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Home > Culture and Society

Muslims: Are you integrating comfortably?

31 July 2005

This week a poll of British Muslims posed the question ‘Does the Muslim community need to do more to integrate into mainstream British culture?’, 40 per cent of respondents said it ‘needs to do more’; another 18 per cent said it had integrated ‘too much already’. But perhaps the most sensible response came from the 11 per cent who said ‘Don’t know’.

As unanswerable questions go, how much Muslims should integrate is up there with ‘What percentage of penguins do you think are happy?’ Not only is it unclear what it means to ‘integrate’, but how can you ever say what is too much or not enough? And, of course, it’s one of those totally subjective questions based on perceptions rather than any hard facts or figures. Does a Muslim in London know how much a Muslim in Leeds is ‘integrating’, or vice versa?

Maybe there’s a scale of integration:

100 per cent integration: See no conflict between being a Muslim and a career in lap dancing. 90 per cent: Own the complete speeches of Winston Churchill; still won’t eat The Great British Banger, for obvious reasons. 85 per cent: Proud of Muslim heritage; dress entirely in Adidas, fan of Notorious B.I.G. 50 per cent: Find Western society decadent; still a big fan of Girls Aloud. 11 per cent: Have lived in Tipton all your life but mainly see yourself as one of the Mujahedin. 0 per cent: Sitting building an acetate bomb in a flat in South London.

It’s all a bit how-many-angels-can-dance-on-the-point-of-a-pin? It gets even more confusing when you factor in the tedium of everyday life. Does shopping at Tesco get you some integration points? Moaning about the weather? Liking a nice cup of tea? Watching The Vicar of Dibley?

What we seem to have here is a bunch of woolly ideas - integration, multiculturalism and national identity, etc. - all of which are hardly defined at all. Not that that stops the great and the good banging on about them. All the above concepts have been trotted out by politicians, ‘community leaders’ and, especially, New Labour types. Multiculturalism is a particular New Labour fave: it’s somehow allied to the idea of Cool Britannia. Unfortunately, when pressed for genuine examples, the New Labour vision of multiculturalism seems to boil down to two things: curry houses and the Notting Hill Carnival.

Oh how patronising! Whatever multiculturalism is, it’s probably not the fact that Gus and Sophie know of this fantastic little balti place in Colliers Wood! It’s really authentic and sooooooooooo cheap! And it’s certainly not the fact that Jasper got mashed on skunk listening to Jah Shaka.

However, if you wanted to create a worthwhile definition of integration or multi-culturalism, it might be something like this:

‘Co-existing harmoniously with whatever level of contact with other social groups is appropriate to you.’

Non-Muslims don’t need to read the Koran (as Tony Blair claims to have done). Likewise Muslims don’t need to embrace everything British. And when people try too hard to be multi-cultural, it becomes deeply embarrassing. Witness Cherie Blair’s penchant for saris.

Not only that, but the vast majority of Muslims fulfil the above definition anyway. And in any case, integration and multiculturalism don’t have a great deal to do with something as extreme as Al Qaeda-style terrorism.

Militant Islam is actually quite close to the views of hardline, C18-style white racists. It’s hatred of a large social group because it REPRESENTS something you hate. There’s no differentiation between what different members of that social group might think, and it’s easier to see them as a faceless enemy, not individuals. No amount of worthiness about integration or multiculturalism is going to stop absolute extremists believing what they do, any more than telling the Red Brigade to grow up and count their blessings would have stopped them kidnapping and murdering industrialists.

There also seem to be double standards being applied to Muslims. The idea of integration seems to be based on the frankly bizarre (and extremely unclear) idea that there’s a ‘right’ way to be British. It’s always been accepted that there are different groups/nationalities in the UK who don’t share the same beliefs as the majority. To pick some random examples: Orthodox Jews, The Socialist Workers’ Party, even Jehovah’s Witnesses. Is everyone meant to take an interest in everyone else’s ‘culture’? Why? What’s the point?

You can even question whether there’s an obvious need to ‘integrate’ in the first place. Obviously there’s something unhealthy about shutting yourself off completely from other sections of society, whatever your race or religion, but how many people actually do this? Mostly we just rub along with our neighbours while we get on with our own lives.

Unfortunately, the response of many people to a distinct and tangible form of terrorism is to come out with vague concepts like integration. We don’t hold out much hope if we’re fighting terrorism with buzzwords.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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