It’s not a question. Tomorrow evening Jon Snow presents a Dispatches programme titled ‘What Muslims Want‘.
Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow tackles one of the most difficult and controversial questions facing our country today: to what extent do Muslims in Britain pose a threat to this country and its values?
There is a growing fear that the 1.6 million Muslims in Britain are rejecting the majority liberal, tolerant beliefs in this country for a radicalised version of Islam in which violence can be justified. Dispatches has conducted the most comprehensive and rigorous survey to date of Muslim opinion in Britain, with startling results.
The problem is, I’m not sure Jon Snow is really the right person to ask this question, given an interview for today’s Sunday Times. In the article, he makes a few assumptions and statements that need better explaining. And in some cases those arguments need taking apart.
Conducted by NOP for Channel 4â€™s Dispatches, one of its most startling results suggested that Muslim integration into British society has effectively come to a halt. Immigrants have usually tended to become more secular and less religious than their parents by the second generation. But the survey shows Muslims have gone in precisely the opposite direction.
There are many lazy assumptions contained within this. Briefly:
1) …that by becoming religious in a largely secular society, people have stopped integrating. Does this mean the growing importance of religion, more specifically Christian evangelicalism, in America, mean they have also stopped integrating? Is it impossible for a religious person to be “integrated”? How does he define and measure integration?
The article offers this explanation: Their beliefs render many of them determined not just to be different but also to be separate from the rest of the nation. The issues that bring them into direct conflict with Britain as a whole include freedom of speech and how the â€œwar on terrorâ€ is being fought at home.
Maybe, but this isn’t good enough. As a non-Muslim I and many others also have grave doubts about the “war on terror”. And while I support freedom of speech, opposition to this isn’t a Muslim issue – pretty much all other ethnic or faith minorities also have an issue with it (because they see FoS being used as a stick to push racism).
2) Religion has become the primary form of identity for many young Sikhs and Hindus too. Why? Many reasons. One main one being that many still have trouble connecting to a country where they are marginalised in the national conversation; don’t have many role models in senior positions; and continue to face racism.
A recent poll found that 32% of Britons agreed with, or were at least unsure about, the idea that non-white people were inherently “less British”. Integration is a two-way street ma’ brothas.
3) Yes our parents came to this country to fit in. The second and third generation don’t have that urgency because we are part of the furniture. We don’t feel we constantly need to prove our Britishness here. I hope Mr Snow comes to terms with this.
At one point I asked him and his two friends: â€œYouâ€™d like me to become a Muslim, wouldnâ€™t you?â€ They said Iâ€™d be much better for it, and talked about the positive aspects of converting.
Erm… so? There are plenty of Christian Evangelicals and Jehovah’s Witness trying to do the same all the time. Does this mean they are not integrated?
An overwhelming number of British Muslims believe free speech should not extend to insulting their religion, and one-third would rather live under sharia law, as laid down by the Koran. A 29-year-old of Turkish Cypriot origin told me: â€œI feel that democracy altogether isnâ€™t working as a system. I believe that man-made laws arenâ€™t really the answer.”
Well I doubt anyone would want freedom of speech to extend to insulting their sensitivites. This is human nature. It doesn’t imply they hate the country.
Secondly, this sharia law thing is too reductionist. Ask them what it means and it probably refers to some aspects of marriage law, paying interest or leaving the inheritance. And my guess about not liking democracy is that they have Tony Blair and his foreign policy in mind. In that sense they are not very different to other youth of today, who don’t have much interest in participatory democracy either.
Other views are less reassuring. In our sample, almost one in four said the July 7 bombings were justified in the light of Britainâ€™s support for the war on terror.
This figure keeps changing in light of how you phrase the question. I believe there was a recent poll when less than 10% of Muslims said 7/7 was justified.
The clearest conclusion is that they are deeply affected by external events in which they see their fellow Muslims being killed.
In this they are not different to Britons who are more affected when they see fellow white people in America being killed. People usually only care for their own. Sad fact of life. Muslims are no different.
Restarting any sense of integration is going to require real dialogue and understanding of what Muslims think if the deepening divide is to be bridged.
And we need a more nuanced approach to these issues too Mr Snow.
What Muslims Want on Channel 4 at 8pm tomorrow, Monday 7th August.
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