Integration must have the support of ethnic minorities—not be imposed on them, says Emran Mianby Emran Mian / July 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
British Airways (BA) used to forbid its cabin staff from wearing a Christian cross, though they permitted the Muslim headscarf. The national carrier hadn’t been Islamicised; nor were its Muslim employees more militant in asserting their rights. BA took a different approach to the two religious symbols because the headscarf could adopt the corporate colours whereas the cross was off-brand. The headscarf, you might say, was easier to integrate.
In 2006, BA’s policy was challenged by an employee who insisted on her right to wear the cross. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in her favour. Protecting the airline’s look, said the Court, was not sufficiently important to justify the infringement on her right to profess her faith. By contrast, in a linked case, the Court ruled that a hospital could ban the cross because the health risks—of the cross dangling down into an open wound, for example—were sufficiently important.
These judgments illustrate how much context matters in the practice of multiculturalism. Yet many see it instead as an unyielding ideology. Trevor Phillips, once Chair of the Commission on Equality and Human Rights and born in Britain to Caribbean parents, pursues that argument in his new book, Race and Faith: The Deafening Silence. It comes in the wake of a Channel 4 documentary shown in May, What British Muslims Really Think, where Phillips examined the prevalence of illiberal attitudes and extremist beliefs among some British Muslims. This book has a broader focus. Phillips has a rising concern about what he calls “super-diversity” in the UK and, in that context, argues that state-sponsored multi- culturalism is both inimical to meritocracy and harmful to integration.
The first part of his critique is illustrated with a discussion of the 100m final at the World Athletics Championships in 2015. Observing that all the athletes bar one were black, Phillips asks whether the competition was fair. His implication is that, in most other areas of public interest, the ideology of multiculturalism would require that if one ethnic group were disadvantaged then the rules ought to change to be more inclusive. We tolerate the anti-white discrimination of the 100m competition, though at the same time we rail against, as even the Prime Minister David Cameron has done, the admissions practices of top universities, which exclude all but a few black pupils. This is inconsistent, says Phillips. Merit alone determines entry to the sprint final—shouldn’t it determine entry to university in the same way?