David Cameron has launched a number of measures aimed at improving integration among Muslims – in particular, Muslim women – in the UK. Polls show that around 70% of people don’t think Muslims are well integrated into British society and concern that Muslim people living in Britain do not feel British has long been part of broader discussions around extremism.
So, now seems like a good time to take a closer look at how British Muslims actually feel about their place in society and to explore the link between segregation and extremism in greater depth. Along with Professor James Nazroo, I conducted research into these issues using nationally representative data, collected in 2008/09 from almost 5,000 people with different ethnic and religious backgrounds, as a part of the Home Office Citizenship Survey. We found that these ideas about British Muslims are not backed up by evidence.
In this survey, respondents from a range of religious and ethnic backgrounds were asked about whether they felt they belong in Britain. The questions capture three different senses of belonging. Participants were asked about the extent to which they agreed with the following statement: “I personally feel a part of Britain.
It’s clear that almost everyone in the religious and ethnic groups examined feels a sense of personal belonging to Britain. And those who didn’t were as likely to be Christian as Muslim.
Most recently, Cameron’s campaign has been criticised as taking a “lazy and misguided” approach to Muslim women. Conservative peer Baroness Warsi commented that linking English proficiency with the continuation of spousal visas was “a very unusual way of empowering and emboldening women”.
This research suggests that concerns about Muslim loyalty to Britain are misplaced. It also suggests that, as a society, we should think more carefully about how we engage with our fellow Britons. A proportion of the ethnic and religious minority population in Britain does run the risk of experiencing a sense of alienation, but this is unlikely to be addressed by improving language skills. Instead, it requires a more concerted effort to reduce the processes which isolate these members of our society. Questioning the loyalty of already loyal citizens runs a direct risk of making the “Muslim problem” much worse than it actually is.