LONDON: Force-feeding “British values” counteracts integration and undermines the basic principle of “live and let live” according to a new report published in Parliament on Wednesday by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).
Launched on the same day as the government’s Integrated Communities Strategy green paper, the report entitled ‘Our Shared Future: Muslims and Integration in the UK’ calls on policy makers to devise an “equal integration strategy for all Britons” that avoids placing the onus disproportionately on British Muslims.
“The debate on integration is skewed in one direction,” said Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain. Speaking at the launch event on Wednesday evening, he challenged the “implicit accusation that British Muslims are incapable of integrating into society.”
Labour MP Naz Shah, who’s constituency of Bradford West is 51 percent Muslim identified the need for “refining the conversation about British Muslims.”
She said the language is starting to shift but, “We’re not out of the woods” and an “underbelly of Islamophobia” persists in politics. “Equality is not about having the same outcomes but about having the same opportunities,” she added.
Journalist James Fergusson, described the warm reception he received while living among UK Muslim communities to research his book My Country: A Journey Through Muslim Britain. “Not only are Muslims capable of integrating, they are actually doing so,” he said.
Writing in the report, Samayya Afzal, community engagement manager at the Muslim Council of Britain in Bradford, said: “The current language of integration imposes a responsibility on one segment of the population to integrate into British society, but there is no such thing as a one-way street to community cohesion.”
“If any integration policy is to succeed, as the government plans to do in 2018, it needs to be inclusive. The same goes for ‘British values’, a relatively new term coined after concerns of extremism,” the report states.
The findings urge policy makers not to “conflate extremism with integration” and reminds them that “religiosity is not a barrier to integration.”
Sir Peter Fahy, former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police and one of 30 expert voices featured in the report, said that the debate on integration and immigration has been poisoned by the impact of extremism, which aims to “sow division.”
Cohesion must be built from the bottom up rather than imposed as a national strategy, he says. “You cannot force integration. The French have tried this through fining women for wearing the hijab and discouraging all forms of ethnic monitoring,” creating a, “Profound alienation among their minority communities.”
“Attempts by the UK Government to promote ‘British values’ were unsuccessful; this was not surprising when one of the most profound British values is arguably ‘live and let live.’”
Integration has become a buzz word in Brexit Britain amid growing concerns over the marginalization of British-Muslim and a rise in anti-muslim sentiment and attacks.
Hate crimes increased by 29 percent in England and Wales between 2016 and 2017 according to Home Office statistics, with surges around the EU referendum and after the Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks.
A spokesperson for MCB told Arab News that the British press is partly responsible for pedalling a divisive dialogue with, “frequent false and hate-filled stories about British Muslim which “Creates distrust and fosters Islamophobia.”
“The media plays a key role in the misrepresentation of British Muslims with their negative portrayal on a daily basis,” the report states. It calls for “more balanced and positive news stories that demonstrate accurately British Muslim participation in society.”
Contributing to the report, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi points to the depiction of British Muslims as “other” by some politicians and sections of the press.
“Sadly, when it comes to British Muslims, the policy of disengagement applied by successive governments has led to more and more British Muslim individuals and groups viewed as ‘beyond the pale’ and thus pushed out of the mainstream and into the margins.”
This week, four Muslim MPs were targeted with suspicious packages, including copies of a hate letter calling for attacks on British Muslims. Copies of the letter, which claims April 3 will be “Punish a Muslim Day” and assigns points for various assaults — from 25 points for pulling off a woman’s headscarf to 500 points for murdering a British Muslim — have been doing the rounds in several UK cities, including London, Leicester, Cardiff, Bradford and Sheffield.
MPs condemned the letter as “abhorrent” during an urgent question raised in the House of Commons on Monday.