Two weeks ago, on 9 August, the English cricket team secured victory in their test series against Pakistan helped, in no small part, by the performance of fast bowler Sajid Mahmood, the son of Pakistani immigrants in Bolton. As Mahmood (along with his Sikh teammate Monty Panesar) led the English team off the field at Headingley, Leeds, the moment marked a fine hour for British multiculturalism. It was a powerful statement of diversity and solidarity in modern Britain.
However, the foiling in London, on 10 August, of an alleged terror plot to blow up transatlantic flights, has once again raised questions about whether integration in Britain has worked. So far, police have arrested 23 British nationals, mainly of Pakistani background (bringing charges to 11 on Monday, with investigations ongoing).
The contrast couldn’t be more dramatic. On the one hand, Mahmood a model of integration (no question of failing Norman Tebbit’s famous ‘cricket test‘ of national loyalty there). The same probably can’t be said of those who have been arrested in Birmingham, London and Buckinghamshire most are likely to be disaffected Muslims who do not see themselves as British at all. Their alienation from mainstream Britain lies at the heart of the challenge of integration in an age of terror.
Some pointed facts help shed light on the depth of this task for British society. A recent poll conducted by the Channel 4 TV station showed that only half of the 1,000 British Muslims questioned thought of Britain as ‘my country.’ Almost one in four said last July’s bombings in London were justified in light of British support for the War on Terror. Such attitudes were twice as likely to be found among young British Muslims than among their parents a result counter to the conventional wisdom that immigrant communities become more acculturated with their second generation.
There’s much from the British experience of integration Australians can and must learn.
For one thing, it’d be naÃ¯ve to believe that while Britons are faced with a serious problem with their multiculturalism, Australians are not. Already forgotten, last December’s Cronulla riots demonstrated that racial and cultural tensions exist beneath the veneer of our multicultural harmony. And perhaps more importantly, they illustrated that the second generation of some of our immigrant communities may not necessarily feel they are part of Australian society.
To say this doesn’t mean the fault must lie at the feet of migrants, even if that’s been the dominant tenor of public commentary to date. Indeed, part of our problem has been that whenever integration is talked about, it’s been in terms of how minorities are ‘not doing enough’ to adjust to ‘our’ ways. Or of how ‘political correctness’ suffocates any genuine debate about immigration and multiculturalism.
If we’re serious about solidarity, however, we need to start recognising that integration requires a two-way process: not just immigrant communities accepting mainstream values, but also the mainstream embracing the difficult task of engaging with, and understanding, minorities’ commitments and concerns.
Thanks to John Ditchburn.
This is a point we too often fail to appreciate. Understandably, the issue of integration has become closely bound with the fight against terrorism. So much so that it’s easy to think the matter is simply one of ‘Muslim leaders’ getting ‘tougher’ on extremism within their communities (as the media in both Britain and Australia have been insisting).
We risk belittling the real challenge of integration, however, if we think that’s all it involves. Integration, far from being an issue about minorities and ‘ethnics,’ is an issue about solidarity about all of us. It requires not so much a process of assimilation by minorities, but rather a process of dialogue, of understanding how we can cultivate (as distinct from merely asserting) bonds of common loyalty across differences.
On current form, it’s difficult to see such a process taking place. Buoyed by our resurgent nationalism, we now seem to think any critical debate about national identity is a waste of time.
But if there’s an urgent lesson Australians should take from current events in Britain, it’s that we need to think more seriously about the issue of integration. The question is whether we’re prepared to have a genuine conversation about diversity, and whether our mainstream is ready to open up to the voices of minorities and their perspectives.
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