Faisal Bodi of the Islamic Human Rights Commission says the recently revealed census data is a mixed bag for British Muslims, confirming our socio-economic deprivation but also presenting us with an opportunity to provide a real alternative to secular liberalism.
It’s been pleasantly amusing over the last few days to see the poster boys of British bigotry crawl out of the sewer to rage at the disappearing white utopia of their warped imagination presented by the religion and ethnicity findings of the 2021 census – which confirmed a 44% rise in the Muslim population of England and Wales,
Watching Nigel Farage and Douglas Murray both decrying the growing cosmopolitanism of our major cities, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the white man was a dying species. Never one to let facts get in the way of scaremongering, Farage bemoaned that London has now become a non-white majority city – in fact it is 54% white and 46% non-white.
According to the Office of National Statistics, the overwhelming majority of cities in England and Wales remain solidly white with only two, Leicester and Birmingham, showing a non-white majority. The percentage of people identifying themselves as white has dropped only slightly from 86% to 82%.
Murray may have more of a point when he says “no one voted” for increased diversity. If, as I presume, his definition of English and Welsh people doesn’t include non-whites, the outcome of the 2016 immigration referendum that was Brexit may partially support his view. But at the same time, one of the main effects of leaving the European Union was the end of free movement which attracted millions of white immigrants into the UK. Sorry Douglas, you can’t have your gateau and eat it.
Decline of Christianity
The other finding that had white supremacists foaming at the mouth was that Christianity continues to decline. For the first time in a census of England and Wales, less than half of the population (46.2%, 27.5 million people) described themselves as “Christian,” a 13.1 percentage point decrease from 59.3% (33.3 million) in 2011 – while those following Islam jumped by over 25% to 6.5% of the population or from 2.7million to 3.9million adherents.
Together, the vertiginous decline of Christianity and the shallower decline in whiteness are the stuff of nightmares for white supremacists. They are evidence of a weakening of the indispensable components of what it means for them to be British. If they are both on the retreat then so is the monocultural idyll of their dreams. It is an existential threat, the thin end of a wedge that threatens to repaint the entire demographic and cultural landscape.
While some of the alarmist reaction is undoubtedly genuine, displaying anxieties about a loss of racial supremacy, much of it is also deliberately exaggerated to stoke prejudice and hatred. As Benali Hamdache reminds us, we should all be concerned by the mirroring and media mainstreaming of what is essentially a rehash of the Great Replacement Theory.
“This racist conspiracy, coined by the author Renaud Camus in 2011 and conceptualised in France, is the idea that there is a deliberate attempt to end the white race. White nationalists have described a growing Muslim population and lower French birth rates as a crisis.”
Scapegoating minorities has always been central to the fascists’ playbook and juxtaposing the rise of Islam alongside the decline of Christianity amplifies the narrative of a Britain under siege, even though Muslims have nothing to with the dwindling numbers of people identifying as Christian.
It’s probably not because Islam is growing that Christianity is in freefall. I would hazard a guess that most of the growth in the Muslim population can be accounted for by birth rates and immigration and much less by conversion. Christianity is on the decline because of factors intrinsic to that faith, namely disillusionment with the sex abuse scandals of the clergy and the increasing accommodation of the major churches with secular liberalism making many of their beliefs indistinguishable, as well as the rising secularisation of society.
And as always when using headline figures we should be careful about making generalisations. It is primarily the institutional churches – Anglican, Roman Catholic and Presbyterian – that are losing numbers. Non-institutional churches – Orthodox, the Pentecostals, and the smaller denominations – have all grown in Britain since the turn of the century.
The ‘Muslim penalty’
So perhaps the cheerleaders of white nativism should look at their own failings if they really want to arrest the decline of their “civilisation.” And before opening their mouths, maybe they should also recall that not too long ago their own ancestors enslaved, colonised, butchered and plundered non-white societies all around the world, forever changing their demographic character.
The progeny of these victims who now reside in the metropoles may be free but are nevertheless subject to structural iniquities. Even though the majority of British Muslims are now second and third generation descendants of migrants, many remain locked out of the opportunities and benefits that their white counterparts enjoy.
According to the ONS, 61% of Muslims in England and Wales live in the lowest 40% of areas in these countries ranked by deprivation score. Only 4% live in the least deprived 20% of England and Wales.
This confirms research published in the Ethnic and Racial Studies journal last July confirming previous studies showing Muslims to be less likely to be economically active, leading the author to conclude a “Muslim penalty” is at work in the labour market.
In most towns and cities most Muslims remain hemmed into ghettoes with little prospect of moving out. Where I live, in Preston, Muslims form approximately an eighth of the population but comprise only one twentieth of the client list of the city’s largest social housing provider despite evidence of under-provision for the community stretching back over two decades.
Even where social housing is developed in high density Muslim areas it is invariably planned with blatant disregard for the majority inhabitants, thereby rendering it unsuitable.
So while Muslims should welcome the increase in their number, I would caution against any triumphalism, not least because it risks fanning the white supremacist narrative that we are intent on taking over. It also carries the danger of complacency in addressing some of the structural problems we face in the fight for equality, not to mention the growing problem in our own community of Muslims leaving Islam under the pressures of Islamophobia and secularism.
On the other hand, the accelerating disillusionment of people in England and Wales with Christianity also presents Muslims with a huge opportunity to present Islam as an alternative to the spiritual hole that awaits them in the shape of an increasingly secular and consumerist western liberalism.
This article was first published on the IHRC website.