Thursday, March 13, 2008

Islam in Britain

On one of the many walks I took around Oxford when I was there in the spring of 2007, I stumbled upon a large, almost completed Mosque. It was a beautiful building, cream colored with a large dark metallic dome culminating in the familiar sickle and star. What was most interesting about the new Mosque, however, was the amount of security that encircled the construction site. Ten-foot high metal gates and cement walls strung with imposing barbed wire encircled the building, as high-tech surveillance cameras peered down from behind tinted enclosures. All this heavy security made a significant impression on me, and I thought at the time how interesting it would be to write something about the clash of Islam and Western democracy that I had heard about, and now, standing below this fortress of a Mosque, felt I recognized first-hand.
Later on during my stay in England, I took a bus trip to Cardiff. My bus took the long route, going up north to Birmingham before carrying on down to the south of Wales. So it was that I had the opportunity to have some dinner in Birmingham center on my layover.
I didn’t know much about Birmingham – I didn’t even know that I was going to be stopping over there before the bus stopped – and so it was quite a surprise when I stepped off the bus to find a typical post-industrial British city with a very unanticipated South Asian flair. I walked through the streets looking for somewhere to eat, heading in the general direction of a large garishly decorated mall in the center of the city, wondering all the while at what sort of city I had stumbled into. During my whole, short stay in Birmingham I did not see one Anglo-Saxon – I think I saw every nationality but the typical pasty white Englishman. I had no judgment on this; I had no reason to judge.
What I learned while in England though was there was no shortage of judging, and resentment, and hostility, and confusion in the general non-Muslim population. If people weren’t complaining about the proverbial Polish plumbers, they were deriding the “Pakis” (an offensive word for people of South Asian decent). The reasons for this state of affairs in England, where Mosques were fortified, cities segregated, and people aggravated, are many, and I do not hope to address them all. What I hope to do in this piece is give a brief overview of the contentious issues, what they stem from, and what might be done to alleviate some of the most harmful side effects of this process of integration and assimilation.

Recent History
The immigration of Muslims from their origins predominately in South Asia is a fairly recent affair. While many Muslims passed through England while working on merchant vessels in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was not until the 1950’s that the Muslim population living in Britain began to grow. The reasons for this growth in immigration were many. Economic imperatives, as always, were a driving factor in the decision of thousands of Muslims from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, to pack up and move thousands of miles away to a foreign land. Due in part to the exploits of British imperialism, South Asia began to slowly descend into ethnic, religious and economic turmoil, and many people tried to flee the conflicts that were tarrying their countries apart. Many more immigrants came from places with a tradition of emigration. This is especially the case for regions such as Sylhet in Bangladesh as well as rural areas such as Kashmir in India and Pakistan. Still more immigrants made there way to Britain after the completion of the Mangla Dam in the Mirpur District of India, which drowned many villages and displaced over 100,000 people.
As is often the case, some of the first immigrants to Britain were men, intent on making money to send back to their families in South Asia. They came to work in the giant textiles industries that once were a major component of the British economy.
This male South Asian vanguard was little noticed by the local population. They usually staid well outside of mainstream British culture, keeping within supportive ethnic communities in the urban centers of Britain. Because the majority of immigrants were in Britain primarily to make money to send back to their homes in the Indian Sub-Continent, and thus were in Britain without their families, the unique communal landscape of Mosque’s, Halal grocers, and Kebab shops that are now ubiquitous in many British cities were missing.
All this began to change in the late 50’s and early 60’s when a variety of forces converged to drastically increase Muslim immigration. The most important of these forces was the 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act, which sought to stymie the influx of immigrants from across the world through restricting the right of entry for people from the commonwealth. The knowledge of this looming cutback on immigrant permits pushed more people to try and find a way to get into Britain before it was too late. This was especially true for the women, children and relatives of the South Asian men who were already working in Britain.
With the new immigration of families to Britain came the culture that had been lacking before. Mosques began to be constructed as the focal point of the Muslim community. With these new Mosques came a demand for Islamic scholar’s, called ‘ulema, to see over the Mosques and Muslim schools and lay down the Islamic law for the burgeoning South Asian demographic. These ‘ulema were often very traditional and spoke very little if any English. They were direct connections between Muslims in Britain and their traditional towns and villages in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Immigrant parents, not wanting their traditional culture to be lost on their children, were happy to offer their children up to be educated by the ‘ulema, creating new problems for the goal of integration originally sought by the British government.
As the population of South Asian’s continued to grow through the 60’s and into the early 70’s, with more and more Muslim children being born in Britain, the Muslim communities became more conspicuous, creating distinct neighborhoods within major cities such as London, Birmingham, Luton, and Bradford. As the textile industry started to crumble, many former textile workers went into business for themselves, creating shops that both served the local Muslim community as well as the tastes of greater British society.
Invariably conflict arose as the new Muslim communities began to assert themselves both economically and culturally. While the new ethnic groups and religion injected a diverse cultural element into British society, it also changed the uniquely British culture that had once been, and this change brought it into direct conflict with those who wished to keep things as they were before. Furthermore, the Muslim minorities were something different from the Hindu and Sikh Indian’s that had also come to the UK seeking a better life; they were far more hostile towards the dominant secular society around them, more steadfast in their traditional morals and values, and generally from poorer, less-educated backgrounds.
A noxious mixture of xenophobia on the British side, and cultural detachment on the Muslim side has come to a head recently as the perceived threat of Islamic terrorism quickly thrust the growing British Muslim minority into the spotlight. The public debates that have raged since the Salman Rushdie affair have often been hysteric, misplaced, or simply racist, but that does not mean they do not point to a real problem having to do with many millions of Muslims in Britain secluded both by choice and inertia from the general society.

Minority Status
Islam, historically, has not taken well to being in the minority. Unlike Christianity, which began as a religious movement separate from the political establishment of the time, Islam was founded as a complete ideology, including political aspirations. Ever since Muhammad left Mecca to establish his Islamic empire in Medina, Islam has had objectives larger than being a belief system apart from the tangible universe; it has been firmly rooted in the social, political, and economic forces of this world, as well as the spiritual realm of the next. And for a long time this arrangement worked remarkably well. The non-hierarchical nature of Islam allowed it to flourish in many forms within empires stretching across the Middle East, North Africa, and into Europe. Unlike the Christian world, which witnessed the idea of a unified catholic (coming from the Greek word for universal) faith dashed into many smaller sects, Islam saw only one main schism, between the Sunni’s and Shi’a’s. This remarkable unity of purpose and ideology allowed the Islamic faith to conquer huge swaths of the known world, quickly creating a civilization that worked harmoniously with its guiding aspirations of creating a pure Islamic state.
As the Islamic world began to butt up against the other large Abrahamic faith in Europe, and boundaries between Muslim states and Christian states shifted constantly due to war and conquest, Islamic scholars grappled with the idea of Muslim’s living outside of the Dar al-Islam (house of Islam) in the Dar al-Harb (house of war) of the Christian world. Because living with an Islamic state was so fundamental to Islam, these early scholars had a difficult time creating an acceptable rule governing the action a good Muslim should take if they were to fall into infidel hands. Sunni scholars generally came to the conclusion that a Muslim should immediately emigrate from their home if it were to become part of the Dar al-Harb, while Shi’a theologians were more willing to allow Muslim’s to stay in non-Muslim countries to be “an outpost and beacon of Islam” (Lewis). Both sects agreed that if a Muslim were to find himself in a foreign land, he would have to continue to conduct himself strictly in accordance with Muslim law and work to “reform” the infidel society he lived within to reflect the truth of Islam in its laws and institutions.
While at the time of the codification of the rules governing Muslim behavior the problem of Muslim’s living under infidel dominance hardly existed, today the number of Muslim’s living in non-Muslim lands grows by the year. While religious considerations factor into relations between Muslim’s and their secular governments, it would be far too simple to say that religion is the only or greatest factor. Nonetheless, it is helpful to recognize that the element of Islam that has difficulty accepting minority status does exist and is backed up by certain interpretations of Islam. Certain strains of radical Islam in Britain can be traced back to clearly intolerant ideas about the ability for disparate groups to live together, at least without an overarching Islamic state structure.
For the majority of Muslims that do not accept a hard-line Islamic ideology that rejects coexistence in a secular state, the experience of being a minority is quite similar to the experience of other minorities. Trouble adjusting to a drastically different and often hostile culture creates the urge to create parallel communities and institutions. The parallel communities are rooted in their own set of cultural norms and rules, which further isolate. But the idea that the differences in culture are insurmountable cannot be simply stated without actually looking into how different the cultural norms truly are, and how detrimental those differences can be to relations between Muslims and their non-Muslim neighbors.

Cultural Differences
The most offensive idea for many western pundits discussing the “Muslim issue” has to be Sharia law. Rolled up in this one term are all the repulsive images of radical Taliban judges stoning women to death, beheadings in town squares, and the imposition of harsh, chauvinistic repression of women. The reality of Sharia law is somewhat different from how it is often characterized, though this is not to say that such inhumane – by our standards – applications of Sharia law have not happened in the past or that they are not continually practiced today in many countries in the world. We often hear about the most horrific elements of Sharia as practiced in certain countries, and thus most “westerners” have a decidedly negative view of Islamic law. Because of this negative view, and misunderstanding as to how Sharia could possibly be administered within British society, controversies can erupt, such as the recent one over comments made by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who felt that the application of some elements of Sharia law in Britain “seem[s] unavoidable”. While it is understandable why many would be hesitant to allow a parallel legal system to exist within their country, the frightening image of what that would look like is somewhat different from how Sharia law would probably be practiced, and why some concessions to the Muslim community on this issue will probably need to be made. Furthermore, the argument over whether or not to allow Sharia law is really one manifestation of a deeper problem of us versus them, which I will address later.
As has been discussed earlier, Islam is a religion that permeates all parts of life, and cannot be relegated to only spiritual affairs. So, over the years, Islamic scholars have codified many aspects of what it means to live a good life in accordance with Allah’s laws, and the reams and reams of documents on this subject are what make up Sharia law. Day to day, a Muslim individual is supposed to live by the rules, and if a problem or a dispute should arise, the individual is to ask guidance from an ulema, a person well versed in Islamic law, or go to an Islamic court, where the Islamic judge will sort out what the correct punishment or advise should be.
On certain issues, such as marriage, the application of Sharia law can seem unfair to the western world. But just as western law has changed through the centuries, so to does Sharia law change. More liberal ulema can, and have, slowly changed interpretations so as to fit the exigencies of our times. Conversely, conservative ulema can change the rules to reflect a stricter adherence to archaic beliefs. This is an ongoing process, much like the changes in our laws are constant and ongoing.
Because Islam is, and always has been, a complete ideology, it is unthinkable for a Muslim to work outside of the jurisdiction of Sharia law – whether the interpretation is strict or liberal. Telling a Muslim to ignore Sharia is equivalent to telling a Jew to eat pork. So while Muslim’s will go through the court system, the rulings that may come down from the magistrate must be in sync with Muslim law to be relevant and followed by a devout Muslim. So, for instance, if a Muslim wanted a divorce, and a British court granted such a divorce, the divorce would not be realized until a Sharia judge ruled that the divorce was valid.
Conflict between religious belief and government law is not unique to Islam. It is common source of controversy in all countries and must be dealt with fairly in order to mitigate social angst. In the light of this fact, the Archbishop of Canterbury was making a very reasonable point when he said the implementation of aspects of Sharia law were unavoidable. If the British government wants its Muslim citizens to follow its decisions on say marriage, it has to take into account Muslim sensibilities, at least to a point. Certain aspects of common law, though, are vital to a liberal, free democracy and so should not be compromised.
The process of reconciling differences is difficult but necessary. If done correctly it can be an opportunity to involve a growing constituent in the larger community. But reconciling will be hard. As is clear from a reading of the stricter forms of Sharia law, there are some real differences of opinion as to the role of the individual in society, human rights, and the nature of the law.
Sharia law is not the only portion of Islamic ideology that is difficult reconciling with Western norms. Islam’s relation with the idea of secularism, connected to the issue of Sharia law, is also an important topic to be examined if we are to understand the hurdles of coexistence.
Islam has historically had a difficult relationship with the idea of secularism. The demand for the creation of an Islamic state like the first Islamic state created by Muhammad obviously is a contradiction with the idea of separate spheres for government and religion. This, however, has not meant that Muslims today do not recognize, and are also willing, to go along and even embrace the idea of secular democracy, especially as the benefits of such a separation become apparent. The first Muslim country to internalize the idea of secularism was Turkey, which, under the rule of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was redefined as a modernizing secular nation. Others followed, and while many countries have not remained secular, many Muslim’s today understand and often covet the advantages of a secular state.
Recently there has been a backlash of Islamist sentiments, fueled by economic deprivation and war, but the ideas of human rights, democracy, and secularism are still alive and well in Muslim communities. A poll by the BBC world service last year showed that in reality, many Muslim’s are not thinking of the conflict between the West and Islam in strictly religious terms. In Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, and Indonesia, over 50% of the population thought the causes of conflict between Islam and the West were about “political power and interest,” while around 35% thought the conflict was because of differences of difference of “religion and/or culture”. This points clearly to the fact that what is at issue in the oft-cited conflict between the Muslim world and the West is far more nuanced, especially in the eyes of many Muslims, and not simply knee-jerk animosity towards Western ideas and values.
Another poll done by The Times and Populus in Britain a year after the 7/7 attacks on the London transportation network by Islamic terrorists shows more evidence that British Muslim’s are far from being unified against Western democracy, and Britain in particular. To the contrary, two-thirds of British Muslim’s feel that their community needs to integrate more with the larger British community. Clearly, such a sentiment would not be expected from people diabolically opposed to the culture and institutions of Britain.
The truth is that while cultural differences do exist between Muslim immigrants and the rest of the population, the barriers between the two groups are not as impenetrable as many seem to believe. The struggle for harmonious integration, not total integration, which is both infeasible and probably unwanted, from my perspective, will not be won by burying the tradition and culture that South Asian’s hold dear, but will come from greater economic integration along with a reevaluation of the merits of at least some portions of Sharia law, so as to integrate Muslim sensibilities into British institutions. This is not to say that some of the undesirable aspects of Sharia law should be condoned; they should not. But many aspects of Sharia, especially more liberalized interpretation, are not abhorrent and ought to be recognized. The truth is that the Muslim community is already abiding by many of these Sharia laws, and integrating some of them into the British legal system, much as other religions have aspects of their traditional law recognized, would only show Muslims that there are avenues for redress within common institutions, and that they need not look to parallel legal bodies to find solutions to their problems.

The Homogenous Myth
If there is one overriding problem with the way we view the issue of Muslim integration or the lack there of, it is in our propensity for imagining a unified Muslim bloc, when in reality such a consolidated coalition does not exist. It would seem that there are many reasons for this myth of homogeneity. Firstly, on certain, limited issues concerning Islam, there is a fairly consistent opinion as to what is good and what is bad. Secondly, many Muslims portray Islam as a unified whole, save for the Shi’a and Sunni schism, and tend to skim over the differences so as to give the impression that Islam has more socio-political control than it actually does. This attitude of universal Islam is in a large part wishful thinking. Lastly, to the Western world, the reason for this false analysis of Islam is created by a combination of pundits and decision makers being outsiders looking in on a foreign religion, along with fear mongering by those who are not clear on the details of Islam, are xenophobic, or have nefarious geo-political motivations.
The truth, as always, is far more complicated than the accepted knowledge about the Muslim community, especially in Britain. As was discussed in the first section of this essay, the South Asians that made Britain their home came from very diverse locations and backgrounds, and that diversity has not been lost as they have adjusted to their new homeland thousands of miles from their origins. Family relations are still of paramount importance, followed closely by village and town affiliation, religious philosophy, nation-state citizenship and so on. Depending on the crisis, one can expect to see the different faces of South Asia’s diverse identities come to the fore. If there is an “outrage” against Islam, such as the Salman Rushdie affair or the cartoonification of the prophet, than one can be assured that the Muslim community will speak as one. But when an issue involves geopolitics, or questions of religious interpretation, the Muslim community is splayed into a wide variety of interest groups, comprised of different nationalities, incomes, ethnicities, political affiliations, and cultures. In fact, it has been quite a struggle historically for any one movement to unite the disparate Muslim groups in Britain into a unified coalition that can lobby under one banner, with one voice. Add to geographical and economic divisions separate approaches to the practice of Islam, along with the split between fundamentalism and quasi-liberalism – more on that later – and the Muslim community is truly a splintered polity.
The blessing of the diversity of the British Muslim community is also a curse. While diversity makes it easier for the British government to ease in integration measures, thereby lessening the threat that those who are uneasy about the prospect of millions of “foreigners” in their country might feel, diversity also weakens Muslim efforts to get their concerns heard, opens the way for extremist elements to define the whole of the community, and creates an atmosphere of internal bickering where nothing gets accomplished.
There have been numerous efforts, both grassroots and otherwise, to organize Muslims as a united whole. These efforts have been mirrored by other, often political, organization drives that tend to splinter the Muslim contingent – a good example of this is in the Pakistan People’s Party (formerly headed by Benazir Bhutto) setting up of local chapters inside of Britain. Nonetheless, religious interest groups have grown dramatically as South Asian Muslim’s have realized that in order to find space within British society for their customs, values, and concerns, they have to actively lobby. This realization has manifested itself in a multitude of Mosque councils that have sprung up across the UK. The proliferation of these outspoken Islamic groups have spooked quite a few non-Muslims, and realizing this, many groups have changed their tactics.
In 1997 The Muslim Council of Britain was founded to further organize the Muslim community. This organization is another addition to an ever-growing network of groups dedicated to giving Muslim concerns the same amount of attention as other special interests receive. As more Muslim groups develop, the inevitable winners will be the moderates, who, as seen from a number of polls, have the greatest support in the population.

Extremism and Liberalism
There is no more incendiary question in discussions on the Muslim presence in the UK as how to categorize the majority Muslim sentiment as it relates to religion. Are most Muslims conservative or are they liberal? The truth lies somewhere in-between the classic dichotomy.
First generation Muslim immigrants to the UK, in general, come from rural locations of South Asia, have very little, if any, education, and often do not speak English. With such severe handicaps impeding the immigrant’s ability to integrate himself into the larger society, it is no wonder that many choose to create separate transplant communities, duplicating their traditional communal order on alien soil. As was discussed before, these separate communities not only engrain social divisions, they also tend to incubate conservative religious doctrines, many of which have their roots in the troubled socio-economic and political climates of Bangladesh and Pakistan.
As was gone over before in the first section of this essay, it has been only fairly recently that largely conservative Islamic scholars, ‘ulema, have come to the UK, funded by a more settled Muslim community that desires to connect their children with the traditional values of their homeland. The ‘ulema generally preach a conservative version of Islam, very extreme at times. Their extremist hold on many Mosques is a worrying portent for future relations between Muslims and the general society.
Most liberal western democrats would describe the brand of Islam taught by the old guard ‘ulema as extremely anachronistic, and that is the opinion I hold as well. Simplistic ideas relegating the status of woman, demeaning secular education and inquiry, and hostile to democracy has no place in our modern world. And yet it still continues to exist in the British Muslim community.
This continuation of reactionary and decrepit religious practices is, fortunately, only part of the story. For another larger subset of the Muslim population, the old ways of doing things simply cannot do. The young are faced with a society that does not, cannot, accept conservative religious practices, and so many are looking for other doctrines that can give them meaning. Unfortunately, hard economic times, inequality, and foreign policy crimes and blunders have helped to allow fundamentalist sentiment to fester, creating many young men willing to die in order to make rationally impaired political and religious statements.
But there are many more positive signs that show not only that Muslims, in general, do not support extremism, but also that the young generation is liberalizing quickly, modifying traditional norms to allow them to fit more snugly into British society. The Times/Populus poll cited early also highlighted that over half of the Muslim population in Britain feel that the government is not doing enough to fight extremism, while a majority also think that it is “acceptable” for the government to monitor what is preached in Mosques so as to catch extremist imams. These statistics reveal that a large portion of Muslim society are more willing to take a hard-line approach than many non-Muslim’s would care to take, for fear of breaching important civil liberties. But along with these somewhat heartening statistics are others that show just how diverse opinion is within the Muslim community. Sixteen percent of Muslim respondents to this same poll thought that the 7/7 bombers were justified in their actions, while thirteen percent consider the terrorists martyrs. These are high metrics and point to a divide between radicals and moderates that needs to be addressed in order to keep integration acceptable to the majority of the population.
What is clear from the statistics is that a divide exists, and while a majority are more than willing to work and learn from the mainstream British system, a small contingent is opposed to the whole order, and could well destabilize relations between groups, a process that is well under way in certain European countries, and arguably, in the UK as well.

Diversity Benefits
The mixing of different ethnic, cultural, and religious groups is a defining component of the history of our modern era. One can not begin to imagine all the ways that immigration has shaped, both positively and negatively, British culture and society, but there are certain aspects of Britain’s new diversity that have created some real benefits. This is a broad subject of course, and I will focus mainly on the benefits that British Muslim’s have brought to the formulation of Britain’s foreign policy, a very important aspect of government policy, especially for a small island nation that relies on good foreign relations for its bread and butter.
There is no better place to examine the impact politically active Muslim’s have had on foreign policy than in the recent conflict in Iraq, and, further back, the first Gulf War. Both conflicts were exceedingly unpopular within the Muslim community. Before both wars, Muslim’s mobilized to speak out against the looming conflicts, expressing a sentiment mirrored throughout the Muslim world, and one that would most likely have been lost to the West if it were not for vocal minorities. This is an important point that speaks to the benefit of having a diverse cultural and ethnic society in our modern world. With minorities come perspective, and with perspective comes understanding which can help decision makers make more informed decisions, and decisions that represent their diverse constituencies.
In 2003, as the U.S. was gearing up for war with Iraq, the majority of the world was against any action by the belligerent super power. In the UK, where Tony Blair was working furiously to secure public support for a U.S. invasion, poll numbers indicated that he had support from far less than a majority. This was even as the infamous Rupert Murdoch was acting as “the 24th member of the Blair cabinet,” selling the war through his newspapers much as the U.S. media did in the U.S. It would be exceedingly difficult to pin the lack of support for the Bush-Blair agenda on a large anti-war Muslim presence, but it cannot be denied that the Muslim communities vocal condemnation of any rush to war gave many Britain’s pause, especially since Muslim’s make up a large portion of the population in urban centers.
During the first Gulf War, large bastions of the population and the press derided anti-war sentiments in the Muslim community. While the situation was different in that war, with Saddam Hussein having invaded another country, the justification for war were equally suspect, being that the war amounted to one dictator invading another autocratic kingdom. The case for protecting freedom and democracy could not even be argued, though that did not stop many from selling the idea of such high moral aspirations.
Regardless of the fact that Muslims had a legitimate point in their opposition to the Gulf War I, many looked on their protests as anti-patriotic and anti-British, declaring that those who spoke out against the war held allegiances to Saddam over their adopted homeland. There were, in fact, many who did revere Saddam, seeing him as a worthy Muslim ruler in that he had the power and military might to not be pushed around by non-Muslim powers. For others though, their opposition to the war was rooted in an understanding of the conflict as primarily economic, with Western powers trying to secure Middle Eastern oil. They also condemned the prospect of non-Muslims setting up military bases in the Muslim holy land; a position shared by Muslims the world over. With hindsight, we can now see how wise it would have been for the government in Britain as well as the U.S. to pay attention to what their minorities were saying. Much of the conflicts we have witnessed today directly stems from this grave misstep in 1991.
The Israel-Palestinian conflict is another issue that Britain has gained considerable perspective on, due, at least in part, to their Muslim population. Britain had a large part to play in setting the conflict in motion by creating the Jewish state of Israel in 1948. Since then it has wavered back and forth in its approach to the ongoing conflict. For the most part, it has been on the side of Israel, working with it, most infamously, in the Suez Crisis of 1956 as well as helping it develop nuclear weapons, both actively and unknowingly, by supplying it key material such as plutonium for its nuclear weapons program. Recently, however, it has changed its policy towards Israel, taking a much more balanced approach towards the conflict. This is due to changing attitudes in the Western world on the issue, but the presence of a large voting population with sympathies towards the Palestinians has undoubtedly had an effect on the political posturing.
As many globalization proponents have argued before, the presence of large groups of minorities adds traction to the integration of the world. While there is always room to argue with the mainstream globalization crowed, it does appear that minorities can and do support greater global integration. Always a key part of integration is cultural sensitivity, and as we have seen in Britain in light of two major conflicts, the Gulf War one and two, and other international issues concerning Muslims, that sensitivity has helped to shift debates, modify – not change, at this point – policies, and dampen ill will between foreign countries. It is impossible for countries to look on each other today and not recognize their common heritage, since ethnicities and religions that once were exclusively tied to one nation are now dispersed across the world.

Here Today, Here Tomorrow
Problems exist in the British Muslim community, and they will continue to exist, because the Muslim community will remain in Britain. This fact means that what is necessary is a plan for making the current social dynamics in Britain work. There have been many events as of late that have made it very difficult to focus on problem solving rather than condemnation, but that does not mean that a concerted effort to break the barriers and bridge the gaps should not be attempted.
Beside the fact that all the naturalized citizens from across the world are in Britain for the long haul, there is the issue of further immigration. The British Isles are small, and crowded, and my personal opinion is that a growing population will be at the expense of quality of life. House prices throughout Britain have gone up tremendously in recent years, even as interest rates remained relatively high, especially compared to U.S. rates.
On top of all this there is the issue of whether further immigration from South Asia would be palatable to the general public. The odds are, especially as hard economic times loom, that most Briton’s would prefer a lock down of the border. In fact, the Home Office of the UK has announced a point system similar to the one employed by Australia, in order to attract workers with specific skills and English proficiency. That system was pushed for because of restlessness with past immigration policy and it will come online in 2008.
Regardless of how the immigration issue works out, or fails to work out, there will need to be a drastic change in the dynamics of British society, built upon a realization that multiculturalism is here to stay, and the choice is between embracing the opportunities it offers or wallowing in animosity. It will take more than individual citizens making efforts to bring about understanding; it is going to take an effort by the government to make the situation right through urban planning, community outreach, and an effort to get Muslims involved in British institutions. All of these steps cannot be taken unilaterally, but must bring along the Muslim community, adopting their values as much as possible so as to show that democracy goes both ways, that change can be manifested in both the individual and society.

Bibliography

Bawer, Bruce. While Europe Slept. New York: Doubleday, 2006.

Global Poll Finds that Religion and Culture are Not to Blame for Tensions between Islam and the West. 16 Febuary 2007. 1 March 2008 .

Immigration. 2 October 2002. 1 March 2008 .

Islam in Britain. 4 July 2006. 1 March 2008 .

Leigh, David. Papers reveal UK's nuclear aid to Israel. 10 December 2005. 13 March 2008 .

Lewis, Bernard. Islam and the West. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1993.

Lewis, Philip. Islamic Britain. New York: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd. , 2002.

Religion & Ethics - Islam. 1 March 2008 .

2 comments:

Filip said...

I can't say im much wiser after reading this piece, but you had a few valid points. Regarding Britain being a "small island nation that relies on good foreign relations for its bread and butter", if this is in reference to Bush's bullying tactics then you have a fair point but otherwise this makes no sense to me.
Multiculturalism globally is inevitable and now is the time for Europe to experience it. As it goes, people from Islamic nations are less open and free minded compared to Europeans and this makes them stand out. Islam isnt just an issue in Britain, its all over Europe, mainly in France, Italy, Greece (immigrant trafficing), Sweden,Norway, Denmark, Spain and Holland.
In order to understand the opinion of someone from one of these nations that are being dominated by Muslims and their demands, i think you need to understand the patriotism these natives feel. England is no longer red phone boxes, cups of tea, well spoken people or the grim industrial north for that matter, the culture is dying slowly. People are afraid of this and becoming less tolerant. Not only have the British National Party become more popular in certain areas of Britain but you'll find that people are getting fed up of all the mass immigration as a whole and leaving the country.
If you analyse Islam in countries such as Denmark for example you can see how it is dominating. Denmark is a liberal country with great people who strictly believe in freedom of speech. The latest decision to reprint the Mohammed cartoons have caused outrage once again and in Afghanistan thousands of Muslims gathered to protest and burn Danish flags. Even in Denmark riots broke out all over this calm nation. How I look at it is that Denmark being its own nation, who says they cant print what ever the hell they want? Denmark isnt a muslim country, and theyve been good enough to let the muslims in so their actions have been disrespectful by trashing the country and not respecting the views of the natives, who did it for a joke not to piss anyone off. Regarding respect, if you or I were to go to Saudi Arabia for example we'd have no other alternative than to cover up. The point you made regarding the Islamic view of women was a good one and i agree that it has no place whatsoever in the modern world, but should any woman visit Saudi Arabia from the western world they'd have to cover up and not be seen in public unescorted or else they'd be punished. So when muslim women move to Britain or Norway, they adopt their islamic ways by not working and wearing their Burkas. the burka is an islamic symbol but what they must realise is that when they are out of their country, they must respect they country they are in. Holding strong religious beliefs and taking them with them to non muslim countries helps to destroy the culture. It is healthy to keep their own cultures alive and not forget where theyre from but when in rome....
After my return to Britain after living in Spain, it was clear to see the boom in immigrants. University buildings were dominated by asian students and gangs of africans were all over the place. Its worth reading up on immigration in Britain as it links to islam strongly, and look into how the french treat the immigrants in towns such as lille for example, they dont want them there so they send them to britain. People are entitled to a better standard of living but as they flee to western nations, the natives become their own worst enemies when it comes to intergration by putting them all together and then poverty follows suit and then you have a no go area, more or less a ghetto as immigrants arent given a chance to intergrate. But when they are given the chance most dont take it and that goes back to the womans role in Islam and the general attitude.
Oslo is not the city you would imagine it to be. According to aftenposten.no this week, Oslo has 20 times more crime than new york city. what do statistics prove here? People from Iraq, Pakistan, Somali are the main culprits. Even more shocking is the rape rate we have here in Oslo. 5 times higher than NYC. all the culprits that are on the run or that have been detained, somalis. their religion? islam. So when you have female friends and a girlfriend who are absolutely terrified to go out at night because of this, its not the most comforting feeling ever. A muslim professor at the 'Univeristet av Oslo' said that Norwegian women were to blame for the rape wave because their ways of dressing and blonde hair are invitations to islamic men to beocme intimate. rather hypocrital of their theory of having one woman for life isnt it?
Im not targeting Muslims due to hate here, hate is something I do not have towards these people i believe that they deserve a chance to intergrate but yet i am one of the majority that is getting rather fed up with the demands for prayers being played over large speakers in cities such as oxford or cambridge, and crime in general where statistics prove that it isnt natives who are the main offenders (especially here in norway). In a way the islam invasion is comparable to roman invasions centuries ago minus the blood and guts and brutal methods.
The recent decision by the Serbian state of Kosovo to illegally declare unofficial independence will prove to be crucial regarding links with the muslim world and europe, and if it wasnt due to the americans desire to have the largest military base in europe in the Serbian state of Kosovo and their influence on the other super powers of the world then the Serbian state of Kosovo wouldn't have advanced as far as it has done with its illegal and unofficial act of independence. It becomes the first muslim state in europe and its been predicted that in no time, Al Qaeda will be using the place as a base to plot against the western world further. Then it will backfire against the US. Step up the Russians.
what about the 5 albanian muslims who tried to blow up a US military base on the east coast?
should turkey gain entry into the EU, and ive read this already on some website, google it, the danish muslim party have forecasted that x amount of turkish muslims will be free to move there and push up the minority of muslims big time, and in the very near future denmark will be a country under islamic laws. this is unacceptable in Europe.
Al Qaeda is another interesting topic with their desire to annhiliate everything that is not muslim with their brutal and rather pathetic ways of thinking. I wont go into deal but theres no irony in the fact that most things regarding islam portrayed in the media appear to be negative. who are the ones blowing the israelis up in the palestine region or there abouts? what about suicide bombs in pakistan all the time same goes for iraq? Terrorism too....what about those men that were responsible for the 7/7 attacks? they were born and raised in Britain and yet they wanted to ruin the country and succeeded. Islam is a backwards religion in my eyes. Not all muslims are bad people at all. Iranians integrate very well in the western world and when their political system changed years ago many fleed the country and they were used to living in a western manner that they managed to fit in perfectly. What about Mullah Krekar in Oslo whos been proven to have had links with al qaeda, the 6 men in oslo and stockholm recently arrested for funding terrorism (all muslims) and the muslim in madrid who was also plotting some form of terrorism?
We are living in a scary world and the threats that radical muslims poise are giving us all the impression that all muslims arent good people. of course its wrong but its instinctive. Talk to the people and theyll tell you what they think but theyr too scared to open their mouths because what they say might come across as racist.
Everyone deserves a chance. Muslims play a part in society and shouldnt have to abandon their practises but when they get too demanding its pushing it too far. both parties are as bad as each other of course, but in due time, natives of europeans nations will get fed up of it all. anarchy will erupt and people are going to be intolerant and protect their culture and idenity. Its worth looking at it from both sides, and i may have underlined what you will consider the 'negative sides' but trust me, being a british citizen having lived there, witnessed it, then moved to Norway seeing the plus and minus factors of islam here, its what you know and its what stands out.

Brett said...

I understand your position, and I tried to address certain aspects of it in my right-up. Here is what I am thinking though: I recognize, as I made clear in my article, that people are uneasy about the influx of Muslim immigrants (as well as eastern Europeans, who, by many accounts, are often to blame for increased crime). I think it is the job of European governments to try and make the immigration situation work out for the best, through more programs designed to integrate and educate the newly arrived. The problem, as I see it, is that the world as a whole is a mess. Europe may want to try to disconnect from the mess the world is in - which it helped create in many ways - but in the long run it will not be possible. We are all connected, not in some emotional, sappy sort of way, but in the way that each of us effects everyone around us. Many immigrants are fleeing rotten political situations in their homeland, carrying with them many of the problems that their dysfunctional countries pressed upon them. For instance, it is no coincidence that Somali men are involved, as you claim, in many of the rape cases in Norway. Somalia has had a tortured past. It was no help that it was brutally colonized by the Italians and British, and later let to its own politically tumultuous devices. In other words, many of the problems that we see playing out are rooted in political problems, that have, unfortunately, not been helped by the European nations.
It is no secret that Europe has a big problem with Muslim non-integration, and that that problem needs to be fixed in a constructive manner. Trying to keep out the problem will not work. Trying to expel the problem, by forced emigration, would not only not work, but would violate core European values. So, it seems, that what is best is to understand the problem for what it is, without exaggeration, but also without ignorance. That is what I tried to do in this piece I wrote, and the extent to which I succeeded can be judged by the reader.