London – “Integration” has become a watchword in British politics with government and parliamentary reviews into it being issued within a month of each other.
A landmark government review into integration, which pointed to a lack of it among Britain’s more than 3 million Muslims, was issued December 5th, the same week that a third-party survey revealed that British Muslims support “full integration” and broadly shared the views and priorities of the wider population.
A 200-page report by British government official Louise Casey into “opportunity and integration” in Britain painted a bleak picture of segregated British Muslim communities and called for immigrants to take “an oath of integration with British values and society”.
The report said there were “high levels of social and economic isolation in some places and cultural and religious practices in communities that are not only holding some of our citizens back but run contrary to British values and sometimes our laws”. It called for increased focus on promoting the English language and on “women’s emancipation” in communities in which they are being held back by “regressive cultural practices”.
A parliamentary report into integration, issued on January 5th by the all-party parliamentary group on social integration, did not strike the same bleak tone regarding a divided Britain, although it did endorse the government’s recommendation that all immigrants be made to learn English.
“All immigrants should be expected to have either learned English before coming to the UK or be enrolled in compulsory ESOL [English for Speakers of Other Languages] classes upon arrival,” the study advised.
Labour MP Chuka Umunna, who heads the parliamentary committee on social integration, outlined the difficulty of treating “integration” as a monolithic and easy-to-solve issue. “It’s clear that immigration has impacted on different communities in different ways and the pace of change has alarmed many,” he said.
“The government has a duty to address the lack of integration of immigrants… Failing to do so has left a vacuum for extremists and peddlers of hate to exploit,” said Umunna, who represents an ethnically and religiously diverse north London constituency.
However, a third-party poll published on December 2nd and billed as “the most extensive research of British Muslims ever conducted” put forward a far less bleak view of “integration”, asserting that British Muslims “broadly share the same views as the rest of the population”.
“Despite the greater religiosity and social conservatism [among British Muslims]… their lifestyles are largely secular with only limited interest in sharia finance or separate religious education,” a report on the poll stated.
The poll, conducted by the Policy Exchange think-tank in conjunction with the ICM polling company, surveyed more than 3,000 British Muslims. It revealed that 53% of respondents said they wanted to “fully integrate with non-Muslims in all aspects of life”. Another 37% said they favoured integration on “most things” while 6% expressed support for leading “a separate Islamic life as far as possible” and 1% said they favoured a “fully separate” Islamic life.
The poll revealed that 93% of British Muslims asked said they felt a fairly or very strong attachment to Britain and that British Muslims were more likely than the general population to condemn terrorism.
The three reports — one issued by a conservative-led government, one by a bipartisan parliamentary committee and the other by a third-party polling company — paint wildly contrasting views of British-Muslim integration. Many Muslim organisations particularly criticised the reproachful tone of the government report.
Harun Khan, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), dubbed the Casey review a “missed opportunity”, adding that the tone of the report seemed to inordinately blame Muslims.
“We need to improve integration and it needs to involve the active participation of all Britons, not just Muslims. As former prime minister David Cameron has stated, ‘Integration is a two-way street’,” Khan said.
As for the all-party parliamentary report, Khan said: “Unlike recently published deliberations, this report includes a number of sensible recommendations, including local integration plans, training and English learning classes for economic migrants…, community mentoring programmes, encouragement of social mixing and cutting naturalisation fees, as well as automatic pathways to citizenship for new arrivals.”
Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, a Muslim lobby group, condemned the Casey report as “inflammatory and divisive”.
“Sadly, in today’s Britain, Muslims are seen as an easy target to attack by politicians, commentators and parts of the media without any regard for the impact this has on communities,” he said.
Questions of integration have only been on the rise since the Brexit vote, with many observers expressing concern at the spike in race and religious hate crime reported following the June referendum. However, most British Muslims, the poll indicated, do seek integration.
“I grew up in Britain, I would class myself as British. My values are the same as any ordinary British person, I just happen to be from a particular faith,” answered one Birmingham-based British Muslim to the ICM poll.