What’s in a Name? ‘Muslim’ Youth Gangs in Australia

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 08:30
Oral Presentation
Pam NILAN, University of Newcastle, Australia
In Australia, so-called ‘Muslim’ youth gangs are said to pose a risk to the public. Yet the term ‘Muslim’ might not signify anything of consequence. This paper examines some ‘Muslim’ gangs to see if the label means anything. The first example is the outlaw motorcycle gang – Soldiers of Islam, which was alleged to be terrorising citizens on the Gold Coast in Queensland. It was disbanded in 2013. The second example is an ethnic criminal gang in Sydney that purposefully chose the name Muslim Brotherhood Movement to create a strong position in the underworld of crime. It was disbanded in 2011. The final example is the Apex street gang in Melbourne, which was disbanded in 2016. Even though labelled a ‘Muslim’ gang by the media, Apex was not much more than a loose affiliation of young men from diverse backgrounds, including Sudanese youth. In all three cases, rapid police intervention followed a public outcry driven by media reporting. Although the three ‘gangs’ were different in form and purpose, their short-lived notoriety tells us something. When the adjective ‘Muslim’ is added to the term ‘gang’ this intensifies moral panic among the citizenry. The appellation ‘Muslim gang’ synthesises public fears of ethnic youth criminality[1] with the perceived threat of Islamist terrorism. Yet the ‘Muslim’ reputation of a gang gains tremendous kudos, even if short-lived. We may consider this phenomenon using an interpretive framework drawn from the work of Pierre Bourdieu.

[1] Notably, only a very small number of young men from stigmatised ethnic backgrounds ever get involved with gangs in Australia, despite so many experiencing conditions of economic marginality and daily struggle for legitimacy.