‘Integration’ won’t work with our current community leaders


by Sunny
27th September, 2005 at 5:26 am    

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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  1. Robert Sharp

    [...] Integration won’t work, when community leaders are always stressing the differences. So says Sunny, the editor at Pickled Politics. Finding common ground, and treating each other with much more than just “toleration” is the whole point of multiculturalism. It is not simply a case of living side-by-side without interaction. [...]




  1. Spoon — on 27th September, 2005 at 9:16 am  

    well said Sunny.

    One thing you’ve written which stood out for me is this:

    “Yet, it seems, some of the students did not feel British because no one told them they were. ”

    Unfortunately, thats the case. It’s easy for some of us who don’t live in the ghettoes/communities (i now live in Cali by the way) to say that you should be more british because we already interact more with the wider community. Some people have no opportunity to do so and this is therefore all they know. Making people feel more loyal to this country by holding citizenship ceremonies etc is key…things like this will effectively “tell them they are british”.

  2. Old Pickler — on 27th September, 2005 at 11:09 am  

    ‘Community leaders’ are a bit of a hobby horse of mine. They generally have beards – where are the women?- are reactionary, and pre-occupied with what is happening ‘back home’, as opposed to here. And who votes for them, anyway?

  3. Rohin — on 27th September, 2005 at 1:22 pm  

    Ugh, that’s depressing reading. Will write more a bit later.

  4. DavidP — on 27th September, 2005 at 4:17 pm  

    You talk about ‘Trevor Phillips’ constant headline-grabbing comments’, but it’s precisely those comments that are jumped on and dismissed as ‘racist’ by MCB leaders. (I’m talking about the ‘ghettoes’ remarks the other week and the leader was Sacranie, I think.)

  5. Al-Hack — on 27th September, 2005 at 4:23 pm  

    Both Sacranie and Phillips are twats who keep making comments and doing nothing more.

  6. David T — on 27th September, 2005 at 5:00 pm  

    Yes, but what – exactly – do you think people should be doing?

  7. Sunny — on 27th September, 2005 at 5:17 pm  

    My suggestion is manifold:

    Firstly, I’m all for teaching english classes to the older generation. They have to fully involve themselves into society.

    Secondly, recent immigrants should be taught about their rights in Britain, what this country can offer and why Britain is great (freedom of religion, liberty etc).

    I want a bit of flag-waving and patriotism. Why should we be afraid of talking about being British?

    Also, get rid of the silly community leaders who want to play down the British-ness because they want to hang on to their indian or pakistani identity.

    More support from the govt – less of the “prove that you’re british” rhetoric and more ways to give access to minorities to power.

  8. Siddharth — on 27th September, 2005 at 8:14 pm  

    Sunny:

    Good suggestions, I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Do you think the air of mutual suspicion that has existed between white and Asian communities, which has been around from the very early days of mass immigration to the UK, will start to disipate of its own accord after, say, another generation?

  9. Sunny — on 27th September, 2005 at 8:48 pm  

    There is constant talk about pushing for an idea of ‘Britishness’, even by people like Gordon Brown and others. I think its the right way to go simply because it will not only ease some of the suspicious nature of the right-wing press, but also help Asians fully take part in British society.

    I don’t want ethnic minorities living in their own psychological ghettoes (if not physical or economical ghettoes) where they feel like they are not really part of this country. I guess you could call it the “re-claiming the St. George” syndrome, but I’m not suggesting we start tattooing the union jack on our arms or wearing union-jack t-shirts.

    A common politically British thread means we all live side-by-side and practice whatever cultural or religion we want, yet feel proud of living here…. despite the foreign policy if necessary.

    In a way it happens in India. You have 25 (or more) very different states where people eat different foods and speak different languages and are in different castes, but still identify themselves as Indian. Ok they might be all mostly Hindus but that doesn’t mean much when Hinduism is such a diverse religion with all the castes and sub-castes etc. And then there is the American example too – different identities living under the American flag.

    The Americans still haven’t had a locally born terrorist or have had a single American-Muslim caught in another country (as far as I know) trying to blow people up.

  10. Mokum — on 27th September, 2005 at 9:56 pm  

    Sunny,

    We Yanks do have John Walker, the American Taliban, a confused youngster captured in miserable conditions at Mazar al Sharif.

    He’s doing 20 years, and so is worse off than a lot of the Guantanamo folks, who don’t get trials but do get out long before Mr Walker, even though many of them were surely worse Talibs than John. America, it’s a bitch.

    Then there’s the dirty bomb man, Jose Padilla, a gangster turned Talib convert, who is now in a South Carolina brig.

    Radical Islam gets around, like Uncle Sam.

    “re-claiming St. George”

    Aye, and Krishna, Allah, Jesus, and many more.

  11. Siddharth — on 27th September, 2005 at 11:24 pm  

    "The Americans still haven’t had a locally born terrorist or have had a
    single American-Muslim caught in another country (as far as I know) trying to
    blow people up."

    There was the
    Oklahoma City bombing
    in 1995. The ‘terrorist’ involved was Timothy
    McVeigh. White, Christian and American born.
    Here’s a question to ponder – do you think the Eastern Europeans will have
    anything near the same problems integrating into the British society as we
    Asians have had? I somehow don’t think so you can be sure that colour has
    something to do with it.

  12. Uncleji the media whore — on 28th September, 2005 at 1:43 pm  

    These organisations are run by middle-aged men whose world-view has been shaped by events decades ago.

    That the very defination of a Uncleji !
    In the relation to Sikhs that honour should go to the Network of Sikh Organisations i.e Indarjit Singh which is the obode of the Unclejis and until recently had zero consulation.
    Sikh Federation seem alot younger profile. more zealous and better organised but has not gained the kudos of a spot on “thought for the day” .

    In anycase I find this competition for crumbs from the government table a bit depressing.

    I think this ghetto thing has more to do with wealth and class then anything else. You don’t see me rioting do you nooo cos me merc would get scratched.

  13. Arif — on 28th September, 2005 at 7:09 pm  

    Last comment had me laughing…. yup unclejis think differently, but it isn’t all bad. My lot of unclejis are a lot more pro integration than me, but I reckon I’m actually more integrated than them in reality, even if sunny would reckon I had a ghetto mentality. And, yes, I don’t have a merc, so maybe that’s why I’m not schmoozing with Trevor Phillips and why I never wave union jacks.

    But I think the original article is a bit confused. I can take part in political institutions around me without buying into all the nationalistic myths and hypocritical oaths that other people might feel are important to their British identity. I reckon a lot of people whose loyalty is never questioned would also laugh at the idea of loyalty to the crown.

    Learning English is a red herring – after all it is the youth who speak English likel natives, have expectations of equal treatment and a confidence of their rights who are more likely to get angry than unclejis who are just glad to be here and fearful of upsetting their hosts. Sure, it is good to help people learn different language just to communicate, but as an exercise in social engineering it’ll bite you. When you understand how other people see you, it can be a nasty shock. “What, that lovely Lady Winterton said that!!!”

    It is more important to have some sort of respect for one another regardless of language, culture and flag-waving habits. Getting people to follow particular codes isn’t what makes Indian cultures live side by side, it is just acceptance that all cultures and languages have a right to co-exist and, when it works best, a willingness to learn how to get along. You can call that a code, but I think it is a less constraining moral ethic than what Sunny is suggesting.

  14. Mokum — on 28th September, 2005 at 11:31 pm  

    I don’t have a merc, so maybe that’s why I’m not schmoozing with Trevor Phillips and why I never wave union jacks

    LOL, that’s a good line. Having seen the American in your face identity installation process (starts in kindergarten, lots of flags and none too subtle doses of God in the public and allegedly secular domain)

    and the British one, where the Home Office had no real clue as to who I was when I applied for citizenship (hi Lunar House! love your name!) and all I had to do was sign some form at a dusty notary’s office

    I like Britain better on identity

    The problems begin from there, from clueless Home Offices to the potential consequences if extremists have a good identity story to sell in the absence of compelling alternatives.

  15. Sunny — on 29th September, 2005 at 12:10 am  

    I’m not so sure if that lack of identity is a good thing. People always need identity to fill some sort of gap – well the vast majority do anyway. I’d rather young British Asians choose adopt being British as an identity, practice their religion, and carry on participating with life. Otherwise they create artificial conflicts and barriers between one another.

    And Arif, you’re an exceptional case. If we had more people like you, the world would be completely different ;)

  16. Mokum — on 29th September, 2005 at 12:53 am  

    Yes, people do need identity.

    So, al Islami al inglizi, min fadlaq (amongst other things).

    I know a few British uncleji stories. Ha ha, talk about artificial conflicts and barriers! E.g. western boyfriends and girlfriends disappearing when uncleji is around, LOL.

    Arif is so British in his post above, if I may say so as a non-true-born Brit. When does he become prime minister?

    Britain belongs to us immigrants too. Lots of culture, no apologies, no BS, and delusionary tea for uncleji if that really is best, but otherwise it’s time he heard the truth.

  17. Arif — on 29th September, 2005 at 1:02 pm  

    Sunny, you say there are two aspects of being British – political and cultural. This is a finer distinction than most commentators make and is useful to the debate. But then being British in the sense of active in political debates here is exactly what MCB is doing in the examples you give.

    The problem is that the cultural issue does not go away – we are still expected to engage politically in ways which show we are part of a cultural mainstream, in which case it is far easier to just say – fine, I’m won’t try to be British, I’m just standing up for justice or human rights or self-determination, or whatever. Not being considered “British” by someone else should be no great loss.

    It is just part of a political culture, one more tool to marginalise inconvenient campaigns – I don’t think you would say UK politicians standing “shoulder to shoulder with the US”, or putting “Britain at the heart of Europe”, or saying “globalisation is inevitable” need to be more British.

    They are playing rhetorical games which I am glad don’t effect me. Maybe you are sad how “community leaders” play rhetorical games which do have an effect on me or others. But it is nothing to panic about. Our identities don’t have to be the same for us to get on with each other, or to be part of political debates. If I have to prove my Britishness to be part of the debate, that’s just one more arbitrary obstacle I will have to deal with. It doesn’t help me at all.

  18. Sunny — on 29th September, 2005 at 1:57 pm  

    Sunny, you say there are two aspects of being British – political and cultural. This is a finer distinction than most commentators make and is useful to the debate.

    That might be the case, but there will always be some people who will try to marginalise the Asian community. I don’t have to follow their agenda.

    The problem is that the cultural issue does not go away – we are still expected to engage politically in ways which show we are part of a cultural mainstream, in which case it is far easier to just say – fine, I’m won’t try to be British,

    I think thats a cop-out. We have to re-claim the British moniker and then we can play them at their own game. If someone accuses me of not being British, I’d like to ask them how they came to that conclusion and what gives them the right to proclaim I’m not British.

    If I have to prove my Britishness to be part of the debate, that’s just one more arbitrary obstacle I will have to deal with. It doesn’t help me at all.

    You don’t have to be British to be part of the debate, but it helps if you feel part of the country you are arguing for or against. The same way that I’m excluded from some debates because I don’t call myself Muslim, acknowledging that you are part of the country should carry some benefits. And I don’t see what the big hurdle is… you are already part of this country. Yuu’re def more British than you are Pakistani and you care about the same issue most Britons do ;)

  19. Arif — on 29th September, 2005 at 9:05 pm  

    Why should not being called British marginalise you from political debate? I don’t stop talking to you about Muslim issues because you don’t call yourself Muslim. But sound like you are trying to legitimise such barriers.

    It is not a cop-out that I don’t care if people call me British or not – that is their ideology of whose views count and whose do not – it’s not mine, so why pretend that I share a sense of the importance of claiming a British identity.

    I don’t mind saying I am British, in the political sense referring to the administrative structures where I find myself. I am not proud of it, or pleased by it, I just accept this is it and see good and bad aspects to it.

    And so, there is not big hurdle, just that I don’t believe I or anyone else should have a particular identity in order to be accepted as having equal political rights. What does it mean to “acknowledge that you are part of the country”? Why should it carry any benefits?

  20. Mokum — on 29th September, 2005 at 9:42 pm  

    Right on, Arif. No taboos, no special tests. Islam and Britain both are up for grabs. No one can pretend this is easy or unimportant, but the times should not jeapordise our rights, all of them, as individuals.

  21. Sunny — on 30th September, 2005 at 12:43 am  

    I’m not saying not being British should marginalise you from the debate – I’m saying that at least by feeling British you are more inclined to get involved in the country’s political structures to make your own influence felt.

    The inherent benefit is that if you feel part of the country, then you want to take ownership and therefore want to make your presence felt. To me it is about empowerment. The youth have to feel part of the country so they feel they have a stake and can take part in society. Otherwise they become too removed.

  22. Gump — on 30th September, 2005 at 4:52 am  

    if you think of the nation as a project then it matters if you feel yourself part of it

    if you’re here, and i’m here, and we all just happen to be here, then there’s no project, and we all stay out of each other’s way

    but its rare for a nation to concieve of itself that way. i think asking to live in a nation but not share in its national project is something that institutionally is rare. i wonder if its been done before in history. within a nation i’m sure there are people who don’t feel part of the national project, but to say that entire communities can live within a nation and not be part of the same basic goals, that to me is asking for something new

    on another level, in the UK you have such a good thing going. all in all you’re being offered the chance to have a first world standard of living, the right to travel almost anywhere in the world, and the price of membership seems fairly low; britain seems like a great deal, i can’t think of too many better places all in all. you might regret it if you reject it or it rejects you

  23. Arif — on 4th October, 2005 at 12:35 pm  

    Gump, I understand the point you are making, but I think it simplifies how we actually live and imagine participating in a number of projects.

    The argument you use is the same argument used to justify “single party democracies”, yet multi-party democracies do not break down just because people feel they are participating in different projects.

    You might say that the over-arching project must be of nation to which political parties are sub-projects, however what of the Scottish Nationalist Party which sees itself engaged in a separate national project within UK political institutions? What of left parties which consider themselves merely local political expressions of a Socialist International? Pan-Africanist parties? Pan-Arab parties? The Natural Law Party?

    In India and Pakistan this kind of complex identity and variety of projects is probably more obvious than in the UK. Entire communities live in those countries without sharing the same basic goals, or being aware of the others’ goals. It is asking something new of them to be part of a nation, and that might be part of the reason why nation-building tends to be such a difficult and bloody process. And maybe those blood and tears put me off the whole enterprise a bit.

    The other argument – that there are privileges involved in being accepted as a citizen of a rich and powerful country which has some safeguards against despotism – is the one I understand better. That kind of nationhood is what I see as requiring my participation in political institutions, to campaign for human rights to be protected, to try to influence more ethical policies and so on, including trying to influence political institutions to allow people to live by different values, speaking different languages and setting up their own social structures.

    If the UK rejects me because of my politics, I might well regret it. I am very uncomfortable about this blackmail which says that I should be made to suffer if I try to protect others who are said belong to a different nation.

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