Integration is a Two-Way Street

The Casey Report into integration and opportunity in Britain has been published this week. The Review makes twelve recommendations in an attempt to unite Britain. Some of these are practical, but others are more vague and aspirational. The report has been criticised for using outdated statistics and for its heavy focus on Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslim communities yet lacking in its critique of the rising level of Islamophobia that Muslim communities face in modern Britain.

The Casey Report has found that thousands of Muslims live in enclaves with their own housing estates, schools and television channels. More mixing between people from different backgrounds is undoubtedly needed. Yet in my experience this segregation can be as much a product of social and economic exclusion as opposition to integration: I am aware of some people living in housing estates, for example, who have never had a chance to meet people from different backgrounds or even to leave their neighbourhoods.

Integration is a two-way process and a sole focus on migrant communities and how well they have integrated will only get us halfway to achieving greater integration. 72% of second generation ethnic minorities have inter-ethnic friendships, while some white British ethnic groups can be less likely to have ethically mixed social networks, according to the Report. The Report also acknowledges that sections of white working class Britain have become more isolated from the rest of the country and the rest of the white British population. These findings, along with the “white flight” concept, show that there are still prejudices and fragmentation within our society and that some parts of the majority population are not doing their bit to integrate either. Some schools in rural Yorkshire, for example, are reluctant to engage in ‘twinning’ with largely-Muslim schools in Bradford, depriving those children of an opportunity to meet kids from a different background to their own. The Casey report’s recommendation is welcomed that schools should help build integration, tolerance, citizenship and resilience in our children.

The Review expresses concern about the rapidly growing Muslim population holding very socially conservative views, for example around women. Where this is impacting on individuals’ rights and wellbeing, the report’s concerns should be welcomed. But conservatism, in any faith, is not of itself a bad thing. It would be wrong, for example, to confuse conservatism with extremism, when many of the most conservative Muslims are the most anti-extremist because they understand the difference between faith and extremism.

Our values of freedom of religion, tolerance and inclusion apply to all, including those with more conservative views. It’s important that society as a whole can feel comfortable with the presence of Muslim communities in our neighbourhoods, and that we confront openly and robustly challenge anti- Muslim, anti-ethnic rhetoric.  However, any attempt to cross boundaries of our shared values must not be tolerated. Those seeking to coerce others – often their co-religionists – into complying with their own bigoted, narrow-minded beliefs must be challenged publicly. Any form of conservatism which promotes living in a society of ethnic silos, where our generations are alienated from those who look, eat, and believe differently must be confronted by us all. Such behavior is not sanctioned by any faith.

The Review’s serious concerns about the growth of unregistered schools are shared by many Muslim parents. It is hard to disagree with the recommendation of the report that we need stronger safeguards against unregistered supplementary schools or Madrassahs. English language is a common denominator and a strong enabler of integration, and therefore those who live in this country must learn to speak the English language. Similarly, the recommendations that all marriages across all faiths should be registered to protect exploitation of women, and that a new approach to engagement between Mosques, Government, local authorities and communities is needed urgently are welcomed.

People living parallel lives in modern Britain is not acceptable but the challenge of integration is one for everybody in our shared society, not just for Muslims. An honest conversation about integration, one that helps bind people back together again, not drive them apart, would be to everyone’ s benefit, particularly after the divisive Brexit vote. The Casey Report comes across as hard-hitting in many places but provides an opportunity to address the big social challenges facing our country.

By Qari Muhammad Asim
Senior Imam – Makkah Mosque, Leeds

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