UK Muslims calling for ‘equal integration’ strategy
LONDON - The integration of Muslims into British society remains a hot-button issue in the United Kingdom and a report produced by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), Britain’s largest Muslim umbrella body representing more than 500 affiliated mosques, charities and schools, calls for the government to adopt a radically new approach.
Titled “Our Shared Future: Muslims and Integration in the UK,” the report, which was presented March 14 in parliament, showcases more than 30 diverse voices on integration in Britain and calls on the government to take on new stances, including backing “equal integration.”
The report was released the same day as the government’s Integrated Communities Strategy green paper, which placed English language learning at the heart of integration.
“Integration is a laudable policy objective. Yet too often we see the conception of a ‘top-down, mono-nationalist and establishment ‘British values’ approach,’ which assumes the ‘other’ needs to be civilised into our way of thinking,” MCB Assistant Secretary-General Miqdaad Versi said in a release.
Writing in the MCB report, he highlighted the statement from former British Prime Minister David Cameron that integration is a “two-way street” and explicitly rejected the view that there should be any “moral onus” on Muslims or ethnic minorities for the supposed failures of integration.
“Such an approach betrays not only a refusal to fully understand our challenges but also flies in the face of the pragmatic reality that we are a nation of immigrants… Integration for us means integration for everyone,” he added.
The MCB report said questions over Muslim integration were overblown. It said that, out of more than 2 million Muslims in Britain, 33% were under the age of 16, 47% were born in the United Kingdom and 6% struggled to speak English.
The 130-page report, published a few days after letters calling for the establishment of “Punish a Muslim Day” were sent across the country, called on the government to do much more to tackle Islamophobia.
“It cannot be overstated how much of an effect Islamophobia and anti-Muslim discrimination has had on Muslims being able to access different sectors, professions and services,” Samayya Afzal, a Bradford-based Muslim activist, said in the report.
She said there had never been an “adequate response” from the government to protect Muslims from discrimination and called on the current government to do more.
“There is a risk of misunderstanding Islamophobia as a passing trend brought on by events such as terrorist attacks. While there is a backlash in the aftermath, it’s important to note that institutionalised Islamophobia is much broader and deeply rooted than these outbursts,” she added.
The report included first-person accounts from different parts of the country, including “A View from the East End” and “A Scottish Muslim Story.” Almost all accounts mentioned rising anti-Muslim sentiment and Islamophobia and called for the government to act.
“We need to address the pressing issue of Islamophobia and its increase over the last five years… much of which has been instigated by right-wing politicians and the mainstream media here in the country” wrote anti-racist activist Maz Saleem.
Saleem’s father, 82-year-old Mohammed Saleem, was killed in Birmingham in April 2013 by a Ukrainian neo-Nazi terrorist.
Maz Saleem’s calls for increased action to tackle Islamophobia in the media were echoed elsewhere in the report.
“The media play a key role in the misrepresentation of Muslims with their negative portrayal on a daily basis, instilling fear in those who have limited contact with them. It is imperative that there are more balanced and positive news stories demonstrating an accurate picture of Muslim participation in British society,” said Sufia Alam, centre manager at the Maryam Centre, part of the East London Mosque Trust.
A YouGov poll indicated that 64% of British respondents said what they know about Islam is acquired through the media.
The report called on social media outlets to clamp down on Islamophobia and so-called fake news.
One day before the report’s release, Facebook announced it would remove the page of anti-Islamic group Britain First. Facebook said Britain First’s posts, which had garnered more than 2 million likes, had repeatedly violated its community standards.
“Our report brings together some important perspectives we hope will help inform the government thinking on integration,” MCB Secretary-General Harun Khan said in the report.
“We believe a positive collaborative approach is what is needed to create a vision for a united nation that will shape the future for us and the generations to come.”