In part 1, Dr Abdul Wahid discussed some of the complex fault lines that exist in Western societies. He now elaborates on why some of these fault lines exist.
There are several reasons that can be suggested:
Colonised communities, not harmonised communities
The various regions and countries that make up modern Britain were largely incorporated through conflict. Wales, Ireland and Scotland were colonised by England, just as many other parts of the world were. The net flow of resources and benefit ran back to England – most of all to London and the Southeast – perpetuating a sense of conquest and injustice that can be seen borne out in the debates about devolution and independence in Scotland and Wales.
Similarly, many of the immigrants who were invited because of an economic need for the country have been made to feel they have been done a favour by being allowed to settle. This attitude was a poor starting point for harmonisation of different communities.
Some states have tried to bind people together with a shared conviction in secular beliefs – most prominently France. This has been a growing trend in Britain.
In France the result has been an alienation of Muslims, banned from wearing Islamic dress in many public settings. In Britain, those with a religious faith increasingly feel a conflict between their personal religious values and society’s increasingly dominant (even supremacist) liberal values. This has been an on-going trend in Britain for over 15-years, leading to the closure of Catholic adoption agencies and court cases that have forced owners of guest houses (against their own principles) to let rooms to homosexual couples. Much of the debate about Muslims has parallels; focussing on how socially conservative Islam is out of step with liberal Britain.
The division in values in society was made about France by the journalist Paul Mason writing the Guardian when he said attending the unity demonstration after the recent killings: ‘one participant told me, contrary to the instant myth-making about “unity” among the crowd, that those on the plinth of the statue were openly divided between secular leftists and liberals and populists of the Islamophobic right. The latter leerily belted out the most embarrassing line of the Marseillaise – “Let’s spill the blood of the impure” – to jeers from others. The atmosphere, said my witness, “felt dangerous”.’
An unequal share in society
A further reason might be that a strand of opinion in Britain, Europe and America is evangelical about the free market, whilst others (who feel they have had to pick up the pieces after the market crashed, whilst never having shared in the riches before the crash) are increasingly resentful of the excesses of the free-market. Opinions vary from the millions who are contemptuous of bankers to the few in the various ‘Occupy’ protests.
Race, tribe and resurgent nationalism
Governments often try to compensate for various fault lines by trying to assert a national identity. Sporting festivals, national holidays, anniversaries of war or coronation, royal births and weddings – all of these are exploited by governments to paper over the cracks in society.
Yet when one looks at the institutionalised racism illustrated by the sad death of Stephen Lawrence – or more recently Mark Duggan – one can see that nationalism and patriotism haven’t managed to melt people together in a substantive way.
In Europe as national identities align much closer to race than in the USA, which leads to minorities and ethnic groups feeling estranged. All of this is exaggerated with mass immigration, most recently from Eastern Europe.
The Muslim Question
Aside from these, there are other reasons that others question the identity of Muslims living in Britain and Europe.
The debate surrounding Muslim identity came to the fore in 2014 with stories about Muslims trying to take over state schools. But the questions predated this by some decades.
With the arrival of large numbers of Muslims in the post-colonial era, the question was largely viewed through the lens of ‘race’.
But the response of Muslims to the 1988 book, the Satanic Verses, led people to the view that Muslims appeared more out of step with Western values than other immigrants. Wars in Bosnia and Iraq in the early 1990s, further raised the identity question.
The attacks on the Twin Towers in New York in 2001 raised questions in government circles. In particular in its aftermath Muslims in Britain could not accept the justifications for the full-scale invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, which most people in Britain simply took as acceptable at that time.
But the scene was set for a more coercive integration process – one that would lead to calls for a ‘reformation of Islam’, in order to make it compliant with the dominant secular values in modern Britain.
In 2002, Jack Straw argued that a new ‘European Islam’ would emerge in the UK. He linked this to the reformation of religion. Just as Protestants embraced Darwinism and Orthodox Jews discarded their traditional dress so, he hoped, Muslims would do the same. Later British Cabinet Ministers argued that now was the time for a ‘British-version’ of Islam.
Millions of pounds later, all of these organisations have failed in this task. None of these organisations has made any inroads in the Muslim community, and some of these government constructs are actually despised. The most any of them have done is to act as useful mouthpieces to articulate a government viewpoint in the political medium, falsely portrayed an authentic Muslim community opinion.
In part 3, we will explore how Islam managed to solve some of these identity dilemmas in the past – and how Muslims need to answers questions today about their own identities.
Dr Abdul Wahid is a regular contributor to New Civilisation. He is currently the Chairman of the UK-Executive Committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain. He has been published in The Times Higher Educational Supplement and on the websites of Foreign Affairs, Open Democracy and Prospect magazine.