Muslims in Britain continued
Bob Dylan said of his song “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall” that every line is the start of a whole new song. That’s how I felt writing my essay on the 10th anniversary of the riots in Oldham, Bradford and Burnley, which is in The Independent today. Every issue briefly alluded to needed an essay in itself.
I argued in the article that the story told about these places – and about Muslim communities across Britain in general – is pretty misleading. But there’s so much else that I would have liked to have explored if I’d had the space.
Faith schools. It’s an article of, well, faith, among some on the intellectual left that these are malign institutions which divide communities along religious (and therefore ethnic) lines and that this Government and the last is deeply misguided in encouraging their expansion. But I discovered in Oldham that the situation is much more complex. 30% of Oldham’s primary schools are either Roman Catholic or Church of England. 40% of the town’s secondary school are Christian. This is the legacy of the church providing education before the state got involved. And there are a lot of Catholic schools in Oldham because they served a previous wave of Irish immigrants to the area. And what’s interesting is that some of these Christian schools have a considerable number of Muslim students. I spoke to one headscarf wearing Muslim parent who sent her children to a Roman Catholic secondary school, St Augustine, because she saw it was the best school in the area. The religious principles on which the school was founded was not a problem for her at all. And as I noted in the article, my own old Church of England primary school had many Muslim students (they even said the Lord’s Prayer in assembly!). Yes, not all religious schools are as inclusive, and that’s a problem. As I argue in the article, general ethnic segregation in education is a problem too. But I’m far from convinced that abolishing all faith schools is either warranted or would defuse inter-community tensions.
Segregation and terrorism. Ted Cantle’s report in the aftermath of the 2001 riots came up with the famous phrase “parallel lives” and advised the Government to adopt an active policy of promoting “community cohesion”. But Cantle has also linked segregation with religious extremism and terrorism. In the wake of the July 7 2005 bombings he gave an interview to The Guardian in which he said he was not surprised at the nightmarish arrival of home-grown suicide bombers and argued: “You have to feel some commitment to a sense of society and a sense of belonging. It’s about where people’s loyalties lie.” Cantle’s ”parallel lines” thesis is debatable. But his idea that segregation results in extremism, even terrorism, is an assertion that has no evidence to back it up whatsoever. The 7/7 bombers went to state secondary schools and were well-integrated.
Segregation and racism. A report for the IPPR think tank found last year a link between segregation and support for the British National Party. But this is not conclusive. Although a town like Oldham is just as segregated as it was a decade ago, as the outgoing head of the council told me , support for the BNP has dropped considerably over the past decade.
The meaning of multiculturalism. The 2001 riots led to the demonisation of the term. And that continues to the present day, with David Cameron’s proclamation in Munich in February that the “doctrine” had failed. But there is no agreement on what the term means. To some it is the active segregation of communities by local councils. To others it describes a simple reality – that we live in a nation with people of different cultural backgrounds. When someone next criticises “multiculturalism”, ask them what they mean by the word.
Forced marriages. This is a stick that is frequently used to bash Muslim communities by the right. You know the story: sons and daughters are married off under duress to relatives from Pakistan and the spouse, who usually speaks no English, is brought into the UK as a sort of immigration scam. But those I spoke to in researching this piece were keen to draw a distinction between forced marriage – which they utterly deplored – and arranged marriages which they regard as acceptable. And, interestingly, the younger Muslims I met said that even arranged marriages are on the way out. The younger generation, apparently, won’t put up with it any more.
Immigration. The right-wing press like to scare their readers with the spectre of cities in which white people will one day be in the minority. And this is often linked by groups such as MigrationWatch to immigration. But as Ludi Simpson, of Manchester University, has pointed out, this trend is being driven not by immigration but by the fact that the existing ethnic minority population in Britain is having more children.
Drugs. I met several people in Burnley who maintain that what their town experienced in 2001 was not a race riot, but a turf war between two rival drugs gangs. And Councillor Howard Sykes in Oldham also informed me, with a wry smile, that gangs in his town are increasingly racially mixed.
I would also have liked to have explored the relationship between ethnic segregation and economic disadvantage more fully (the question of whether one leads to the other). I wanted to look at why there is less segregation in other cities and towns around Britain with a high Muslim population. I wanted to examine the differing experiences of Bangladeshi and Pakistani migrants. Alas, space and time did not allow.
This is a subject to which I hope to return.
But in the meantime, I want to post some of the key reports and pieces of research I cite in the essay so that those who want to challenge my conclusions have a helping hand:
The Cantle report: commissioned by the Home Office to explore the roots of the riots in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham. Came up with the phrase “parallel lives”.
The Ritchie report: commissioned by Oldham Council and the Manchester Police to look at the causes of the Oldham riot. Found “self-segregation” by Asian and white communities. Ritchie’s findings were subsequently challenged by the council who said that the cause of the riots was poverty rather than segregation.
The Ouseley report: commissioned by the local authorities in Bradford in 2001. Also found “self-segregation” by both communities. Argued that the city was “in the grip of fear”. Blamed Asian community leaders for enforcing segregation.
The 2006 Cantle report: commissioned by Oldham Council to gauge progress in building community cohesion. Praised the council for its efforts in bringing people together.
Yunas Samad 2010 research: the university of Bradford researcher, sponsored by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, contradicted some of the findings of Ouseley and showed Bradford Asians to have relatively high level of contact with whites.
Gallup Poll 2009: Found that British Muslims more likely to identify strongly with Britain than overall population and also more in favour of ethnically mixed communities.Tagged in: Bradford, Burnley, drugs, education, faith schools, forced marriage, immigration, multiculturalism, muslims, Oldham, segregation, terrorism
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter