-contrary to conventional wisdom-attempts at assimilation are often unconnected with an individual’s sense of inclusion. Paradoxically, social and political integration are characteristic of those who spurn the social and political system, while the individuals most acutely aware of the rights, liberties and cultural mores of democracy are most likely to have the deepest sense of disappointment about their non-fulfillment. Gest also discusses young Muslims’ need for norm-based stability in an era characterised by contested beliefs about nation, state, and faith. While sounding an unambiguous warning to European policy-makers,Apart presages an imminent American experience with the same challenges. How both government and peoples discipline their fear and understand their Muslim citizens may shape democratic social life in the foreseeable future.


Justin Gest is a Harvard College Fellow in the Department of Government at Harvard University. He is the Co-Founder and Deputy Director of the Migration Studies Unit at the London School of Economics and Political Science. A graduate of Harvard and LSE, he has also written for American and British newspapers and is a regular contributor to The Guardian.


‘An excellent piece of work. I learned a lot from it. Balanced and judicious, with very interesting findings both on a comparative basis and on a generational one. I’m sure it will make its mark.’ — Lord Anthony Giddens, Professor Emeritus, London School of Economics

‘The book is sensitively written, and manages to remain sympathetic towards the interviewees with whom the author clearly spent much time talking and listening… It deserves to be widely read.’ — Global Policy

‘This much-needed book tells us why Muslims in the West stand apart. Among its most disturbing findings is how little may separate democratic engagement from radical anti-system opposition. The book’s strength is its unique combination of analytic acumen and rich ethnographic description of second-generation Muslims’ lives in Madrid and London.’ — Professor Christian Joppke, American University in Paris

‘Gest has written a thoughtful and compelling book on why some Muslims in the West feel disenchanted and angry with our political institutions while others do not. He offers a subtle account based on new theoretical work and original case studies. A major contribution by a new voice in academic debate.’ — David Held, London School of Economics

‘Justin Gest’s carefully researched and well argued book brings a fresh perspective on the question of Muslim alienation in Europe… His valuable methodological insights and judicious conclusions have a wider application.’ — Lord Bhikhu Parekh, Professor Emeritus, University of Westminster

‘Justin Gest, a young scholar at Harvard and the London School of Economics, has studied alienation—and its neglected twin, engagement—among the Bangladeshi community in London’s East End and among Moroccans in the southern suburbs of Madrid. The result is a rich, groundbreaking work which researchers and government officials alike will find both valuable and challenging.’ — Roger Hardy, Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars

‘Justin Gest gives us a window into the diversity and complexity of European Muslim communities in a way few works have. His book delves deep into the demands of modern citizenship, engagement, and layered identities, and his conclusions are at once intuitive and profound. The themes of this book will help define how a thriving democracy functions in the twenty-first century.’ — Dalia Mogahed, former advisor to President Barack Obama for Faith-Based Partnerships and executive director, Gallup Center for Muslim Studies