The long-awaited review by Dame Louise Casey into integration and opportunity in Britain has been published this week. The report celebrates the fact that Britain is a diverse, compassionate, tolerant and liberal country. But the pace and scale of immigration in recent decades has resulted in Britain becoming a more anxious, fragmented and even segregated country. The Review also notes that some minority communities are living in segregation in parts of Britain, experiencing large social and economic gaps from other communities and, in some cases, subjecting women to huge inequalities due to regressive cultural practices.
The Review makes twelve recommendations in an attempt to unite Britain. Some of these are practical, but others are more vague and aspirational. The report has been criticised for using outdated statistics, not dealing with structural inequalities and for its heavy focus on Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslim communities given that time and again various surveys of Muslims have shown their desire to integrate.
Few would deny the profound impact of mass immigration on Britain and its enormous consequences for public services and social cohesion. The Report's suggestion that society needs to help new migrants to integrate and for local people to adapt to changes and new pressures in their communities is welcomed. To a degree this is already happening but much more is required. Last month the Joseph Interfaith Foundation, of which I am a member, launched a Jewish-Muslim initiative to help 16-26 year-old refugees fleeing war-torn countries integrate into British culture.
The Casey Report has found that thousands of Muslims live in enclaves with their own housing estates, schools and television channels. More mixing between people from different backgrounds is undoubtedly needed. Yet in my experience this segregation can be as much a product of social and economic exclusion as opposition to integration: some people living in Leeds housing estates, for example, have never had a chance to meet people from different backgrounds or even to leave their neighbourhoods. During mentoring in the suburbs of Leeds, I have come across many young white British pupils who have never interacted with anyone from an ethnic background or indeed visited Leeds city centre. To my mind, this says more about opportunities and resources that are available to enclaves of communities living in housing estates rather than their unwillingness to integrate.
Integration is a two-way process and a sole focus on migrant communities and how well they have integrated will only get us halfway to achieving greater integration. 72% of second generation ethnic minorities have inter-ethnic friendships, while some white British ethnic groups can be less likely to have ethically mixed social networks, according to the Report. The Report also acknowledges that sections of white working class Britain have become more isolated from the rest of the country and the rest of the white British population. These findings, along with the "white flight" concept, show that there are still prejudices and fragmentation within our society and that some parts of the majority population are not doing their bit to integrate either. Integration debate is not only about race or religion, but also about class divisions. Some schools in rural Yorkshire, for example, are reluctant to engage in 'twinning' with largely-Muslim schools in Bradford, depriving those children of an opportunity to meet kids from a different background to their own. The Casey report's recommendation is welcomed that schools should help build integration, tolerance, citizenship and resilience in our children.
The Review expresses concern about the rapidly growing Muslim population holding very socially conservative views, for example around women. Forced marriages, honour killings, FGM and other cultural practices, or unequal treatement of women accross the society must be challenged. Where this is impacting on individuals' rights and wellbeing, the report's concerns should be welcomed. But conservatism, in any faith, is not of itself a bad thing. It would be wrong, for example, to confuse conservatism with extremism, when many of the most conservative Muslims are the most anti-extremist because they understand the difference between faith and extremism. And increased wearing of the niqab by Muslim women can be the product of a more strongly-felt Muslim identity among young women, as well as of the growing influence of a more austere and puritanical interpretation of Islam, as promoted by some Muslim countries.
Our values of freedom of religion, tolerance and inclusion apply to all, including those with more conservative views. It's important that society as a whole can feel comfortable with the presence of Muslim communities in our neighbourhoods, and that we confront openly and robustly challenge anti- Muslim, anti-ethnic rhetoric. However, any attempt to cross boundaries of our shared values must not be tolerated. Those seeking to coerce others - often their co-religionists - into complying with their own bigoted, narrow-minded beliefs must be challenged publicly. Any form of conservatism which promotes living in a society of ethnic silos, where our generations are alienated from those who look, eat, and believe differently must be confronted by us all. Such behavior is not sanctioned by any faith. British Muslim women are increasingly confronting inequalities and discrimination - either within their cultures or in the wider society- as well as any regressive demands voiced in the name of faith that undermine the rule of law.
The Review raises a concern about British Muslims identifying with a global Muslim 'Ummah', and says that this rise in religiosity and less integrated approach is being felt in communities but not discussed openly. All faith groups in this country- to a varying degree- have a sense of belonging to their co-religionists overseas - be it in the form of global Anglicanism or Jewish sentiments about Israel etc. Being part of the Ummah (global Muslim community) provides Muslims with an international perspective but does not preclude them from engaging in 'doorstep' issues in Britain. Undoubtedly, there is a need for British Muslims to focus more on the issues within their diverse communities rather than on events abroad but that does not necessarily need to be done at the expense of losing the concept of global Ummah. Religious and British identities can comfortably sit together without any conflict.
The Review's serious concerns about the growth of unregistered schools are shared by many Muslim parents. It is hard to disagree with the recommendation of the report that we need stronger safeguards against unregistered supplementary schools or madrasahs. The religious supplementary school system is a largely an unregulated sector and children in some communities are being sent to unsafe and poor-quality educational settings. Safeguarding of children from all forms of abuse and harm is of paramount importance for us all. Organisations such as Faith Associates, Strengthening Faith Institutions Network Faiths for Peace are already training staff in faith based institutions to develop a framework on safe-guarding and uniform standards for Madrassah education.
English language is a common denominator and a strong enabler of integration, and therefore those who live in this country must learn to speak the English language. Similarly, the recommendations that all marriages across all faiths should be registered to protect exploitation of women, and that a new approach to engagement between Mosques, Government, local authorities and communities is needed urgently are welcomed.
Issues of segregation and inequality are not new. People living parallel lives in modern Britain is not acceptable but the challenge of integration is one for everybody in our shared society, not just for one particular community. An honest conversation about integration, one that helps bind people back together again, not drive them apart, would be to everyone' s benefit, particularly after the divisive EU referendum campaign. The Casey Report comes across as hard-hitting in many places, but offers an opportunity for Britain to be more open and inclusive, to tackle the economic and structural barriers faced by us all. An opportunity to break vicious cycles that perpetuate social and economic exclusion, and give fuel to extremists in our society, must not be missed. The success of this Review will be judged by implementation of its proposals in an inclusive and compassionate way so as to avoid further suspicion, mistrust and segregation.Suggest a correction