Muslims must integrate
British Muslims are obliged to assimilate, argues Said Shehata*
Muslims have come under attack in the West after 11 September 2001. Countries adopted anti-terrorism laws such as Britain's 2006 anti-terrorism Act which punishes glorifying violence and inciting hatred amongst people. Others have applied even stricter policies including "stop and search" laws such as France and the United States. But who is to blame for these strict laws and what are the reasons for the difficulties experienced by Muslims in the West?
9/11 was a great shock for the US and it's no wonder those restrictive laws passed in the Congress immediately afterwards. In addition the anti-terrorism Act of 2006 in Britain was passed after the July 2005 bombings in London. There are criticisms of those laws at the time; but one could understand the reasons behind those laws. Radical Muslims were the main reason behind this extreme reaction by the Western governments. It is hard to blame the West for those laws. For example, before 9/11 it was easy to travel and stay in the US. The same applies to Britain before July 2005. The reality is that Muslims are the target group of "stop and search" policies and arrest and detention procedures conducted by the police. In this context, a British senior official said, "since the threat comes from Muslim extremists, it is logical to target them". Western governments must defend the public against any potential threat, the argument goes. But at the same time a balance should be struck between freedom and security. This is the dilemma in the West and Muslims there should play a role in dealing with it.
According to a policy review recently published by the Conservative Party, 57 per cent of Muslim women are unemployed. Moreover, their performance in schools is less than the national average.
According to Modood and others, 48 per cent of Pakistanis and 60 per cent of Bangladeshis had either no education at all or less than O-levels. Only seven per cent of Pakistani and three per cent of Bangladeshi women held a degree. Muslim women score lower than any other group. Furthermore nearly half of British Muslims live in and around London. So they are mainly concentrated in certain geographical areas and live largely in isolation. Who is responsible for the high unemployment and less than average education of Muslims? Muslims should not blame others all the time. Muslims should start sorting out their own problems.
No one can deny that the British government should do more to help Muslims integrate into society. The multi-culturalism policy conducted by the government actually contributes to isolating Muslims more than integrating them. The government should strike a better balance between Muslim identity and British citizenship and not force Muslims to choose between them.
But the problems of unemployment and poor education are not the fault of the government. Muslim families must help their children improve their performance in schools. The British educational system is based on the contribution of families as well as schools. The problem is that many parents do not speak or read English. The government offers free courses but few Muslims bother to attend them. The government should require enrolment in order to qualify for state benefits. In addition, mosques and Muslim associations should help Muslims improve their English skills. Knowing English will improve the future of Muslims in Britain.
Muslim men should allow their wives to be employed and not keep them at home cooking and raising children. Surveys showed that young Muslim men are reluctant to let their wives or sisters work. On the contrary, they should help them integrate into society. Muslim associations should help Muslims get jobs and improve their skills in different professions. Those organisations should shift their resources to help educate Muslims and improve their situation. One can find many Muslim organisations which defend Muslims and Islam against external attack, but few focus on the educational and employment problems of Muslims.
So it lies with the Muslims themselves with the assistance of the government to improve their situation. There is also the need to improve the image of Islam in the media, to reconsider the role of mosques, and to encourage Muslims not to concentrate in certain areas. Muslims should strike a balance between being Muslim and British. No one should deny the importance of religion in the life of Muslims, but this should not blur the importance of integration into the British society.
* The writer is a lecturer at London Metropolitan University.