Insight with Gary Younge: Race, identity, extremism and who we are

By Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi

When people talk about young British Muslim extremists, we should consider the "disruptive capacity that alienation can bring out in someone is on the way to where these bombers come from". That’s according to journalist Gary Younge who appeared at the Frontline club on Tuesday to talk about identity and his work.

If you couldn’t be with us for the event, you can watch the whole thing here:

Many radicalised young men would have been about 10 around the time of 9/11, he argued. They will have grown up with the ghastly images and narrative of the war on terror, bombed civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and the skewed debate in Britain about the evils of Islam.
Critics of Younge’s book dismiss this idea, saying that the parents of these same extremists would have suffered more discrimination in Britain, and yet they did not radicalise. Younge responded: "Their parents had jobs… their sense of themselves was firmly rooted in somewhere else. But their children are born into a no man’s land."

How to reconcile this problem? "Identity is a very important place to start and a bad place to finish," said Younge. "We should not over indulge sensibilities, but it’s not too great being insensitive either. We have a unifying identity, which is humanity."

Younge, a British writer for The Guardian and The Nation, is based in New York. Younge’s book “Who are we – and should it matter in the 21st century?” delves into this sprawling subject and argues that identity is about more than simply black or white – it exploeres the nuances of identity and its real but often ignored consequences on politics and society.

Younge was on form, full of colourful anecdotes from times spent travelling and written on places as diverse as Sudan, the US, Northern Ireland and France, he spoke of how he became "deeply embittered and completely alienated" after being harassed and even beaten up by police as an exchange student in Paris. He said:
I remember his face. I was on Boulevard St Michel on a student demonstration. A posh-looking man in a checked cotton suit sitting near the restaurant window looked up from his lunch at the protestors with something like disgust.
A young black kid standing next to me saw him, walked up to the window … and kicked it in. It seemed to shatter in slow motion.
He added that he looked on as the posh man’s face "contorted in fear". But what hit Younge at the time was "that I could take joy in looking at fear in a man’s face I didn’t know, that was scary".