UK integration report ‘divisive’ say Muslim groups

A government report on integration of immigrants in the UK has been described as “inflammatory” and “divisive” by its critics.

The Casey Review says that segregation is on the rise in the UK among other findings. It suggests that immigrants swear an “integration oath” to maintain British values and that these values be taught in schools.

Social welfare expert Louise Casey was asked to lead the review at the request of then-prime minister David Cameron as part of the government’s efforts to tackle extremism.

The report, which was published on Monday, said that some Muslims and members of other minority faith groups showed less progressive views, for example towards “women’s equality, sexuality and freedom of speech”.

But Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said it was an “inflammatory” and “divisive” report, that deliberately targeted one community over others.

“Sadly in today’s Britain, Muslims are seen as an easy target to attack by politicians, commentators and parts of the media without any regard for the impact this has on communities.

“There was no mention about the responsibility of the white community to help with integration, as many white families flee mixed areas as ethnic minorities move into a particular area,” Shafiq said in a statement.

“We are saddened that once again British Muslims have become a political football which is bashed from time to time without any regard for the impact this has on individuals who then are subjected to threats and violence,” he added.

On his part, Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said he feared the report was one-sided, focusing on Muslims without tackling the role of other British nationals in welcoming immigrants and helping them to integrate.

In a statement, Khan said the report could be a missed opportunity. “We need to improve integration, and it needs to involve the active participation of all Britons, not just Muslim.

“As former Prime Minister David Cameron has stated: ‘integration is a two-way street’. The report has little discussion on white flight, and could have delved deeper into the economic structural barriers to integration.”

He also disputed misconceptions that Muslims and Islam are incompatible with the British lifestyle and culture, and the notion that Muslims are not civilised enough to be part of the British society.

Meanwhile the Joint Council for the Wefare of Immigrants (JCWI) said in a statement that Prime Minister Theresa May needed to rethink the socially destructive immigration policies she implemented while home secretary.

“Integration comes when immigrants and the communities they live in can trust each other,” said Saira Grant, its chief executive in a statement. “Negative rhetoric against immigrants perpetuated by certain media and politicians permeates into the public psyche and results in racism and xenophobia.”

Reaction on Twitter was also critical.

However, Casey also admitted that there was a “vicious circle” in which Muslims felt they were being blamed for terrorism and extremism, leading to suspicion, mistrust and hostility.

“Every time there’s a terrorist attack people automatically blame a person that’s called a Muslim. That’s wrong. Muslims are no more responsible for terrorist attacks than I am for the IRA,” Casey told BBC 4’s Today programme.

The report referred to a 2015 UK poll showing that more than 55 percent of those interviewed believed that there was a fundamental clash between Islam and the values of British society. At the same time 46 percent of British Muslims felt that being a Muslim in Britain was difficult due to prejudice against Islam.

Casey said people should be able to discuss issues in the report without being “worried about being called racist or Islamophobic”.

The Casey review also states that the Crime Survey for England and Wales states that the actual level of hate crime experienced – including anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attacks – is more than four times the number of recorded incidents.

These attacks apparently increase following “trigger” events, such as the conflict in Israel and Gaza, and following the EU referendum, as perpetrators appeared to feel emboldened by the events and the language used around them.

Casey Integration Review: Muslim Council of Britain’s Initial Response

Today the long awaited review on integration by Dame Louise Casey has been published. Though the review has already been championed by those who pursue a divisive agenda and a hostile attitude towards Muslims, the Muslim Council of Britain will carefully consider the details of Dame Louise’s findings and offer a substantive response.

In the meantime, Harun Khan, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain offered his initial response:

“Any initiative that facilitates better integration of all Britons should be welcomed, and we certainly endorse the few, fair and supportable suggestions proposed by the Casey Review. This includes the promotion of the English language, sharing of best practice across the nation and a range of measures to tackle exclusion, inequality and segregation in school placements. And while we agree that forced marriages, FGM, honour based killings and other practices have no place in modern Britain, we would argue that our faith tradition can be deployed to tackle what are essentially cultural practices.”

“I hope we can facilitate robust and active conversations in British Muslim communities where we are frank about the challenges facing us and creative enough to meet them head on.”

“Sadly, however, I fear that this report could be a missed opportunity. We need to improve integration, and it needs to involve the active participation of all Britons, not just Muslims. As former Prime Minister David Cameron has stated, ‘integration is a two-way street’. The report has little discussion on white flight, and could have delved deeper into the economic structural barriers to integration.”

“In our submission to the Casey Review, the Muslim Council of Britain highlighted the ‘culture of fear is emerging which is a big driver in preventing a more united and cohesive society.’

We said: ‘We must recognise that our public discourse and conversation has a part to play in furthering integration. Integration is fostered when the media reports on stories that speak of achievement of minorities, of people coming together and where national moments are shared by all.’

We also said “for too long Muslims have had to endure a media echo chamber which amplifies the misconception that Muslims and their faith are incompatible with life in Britain. We dispute these notions. It assumes that Muslims are not equal, and not civilised enough to be part and parcel of British society. It leads to discrimination against Muslims, alienation amongst Muslims where the national conversation dictates that they are not part and parcel of society, and, at worst, violent attacks against Muslims.”

We hope this Review does not feed into that narrative.

Casey report criticised for focus on UK Muslim communities

Muslim groups have raised concerns about the government’s community cohesion report, arguing that it confuses race, religion and immigration and focuses too heavily on Muslim communities.

The study, commissioned by David Cameron as prime minister and carried out by Dame Louise Casey, recommends a new strategy to help bridge divides in the UK, including an “integration oath” to encourage immigrants to embrace British values, and greater focus on promoting the English language and securing “women’s emancipation in communities where they are being held back by regressive cultural practices”.

Critics said its focus on Muslim communities ignored other issues such as equality and racism, and was potentially damaging to community relations.

Bana Gora, chief executive of the Muslim Women’s Council, said: “I am not denying that there is a problem in Muslim communities, but I would not put it down to self-segregation. We have to look at the broader picture, at education qualifications, at economics, at social mobility, at barriers in the jobs market.

“There are many inter-related factors and to put it all down such basic sensational terms by saying that the Muslim community is self-segregating does so much harm and is is totally unnecessary.”

Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said “any initiative that facilitates better integration of all Britons” should be welcomed. But he said the Casey report was a missed opportunity. “We need to improve integration, and it needs to involve the active participation of all Britons, not just Muslims,” he said.

He welcomed the promotion of the English language and initiatives to tackle exclusion, inequality and segregation in schools. But he highlighted a “culture of fear” that he said was “a big driver in preventing a more united and cohesive society”.

“We must recognise that our public discourse and conversation has a part to play in furthering integration. Integration is fostered when the media reports on stories that speak of achievement of minorities, of people coming together and where national moments are shared by all,” Khan said.

He said the MCB in its submissions to the Casey report had pointed out that Muslims had to endure “a media echo chamber which amplifies the misconception that Muslims and their faith are incompatible with life in Britain”.

“We dispute these notions,” he said. “It assumes that Muslims are not equal, and not civilised enough to be part and parcel of British society. It leads to discrimination against Muslims, alienation amongst Muslims where the national conversation dictates that they are not part and parcel of society, and, at worst, violent attacks against Muslims.”

Shaista Gohir, chair of the Muslim Women’s Network, welcomed the report, but said segregation could not be blamed only on Muslim communities. “We need a nuanced debate that looks at these hard questions that Casey raises but that also looks at the racism and xenophobia these communities face,” she said.

Gohir said there were many other factors fuelling segregation. “Segregation is always a two-way issue and we have to look at what is happening in the Muslim community, but also what is happening in the white community too – why they don’t want to integrate, the issue of so-called ‘white flight’, where white people leave an area when Muslim families move in. This has to be a starting point for a wider and more thoughtful debate.”

The report mentions Muslims 249 times, while there are only 14 references to Polish communities.

The first Muslim to sit in cabinet, Sayeeda Warsi, a former communities minister, said the year-long study’s focus on Muslims – and particularly Muslim women – was unfair. Responding to report’s use of the phrase “the emancipation of Muslim women”, she tweeted: “Yes, those words are in the report. The empire strikes back!”

Warsi argued that many of the statistics in the report were out of date, and it failed to talk about the challenge of raising aspiration among poor white Roma communities. She said the focus on Muslim women was unjustified, pointing out that white women were most likely to be victims of domestic abuse. In conclusion, she said the report had “some good bits, a few bad bits and lots of confused bits”.

The report says the single most important thing the government can do for effective integration is to take action to get more people speaking English. Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, welcomed that, saying refugees were “determined to learn English to enable them to contribute to their new communities through work, volunteering and socialising with their neighbours”.

But he said funding for English courses had been slashed by more than half since 2009. “[Refugees] are deeply frustrated by the lack of English language classes available,” Hale said. “Refugees, particularly women, face huge barriers to learning, from a lack of local provision to long waiting lists.”

He said the government must act quickly to address the issue. “An investment of just over £40m per year would make it possible for every refugee to learn English and give them the opportunity to contribute and rebuild their lives successfully.”

Ukip’s immigration spokesman, John Bickley, welcomed what he described as a “damning” report. “It pulls no punches and is an excoriating critique of the Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrat parties’ support of mass immigration, multiculturalism and political correctness,” he said.

Why do so many Muslim women find it hard to integrate in Britain?

As gender politics go, it was unquestionably a modest step, but in Bradford’s Carlisle business centre the development felt seismic.

For five years Haniya had been striving to secure a job in digital marketing. It seemed not to matter that the 28-year-old had the qualifications, the aptitude, the ambition. Friends watched her confidence drain away. Haniya considered removing her hijab, the Islamic headscarf. Burying the fact she was a Muslim became the final option.

In front of 50 women at the centre in Bradford’s Manningham district, Haniya announced she’d finally entered the workplace. “That was great news, but for many discrimination within the labour market, along with a lack of opportunities, creates a fatigue that eventually erodes self-esteem,” said Bana Gora, chief executive of Bradford’s Muslim Women’s Council .

Haniya had triumphed where most peers had failed. Being a Muslim woman in Brexit Britain offers few advantages but does guarantee membership to the most economically disadvantaged group in UK society. In Manningham, where the last census found three-quarters of its 20,000 population were Muslim, the prevailing concern is that emboldened bigotry and Islamophobia unleashed in the wake of the Brexit vote threatens to marginalise Muslim women to the point that they are effectively excluded.

Seven miles from the business centre, past Bradford’s central mosque and south along the A651, lies the west Yorkshire market town of Birstall. Here, outside its library at 12:53pm on 16 June, Labour MP Jo Cox was fatally attacked by an extreme rightwing terrorist as the EU referendum campaign approached its finale.

Cox’s murderer Thomas Mair was sentenced to prison for the rest of his life. The 53-year-old is a white supremacist who considers immigration anathema to British values and who hoped his crime would inflame multicultural tensions.

The government’s forthcoming report into integration – the first state-backed exploration of the issue for 15 years – arrives against a febrile backdrop. Conceived in July 2015, the report’s lead author, Louise Casey, appreciates that the debate on race, the self-identity of Britain itself, has shifted dramatically since its inception.

But the report’s main thrust remains unaltered, namely attempting to improve “opportunity and integration” for ethnic minorities who largely remain on the outside looking in. Issues of segregation and inequality remain, factors identified in the wake of the 2001 race riots that engulfed Manningham and prompted a Home Office report that identified parallel lives between ethnicities that “do not touch at any point, let alone overlap”.

Gora says things have improved vastly in the period since, but the shift of Islamophobic rhetoric into the mainstream has perturbed Bradford’s Muslim women.

“These are scary times, there’s a heightened fear and anxiety over what the future holds. The Muslim community feels it’s under a magnifying glass. The rhetoric in the media, constant negative messages being disseminated. It’s unsettling,” she said. Even in Manningham, racist attacks have happened. “We’ve had women with their headscarves ripped off,” said Gora nodding to Carlisle Road, lined with charity stores and a green-domed masjid.

Casey’s 17-month investigation across the UK, which included a visit to Manningham’s business centre, found that Muslim women were being squeezed further from mainstream society. Many had given up trying to find a job. Acquiring economic independence, pursuing a career, meeting new people had become a pipe dream for the majority. A three-tiered system of discrimination was discovered: being a woman, being from an ethnic minority, and finally being a Muslim.

Few are holding their breath. Critics say the principal word in Casey’s review – integration – is clumsy and loaded, giving the impression that unless ethnic minorities commit to total assimilation they have failed.

Yet in this corner of West Yorkshire there is also hope. Concerned that the buoyant textile industry near Bradford was employing low levels of Muslim women, the council introduced initiatives to entice its local Pakistani and Bangladeshi workforce into a sewing academy. Mark Clayton of Bradford council said: “Women are by far the largest group adversely affected directly by inequality, which can be compounded by economic, social and cultural barriers.”

It is a truth that affects most of the UK’s estimated 1.5 million Muslim women, a societal bias that Casey’s report hopes to start addressing.