Integration is 'not a two way street' were the words of Dame Louise Casey earlier in the week as she provided follow up evidence to the House of Commons communities committee following the publication of her report on segregation and immigration into the UK. The government's integration tsar is adamant that the onus should be mostly on 'immigrants', the assumption being that everybody else in Britain forms a large homogenous block that is moving along in the same direction harmoniously. It's immigrants that are a potential thorn in the side of our tolerant and egalitarian society, or so we are led to believe.
Yet the debate around integration is not one that is as simple or as neatly boxed off as Dame Louise Casey would have you believe. At the heart of the report there is a glaringly obvious narrative of 'us versus them', a narrative that right from the beginning views those from outside the country as inherently unequal and does so unashamedly. So much for improving social cohesion, when the very lens through which those from immigrant communities are viewed is one of suspicion and mistrust. Not so much of a great basis upon which to build a cohesive society, nor is it very liberal and tolerant to place the onus on others simply by virtue of being different. It flies in the face of the same liberalism and tolerance that we like to boast of as the British way.
No matter, Dame Casey was determined to push through with her 'us' versus 'them' narrative, claiming the 'host community" should not have to "give as much" as immigrants. No doubt the narrative that immigrants and immigrant communities are always demanding more would've gone down well with those on the far right. However as a son of Muslim immigrants I don't quite buy into the narrative that many of my fellow Muslims are demanding 'more' from the host community. How about demanding the same? How about demanding an equal chance to fulfil our talents and opportunities. I've chosen to focus on the Muslim community mainly, because lets be honest, this report has primarily been about one thing, Muslim immigrants. Dame Casey mentions Muslims 249 times in her report, but there are for example only 14 references to Polish communities, who also make up a large proportion of immigrants in the UK.
So when I read papers about how Muslim and black men are more likely to end up unemployed despite doing better in school than their white peers and then I see this happening in reality, or that Muslim women, according to the Women and Equalities Committee, face discrimination in the jobs market, is it little wonder that it becomes harder for such groups to integrate? The richer and better-educated someone is, the more likely they are to move and mingle, yet without more equal opportunities, how are we to build a cohesive society. How about tackling and removing some of the barriers and fixing the broken promise of social mobility, rather than placing the onus simply on immigrant communities. Or is it easier to set a higher bar for some communities and absolve others of responsibility?
The double standards didn't just stop there. Dame Casey is keen to talk about gender segregation in schools, but mainly in the context of Muslim schools. I find it breathtaking that Muslim schools that are single sex are automatically viewed with suspicion. All of a sudden the debate automatically becomes a debate about liberal values and integration, yet I wonder if Dame Casey will issue similar warnings and arguments to single sex educational establishments like Eton? Or once again is it only problematic when the 'other' is engaging in such activities?
The analogy of the motorway was used when explaining integration, with Dame Casey claiming we 'need to accommodate and be gentle and kind to people coming in from the outside lane but we're all in the same direction and we're all heading the same direction.' Are we all really heading in the same direction, whilst we still debate what British values are and the inequalities that are so rampant in our society hit some harder than others, leaving some stranded on the hard shoulder, preventing the very integration we cherish? Dame Casey's report is noble in intention, but maybe if we viewed integration as a two way street we could achieve a lot more.