In light of our increasingly psychologised world, amidst calls to invest in mental health first responders and psychiatric facilities as alternatives to police interventions and incarceration, The Muslim, State and Mind by Tarek Younis scrutinises the overlap between the politicisation of Muslims in the West, the inherent Eurocentric political nature of the psy-disciplines and their role in serving State interests. Younis asks “What does Muslim distress reveal about psychology and the (neoliberal) Global North?”. As explored in this book, the political is all-encompassing. In turn, the following review is situated in my own experiences; not only as a racialised Muslim woman and psychiatry survivor, but ironically enough, also within my own background in forensic psychology.
This book is comprised of 7 chapters totalling 153 pages. The introduction does an amazing job at cohesively introducing the main topics of inquiry; Muslims in Europe reduced to monolithic “Others” by the neoliberal State, which inevitably leads to heightened surveillance and criminalisation, but also how the psy-disciplines —despite arguably, psychology’s insubordinate early tradition— have increasingly been weaponised as a tool to enact that social control, particularly against the already marginalised. In the context of the UK, especially post-Brexit and amidst the manufactured cost-of-living crisis stemming from austerity politics, the broader population is being rendered to a state of Bare Life, exposed to the myth of social mobility and sovereign power. The panopticon, initially a work of correctional architecture, has been extended to society at large and reinforced through cultural hegemony. Being subject to constant scrutiny, the subject polices himself into a “good citizen” in fear of punishment and in hopes of reaping State rewards.
The psy-disciplines come into play at this stage; through emphasising a hyper-individual model of distress, structural issues are reduced to isolated dysfunctions to be treated, the patient to be rehabilitated into a “good, sane citizen”, with no challenge to the power structures enmeshed in the subject’s life. This not only works to preserve said power structures, but it directly serves them by disciplining those deviating from the social contract entered with the State. Younis discusses this in the context of Muslim distress and the pressure to perform being a “good Muslim”, as being an angry or non-westernised Muslim would be wholly unacceptable and a security threat. But, as societal objects of fear, even the “best Muslim” will never be good enough to escape scrutiny and ontological pathologisation/criminalisation through psychology and the justice system, at least within our current cultural zeitgeist.
Younis made several links between counterterrorism interventions’ role in disciplining Muslims and gang prevention schemes’ role in disciplining Black communities, as well as the ever-growing overarching role of psychology in these interventions by offering the opportunity to re-enter the social contract; something Younis calls the “psychological contract”. Notably, the Extremism Risk Guidance, developed by forensic psychologists, is based upon the Structured Risk Guidance which itself was based on interviews with 20 non-violent Muslim inmates deemed “extremist”, highlighting the role of psychologists in dubious counterrorism policies now implemented across society, namely in (pre)schools.
It is not so much about group membership but political classification and perceived otherness: the public execution of Jean Charles de Menezes by seven point-blank shots to the head by Met police officers comes to mind. De Menezes was a non-Muslim Brazilian man, but in the hyper-surveilled context of the War on Terror, his racialisation proved to be enough to justify his murder, even by the European Court of Human Rights. While this case perhaps displays the epitome of the necropolitics at play in counterterrorism interventions, it highlights the relevance of the topic at hand for non-Muslims. As anti-citizens, racial minorities are prone to heightened surveillance and conditional sovereignty, but Younis stresses that we are all subject to State power, hence why it is a global issue.
This is further imaged in the disproportionate violence faced by those psychiatrised independent of racial signifiers; at stated in the book, under the Mental Health Act of 1983, anyone can be detained in a psychiatric hospital and “treated” against their will for up to 6 months at a time, without any legal proceedings and little opportunity for appeals. A great review by Dvoskin (2020) outlines the history of the criminalisation of mental illness, but as explored in the present book, the very Biomedical model of mental illness itself is rooted in the pathologisation of human experience within a Eurocentric, neuro-reductionist conception of the mind; it ignores the dynamic power structures at play into the patients’ lives. Erasing these experiences in Muslims and non-Muslims alike is a reproduction of State violence in itself, and seldom a solution of human distress as psy-experts claim.
Overall, Younis gave a fantastic account of the political nature of the psy-disciplines in our lives, specifically of their role in Othering, surveilling and disciplining the Muslim mind. He supported his arguments with very pertinent, modern sources in a cohesive and approachable manner. He mentions the need for an entirely new therapeutic paradigm, as “Islamic psychology” can still be weaponised by operating within the same inherently islamophobic, state-serving framework. I am curious as to how he has worked towards that goal in his own practice. Finally, I want to end this review by considering the potential of spirituality, including Islam, as a path to psychological or metaphysical liberation for many subjugated people internationally at the default of achieving material liberation; the popularity of conversion to Islam in prisons comes to mind. As Younis points out, love towards the Ummah, or global community beyond national boundaries, is fundamentally disruptive to the neoliberal order, and can be deemed a terror risk as imaged in one of his interlocutors’ story. Islamophobia could partially arise as the attempt to maintain the neoliberal zeitgeist in Western societies. I look forward to linking this reading with Islam and Anarchism by Mohamed Abdou which delves deeper into the philosophical aspect of this conversation. While still unclear, it is exciting to think about a future free from (psy-discipline enabled) State subjugation.
Leila is a 22 years old psychiatric survivor, having spent her teenage years in a Swiss psych ward. After moving to England, she studied Forensic Psychology for four years and now studies Medical Anthropology. She aims to become a researcher in Mad Studies and strives for a world without cages. In her spare time, she likes creating collages, writing letters to her pen pals and reading (book recommendations welcome!). You can reach her on email@example.com or @jleilaaa on Instagram and sign up to her Substack by clicking here.