This article was published in The Times , the author is Maajid Nawaz.
For years, in Britain, there has been a pernicious tendency not to defend our liberal values in minority communities. While these values continued to move relentlessly in the mainstream, some multiculturalists have assumed that affirming them to minorities would be considered offensive, perhaps racist, even Islamophobic in the Muslim context.
The successful reversal of the “Trojan Horse” at Park View School today at Rockwood Academy could not have been more falsified from this point of view. Two years after the scandal, the school exceeded expectations, with student recruitment, after-school drama classes, extremism workshops and trips to Wimbledon. Those who were worried about a more active integration policy, alienating the predominantly Muslim students of Birmingham School, should not have worried. So why were they?
Our multiculturalism in the 1990s was about creating diverse communities. Instead, it gave birth to monocultural ghettoes giving birth to schools such as Park View, which broadcast the call of Muslims to prayer through loudspeakers. Two complementary trends emerged, leading to Great Britain’s cultural disintegration. Within my own Muslim communities, Islamism, a theocratic ideology seeking to impose a version of Islam on society, appeared virtually unchallenged to assert that we were Muslims by excluding any other identity. In the meantime, among mainstream Liberals, multiculturalism has become synonymous with diversity within groups, rather than within groups.
Because of these two tendencies, as a country, we celebrated our cities that separated into isolated cultural ghettos. Division in areas like Dewsbury and parts of Bratford was hailed for its diversity. Self-segregation has been supported as cultural tolerance. Disintegration has been defended as integration. Those of my Liberal colleagues who promoted such policies thought they were doing it to help us Muslims. Yet this “help” could not have been more daunting.
Failure to defend liberal values within groups and not only between groups has resulted in a smothering of creativity among Muslims. It is the rebellious voices that have suffered the most and feel betrayed by the Liberals to this day. I call them the minority within the minority: feminist Muslims, gay Muslims, ex-Muslims, lay Muslims and anyone else considered heretical or not Muslim enough.
While progressive Muslim voices are abandoned by society as a whole, while being stifled by “leaders of the Muslim community,” it is not surprising that a BBC investigation of British Muslims revealed that In 2015, 11% of Muslims expressed their sympathy for the fight against the West. 20% said a Western liberal society could never be compatible with Islam, and a quarter of them sympathized with Charlie Hebdo’s “blasphemy” attack.
Meanwhile, today’s Muslims in Britain are struggling to find a job, lagging behind in education, disproportionately represented in prisons and among terrorist groups, while remaining behind the rest of the country in their attitude towards civil liberties. Instead of integrating into society at large, many British Muslims have turned to themselves, becoming more integrated with their fellow believers around the world while moving away from the society in which they were born. The attitudes of British Muslims towards major cultural milestones such as homosexuality, blasphemy and religion in politics now have more in common with world Muslim opinion than with liberal Britain.
As a country, we ended up living together, separated. By allowing minorities to isolate themselves, the people my Liberal colleagues wanted to help were suffering even more. It is therefore not surprising that such disintegration has created a fertile ground for the ISIS recruiters. It is as if we, Muslims, were simply unable to accept secularity. And since we were not even expected to be liberal or, in many cases, to celebrate our liberalism, we naturally moved further and further away from society as a whole. That’s what I call bigotry low expectations.
If society in general had woken up earlier, much more could have been done to prevent this state of polarization and inconsistency in our communities. And although I insist that it is not only Muslims who can be isolated in today’s Britain, and obviously not all British Muslims live this way, too many are. The crop is never homogeneous and has always been hybrid. Any artificial desire to preserve the past is not only doomed to failure, but is primarily intended for the failure of minorities. Instead of defining communities primarily by their religious identity, we need to support policies that encourage diversity not only between groups, but also within groups.
The success of the Rockwood Academy highlights that the situation does not have to stay as it is. Identities are by definition multiple. Yes, I am Muslim, but I am also English, a Liberal Democrat of Pakistani origin, I was born in Essex and I am British.
When a chance was given instead of being refused, when the aspiration was encouraged instead of being refused, when integration was expected instead of denied and when social mobility was promised instead of to be denied, the children and parents of the Rockwood Academy have excelled. Indeed, why would not they? We expected them to be like everyone else.
Maajid Nawaz is author and founding president of Quilliam.
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