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New UEA project explores what it means to be British and Muslim

A new University of East Anglia (UEA) project aims to encourage British Muslims in the region to share what British values mean to them, through interviews, discussion groups and a series of films.

Preliminary findings from UEA’s British Muslim Values project were releases on Monday 30 October and will later be compiled into journal papers and policy briefings. The project examines discussions of British values and their relationship to Islam, and how British values are understood, experienced, negotiated and contested by Muslim individuals and communities.

A series of films, made by participants in Norwich, Luton, Bedford and Ipswich, will be screened in Norwich on Tuesday 31 October. The screening is free and open to the public. The films are available to view on: https://britishmuslimvalues.wordpress.com/our-films/

Prof Lee Jarvis, professor of international politics in UEA’s School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies, said the films explore fundamental questions about the meaning of ‘British values’ and their connection to Islam, and how Muslims feel when they hear the term being used by politicians or the media.

Prof Jarvis said: “We wanted to know what ‘British values’ means to Muslim people living in the region, as most research has focused on metropolitan cities, often with large Muslim communities.

“We asked ordinary people living around Norwich and Bedford to make films about how it feels to be a Muslim living in Britain today, and received fascinating films offering a glimpse into their daily lives and experiences.”

Some of the project’s initial findings suggest:

  • Many Muslims in the region are unclear about the meaning of the term, ‘British values’. One participant said: “To be honest, I don’t know – it doesn’t mean anything to me.”
  • There is scepticism about the use of the term ‘British values’, with some participants saying it’s used “like a warning” to certain communities, who “have to prove themselves that they are British”, especially in the aftermath of violent events.
  • Despite this, many people see commonalities between so-called British values, and those associated with Islam. One participant said: “If I think about British values and I think about my faith, I think there’s a lot of common ground. And common ground for me is serving my community, looking after my neighbours…regardless of whoever they are…treating people with dignity and respect, making sure that people less fortunate than ourselves are looked after.”

The project team also includes Prof Lee Marsden, professor of international relations in the School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communications Studies, and Dr Eylem Atakav, senior lecturer in film and television studies in the School of Art, Media and American Studies. The British Muslim Values project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), under the Research Councils UK Partnership for Conflict, Crime and Security Research. 

Dr Atakav said the project aims to encourage “Muslims to make their own media about their views, rather than the media representing them.”

Dr Atakav said: “The project aims to explore a number of issues, including the importance of geographical or demographic factors such as gender, age, ethnic origin, or sect in these understandings of British values.

“We also want to hear how British Muslims would recast political and public discussion around the place and role of Islam and Muslims within the UK.”

The special screening of the British Muslim Values project films will be held from 7-8:30pm on Tuesday 31 October at the Forum in Norwich. A trailer is available for viewing here: https://britishmuslimvalues.wordpress.com/2017/10/10/alif-lam-mim-trailer/

The Research Councils UK Partnership for Conflict, Crime and Security Research consists of the AHRC, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as core members.

Image credit: Matthew G/flickr creative commons

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