Trevor Phillips’ film for Britain’s Channel 4television, “What do British Muslims really think?” was aired on Wednesday night. Muslims are “living apart,” we were told, and failing to “integrate.” The survey claimed to be the most comprehensive yet of Muslim opinion, although it lacked a control group against Hindus, Sikhs, Jews or Christians. Commissioning an accurate poll of a religious group’s opinions is notoriously difficult, and would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, possible close to a million. It is unlikelythat Channel 4 stumped up this much, so its claim to be “really” knowing what British Muslims think is stretching it a bit. Dodgy surveys about Muslim opinion are now commonplace and were pioneered in the wake of the July 2005 bombings.
Segregation wouldn’t be a problem for Muslims if it didn’t breed violence, Phillips argued. He claimed that Muslims who express orthodox religious beliefs are twice as likely to favour violence. Given that the most violent and famous terrorist groups today are combining religion and political grievance successfully as recruitment tools, this should not be surprising. What is surprising, though, is Phillips’ solution offered in the final part of the programme: he thinks that schools should be forced by the government to have a 50 per cent Muslim intake.
Phillips is a core member of the New Labour cult, which has haunted Britain since Tony Blair left office a decade ago. This cult allowed the rise of the UK Independence Party, the English Defence League, the British National Party and now a new far-right group, Britain First. For years, Phillips and his New Labour bureaucrats enforced “political correctness”, a term that did not allow white working class Britons to discuss cultural changes in their neighbourhoods that concerned them. Desperate not to be written off in history as the man who built the powder keg and then set it off, a couple of years ago Phillips made a programme called“Things we won’t say about race that are true.” This called for an end to political correctness, which is welcomed, and Phillips finally admitted that he was wrong to impinge on our freedom of speech. He talked about having the “freedom to offend”; about how, if you look at employment statistics in “powerful” sectors – politics, the law and business — Jews could be seen as being more influential. Yet less than two years later, in What British Muslims really think, he slammed the Muslims of this country for one particular belief, shared by around a third of respondents: “Jewish people have too much power in Britain.” Phillips called this anti-Semitism, and offensive, and proof that Muslims need to integrate. Yet he himself had made the same observation not long before. Freedom to offend, Mr Phillips, or simply double standards?
The former head of the Commission for Racial Equality is against “ghettoisation”, as he calls it. I like ghettos. I like that I can go to Whitechapel in East London, and know that it will be a predominantly Muslim area (and used to be a Jewish area). I like that I can go to Stamford Hill in North London, and know that it will be a Jewish area (and used to be a white working class area). I like that I can go to Chelsea and Fulham, in West London, and know that it will be where all the rich, privately-educated bankers live, or Knightsbridge, a ghetto for oil sheikhs and corrupt Russian oligarchs, or South East London, which is largely East African, Nigerian and Caribbean. I like that I can go to North East London and find a road half a mile long with mainly Turkish restaurants, and that there are other parts of town to which I can go for a great choice of almost exclusively Greek food. Ghettoes aren’t just about good food though. For every Muslim working class area, there is a white working class area. For every Jewish area, there is a Sikh area. For every posh area, there is a poor area. Humans like to ghettoise themselves – at least in Britain — although you see it happening all over the world. Go to Cairo, and there are certain areas in which Western expats live; go to Hong Kong and you will find the same. Ghettoes are normal, they are what we want; they just got a bad name.
I went to an English public school, for my sins, and if there is anyone who knows about ghettoisation, it is the English public schoolboy, that most insular, traditional and pompous of creatures. “We shouldn’t call Chinese yellow, we should call them beige,” I remember an Etonian friend saying to me (I didn’t go to Eton, by the way). “Have you heard of a jamboy?” asked another. “It’s when they got a little black boy to stand by the dinner table and cover him with jam so the flies don’t bother the guests.” They thought this concept was hilarious. I remember the two obviously gay friends who did not come out at university, terrified of being bullied by other public schoolboys. Public schools are a weird world, and they are totally segregated. Politically, voting Labour is grounds for instant ostracisation. Religiously, evangelical Christianity, notably via the Alpha Course, is growing amongst the younger generation. There is still a stronger tradition of Anglicanism than in other social groups. And public schoolboys do still appear to run the country (I apparently missed the invite).
In the hour-long programme, Phillips’ presentation about Muslims focused a great deal on their attitudes towards homosexuality, with half of those surveyed saying that it should be illegal. By the end of the century, a majority of British Jews will be orthodox in their beliefs and practices. Just like most public schoolboys, orthodox Jews do not marry outside their community; they interact only rarely in social terms with non-orthodox people; they are more likely to do business with each other than with anyone else; and their children attend orthodox schools-cum-seminaries which are strictly single-sex institutions. In both cases, orthodox Jews and public schoolboys are often culturally opposed to homosexuality. As recently as 2003, Cameron, a public schoolboy (Eton), voted in favour of banning the teaching of homosexuality in schools; he only apologised for this in 2009. There was a General Election on the horizon, his first as leader of the Conservative Party; that may have had something to do with his change of opinion.
Nevertheless, opinions about homosexuality are changing and I am relaxed about the pace of change. British culture has only in the past few years really accepted homosexuality. Many Muslims, like many people of other faiths (and of no faith), have not. I would be happy to bet Phillips a princely sum that Muslim opinion about homosexuality will, within a generation, be much more similar to “mainstream” British opinion, so why worry about it so much? Personally, I am more concerned about the government saying where children can and cannot go to school, as Phillips suggested in his programme. I am concerned that Muslim and non-Muslim taxpayers will be treated differently by the state, despite paying the same tax.
In the closing quarter of the programme, Phillips talked about redrawing school catchment areas. The British government pulled a similar trick in the thirties. Many of those in Westminster and much of the general public preferred Jews fleeing Nazi persecution to stay on the European mainland and die. This was thanks to the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Express and the Daily Mail being both influential on public opinion, and as deeply anti-Semitic then as today they are anti-Muslim. Nevertheless recognising the need to calm liberals, the government did not ban Jewish immigration per se, it simply banned people coming from two countries, Austria and Germany. Unsurprisingly, most of the people leaving Austria and Germany at that time were Jews.
Racial or religious discrimination is still discrimination, however you dress it up. The state should have no part in it, and even if Phillips wants to dress it up as “redrawing” school catchment areas he might as well be sewing yellow Islamic crescents onto Muslim’s clothing. His repudiation of political correctness might have been welcome, but his solution to the problem of Muslim integration is impractical, immoral and short-sighted.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.