Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The tensions between Muslim identity and Western citizenship

Across the West the arrival of significant numbers of migrants has caused a number of acute and ongoing challenges, notably in terms of social cohesion. These should not be overstated, but nor should they be ignored.

    'Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?'

    'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat.

    'I don't much care where--' said Alice.

    'Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat.

I wish to make the claim that no matter their political hue, British governments have, for decades, adopted an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ approach to migrant settlers. That is to say, like Alice they have not cared much about where they want to get to with regards to forging some kind of common citizenship. At least until recent years when some importance has been put on improving social or community cohesion and attention paid to factors which are deemed to comprise ‘Britishness’.

In stark contrast, community and religious ‘leaders’ and ‘elders’ from some religious-ethnic minority groups have been very clear as to where they want to get to: the granting of resources, rights, separate laws, and exemptions to the law for their respective ‘communities’. In this endeavour they have been greatly assisted by the academy whose theories and ideas have coalesced under the rubric of ‘multiculturalism’. At its heart, this is the stress on acknowledging, respecting and showing ‘recognition’ of the differences in culture and religion between different communities and, thereby, the breaching of universalism. Unwittingly and aimlessly, this came to be adopted by national and local governments. Indeed the previous Labour government began to think of Britain as a ‘multi-faith’ society, an epithet implicitly acknowledged by the present Coalition government with its appointment – a first – of a Minister for Faith and Communities (whereas other European have, more sensibly, Ministers for Integration) so that there seemed to be a seamless transformation from multiculturalism to multifaithism.

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