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Seminar on Multiculturalism in Europe



I am organising a seminar for the Sussex Centre for Cultural Studies to be given by Gavan Titley of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. It is part of a project we are coordinating on Questioning the European 'Crisis of Multiculturalism':

The seminar is entitled
The comforts of crisis: recited multiculturalism in Western Europe

It will be held on Thursday March 12 at 2pm in EDB 315


Immigration and The British Dream - review of Goodhart



On Open Democracy

This post is also published on the Open Democracy website

Does solidarity break down with multiculturalism? And if so, how can we respond? Rumy Hasan reviews The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-war Immigration by David Goodhart.

Children playing
How can we build solidarity in multicultural Britain?/wikimedia

The issue of immigration has become of supreme importance throughout the world. There appears to be a universal desire on the parts of governments, on the one hand, to curb levels of legal immigration whilst, on the other, to show zero tolerance for illegal (‘undocumented’) immigration. The recent election victory of Tony Abbot in Australia was in good measure due to his Liberal Party’s very hard stance on controlling the borders, specifically to keep out boatloads of asylum seekers. 

Similarly, in the US, Republicans have raised the issue of millions of illegal Latino (mainly Mexican) migrants to the highest priority and, by so doing, cemented their popularity in the southern states. In crisis-ridden Greece, the rapid influx of large numbers of illegal migrants has been put down as a core reason for the rise of the violent, neo-Nazi, Golden Dawn Party. Countries as disparate as Malaysia and Tanzania have been forcibly removing illegal immigrants.

In Britain too, immigration has become a defining issue for all political parties: in a 2007 Ipsos-MORI poll, for example, 64% said that immigration should be much tougher and a further 12% said it should be stopped altogether, while 68% agreed that there were already too many immigrants in Britain. A recent opinion poll showed that 64 per cent of Britons said immigration was more of a “problem” than an opportunity for the country and this is reflected in the rise of the anti-immigration, anti-EU, United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). David Goodhart’s new book provides a robust analysis of post-war immigration to Britain to seek out the factors which have contributed to this deep unease. He provides his key theses at the outset: 

“[P]ublic opinion is broadly right about the immigration story. Britain has had too much of it, too quickly, especially in recent years, and much of it, especially for the least well off, has not produced self-evident economic benefit. What is clearer still is that it has not been well managed. Britain has never had a culture of integrating newcomers, though most have done it for themselves: in the early post-war decades this laissez-faire approach was overlaid first with racial prejudice and then later by a liberalism that was reluctant to intervene in individual choices. Moreover multiculturalism, particularly in the more separatist form that emerged in the 1980s, has allowed ‘parallel lives’ to grow up in some places and made it harder for ordinary Britons to think of some minorities, and especially Muslims, as part of the same ‘imagined community’ with common experiences and interests.”

Goodhart proceeds to take issue with two sets of theorists of immigration: those espousing economic laissez faire and those who advocate, or are silent about, cultural laissez faire. Curiously, the laissez faire approach to immigration was championed by economic advisers to the Labour government post-1997 (such as Richard Portes of the NIESR) as immigration rose by 4 million in the next 15 years (less than a quarter were from the EU) – more than the combined total since World War 2. 

Such economic ‘immigrationists’ focus has been on the purported benefits: labour is a factor of production that must be permitted to move freely to wherever there is demand for it, thereby improving global efficiencies and resource allocation. It naturally follows that immigration will help raise economic growth and, conversely, immigration controls can be a barrier to growth. Goodhart provides evidence to show that the overall impact of recent mass immigration to Britain is, in fact, neutral. Migrants certainly gain – the history of migration from developing to developed countries shows that very few return, so that despite all the problems of adjustment, their lives have improved for the better. And naturally, employers who employ migrants also gain (and public services in particular have benefited enormously from migrant workers). 

Crucially, however, for the low skilled and unskilled workers, the impact of rapid large scale immigration has been negative from the increased competition in the labour market and attendant downward pressure on wages, so much so that some employers have preferred to recruit foreign workers. This has contributed not only to a persistently high rate of unemployment, but also to increased competition for public services. So it is not too surprising to find widespread hostility to immigration from this section of the working class.

But what has been little examined – and stressed by Goodhart – is the impact of emigration on poorer countries: the argument has invariably been confined to the gains from remittances. There has, however, been little analysis of the damaging effect from the loss of young, hardworking, often skilled workers. The ‘brain drain’ often leads to social pain back home. Thus, for example, emigrating nurses and doctors – the benefits of whose education and training have been lost to their home counties and passed over free of charge to richer countries – inevitably weaken the health service of their home countries, which is not compensated by remittances. This issue was famously raised by Nelson Mandela in his visit to the UK in 1997 when he asked the British government to halt recruitment of nurses from AIDS-afflicted South Africa.  All credit to Goodhart for highlighting this important, neglected, issue; which is also the focus of Paul Collier’s new book Exodus: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century.

The social, political and cultural impact of mass immigration has been of no concern to the economists for whom labour is simply labour. Historically, the focus of those in favour of immigration has understandably been on immigrants themselves, that is, on the difficulties and struggles of settlers – often from the former colonies – in new lands and societies far from home. 

Ipso facto, little, if any, attention has been paid to the non-economic impact of mass immigration on the established white population. It transpires that this neglect of the views of the latter – importantly, this is a democratic deficit – is a prime cause for the increasing angst around the subject which has somewhat belatedly been addressed by all the major political parties.

Goodhart gives an example of the London suburb of Merton which has, in recent years, become ‘super diverse’, that is, attracted an array of sizeable migrant communities from around the world, including that of Ahmadi Muslims. The latter group, after a long battle over planning permission, has built a giant mosque (though the opposition was nowhere near as hostile to that of the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ in New York in 2010); in similar vein, a large traditional pub has been replaced by a Sunni Islamic centre. 

Goodhart points out that ‘the Ahmadis are model immigrants in many ways. They preach an ecumenical form of Islam and are grateful to be given refuge in this country. But to many locals that’s not the point. As one man described as White Heritage Elder Male in the jargon of race relations said: “We’ve lost this place to other cultures ... it’s not English anymore”’. Such sentiments – or indeed the concerns of the long-established majority white population in general – have certainly not been given an airing especially by those of a soi disant liberal/progressive bent.

The reason why little interest has been taken of the social and cultural impact of minorities is because of Britain, by default, evolving into a ‘multicultural society’. Goodhart deems the progressive anti-racist stance of those supporting immigrants in the 1970s as constituting ‘liberal multiculturalism’. This is mistaken as the struggles by the first generation of migrants were for equality in all aspects of society (just as in America, the clarion call of the civil rights movement was for equality and against racism). 

In fact, what multiculturalism is really about – its apotheosis has been in Canada, enshrined by its 1988 Multiculturalism Act – and which, as Goodhart proceeds to elaborate upon, is cultural and religious laissez faire underpinned by cultural relativism, whereby immigrants are allowed to lead lives pretty much akin to those obtaining in their places of origin. That being so, some groups have demanded separate rights, resources, institutions, and exemptions to the law. Moreover, there appears to have been an increase in ‘choice’ on the part of some minorities to live in separate enclaves (de facto ghettos) – hence the phenomenon of ‘parallel lives’.

Not just Merton but London itself has become ‘super diverse’ as the established white population has fallen from 60% in 2001 to just 45% in 2011 (a stark statistic that has doubtless made the political establishment sit up and take note). So London is now truly a ‘global’ city with people from all corners of the globe residing in it and its multi-ethnic nature as a result of immigration was warmly highlighted in Danny Boyle’s widely acclaimed opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. 

The ceremony was indeed marvellous, not least in its positive portrayal of ethnic minorities. That said, its minority focus was almost entirely on the Caribbean component; it could, for example, have been more truthful by making specific reference to the input of Asians in the section on the glittering tribute to the NHS. Indeed, British Asians (the largest ethnic minority) were pretty much absent from not only the opening and closing ceremonies (being no more than extras in the various sets) but also from the sporting contests – pretty much the entire Team GB compromised of whites, blacks, and those of a black-white parentage – hardly a resounding success of multicultural, multi-ethnic Britain.

Goodhart suggests that London’s ‘success’ as a multi-ethnic city needs to be tempered by the fact that 600,000 white Londoners left the city between 2001 and 2011 – the phenomenon of ‘white flight – but does not delve deeply into the reasons for this. Part of the difficulty is lack of hard data which requires rigorous research. But, one can legitimately surmise, the often rapid changes in many neighbourhoods caused by mass immigration is an important, perhaps decisive, factor. Such a reason might seem inexplicable or even deemed to be racist by those afflicted by what can be termed ‘white liberal post-colonial guilt’ – whereby any criticism of the modus vivendi of ethnic minorities is a taboo, which is in itself racist thinking. But this simply fails to grasp the reality. 

In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that broad swathes of the white population are not, putting it somewhat euphemistically, enamoured by an array of peculiar and undesirable cultural and religious characteristics – with their stress on ‘difference’ – of some migrants that have transformed their towns and cities; and so have voted with their feet. Moreover, this has little to do with ‘race’ or ethnicity given that sections of ethnic minorities who wish to integrate and live in a neighbourhood reflecting society at large also vote with their feet.

Goodhart demolishes the oft-held belief that ethnic minorities are an undifferentiated mass forever suffering from discrimination and racism. In fact, there is now a significant variation between Hindus, Sikhs, East African Asians, and Chinese – whose educational and income per capita levels are now, on average, above whites – and Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Caribbeans, and Somalis who languish at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. The well-established segregated mono-cultural, mono-faith neighbourhoods particularly of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in towns and cities across the country provide ample evidence of their low levels of integration, and what I have analysed as high levels of ‘psychic detachment’ from mainstream society.

But the relative prosperity of Hindus, Sikhs, and East African Asians does not necessarily indicate high levels of integration. Indeed, well-to-do ethnic minority professionals and business people residing in mixed neighbourhoods can – and often do – lead highly segregated lives with few points of contact with those not from their own religious-ethnic community and so also display high levels of psychic detachment. Goodhart cites the example of ‘Punjabi Wolves’, Sikh supporters of Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club, as an instance of integration. This is odd; in fact it is a mark of separation – just as if Kashmiri fans of Bradford Football Club formed a ‘Kashmiri Lions’ supporters group. The genuine integrationist route would be for Sikh fans to join the Wolverhampton FC supporters club as a mark of unity.

Goodhart retraces a controversial argument he put forward in 2004 about the impact of high levels of immigration on society – the ‘progressive dilemma’, that is, the conflict between diversity and solidarity. Basically, the more diverse (by ethnicity or religion) a society is, the less the likelihood of solidarity, and this is a contributory factor for the erosion of support for higher levels of general taxation which underpin the welfare state. 

The US is an example of a highly diverse society which, as a result, has low levels of solidarity – Robert Putnam’s uncomfortable research suggests that the higher the percentage of immigrants in an area in the US, the lower is the level of trust. This is thought to provide the explanation for the minimal welfare services in America (it remains the one developed country without universal health care): put bluntly, white Americans are reluctant to see their taxes going to welfare programmes to support blacks and Latinos. By the same token, increased diversity from recent mass immigration in Europe is likely to lead to a diminution in solidarity and, accordingly, in support for strong welfare services. There is not yet enough compelling evidence in support of this hypothesis – but even the situation in the US can be open to a different interpretation.

The strong welfare provisions in Western Europe are often associated with the formation of political parties with strong links with trade unions which garnered sufficient support to form governments that pushed through fundamental welfare reforms after the destruction and sacrifice of World War 2. In stark contrast, America has never had such a party let alone a social democratic consensus that became the norm in post-War Western Europe – which is to say that even if America had an entirely white population, there is no guarantee it would have obtained Europe’s level of welfare services; on the contrary, it may still have had rather weaker welfare services akin to those obtaining in ethnically homogenous Japan.

What can boost solidarity in ethnically diverse societies are core commonalities among the established population and migrant settlers. Here Goodhart does offer some suggestions: the stress on English language proficiency for all immigrants is indeed important. Beyond this, however, what is recommended is largely symbolic – citizenship ceremonies in town halls are perhaps an improvement to the purely bureaucratic form-filling of the past but, nonetheless, this is weak in forging commonalities, and of the need to robustly tackling the separatist dynamic now so prevalent. 

The lengthy discussion of the various ‘sub-nationalisms’ that have arisen in the devolved nations within the UK is not really germane. The suggestion that Asians are enthusiastically identifying with Scottish nationalism is of limited import. The fact remains that Glaswegian Asian Muslims are far closer to Asian Muslims in Lancashire, Yorkshire, or Birmingham – and indeed with Muslims in Pakistan – than with non-Muslim Scots. Their espousal of Scottish nationalism is in line with being identified as ‘British’ in the rest of the UK. The problems of separateness and high levels of psychic detachment that emanate from their strong religious identity remains – and this has been allowed to nurture throughout Britain. Therefore, the discussion on the implications of Scotland becoming independent is largely irrelevant.

The great lacuna of the book, in how to truly forge a meaningful common citizenship, is the failure to address the core factors for segregation, poor levels of integration and social cohesion, which have led to parallel lives and high levels of psychic detachment. The answer is blindingly obvious (indeed Goodhart singles out Muslims in his key theses given above): the vast bulk of immigrants from outside Europe, be it from former colonies or not, have very strong religious identities. Certainly governments have been all-too-willing to accept these settlers in their own terms – the laissez faire approach. More than that, both the present Coalition government and the previous Labour government have fuelled this by stressing ‘our multi-faith society’. Goodhart acknowledges this by asserting that ‘[r]ather than appealing to Muslims and Sikhs or other minorities as British citizens and trying to draw them into the mainstream political process, local and national politicians came to see them as people whose primary loyalty was to their faith and culture and who could be politically engaged only by their own leaders’.

History, however, shows that faith identities are divisive and militate against integration and social cohesion. The lesson of Northern Ireland is a sobering reminder: for most people in mainland Britain – for whom religion is of little and rapidly vanishing importance – it comprises sectarian identities. The Dutch writer Ian Buruma provided an insightful explanation for the sudden rise of the populist politician Pim Fortuyn in the early 2000s which is highly relevant here: ‘Fortuyn’s venom is drawn more from the fact that he, and millions of others, not just in the Netherlands, but all over Europe, had painfully wrested themselves free from the strictures of their own religions. And here were these newcomers injecting society with religion once again’.

It naturally follows that a sine qua non for engendering a common citizenship is for the reversal of the ‘injection of society with religion’. This means lessening – and ultimately removing – the mark of religious identity and, accordingly, necessitates, in Paul Cliteur’s words, a ‘secular outlook’ and the thoroughgoing secularisation of society. Of paramount importance in this regard is the phasing out of faith schools: there is now mounting evidence to show that minority faith schools in particular are deeply problematic and constitute a transmission belt for the inculcation of sectarian identities infused with obscurantism and dogma that is quite unsuitable for children in a modern 21st century multi-ethnic society.

To sum up, Goodhart’s analysis of the problems is far better than the solutions proffered. As someone espousing liberal, social democratic beliefs, another lacuna is the absence of the ideas of some of the foremost liberal thinkers: no Voltaire and John Stuart Mill on the defence of freedom of criticism and expression; no recourse to John Rawls as to how a liberal society should deal with the illiberal; and no mention of Brian Barry whose Culture and Equality was the first major – and devastating – critique of multiculturalism from a liberal perspective. Setting aside these shortcomings, David Goodhart has written a seminal, courageous, book that is likely to prove enormously influential on key debates on the nature of British society for years to come.

‘Trojan Horses’ in Birmingham Schools should come as no surprise



The 'Trojan Horse' plot in Birmingham - where some 25 schools have apparently been targeted for takeover by Islamic extremists - is yet another instance of the problems now rising as a consequence of Britain supposedly being a multifaith society; a view shared by all the three main political parties. Accordingly, a green light has been given to more faith schools, religious Free Schools and academies, which are allowed to run on the basis of a religious ethos. A laissez faire approach to culture and religion has contributed to significant levels of self-segregation, isolation, and lack of integration among some religious-ethnic minorities, not least Muslims. This is highlighted by the fact the Muslim population in which these 25 schools are located is more than 90 per cent. It is worrying that it took a maverick politician such as Nigel Farage to point out the reality when he described parts of Britain as being 'unrecognisable'; a view that most of the population would agree with.

Since the 'Trojan Horse' letter came to light, some 200 reports have been received by Birmingham City Council, including claims that boys and girls are being segregated in classrooms and assemblies, pressure on girls to cover their hair, sex education being banned, the prevention of the teaching of non-Islamic faiths in religious education classes, and non-Muslim staff being bullied. Yet all this is precisely what has been happening in Free Schools such as Al Madinah in Derby (which Education Minister Lord Nash found dysfunctional) and the Madani faith school in Leicester. But none of this should be surprising: on the contrary, it is entirely to be expected that leaders of faith communities wish to impose values and practices in schools in their neighbourhoods that are in accordance with their religion. The reason for this is that the emphasis on a multifaith society facilitates the primary identity of some minorities being on the basis of their faith.

In Birmingham, and elsewhere, community leaders and parents with strong religious identities seek to 'protect' their children - especially girls - from Western secular influences which, quite frankly, they find immoral. Such protection is indeed likely to be on offer as schools in segregated communities and faith-based schools vigorously police the behaviour of pupils strictly in line with their religious doctrines and cultural mores. An inescapable outcome is the accentuation of divisions along religious lines, so that there is a plethora of 'monofaith' neighbourhoods. This is not only profoundly harmful to schoolchildren who are seen as no more than properties of their parents, but flies in the face of the stated goal of increasing integration and social cohesion.

A pointer to the dangers ahead was provided a decade ago at the Muslim Islamia School, one of the first to be granted voluntary aided status. In regard to the teaching of evolution, the school's view was 'we approach Darwinism theory [sic] in a phenomenological way. We say, 'there is a theory believed by some, that we are descended from apes. It's just one idea among many'. In regard to the teaching of other faiths, the head teacher stated 'we can practice any religion we like. We pray five times a day, we learn the Koran in the traditional manner ... One thing we never do is celebrate Christmas'. The oft-quoted quip 'schools are for teaching and not for preaching' is inverted - indeed preaching and brazen indoctrination is the order of the day - with values that are widely at variance with those obtaining in modern Europe.

The push to expand faith schools and religious free schools and academies in Britain is particularly odd for it suggests wilful neglect or disregard of the sobering example of Northern Ireland where state schools are divided on the basis of faith; as such they are sectarian in character and have long been a powerful incubator of the schism between Catholics and Protestants. An educational policy whose aim is cohesion and inclusion would take serious note of this tragic, divisive phenomenon, learn the lessons, and ensure that it is not repeated in any other part of the country. But evidence shows that the lessons have sadly not been learned.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has appointed Peter Clark to review the evidence of the Trojan Horse plot. But, as has rightfully been pointed out by key people in Birmingham, Mr Clark is the wrong candidate given his earlier role as National Co-ordinator for Counter Terrorism. This highlights a key problem with government thinking: their only real concern is the potential for Islamist terrorism but little regard for the damage to schoolchildren and for community cohesion from those serious about ensuring that members of their communities rigidly adhere to their faith. Bob Jones, the elected West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, is correct to state that 'My main concern is that the Secretary of State is attempting to divert attention away from the governance and diversity issues that might be embarrassing to his policies and approach to school governance'. Indeed they should be embarrassing and it really is high time that the both the government and the opposition grasped the nettle that a firm commitment to a rounded secular education is what is needed for the benefit of children and for society at large, and act accordingly.

Published in Huffington Post 16th April 2014

Schools and the Failure of Multiculturalism and Multifaithism



The spat between Michael Gove and Theresa May focuses on the failure to tackle Islamic extremism in Birmingham's schools. Whether such failure can be attributed to one party or the other is, in fact, a moot point. The real problem has deeper roots: it resides in the failure of multiculturalism and multifaithism. Given that both the previous and present governments describe Britain as being a multi-faith society, it is entirely to be expected that leaders of those groups for whom their faith trumps all other indicators of identity, will seek robustly to instil the imprimatur of the values and practices of their religion. In this context, recent statements made by Prime Minister David Cameron and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles that Britain is essentially a Christian country, are most unhelpful in that they provoke many within the faith minorities to emphatically say 'no we are not', and to assert their own non-Christian faith identity with even greater vigour.

This fundamental truth has not well been understood by the political establishment. Rather, like the previous government, the present Coalition government's concern has been on tackling Islamist terrorism following 9/11 and especially since the 7th July 2005 bombings. It is precisely this thinking that led Michael Gove to appoint Peter Clark, former National Co-ordinator for Counter Terrorism, to review the evidence of the Trojan Horse plot. This detracts from core of the problem of heightened faith identities that are facilitated by high levels of segregation in communities and in schools.

Indeed, concerns about segregated schooling go back decades. As far back as 1985, the Swann Report on education highlighted the dangers of 'separate schools' for ethnic minorities. Two decades later, Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, warned in 2005: 'Do we want a ghettoised education system? ... Schools play a crucial role in integrating different communities and the growth of faith schools poses a real threat to this. These things need to be thought through very carefully before they are implemented'. In a similar vein, in 2007, Commission for Racial Equality Policy Director Nick Johnson cautioned that Britain risks becoming a 'mini America' dominated by racially and religiously determined schools, and warned: 'If a Muslim child is educated in a school where the vast majority of other children are also Muslim, how can we expect him to work, live and interact with people from other cultures when he leaves school? This is a ticking time-bomb waiting to explode'. Given that practically nothing has been done to tackle the roots of the problems, that is, to tackle the very high levels of segregation and promote genuine integration, such a proverbial 'time bomb' has indeed exploded in Birmingham, and will doubtless do so in many other towns and cities.

This reasoning and warning is absolutely correct. A natural consequence of residential segregation is that schools in inner cities have also become segregated: in the 21 Birmingham schools that were inspected by Ofsted, children of Muslim parents comprise over 90 per cent. Channel 4 News reported that in one school, only one child was non Muslim; the white mother of the child thought that though a secular, state, school, it felt like a Muslim faith school. Indeed, this is precisely what has been happening: parents and governors of these schools are attempting to convert them into de facto Muslim faith schools. And here is something that has not been remarked upon: what is giving cause for concern re attempts by Islamists to take over state schools in Birmingham is precisely what has been made lawful in Free schools and faith schools. Abandoning children to such schools, which are plainly not fit for purpose for modern Europe, is nothing short of a dereliction of duty.

The rising level of segregation is not only a phenomenon of 'white flight' but also the flight of those from other religious-ethnic minorities. Polite society may not notice, but the stark reality is that Hindu and Sikh parents do not wish to send their schools where there is preponderance of Muslim children and vice versa. So what have arisen are 'mono-faith' neighbourhoods and schools. Given the enormous importance of the formative years in life, this phenomenon can have a highly significant and lasting effect on how children from different backgrounds relate to each other. Put bluntly, there is likely to be a deleterious impact on integration and cohesion from heightened levels of segregation of children and this surely does not at all augur well for the goal of a socially cohesive society. If segregation of communities is not a desirable outcome and is an obstacle to improving social cohesion, then it is certainly also true for children in schools.

Michael Gove's call that school children must be taught 'British values' is inadequate given that there is simply no agreed definition of what these values are. Rather, it is imperative that a child's accident of birth should not preclude a broad, critical, tolerant education; this must necessarily be secular. Moreover, this needs to be combined with children from minority communities mixing with others, especially with those from the majority white society. These enormously important lessons need to be learned and acted upon by both the government and the opposition.


First published in Huffington Post 13th June 2014

Interview with Voice of Russia on the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham



Tower Hamlets and the Dangers of Communal Politics‏



Last week, the accountancy firm PwC, in its audit of Tower Hamlets Council and its Mayor, Lutfur Rahman, catalogued very serious failings. The case sheds light on a troubling phenomenon: communal politics. We are well aware of the divisive, sectarian politics of Northern Ireland where voting on the basis of religious identity is the accepted norm and no mainstream party wishes to see it replicated in mainland Britain. However, with the embedding in of multiculturalism and its variant multifaithism, communal, sectarian politics are also becoming prevalent in many towns and cities with significant religious-ethnic minority communities. In other words, many candidates now seek votes from those of, and people vote on the basis of, their religion, ethnicity, and country of origin, rather than on political ideology.

This is precisely what has come to pass in Tower Hamlets. The bedrock of Mayor Lutfur Rahman's support comes from his fellow Muslim Bangladeshis who comprise about a third of the population of Tower Hamlets but about two-thirds of those who turned out to vote in the mayoral election were from his own Bangladeshi community, resulting in his victory. In accordance with the communal nature of his politics, all members of his cabinet have also been Bangladeshis. What he proceeded to do is a classic case of what Americans term 'pork barrel politics' where government funds are allocated to certain favoured sections of society in exchange for political support; which means that unfavoured groups lose out. It is a form of political corruption.

BBC Panorama's investigation (confirmed by the PwC audit) showed that council officers had proposed that Bangladeshi and Somali (likewise Sunni Muslim) groups receive £1.5m but its review of 362 grants approved by the mayor found that he increased funding to these groups by nearly two-and-a-half times - to £3.6m. The additional £2.1m came from the council's reserves in combination with a 25 per cent reduction in grants to other organisations; a clear instance of communal, pork barrel politics. It transpires that £3m was granted for 'faith heritage', mostly to mosques. Whereas the previous Labour administration funded religious groups for social services - itself problematic - Mr Rahman makes no such demands. A grave consequence of such communal politics is that non-religious groups that cater for all sections of the borough are starved of funds or crowded out. This is quite contrary to the goal of achieving 'One Tower Hamlets', Mayor Rahman's slogan.

Lutfur Rahman's is indeed an egregious case but the phenomenon of pork barrel politics afflicts the major parties also. The embrace of 'multiculturalism' launched a divisive dynamic, particularly in local communities, whereby many urban councils began to channel funds and resources to various ethnic, national and, more recently, faith communities in return for votes. A by-product of this is the accentuation of tensions between different communities who increasingly identify themselves in terms of faith. Indeed both the present and previous governments have recognised communal strains, and all are agreed on the importance of 'community cohesion' yet they have increasingly allocated funds to various 'faith communities'; a natural corollary given their belief that Britain is a multi-faith society. But, by so doing, they are adding to the problem of 'divisive community politics' highlighted by Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, with respect to Tower Hamlets.

Given the rising proportion of religious-ethnic minorities, and the high levels of segregation along communal lines in neighbourhoods of many towns and cities, the results of many parliamentary seats are now determined by the communal vote. There is, then, naturally the temptation on the part of the major political parties to appeal to groups on the basis of their ethnicity or religion. But this would be a grave mistake as it would pull the country even more down the spiral of communal politics and against the goal of social cohesion.

The 'Trojan Horse' plot in Birmingham - where a number of schools have been targeted for takeover by Islamic extremists - is yet another instance of the problems now arsing. But is this really surprising given the governments' stress of Britain being a multifaith society (with the imprimatur of a Minister for Faith and Communities) and its green light to more faith schools, and religious free schools? The very same Eric Pickles who is rightly concerned by divisive community politics in Tower Hamlets supports these deeply divisive and damaging schools and, moreover, continuously rails against secularism, the one principle that can forge together commonalities among disparate groups. As one Bangladeshi ex-Labour councillor Helal Rahman in the Panorama programme correctly stated, rather than uniting, faith divides people; especially so where identities based on faith trump all others.

This is a lesson that Mr Pickles and his government, as well as the opposition, needs to grasp with alacrity and start to work together to undo the harm that has already been done. Otherwise, we can expect communal, pork barrel politics to increasingly become the norm and so more of the likes of Luftur Rahman running councils and unwelcome Trojan Horses appearing in schools and elsewhere.

First published in Huffington Post on 17th November 2014

Why Are Some Muslims in Britain Choosing Sharia?



Groundbreaking research on Sharia councils in Britain was presented at a debate in the House of Lords on 12th January. Chaired by Labour MP George Howarth, and hosted by the Henry Jackson Society, Dutch academic Machteld Zee spoke on her new book "Choosing Sharia? Multiculturalism, Islamic Fundamentalism and Sharia Councils".

From evidence garnered on Sharia councils in London and Birmingham, Machteld argued that these were leading to 'marital captivity' - an important new addition to the legal lexicon - and called on the UK government to enact Dutch-style laws that allow women whose husbands refuse to grant religious divorce, to undertake civil or criminal proceedings. The crossbencher Baroness Cox has proposed a bill which makes it illegal to treat the evidence of a man as worth more than that of a woman - which is the norm in Sharia councils and Muslim arbitration tribunals.

Also speaking was Dutch legal scholar David Suurland who pointed out that in 2003 and 2004, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that 'Sharia is incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy'. He further argued that a laissez faire attitude to Muslim communities had allowed for Salafist and Islamist dialogues to operate beneath the criminal court in the Netherlands. The Dutch solution to this has been the monitoring of all Salafi organisations, in particular of rigorous checks on the sources of funding of new mosques from outside of Netherlands.

(function() { var mid = document.getElementById('ad_mid_article'); = 'width:100%;float:none;'; var parent = mid.parentNode.parentNode; parent.tagName == 'BLOCKQUOTE' && parent.parentNode.insertBefore(mid, parent); if (window.uk_sponsorship) { return; } var div = document.querySelector('.adaptv-outstream'); var adtag = div.getAttribute('data-adtag').replace('{cachebreaker}', Math.round(Math.random()*1e16)); div.setAttribute('data-adtag', adtag); window.console.timeStamp = function(){}; var s = document.createElement('script'); s.async = true; s.src = ''; var ref = document.querySelector('script'); ref.appendChild(s); }()); It was refreshing to witness two young Dutch scholars making powerful presentations to British parliamentarians, the press, and other interested parties at a packed event, and calling on the UK government to follow the lead given by the government of the Netherlands with respect to these unsavoury phenomena.

In my presentation, I tried to explain the reasons for the appeal of Sharia jurisdiction among some British Muslims. What is being demanded seems to be pretty minimal - restricted to family law focusing on marriage, divorce, and maintenance. There is certainly no call for Sharia laws being applied to criminal matters such as theft, violence, and murder, so that there is no question of punishments that are rife in some Muslim countries, such as amputations of limbs for theft, beheadings, crucifixion, lashes, and stoning to death for various criminal offences. That said, in a 2008 Channel 4 documentary 'Divorce Sharia style', the Secretary General of the Islamic Sharia Council, Suhaib Hasan, averred that if Sharia law was implemented in Britain: 'then you can turn this country into a haven of peace because once a thief's hand is cut off nobody is going to steal. Once, just only once, if an adulterer is stoned nobody is going to commit this crime at all. We want to offer it to the British society'.

But why are some Muslim citizens of this country, living under a legal system that ensures equality before the law, choosing for Sharia? Remember that this is a legal code that systematically discriminates against women, children, apostates, blasphemers, non-believers (infidels), adulterers, and homosexuals. My argument is that such separatist demands stem from the problems that have become entrenched in our supposedly multicultural society. The origins of this view actually have good intentions: in a free society, people should be free to lead lives as they wish without government restrictions. This was also meant to be anti-racist whereby the cultures and religions of newly-settled ethnic minorities should be shown respect.

But, sadly, many a road to hell is paved with good intentions. Under multiculturalism and its successor, multifaithism, this separatist dynamic has been allowed free rein. Britain like other West European countries has generally accommodated to Muslim demands - the latest example is of changing the exam schedule during the Ramadan fasting month. So there has been little need for Muslims to integrate into an increasingly irreligious mainstream society. Unsurprisingly, the result is that we are living in a country with high levels of segregation of Muslims and of other religious-ethnic communities. But it does seem to be especially true of large numbers of Muslims. At its extreme, some have become 'psychically detached' from the rest of society so that even though they are geographically located in the UK and Europe, their mode of thinking, belonging, and living is rooted elsewhere: that is, their alienation from the host society is such that they might as well be living in another land. They have values, beliefs, and practices that are profoundly different to those of mainstream society. Because of segregation, they have few interpersonal relationships with those who are not Muslim and they show little identification with the host society. Indeed, for radicalised Muslims, who wish to fly the banner of jihad, the rejection of the host society can reach violent, terrorising, levels.

So given this reality, it is not surprising that there are demands by some Muslims for aspects of Sharia as an alternative to the law of the land. The danger is that this can be a slippery slope to a parallel legal system, what is known as legal pluralism. Rather than a universal legal system, we risk different laws for different people.

There has been far too much concern that rejecting separatist demands from Muslims - which in reality are privileges - is seen as racist or Islamophobic. But it is no such thing. There is mounting evidence that in Britain and in other west European countries, the population at large is very much concerned by what has come to pass. For example, two opinion polls last year (by Survation and YouGov) found that only 22% of the population think that the values of Islam are compatible with the values of British society. Similar attitudes exist in other EU countries. In Germany, a survey by the Bertelsmann Foundation in January 2015 found that 57% of Germans considered Islam "very much" or "somewhat" of a threat and that 61% believe that Islam is "incompatible with the western world". In France, an opinion poll conducted by IFOP in October 2012 found that 60% of respondents consider the influence and visibility of Islam in France are too high, and that 43% of French believe the presence of a Muslim community in France is a threat to the French identity; only 17% consider this is a source of enrichment. Given the events in Paris last year, these poll numbers will have undoubtedly worsened.

Therefore, in the interests of the better integration of Muslims and of a more socially cohesive society, the government must stop acceding to Muslim pleas for special treatment. They should pay heed to the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights and to follow the example of Dalton McGuinty, the premier of Ontario, Canada who gave the following assurance in September 2005 when confronted with the same issue: "There will be no Sharia law in Ontario. There will be no religious arbitration in Ontario. There will be one law for all Ontarians. Religious family courts threaten our common". Precisely the same approach should be applied in the UK.

First published in Huffington Post on 5th Feb 2016