National Identity: Misrecognition of Muslim youth

Professor Constantina Badea, University of Paris Nanterre

7 July 2021  

Muslim youth often face discrimination in Western countries. More recently, we observed a misrecognition phenomenon – a form of rejection that is distinct from discrimination as it is perpetrated against members of the national ingroup. To illustrate the phenomenon, let's take the example of Youssef, a young Muslim man born in France and having immigrant parents of Moroccan origin. His parents worked in France and received their French nationality before Youssef was born. The young man is French, went to school in France, and has never visited Morocco, the country of his parents. However, he is often asked the question, "Where are you from?”. He is French as much as Pierre, Jean, François, his friends who are never asked the same question. Pierre comes from Auvergne, a region in the center of France, yet no one would ever think of asking him about his origin.  

The misrecognition phenomenon represents a form of rejection through which an individual is made to understand that he or she is not a full member of the ingroup. If we take the example of the national group, it is a question of denying the membership of this group to individuals with an immigration background, as is the case of most young Muslims. Being a French citizen from a legal point of view is not enough for the members of the host society to consider these young people as French in the same way as they perceive young people without an immigration background.  

The misrecognition phenomenon can also take another form – highlighting a different social identity compared to the group membership that the individual himself would like to show at a given moment. This is the case of the British Muslims at the airport, where they would like to be considered by the authorities as simply British and not systemically referred to their religious group.  

The feeling of misrecognition has negative consequences for the health of young Muslims and their attitudes toward the mainstream society. In a recent French study, young Muslims were asked to read a scenario in which a character, presented as a member of their group, was the object of misrecognition or a control scenario, where the character did not experience any form of rejection. Participants were then asked questions about the character's well-being, their attitudes toward French people, and their national identification. This substitution technique reduces the social desirability bias. Indeed, young Muslims may be reluctant to answer direct questions about their rejection by the host society for fear of being misjudged.  

The results showed that participants perceived the character as having more negative emotions in the misrecognition condition compared to the control condition. Furthermore, they attributed more hostility to the character when s/he experienced misrecognition compared to when s/he did not experience this form of rejection. But the most surprising result concerned national identification. Instead of decreasing their identification with the group that did not recognize them as a full member, Muslim youth attributed more national identification to the character in a situation of misrecognition.  

Young people of Muslim religion wish to be considered a member of the national group in the same way other young people with no immigration background are. Education for social inclusion would be beneficial for the relationship between young people with or without foreign origin and sharing the same identity, values, and aspirations.  


Da Silva, C., Badea, C., Bender, M., Gruev-Vintila, A, Reicher, S. (2021). National Identity Misrecognition and Attitudes towards the French Mainstream Society. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1037/pac0000549  

Hopkins, N., & Blackwood, L. (2011). Everyday citizenship: Identity and recognition. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 21(3), 215–227. https://doi.org/10.1002/casp.1088


Published: July 8, 2021, 2:50 a.m.
Edited: April 15, 2022, 3:12 a.m.