The discussion on ‘multi-culturalism’ and hand-wringing over how people should integrate with each other is endless.
But it’s only when the issue hits you in the face that everything come into better perspective.
Last week I was invited to be part of a panel at the National Film Theatre to discuss young Muslims and their cultural conflicts. A short film made about and by young students at a Westminster school was screened first.
The panel also included three British born students: one of Moroccan & English parentage, one ethnically Egyptian and the other Iraqi; Fareena Alam from Q-News and two moderators.
There is constant talk in the media about whether ‘multiculturalism’ can work or not. But most supposedly opposed to the concept do not seem to appreciate how diverse London has become.
There were students in the audience whose parents came from at least 30 different countries. Diversity of cultures is a fact of life in London and not an abstract concept to be debated. It is impossible for the government to dictate their behaviour at home or the cultural practices they should follow.
That brings me to my second point. I was also struck by how removed some of the students seemed to be from a concept of ‘Britishness’. In other words, some did not identity themselves as British despite being raised here all their lives.
This was the case for a variety of reasons – some I may not even know. But one stood out.
Youngsters from mixed backgrounds usually want to hang on to some sort of an identity to provide a bit of stability when a lot else is unsure. Is religion important? What about the country their parents came from? How were they different to the other students and where did they fit into all this?
I would say there are two main aspects to being British – the cultural and the political. One may not have to adopt every aspect of British culture (however defined), but they should at least feel part of the country.
Rather than complaining about the government’s foreign policy or pop culture, I told one, why not strive to get involved and change it? Why not take ownership of the country that he had grown up in, schooled in, and would probably work in for the rest of his life?
Yet, it seems, some of the students did not feel British because no one told them they were.
Part of the problem are our own so-called community or faith leaders who are more obsessed with events back in the sub-continent than here in the UK.
The Sikh Federation is too busy worrying about an independent Sikh homeland in Punjab or what the Indian government is doing to provide any adequate direction for the Sikh community here.
The Muslim Council of Britain is more concerned with renaming the Holocaust Memorial Day, trying to explain London’s terror attacks or getting involved in stupid campaigns than stressing the importance of being Muslim and British. Maybe their recent support for Hizb ut-Tahrir has made it more difficult.
To a certain extent this is understandable. These organisations are run by middle-aged men whose world-view has been shaped by events decades ago.
The problem is that they are not only out of touch with the cosmopolitan youth, but they also claim to represent everyone who belongs to their religion.
If the government is serious about ensuring that ethnic minorities integrate, instead of setting up the umpteenth commission just involving faith groups it should work on making them feel part of this country.
Neither Trevor Phillips’ constant headline-grabbing comments, nor a committee of middle-aged faith leaders is going to convince a young student at school that he or she is an integral part of this country.
That can only happen when schools and other government institutions treat everyone the same and stress their similarities rather than cultural or religious differences.
Our community leaders have been so terrible at stressing even inter-Asian harmony that I hold no hope in them pushing interracial or inter-religious understanding.
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