A new study reveals the complexity of Islam in Britainby David Goodhart / July 17, 2014 / Leave a comment
Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent: Inside British Islam by Innes Bowen (Hurst, £16.99)
I was recently at a seminar on how to increase the number of young Muslims entering high status jobs in the City of London and elsewhere. One of the participants, a Muslim woman, said there were several aspects of British office culture—such as the drink in the pub after work—that were, in her words, “alien to many Muslims.” Everyone, including me, nodded in agreement.
It was only later that I realised what we had all, Muslim and non-Muslim, happily colluded in the idea that many Muslims regard mainstream British life as “alien.” And, unfortunately, there is at least some truth to this. A few years ago the Danish academic Jytte Klausen surveyed the Muslim elites in several European countries. She found that 70 per cent of the British elite—far higher than in other countries—were what she called “neo-orthodox,” meaning they regard liberalism as anti-Islamic and think it is possible for Muslims to live separately but as loyal citizens in the west.
Muslims often complain that they are singled out for hostile attention, yet Britain’s Muslim minority does pose particular challenges that other minority groups—people of Hindu, Sikh Indian or black African background, for example—do not. The recent Trojan horse affair in Birmingham schools—about indoctrinating children into bigoted views—could, in theory, have involved the conservative wing of one of Britain’s other religious minorities. But, as so often, it involved Muslims.
The Birmingham issue is not the fault of this or that Whitehall department or secretary of state for education or, indeed, of the Muslims involved. It is the result of many decades of laissez-faire multiculturalism that said to newcomers, often from very traditional cultures, that so long as you accept the democratic rules you do not need to adapt to a modern liberal society—meaning a society characterised by individual rights, equal treatment of citizens and the ability to challenge tradition and authority. That deal was readily embraced by most Muslim leaders, a large number of whom have remained immersed in the sectarian and separatist Islamic politics…