Seeking Muslim communities’ guidance to help at-risk youth

Australian-first ANU-led ethnographic research into hard-to-reach Muslim communities is paving the way to develop programs that will help address anti-social and criminal behaviours among certain young people in those communities.
18 November 2021

Australian-first ethnographic research into hard-to-reach Muslim communities is paving the way for programs that will help address anti-social and criminal behaviours among certain young people in those communities.

Leading the qualitative research is Australian National University (ANU) Research Fellow and criminologist Dr Clarke Jones.

Dr Jones is observing how Australian Muslim community members interact with each other and the broader Australian community. His research will ultimately inform more effective youth intervention programs which Muslim communities will co-design along with ANU academics from law, business and psychology disciplines.

The first step has been to gain a greater understanding of how Muslim communities operate, what they're already doing to support at-risk youth, what additional help they want, the language that any intervention will need to use to improve responsivity, and what topics communities will and won't work on.

Although well-intentioned, previous researchers investigating topics such as countering violent extremism with Muslim communities may have served to damage, stigmatise and marginalise by failing to challenge basic assumptions and neglecting to take a participatory approach.

Dr Jones's research has centred on building trust and respectful relationships, analysing the transfer of trust and documenting trust indicators in working with Muslim communities.

Among the Muslim organisations he has worked with is Ahlus Sunnah wal Jemaah which represents up to 42 different ethnicities in communities that are particularly suspicious of and disengaged from broader Australian society. Racism and Islamophobia has seen such communities close ranks because they believe that is what is needed to protect themselves and their children.

In these environments, young people who feel like police or the rest of society doesn't trust them may go into self-protection mode, seeking connection and identity, sometimes through gangs and criminal behaviour.

The vision is to help hard-to-reach Muslim communities create or hone youth interventions and draw on outside support that is primed to be sensitive to each community's special circumstances and which avoids negative impacts.

Much of Dr Jones's research is based on his earlier body of academic work on radicalisation in prisons both within Australia and overseas.

In producing his novel research with hard-to-reach communities, Dr Jones draws on project management assistance from ANU Enterprise.

To connect with Dr Jones or other ANU researchers, contact kathryn.vukovljak@anu.edu.au.

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