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  • Being embarassed by one’s parents…culture???

    by Shariq
    13th February, 2006 at 6:25 pm    

    ‘It’s nothing to do with religion, its the culture’s fault’

    On the face of it, this statement made by many 2nd and 3rd generation Muslims seems perfectly fair. To take one important example, although forced marriages occur in Muslim societies they are not condoned by Islam. Furthermore, one simply has to compare and contrast Muslims from Morocco with Muslims in Pakistan to see differences in culture and even within Pakistan, Baluchi Muslims are distinct from Punjabi Muslims, who in turn have a lot in common with Punjabi Hindu’s and Sikhs).

    However I think that the mindset which leads to such a statement actually hinders both integration into Western society, and personal development and self-awareness as it comes from a place which tries to repudiate the heritage of one’s parents.

    Firstly with regards to integration, it seems to be a prevalent view amongst a significant number of right-wingers that the development of human society is linear and that ‘Western Civilisation’ has helped us reach the ‘end of history’. The problem with this is that it doesn’t take into account the importance of cultural transmission in the progress of human beings. A good example of this is classical Greek Philosophy which went from Europe to the Muslim world and back to Europe. A tragic one would be the destruction of the Inca’s and Aztecs (who were almost completely isolated communities) by Spain.

    In this context regarding ones parents as ‘backwards’ or ‘illiberal’ often misses the point. To fill this identity gap, some become completely culturally British while others turn to a ‘culture-less’ form of Islam neither of which is ideal. An interesting thing to look at is the relatively high amount of integration by the Indian community in the U.K compared to the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. Neither has assimilated and a lot of British Indians would no doubt fail the Tebbit test - but that doesn’t stop them from being nicely integrated.

    As for those who go completely the other way (I’ll explain why coconut is not a good description for such people in a following post), some do well out of it but miss out on a lot of cultural heritage whereas others often end up rejecting it. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that some of the must austere born-again Muslims are those who once upon a time used to party a lot and didn’t have any hang-ups with things such as alcohol. Similarly, I think that those converts who do not abandon their family and old friends are a lot better adjusted than those who do.

    Where does this leave the culture/religion debate? Simply at a place where British Muslims should not be uncomfortable about having both gay friends and having their parents live with them in their old age, and so rather than shut out the culture of their parents from their identity, find a place for it alongside being British and European and most importantly a human being.

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    18 Comments below   |  

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    1. Jay Singh — on 13th February, 2006 at 6:57 pm  

      Reformist Muslim

      Pleasure to read you. Some of this stuff applies to Sikhs, and Hindus too.

    2. Petals just fell from heaven — on 13th February, 2006 at 9:14 pm  

      Nice piece RM.

      From my observations, with particular reference to the middle class back home in India are seemingly less conversative then parents here. Yet it’s cultural variations instead of religion, rightly as your example of Islam illustrates.

    3. Rohin — on 13th February, 2006 at 9:23 pm  

      This isn’t just an issue for British Muslims, it’s the immigrant story in general.

    4. reformist muslim — on 13th February, 2006 at 11:38 pm  

      Thanks for the feedback.

      Rohin and Jay, would be interested to hear your takes on the reasons for Hindus and Sikhs generally integrating bettter than Muslims in the UK.

      Socio-economic reasons are probably quite important - America for instance got richer, better educated Muslim migrants and doesn’t have so much of a problem, but is that all?

      Petals I agree that often people back in the Subcontinent are more liberal. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that they don’t need to be defensive and the worst case scenario isn’t as bad. Not to justify some of the conservatism but the chances of your teenage daughter getting pregnant are probably far greater in America than urban India.

    5. Rohin — on 13th February, 2006 at 11:49 pm  

      “Rohin and Jay, would be interested to hear your takes on the reasons for Hindus and Sikhs generally integrating bettter than Muslims in the UK.”

      Oooh crikey, that’s a big one! Well I don’t know if I’m the person to ask about Hindus, I’ve probably got as much of an outsider’s view as you RM, but either way it’s a tough question.

      I can’t write all that much now, but I suppose the key element is how one identifies themselves. Many (most?) Muslims will define themselves as Muslim first and British second. Indeed some I’ve met (who I’m sure are the minority) identify more strongly with Pakistan than Britain, despite often never having been there. The ‘religiosity’ is, on the whole, lower amongst Sikhs and Hindus. There are many religious individuals in all Asian communities, but I think it would be safe to say that strict adherance to religion is more prevalent amongst Muslims. Hence the ‘Muslim identity’ is the strongest, whereas I would say the majority of Hindus and Sikhs will identify themselves as British first.

      Will try to write more later. Any other views?

    6. raz — on 13th February, 2006 at 11:57 pm  

      “Rohin and Jay, would be interested to hear your takes on the reasons for Hindus and Sikhs generally integrating bettter than Muslims in the UK”

      I don’t think it is that simple. Indian Muslims tend to be well integrated in the UK, Sri Lankan Tamil Hindus not so well.

      “Socio-economic reasons are probably quite important”

      Indeed. Remember, many Indians in the UK (Hindu, Muslim and Sikh) came not from the subcontinent but from Uganda/Kenya - these tend to be well educated and well off. Many Pakistanis/Bangladeshis hail from poorer, underdeveloped parts of their countries e.g. majority of UK Pakistanis are Kashmiri. Also, the areas in which these groups settled (e.g. Northern mill towns) also plays a role in subsequent deprivation. It’s worth looking at other countries with large subcontinental communities, e.g. Canada, which does not display the disparity between Indians and Pakistanis which you witness in the UK - perhaps because the immigrants to Canada are more closely matched in terms of education/skills/background.

    7. Jay Singh — on 14th February, 2006 at 12:07 am  

      Reformist Muslim

      Hi! Big question. As always, you can only speak in generalities, and there will always be exceptions. For example, Sikhs are generally chilled out and relaxed about religion, most Sikhs drink and enjoy pub culture, music scene etc, but there are also staunchly religious Sikhs, so there is a schism within there. However, generally speaking, Sikhs and Hindus are quite integrated, whilst still retaining their culture and religion.

      I think that there is variance amongst desi Muslims - Mirpuris and Sylhetis tend to be less integrated than, for example, Gujarati Ismailis and others. So it might be better to compare those communities where there is a unifying variable (religion) and diversity in the level of integration within the desi Muslim community as a whole.

      One thing that I will say, as a personal observation, is that sometimes I feel so much energy is expended in a kind of grievance culture around Islamic political issues, to the extent that perhaps there is a cynicism about getting on in wider society, and it dissipates energy and vision. I know that Sikh kids have it drilled into them to get their heads down and study, if not study, then work hard in a job or start your own business with an eye to getting ahead. There is not that much cynicism about the opportunities available. The attitude is: It doesnt matter if there is racism, if you work hard you can succeed in Britain. There is not a feeling of ‘the world is against us’, and if there is, it is used as a motivating factor to succeed, as much as anything else.

      I think other things come into the equation - it is a massive subject, and, as I said before, there are always counter-examples to the generalities we make. But I think there are trends that can be observed and can be mentioned.

    8. Jay Singh — on 14th February, 2006 at 12:10 am  

      Remember, many Indians in the UK (Hindu, Muslim and Sikh) came not from the subcontinent but from Uganda/Kenya - these tend to be well educated and well off.

      The East African Sikh population is fairly small in percentage terms of the Sikh population in the UK as a whole, most of whom can trace their roots straight back to villages in Jalandhar district, Punjab.

    9. Sunny — on 14th February, 2006 at 12:11 am  

      Socio economic reasons were important initially. A lot of Indians and Pakistanis (who live in London) have done well and ‘integrated’ because London is relatively wealthy and its impossible to isolate yourself in a community.

      The problem is that 2nd/3rd generation Pakistanis up north and Bangladeshis in east London are isolating themselves from society because they feel better off within their own communties… We’re now reaching into a sense of victim mentality, where people just feel like they’re being ignored, and therefore retreat back into their own community.

      I met someone at the Beeb a while back, and she was saying that as a middle class Pakistani she was having real trouble meeting a man because she didn’t want to marry a poor village-mentality Pakistani from up north. She wanted someone from London… so socio economic reasons are paramount.

      Leicester Hindus for example have a much more conservative and insular mentality than those down here….. as do Sikhs in Birmingham compared to Sikhs in London. the ones up north are like straight from the village and sometimes even behave like they’re back in a village.

    10. raz — on 14th February, 2006 at 12:12 am  

      Thanks Jay - I wasn’t sure how big the Sikh African population was in comparison to the Hindu/Muslim one, but I didn’t want you guys to feel left out :)

    11. Jay Singh — on 14th February, 2006 at 12:13 am  

      Yeah Sunny - no village mentality amongst Sikhs in Southall Hounslow or Slough at all eh? ;-)

    12. Steve M — on 14th February, 2006 at 1:22 am  

      Jay, my experience bears out what you wrote about Sikhs being brought up with the emphasis on studying and running their own businesses. Strangely enough this has always resonated with me. I wonder why. ;-)

      As for Hindus and Muslims, I’d like to make two points.

      Firstly, I noticed when I did business in India (in the steel industry) that the families that ran the companies that I dealt with were invariably Hindu (or occasionally Jain). In India the Muslims seemed to be involved in different types of business and activity. Is this true and if so what are its repercussions?

      Secondly, there is considerable racism in the UK, particularly in the Northern working class communities where Muslims often live. The whites themselves are disadvantaged and many believe that the government or council do more for immigrant communities than for the native Britains. Instead of blaming the governments or councils this tends to surface in the form of racist “anti-Paki” attitudes. I wonder to what extent the attitudes of Muslims mirror the prejudice they experience themselves.

      Just some late night thoughts.

    13. Bea — on 14th February, 2006 at 1:44 am  

      RM, it’s a pleasure to read such a well-rounded article.
      Cultural differences within people belonging to one religion and its effect on their social evolution is quite apparent in the Western society.
      Socio-economical relevance in this regard is also hard to deny. People who have come from cities and have educated background find it much easier to integrate in the foreign culture. There willingness to experience the new culture whilst maintaining their religious identity gives them a niche of their own. Where as, someone with poor background with limited language skills finds safety in numbers. White Chapel, East Ham in London and Small heath in Birmingham to name a few, are classic examples of people trying to find comfort in places where they don’t have to integrate with the rest of the society, where their religious values are shared by the majority and ultimately that attitude leads to their social isolation and lack of progress.
      People (in general) back at the subcontinent are more liberal, progressive and less conservative because they have allowed themselves to grow with time. On the other hand, generations that came here in the 1960/70 have been stuck in time capsule and expect their children to conform to their cultural values rather than the norms of this day and age.

    14. Sunny — on 14th February, 2006 at 2:55 pm  

      Yeah Sunny - no village mentality amongst Sikhs in Southall Hounslow or Slough at all eh?

      I think the ones in Birmingham put the Slough ones to shame :D

    15. Ted Matthews — on 14th February, 2006 at 2:59 pm  

      I concur with what has already been said regarding the content and presentation of this piece.
      I would like to add one simple comment however, that racism occurs anywhere ther are differences in value perception.
      Much of the discontent in the North West, where I am, has been magnified by the loss of industrial security and therfore expectation of those of post war Britain. This group lost most of its self repect as their quality of life was outstripped by that in the South East and ‘Home Counties’. Add to that the feeling that in certain areas where their parents and they grew up, they are now the ‘outsiders’ surrounded by an unintergrated alien culture.
      Immigration policies of the past, political correctness, a lack of commitment by imigrants to the future of this Country and the heavy politicisation of Islam has all combind to create the sorry state we are now in.
      I only hope that your generation will conspire to make a better job of it than us wrinklies.

      Good Luck and keep this blog going.

      Ted Matthews, Preston Lancs.

    16. Jay Singh — on 14th February, 2006 at 3:08 pm  

      And Southall pond life puts them all to shame ;-)

    17. Sunny — on 14th February, 2006 at 3:20 pm  

      Ted: Immigration policies of the past, political correctness, a lack of commitment by imigrants to the future of this Country and the heavy politicisation of Islam has all combind to create the sorry state we are now in.

      to a certain extent I would agree with that, but some of the blame lies with the govt I’d say, not just the immigrants. they can never look back in hindsight and change the past..

    18. zishan khan — on 16th February, 2006 at 5:22 am  

      In my point of view u being a musilm or hindu. Dosent make a difference Refromist mulim. If any one becomes britan then muslim or hindu then he is in big trouble. Since rules in any country changes with the government. And poor guys should change is values according to the government.

      Doesent make sense. As far as integration of u r self in the society is simple if u can abid laws and rule of any country and be responsible of u r action this is more then enough for an ideal citizen

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