The Casey report will only add to the level of hostility and suspicion that Muslims face daily argues Chris Nineham
Louise Casey's high profile report on integration and social cohesion is not going to help anyone. Least of all ethnic minorities. The main problem is a big one: the terms of reference of the report itself. It focuses more than anything on Britain’s Muslim communities. When asked to look at problems of cohesion and integration in Britain today why on earth would you think first of Muslims?
If you were casting a dispassionate eye at divisions in British society at the moment surely the first thing you would notice would be the mind-boggling levels of inequality – levels last seen in the pre-welfare days of the 1920s. Surely you would express concerns about the accelerating clearance of inner city communities by spiralling rents and house prices creating rich white ghettos. Surely you would spot the huge regional disparities created by the destruction of local economies by de-industrialisation, and the resulting feelings of alienation, exclusion and insecurity felt by millions of working people of all colours and creeds up and down this country.
For Casey, questions of cohesion and ethnicity and integration just seem to go together naturally. There are popular concerns about immigration. But even Casey has to admit that in general there is a strong sense of cohesion and support for diversity in Britain. As the report finds ‘In 2015-16, 89% of people thought their community was cohesive and a similar proportion felt a sense of belonging to Britain.’ Given the economic situation and the rhetoric around immigration, this is impressive.
In general, she admits ‘integration’, which she partly defines as identification with British values - whatever they are - is progressing. Casey decides to focus on those areas where she thinks there is less sense of cohesion. Fair enough. She argues there is a sub trend of growing segregation in some areas. Even she can’t claim this is a major development. In ten years the number of wards with more than 90% ethnic minority populations has gone up from 1 to 17 (there are more than nine thousand wards in Britain).
The report does mention economic marginalisation and disadvantage. She has to admit that People from Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic groups are three times more likely than White British people to be unemployed. But rather than trying to understand a shift towards more ethnically concentrated communities – such as it is - as part of a bigger and fast changing social and economic picture, in general she can’t help seeing it mainly in cultural and often religious terms. For Casey, the biggest blockages to social integration are the behaviour a patterns of immigrant populations, particularly Muslims.
Rates of integration in some communities may have been undermined by high levels of transnational marriage – with subsequent generations being joined by a foreign-born partner, creating a ‘first generation in every generation’ phenomenon in which each new generation grows up with a foreign-born parent. This seems particularly prevalent in South Asian communities.
In the case of schools, parental choice and wanting to go to a school close by, to be among pupils from a similar background, or to attend a school with a particular faith or cultural perspective, can also be important factors.
Incredibly, in the whole discussion about the segregation of communities there is no mention of the Islamophobic prejudice against Muslims that has been such a growing feature of British life over the last two decades and almost no reference to increasing levels of anti-immigrant racism. There is no mention either of the series of wars on Muslim countries that the British government has participated in over the last fifteen years that have created such anger and resentment.
Instead, in a bizarrely circular argument, ‘segregation’ - itself largely seen as self generated - tends to be seen as the source of the problems Muslims and other minority communities face:
in relation to social and economic integration in particular, there is a strong correlation of increased segregation among Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic households in more deprived areas, with poorer English language and poorer labour market outcomes.
Worse still, in an example of the more and more fashionable deployment of feminist rhetoric to attack Muslim communities, they are cited as being exceptions to a perceived general improvement in Women’s position in society:
We continue to make great strides in gender equality. But in many areas of Britain the drive towards equality and opportunity across gender might never have taken place. Women in some communities are facing a double onslaught of gender inequality, combined with religious, cultural and social barriers preventing them from accessing even their basic rights as British residents. And violence against women remains all too prevalent – in domestic abuse but also in other criminal practises such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage and so-called ‘honour’ based crime.
Of course there is sexism amongst Muslims – despite Casey’s rather rosy view we live in a deeply sexist society and sexism has to be challenged - but this kind of targeting can only make Muslims feel more isolated and under attack. When serial sex offender Donald Trump has got the keys to the White House and reactionary governments are challenging for power in many places, when cuts to benefits here are plunging so many women into poverty in Britain who on earth thinks Muslims or other religious groups are the main problem for women or anyone else?
No wonder that the report is being welcomed by government ministers, by Nigel Farage, the Daily Express and other champions of equality. Casey has been touring the studios today saying it is time to start asking 'difficult questions' about Muslims when practically every government in the Western world is attacking Muslims on a daily basis. The prejudice and muddle on display in the Casey report will only add to the level of hostility and suspicion that Muslims face daily. And that is going to help cohesion?
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
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