An email received 21/7/07 from:
London School of Islamics
An Educational Trust
63 Margery Park Road London E7 9LD
Tel/Fax: 0208 555 2733 / 07817 112 667
The unrest among British Muslims both young and old is not only due the British policies abroad but also due the policies at home for the last fifty years. Anti-immigration was the norm during 60s & 70s and the British society and the Establishment just closed its eyes and even state schools tried to hide all physical and verbal abuse of Muslim children and teachers under the carpet. Muslims do not feel equal; that leads to a victim identity and extremism can take place. On top of that the young generation was deprived of their cultures and languages making them cut off from their cultural and linguistic roots. The second and the third generation were educated in State schools and they all speak English in local accents but not well versed in Standard English. Schools do not encourage and teach Arabic, Urdu and other community languages. They are even discouraged to speak their own languages at home.
Now young generation of English speaking Muslims have an opportunity to build many more bridges between the British society and the Muslim community. Instead of building bridges both the societies are splitting apart at a point of no return. The words ISLAM & MUSLIMS have become the pre-occupation, biggest headache of and anathema to western politicians, media and public. These two words irritate them beyond imagination. Majority of Muslim pupils leave schools with low grades and now the few British Muslims who are in the institutions of higher education are under suspicion and the universities authorities have been urged to keep on eye on Muslims so that they do not involve in any subversive activities. This means a Muslim in an institution is not going to concentrate on his/her education and I am afraid to say that now majority of Muslim students are not going to complete their studies or research. The proposal is an act of racism. In my opinion, 7/7 bombers were the product of the British education system. They were mis-educated and de-educated by the native teachers who are not interested to understand their needs and demands. British society is reluctant to open up its sense of citizenship to all those that have come to live here. It has failed to help Muslims feel part of society. Institutional racism, drugs, crime incivility, binge drinking, anti-social behaviour, rise in the rate of abortion and teen age pregnancies are common part of life in modern Britain. Muslim parent do not want their children to become integrated into such barbarity.
The DFES document clearly states that children should be encouraged to maintain and develop their home languages. The research of Jim Cummins (2000) high lights, how bilingualism is a positive benefit to cognitive development and bilingual teacher is a must. A Muslim is a citizen of this tiny village. He/She does not want to become notoriously monolingual Brits. Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools to be well versed in English, Arabic, Urdu and other community languages. They need Standard English to follow the National Curriculum and go for higher studies and research to serve humanity. They need to be proud of their cultural heritage.
The editor of the Freethinker, Barry Duke, sees it differently. Maybe, he posits, Muslim youth are angry for other reasons?
Could it be that they are lumbered with a no-brainer religion that denies them (to name but a few, and in no particular order):
- Bacon butties
- Premarital sex
- Mobile phones with musical ring-tones
- Piercings and tattoos
- Gay relationships
- Jobs where alcohol and bacon butties are served to (and by) inked and perforated people who have premarital sex and gay relationships – ie jobs within all of our service and entertainment industries?
So, do you agree with Iftikhar or Barry?
My response to Iftikhar:
Thank you for your email of 21 July.
You wrote, “The unrest among British Muslims both young and old is not only due the British policies abroad but also due the policies at home for the last fifty years,” and, “7/7 bombers were the product of the British education system”. This is nonsense.
You wrote about racists attitudes during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Racism was common during this time (it still is, but the situation’s improving, particularly among young people), but was directed towards all obviously non-white immigrants, mainly black immigrants. The prejudice was mainly about ethnicity, not religion. I don’t believe that Muslims were singled out for special treatment by the ignoramuses. The recent TV series ‘Life on Mars’ showed the prevalence of prejudice – mainly sexism and racism – in the early ‘70s. I experienced sexism, as did many independently-minded women, and campaigned for anti-discrimination legislation. As has been said by the former President of the British Humanist Association, Claire Rayner, it is impossible to be a sexist, racist, ageist, or any of the other negative ‘ists’ if you’re a Humanist. However, we do not accept that anyone living in our secular society should expect special treatment for religious reasons, including Christians.
You wrote, “Muslims do not feel equal; that leads to a victim identity and extremism can take place.” This is a sweeping generalisation. Where’s your evidence? You also wrote, “On top of that, the young generation was deprived of their cultures and languages making them cut off from their cultural and linguistic roots. The second and the third generation were educated in State schools and they all speak English in local accents but not well versed in Standard English. Schools do not encourage and teach Arabic, Urdu and other community languages. They are even discouraged to speak their own languages at home.” I think that if you’re an immigrant to the UK, a secular society, you must accept that your young people should become integrated faster than their elders, as they will grow up knowing British society, British education, and British culture. The efforts of older Muslims, especially the high proportion of immigrant imams who don’t preach in English and hardly speak it, to prevent integration by teaching ‘traditional’ values, simply creates confusion and division. The cultural and linguistic roots you refer to seem like an excuse for resisting integration and withdrawing behind a barrier called ‘community’. The United States of America, like the UK, is a mongrel nation. There are Italian-Americans, Latino-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Jewish-Americans, and so on, who all have their own community interests and activities, but the differences are mainly about ethnicity, not religion, and they regard themselves as Americans. I’m not saying there is no prejudice, only that the reasons aren’t as you describe them.
There are plans to introduce a wider range of languages in British schools, other than the traditional French and German. However, English is still understood internationally and fluency is essential. Interestingly, research has shown that “bilingual children are often culturally and linguistically influenced by English, regardless of fluency in their mother tongue” (University of East London). There’s a worrying tendency for immigrant women – mothers to the youth you write about – to lack fluency in English, which puts them at a huge disadvantage. Personally, as someone who experienced poor language teaching at school in the ‘50s, it’s been my experience, and the experience of some friends and relatives, that you learn another language best while living and working in another country. I learned Dutch while working in the Netherlands, a niece is fluent in Spanish because she lives in Spain, a friend has lived in China for several years and is fluent in Mandarin, while my son has travelled widely and picked up a variety of languages. The important thing is being able to communicate, wherever you are.
Perhaps the words ‘Islam’ and ‘Muslim’ wouldn’t attract so much negative attention if they weren’t used to define people who come from countries like Pakistan, Iran and so on. There are atheist Arabs, for example, but it’s generally assumed that all Arabs are Muslim. It comes down to this question of ethnicity versus religion, and how you prefer to be identified. As a secularist Humanist, I’d like religion to be a private matter. I don’t care what people believe. I do care how they behave.
There are several reasons why Muslim students have attracted scrutiny, at school and in higher education. One is the worrying number who’ve been radicalised by fundamentalist imams, who preach anti-British, anti-everything propaganda. Another is the high proportion of Muslim university students, including science students, who reject the scientific evidence for evolution and regard it as a badge of honour to assert their ignorance. Another is the failure of schools with a high proportion of children from Muslim families to do well in Ofsted reports. Muslim schools, overall, haven’t served their pupils well.
As a member of a Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education, I’m concerned about the attitude of some religious organisations that advise parents to withdraw their children from RE lessons, for fear of learning about beliefs that differ from their own. We can only achieve a cohesive, secular society when children learn about all the religions that are practised in this country, though I’d prefer that to be through the wider curriculum than through one locally-determined syllabus.
Your assertion that the 7/7 bombers were the product of our education system is absurd and deeply offensive. What about the attraction of Pakistani madrassas where radicalism is encouraged? What about the influence of fundamentalist imams? In my opinion, they were deeply unhappy and confused young men who were exploited by those whose main purpose is to make mischief, and who encouraged their martyrdom with a promise of rewards in Paradise, which I regard as a cruel con trick.
What needs and demands are you referring to? And who’s encouraging these disaffected young men to make unreasonable demands?
It’s only within the last decade or so that these issues have been generally identified as ‘Muslim’. As the latest census and other research have shown, British people tend to be confused about religion. Some identify themselves as Christian but are only nominally so. There are minorities who practice a variety of other beliefs. A significant proportion, like me, doesn’t have any religious faith. It’s unhelpful and divisive to pay undue attention to the demands of any faith group for special treatment, as such demands generate conflict and confusion. I don’t regard the demands of faith organisations as carrying any more weight than those of any other special interest group, such as the Freemasons or the Women’s Institute, especially when their leaders are unelected and unrepresentative.
As for the social problems you refer to, it’s deeply insulting to the majority of decent British parents to suggest that they condone such behaviour. However, I can think of many examples of unacceptable behaviour in predominately Muslim countries that I’d regard as barbarous, including their treatment of women and homosexuals. I don’t think you’re in a position to criticise us.
Efforts to encourage integration through housing policies in the North of England have proved futile, as a recent BBC Panorama programme showed. What was evident was that the blame could not be attributed to either the so-called ‘Muslim’ community or the white British community – both had their own sets of prejudices and created their own barriers. Things are not as simple as you suggest.
If people like yourself, who claim to speak on behalf of those who identify themselves as Muslim, adopt a more positive approach to the problems you refer to, accept some of the responsibility for them and cease blaming everyone else for them, it would be helpful. The effect of a chorus of indignation from Muslim and Christian agitators alike has been a general weariness with their unreasonable whingeing. Fewer demands, and more willingness to adopt a secular, British identity, would be appreciated. Britain isn’t perfect, but living here allows everyone the freedom to practice his or her own religion, or not to have a religion at all, without fear of persecution or death, as happens in many other parts of the world. Make the most of it, but please don’t exploit it.
I don’t expect you to agree with me, but hope you might accept my point of view in the spirit in which it was intended.
Thanks for your thought provoking response.
The demand for Muslim schools is in accordance with the law of the land. We are not asking for any favour. I have been campaigning for state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers as role models for the last 35 years.
Muslim community is well integrated, working for the prosperity of the British society, paying all sorts of taxs, less burden on the social services by not indulging in binge drinking, drugs, incivility, teenage pregnancies and abortions.
Further reading: On Faith Schools – a talk given to Suffolk Fabians
An email about Iftikhar’s assertions from Manwar of JIMAS, a Muslim organisation in Suffolk, and a fellow SIFRE tutor:
Dear Margaret Nelson,
I have been dealing with Muslims for a long while, teaching, talking, discussing and differing with them across the country. No doubt I have mistakes and regrets to my account, but as a Muslim I say thank God I have learnt some lessons and still do so.
Even before reading through your email, which I must say I found very fair, I found the first quote from Iftikhar remarkably shallow and intellectually impoverished. The second quote is indeed unjust and hurt my feelings as a British Muslim. It is a wrong conclusion made out of gross ignorance and yet again seeks to mask the reality by drawing the readers’ attention away with untenable assertions.
Some Muslims do not feel equal because they do not want to change to their new circumstances. This is a sensitive subject and can produce some exciting discussion. Why don’t they want to change? I am sure, both you and Iftikhar can come up with some common sense answers that are simply known from experience, before anyone has to delve into research and social analysis. Some of the common-sense answers are awkward to spell out and sometimes we struggle to be decent in the way to word them. I understand this has a great deal to do with the pressure of political correctness than our civil duty to be polite and considerate. The difference is, someone like yourself can mention some of these answers directly while someone like Iftikhar perhaps cannot, due to his relationships with other Muslims in the UK, or he wants to position himself among them. If this is not the case then it will be distressing to assume that any set-up to promote bridge building will have people lacking adequate understanding of both Islam and the affairs relating to it in our country.
My heart resonated with what you wrote because you represented me better, because what you wrote is fair and true, does better justice to the way of our beloved prophet Muhammad, and addressed the disappointment and maybe anger I felt. What you wrote is Islamically better and closer to our values. Not that religion matters to you in such a personal manner, but it does to me because I am a Muslim and I know I can back you up with Islamic religious texts and their explanations. Islamic teachings of justice, truth, gratitude and fair play does not and should not make a Muslim blind to these things when found elsewhere, whether they come from secular sources or from other faith traditions.
I am offended by Iftikhar’s write-up and I thank you for your balanced reply to him. I hope he will consider your words carefully and sincerely, and that of someone called David whose reply is on the London School of Islamics’ web site, in light of what we accept as God’s final revelation, and think very hard about the opinions he has expressed.
Warm regards, Manwar
Chief Executive of JIMAS