Monday, February 05, 2007

Where do our problems integrating Muslims come from?

Cameron has responded to the public discourse surrounding integration and Islam, and particularly the Policy Exchange report, with a call for community cohesion and rejection of multi-culturalism. However, I think that before we look to change specific policies, such as multi-culturalism, we should try to establish the root causes of the failure of integration. Why are we not proving able to integrate Muslim populations as we have previous waves of immigrants?

I believe the problem starts with a hyper-sensitivity on the part of many Muslim communities to perceived attacks from outside the faith. As such, cartoons of Mohammed or Rushdie's novels can constitute fundamental attacks on the faith. Jack Straw's suggestion that the niqab is harmful to integration, without any mention of taking government action to curb its use, is dangerous authoritarianism.

This hyper-sensitivity also extends to foreign policy where the War in Iraq, or any against a Muslim majority state, is a war on Muslims even if the leadership removed in the process itself was the source of awful persecution of the Muslim population it ruled. Of course, questions of competence or capability in executing the war are entirely legitimate but these are not the root of Muslim anger at the war in Iraq. If you are tempted to think that terrorist attacks such as 7/7 are just the illegitimate expression of legitimate grievance emerging from the War in Iraq remember that similar complaints were raised over Afghanistan and the first Gulf War and that 9/11's bombers were recruited with stories from Bosnia. While the failure to properly secure Iraq clearly cannot have helped relations the Islamist critique of Western foreign policy is not, at root, a respectable one and paying it too much heed is not productive.

There is also a widespread belief in conspiracy theories. The chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque argued earlier this week that we are headed towards a Stalinist/Nazi Police State and that this can be seen in the arrests of those accused of plotting to behead a British Muslim soldier. He predicts that they will not be charged and have been arrested to justify Britain's repression of Muslims. Given that there are more examples (21/7, the Manchester plots, the liquid explosive plot) of arrests which lead to charges than those which do not (Forest Gate) the assumption that charges are unlikely to follow is difficult to justify. Also, the idea that arresting then releasing people without charge in high profile raids is an effective strategy to justify anti-terror legislation is hard to defend given the widespread coverage of the failure to charge those arrested at Forest Gate. This is pure paranoia from someone supposed to be a bastion of mainstream, moderate, British Islam.

I think that the hyper-sensitivity to criticism or mockery, the view that any war which involves a Muslim state is a war on Muslims and the conspiracy theories are all part of a common problem. A sort of solidarity which refuses to attribute genuine evil to fellow Muslims and, therefore, looks to either deny its existence via conspiracy theories or explain it away as originating in persecution by others. This solidarity creates a feeling of injustice which, in a minority, feeds into further evil and creates the need for new explanations and persecution. New security measures, such as profiling at airports, are needed to prevent terrorism and these, because they are necessarily targeted at the population from which terrorists are recruited, reinforce this vicious cycle. As such, the root cause of these problems is a solidarity among Muslims which was, perhaps, a source of strength in their expansion but now makes responding to decline in traditional Muslim societies and living in a liberal democratic country deeply difficult for them; Islamism is one response to these problems.

There is no easy way to end this conflict between Muslim group loyaly, solidarity and the liberal British state. The appeasement of Islamism is impossible without giving up on fundamentals such as freedom of speech (the cartoons crisis and Rushdie) or equality before the law (Sharia); these kinds of values are what makes the West unique and have made it successful and should absolutely not be sacrificed. Equally, our foreign policy should not be subject to veto by one community just because they are easily offended as that undermines the internally peaceful compact which makes a stable democracy possible. The best response would seem to be a combination of firm defiance by not giving in to self-censorship, public condemnation of extremists even if they are currently influential within the Muslim community as with the Birmingham Central Mosque and the MCB and, finally, action to curb immigration from outside the EU. We are clearly not currently able to ensure proper integration of new immigrants and it seems likely that the Islamist problem will increase in a more than linear fashion with an increased population to draw from; network effects. It will also be necessary to take steps to reverse multi-culturalism's erosion of the common British identity but believing that having more faith in ourselves is enough to solve this problem seems naive.

While some of the measures necessary to confront radical Islam may not appear moderate in the short term it is very much necessary in the long term that we establish credibly that it is impossible for Islamism to win in Britain. If this can be established we might see fewer Muslims being tempted by its promise to defeat their perceived oppresors and more of them thinking about how to genuinely reconcile their group loyalty with living in a Western state.

1 comment:

Mr Eugenides said...

There's an interesting article in this month's Prospect magazine by Francis Fukuyama which touches on this issue, though it doesn't address the problem posed in your post title full-on.