The Casey Review: From the Jewish to the Muslim ghetto

jhanghirJahangir Mohammed is the Director of the Centre for Muslim Affairs and is an expert on anti-racism and inner city regeneration.

Jahanghir Mohammed argues that this week’s Casey Review on integration, which placed the blame on Muslims for failing to integrate into British society, is a classic case of victim-blaming. 

“The ghetto is never white, it’s always Jewish, black or Asian,” my line manager in the Council use to say. The word ghetto of course has an anti-semitic and racist history, and is avoided these days; but when politicians and policy-makers talk about “parallel lives” and “segregated” communities they now mean Asian or Muslim ghettos.

The “ghetto” is usually a product of both racism/discrimination and the economic situation of migrants in society. A serious, as opposed to a prejudiced and politicised, assessment of Muslim areas of settlement, necessitates a deep focus on these two factors. But the Casey Review pays scant attention to them. Using terms like “segregated” and “parallel,” British politicians, policy-makers and media have deflected responsibility for social and economic problems and especially the rise of indigenous racist politics onto migrant communities.

In the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, reports by Parliament focused on concentrations of Jewish immigrants in certain areas of major UK cities. The “Jewish Question” was the big issue; the lack of integration of “alien” Jewish immigrants with their distinctive religious and cultural practices was felt to indicate inability to assimilate into British life. Societal ills were often seen through the lens of anti-semitism and blamed on Jews.

Today Muslims have become the scapegoat of convenience. The “Jewish Question” has been replaced by the “Muslim Question.”

Excusing white nationalism and racism

The recent policy of deflecting the rise of racist politics onto minorities started with the Cantle Report into the 2001 riots in the Northern town of Oldham. Lest we forget, the riots were instigated by marching white racists attacking Asian areas in Oldham. Cantle’s report, instead of focusing on the emergence of white racist politics, managed to locate these riots and the rise of white nationalism/racism on“parallel lives.”

Dame Louise Casey
Dame Louise Casey

The rise of racist politics which caused community tensions in the North of England was effectively blamed on Asian and Muslim communities. Ever since then, politicians, media and policy-makers (in their public statements and policy reports) have pandered to, and, reinforced indigenous racist and anti-Muslim prejudices, stereotypes,and“ghetto myths”about Asians, Muslims. The Casey Report is just the latest example.

I find it disturbing that after stoking “moral panics” about Muslims and immigrants for the last 15 years, which UKIP has exploited skilfully, politicians and policy-makers are surprised by Brexit and the insidious racism it has unleashed. It is this background, and the role played by politicians and the media, that have been responsible for the rise of white indigenous nationalism and racism. Casey’s report fails to recognise this as a cause of in-cohesion because to do so would necessitate looking at the culture, beliefs, values and politics of indigenous white people and society and the role of politicians.

An obsession with Muslims

The Casey Review does not define what an integrated community, area or person is, even though one would have thought that would be essential to such a report. However, if the lack of contact with people from other groups, and adherence to one’s own beliefs, values, and lifestyles were benchmarks, then most of Britain would fail that test. All people socialise and mix in communities of interest; all people settle in their own clusters.

The report is clearly obsessed with “ghettos” and especially the Muslims who live in them. The commentary and narrative is framed from the lens of threat, security, problem, them and us, difference and lack of assimilation.

Reading the report reminded me of the very first anti-racism training session I delivered to Council housing staff decades ago. The questions started with numbers and then descended into criticism and myths about every perceived aspect of Asian culture, habits and lifestyle. Every training session, TV and radio interview I have done since on this topic follows the same pattern. As a trainer you then have to undo each myth, prejudice and stereotype.

“Ghetto” myths and stereotypes

The Casey Review uses attitude and opinion surveys as measures of progress and integration but focuses on Muslims. Leaving aside that this is a dubious measure of integration, there is also a pre-conceived notion that Muslims and their beliefs and values are a problem. A fair report would look at the attitudes and behaviour of all ethnic/religious groups concentrated in certain areas, and towards each other.

The notion that poor Muslim and white communities seldom see or interact with each other makes good survey and media headlines, but it is seldom based on reality. Casey rightly highlights that Pakistani and Bangladeshi men are concentrated in the taxi and food sectors, yet she appears not to understand that the main customers of these businesses are white people.

The report fails to stress that concentration in certain economic sectors, just as in residential areas, is the result of discrimination and lack of access to jobs in the wider labour market. It is reported that unemployment among young black men is 35%, but the same figure for Pakistani and Bangladeshi men is not provided. Why? Could it be that the figure is equally as high?

According to the report Pakistani and Bangladeshi women have high levels of economic inactivity (57%). The reasons are assumed rather than understood. If families make a choice together of what is in their best interests, and decide that childcare and caring for family members is a priority then why should that be a matter of concern? In any event, if all these women decided to sign on and seek work where would the jobs come from? The state would also have to pay for the caring responsibilities of elders and children too.

Prevent alienates MuslimsPublic sector workers are taught not to be judgmental about people’s lifestyle choices, but when it comes to Muslims, everyone can make a judgement, even if it is based on a lack of understanding.

The residential concentration of Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in the North is highlighted, but the decades of historical racist housing policies leading to a failure to demolish obsolete terraced housing in Asian areas for fear of the white backlash when rehousing them in mainly white areas is omitted.

Equally there is no mention of the positive economic contributions and largely self-regeneration of run-down areas that has taken place by these communities. These communities have almost entirely self-financed the creation of their own community institutions and businesses. That is a cause for celebration not demonisation.

The Casey Review deals with different multi-faceted social problems in a superficial and stereotypical way. Perhaps the greatest myth in the report is that ethnic and Muslim minorities that are “integrated” have some kind of protection from the racism and nationalism of the majority, and will become more cohesive. Jewish history informs us otherwise.

The Bosnian Muslims in the 1990s are perhaps the model that some policy makers may desire. White Muslims, with Westernised names, dress codes and dietary habits and 60% inter-marriage rates between Muslims and Serbs, with 500 years of co-existence. Yet the Muslims were on the end of genocide fueled by the rising tide of nationalism, anti-Muslim rhetoric and myths about Islamic extremism.

That type of politics is exactly what has fueled racial tensions and hate aimed at Muslims/foreigners in the UK, Europe and USA. The uncomfortable truth that Casey ignores is and that today Europe is in a dangerous place, not because of Muslims, but because its age-old demons of racist populism, nationalism/isolationism, and economic decline which are demonising minorities and foreigner sonce more. And British politicians and the media have played the main role in fueling those views.

Casey recommends attaching more weight to the teaching of British history in schools. Perhaps teaching British politicians and policy-makers about the history of political reactions to British ghettos might be a better starting point!

The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of 5Pillars.

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