The UK didn’t need the EU to enjoy multiculturalism – quite the reverse
The Brexit referendum result was a shock. Especially surprising – given that the whole exercise was as a result of the divisions within the Conservative Party – was the fact that about 30% of those who voted Labour in 2015 voted Leave. It is clear that the Leave vote disproportionately consisted of those without a degree and over the age of 45. Equally over-represented in the Leave vote in England were those who say they are more English than British or only English and not British.
There is some reason to suppose that this new and rising English nationalism is anti-immigration, and even worse – given that England is a highly diverse country – anti-multiculturalist. While it is worrying that the Brexit result seems to have led to an uptick in racial abuse and harassment, there is no reason to suppose that English nationalism and multiculturalism must be opposed to each other.
To many, multiculturalism as a political idea in Britain suffered a body blow in 2001. In the shock of 9/11 terrorism and after race riots in some northern English towns, many forecastthat its days were numbered. If these blows were not fatal, multiculturalism was then surely believed to have been killed off by the 7/7 attacks in London in 2005 and the terrorism and hawkish response to it that followed. But this is far too simplistic.
And today, a multicultural identity among some ethnic minorities could help to create more of a sense of “British identity” among the English.
A decade ago, research by Pinar Enneli, Tariq Modood and Harriet Bradley identified Turkish-speaking people in Britain (Turkish Cypriots, and Turks and Kurds from mainland Turkey) as ‘invisible minority groups.’ ‘Such groups’, it was noted, ‘make little appearance in public debates about race relations and have been little studied within academic social science.’
Hopefully, this is about to change because of the latest, and indeed scandalous, argument of the British Vote Leave campaign, that (i) Turks engender a threat to national security, and (ii) 12 million Turks will flood into Britain if Britain remains in the EU and Turkey successfully joins the EU.
As Turks have made the front pages of newspapers and become central to the public debates regarding Brexit/Bremain, there seems to be an opportunity for Turks to come to the fore, to become more “visible” within the fabric of multi-ethnic Britain. Thus, rather than focusing on Turkey’s EU accession journey or what would be the consequences of an alleged/imagined massive influx of Turks in the UK, I believe that it is more important to take the recent media coverage of Turks as an opportunity to make a case for Turks already residing in the UK.
The US and UK’s contrasting approaches to incorporating Muslims
This article is reposted with the author’s permission from Democratic Audit.
Drawing on their recent research Nasar Meer and Tariq Modood consider whether the British or American social compact is conducive to the incorporation of Muslims, and find that while the US may be more of a secular state, the UK is a more secular society and with a more secularist political culture. They argue that both can offer meaningful routes to not only political participation, but also meaningful incorporation of Muslim minorities.
Wimbledon Park Mosque (Credit: stevekeiretsu CC BY-NC 2.0)
Regardless of whether Donald Trump wins the Republican presidential nomination, his rhetoric on Muslims has enthralled American political discourse. Meanwhile on this side of the Atlantic, Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the US triggered a petition, signed by over 570,000 people, seeking in turn to ban Trump from Britain. While Islamophobia is certainly not absent from British political discourse, the Trump phenomena and reactions to it across both sides of the Atlantic raises an interesting question as to the comparative status of Muslims and Islam in the public square in the US and Britain.
Around a quarter of British Indian Sikhs, and half of British Pakistani Muslims have a spouse who migrated to the UK as an adult, making these two of the largest British ethnic groups involved in this kind of transnational marriage.
In recent years, such marriages have increasingly been seen as an obstacle to integration – with suggested implications ranging from poverty to lack of attachment to the UK, and persistent gender inequality. In Britain, as in some other European countries, the demands of integration now also feature in justification for restrictions on spousal immigration, such as the income requirement for sponsors introduced in 2012.
It is surprising to many to learn that the empirical research on relationships between marriage migration and integration has actually been rather limited, and has produced varying results.
The decline in the number of students of modern languages from GCSE to degree level is an annual lament. Only 10,328 pupils in the UK took French at A Level in 2015 and although Spanish enjoyed a rise in entries at A Level of 14%, German continued its steady decline.
As Vicky Gough, schools adviser at the British Council, noted last year, the study of French and German at A Level has declined by more than 50% since 1999.
Similar patterns can be observed at GCSE where entries for French, for example, declined by 40% between 2005 and 2015. The rise in interest in Arabic and Portuguese has not offset the overall trend towards the marginalisation of language learning in Britain’s secondary schools, and most notably those in the state sector.
It’s hard for language learners and teachers to remain optimistic in this climate, and harder still with widespread Euroscepticism and the possibility of the UK voting to leave the European Union in a referendum on June 23.
The prime minister, David Cameron, has launched a number of measures aimed at improving integration among Muslims – in particular, Muslim women – in the UK. Polls show that around 70% of people don’t think Muslims are well integrated into British society and concern that Muslim people living in Britain do not feel British has long been part of broader discussions around extremism.
So, now seems like a good time to take a closer look at how British Muslims actually feel about their place in society and to explore the link between segregation and extremism in greater depth. Along with Professor James Nazroo, I conducted research into these issues using nationally representative data, collected in 2008/09 from almost 5,000 people with different ethnic and religious backgrounds, as a part of the Home Office Citizenship Survey. We found that these ideas about British Muslims are not backed up by evidence.
How can we respond to the refugee crisis? Ten practical ways.
In the past couple of weeks, an issue that has long been an issue has hit a ‘tipping point’ in terms of public awareness. It’s strange when this happens. Suddenly the language of ‘crisis’ proliferates. Suddenly everyone wants to know what they can do to help. Historically, it’s often been images of suffering children that either provoke such tipping points, or channel them to a wider audience.
Perhaps it is the powerlessness of a baby in the face of indifferent natural or political forces that brings this rise out of us. Or perhaps it makes a far-off struggle suddenly feel very near.
Personally, I find it problematic that, first, we are (almost) only moved to action by such images and second, that the action we are moved to is largely motivated by pity or sympathy. I wish we were as easily moved by the struggle or suffering of any person. Still more, sympathy can unwittingly depoliticise what are extremely political situations. If I feel sorry for you and want to help you, I am largely ignoring the fact that I have, and am, part of creating this situation that you are in. Better to be angry, outraged, repentant, about it.
Perhaps it would be better if, for once in our long history, we actually did nothing. But we still want to act. It’s also true that systems, attitudes and policies need to change, if people seeking liveable lives are to be able to do this within our current world. So what will we do? How can we respond?
There is a perception held widely in society that Muslim people living in Britain do not feel British. Comments by David Cameron and others, for example, describe a need to address the lack of integration and sense of Britishness among Muslims. As well as addressing more general concerns, this focus on integration is seen as a solution to the apparent terrorist threat, both by avoiding young people becoming radicalized and ensuring that those who are becoming radicalized are not protected by their supposedly geographically- and socially-segregated communities (see The Independent).
However, this attitude has developed without any empirical evidence. I have carried out some empirical work into these issues, using quantitative data from the nationally-representative Home Office Citizenship Survey. This indicates that in fact 90% of Muslims, and Hindus, Sikhs and ethnic minority Christians who live in this country report a strong sense of personal belonging to Britain. Indeed, Muslims (with a variety of ethnicities) were more likely to report feeling British than Caribbean Christians. These findings directly contradict the perceived ‘desires’ of British Muslims to live in segregated communities.
In 2020, Western multiculturalism will be an even more significant feature of political debate and controversy than it is today. Gender and sexual orientation will have become relatively uncontroversial aspects of group identity and campaigns against disadvantage and misrecognition. Cultural difference, especially ethnoreligious difference, will, however, continue to be political battlegrounds. This will be the case particularly in Western Europe, with the non-white population having reached 15%, and the Muslim population about 10%, and concentrated in the towns and cities, in some of which – following the trend started some years ago in California – white native-born people will cease to be a majority. This will be true of London – Europe’s most populous city – but the same trend will be evident in Brussels, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, greater Paris and Marseille amongst others.