Problems and Challenges for Muslims in Britain in 2004
Dr. Jeremy Henzell-Thomas
This paper is a response to some questions sent to members of the All-Parliamentary Group, Friends of Islam, which includes 125 members of the British Parliament, as part of the review of their role and activities.
I would be particularly interested in comments from American Muslims on any perceived similarities or differences between the situation in the UK and that in the USA.
Specific problems facing the community include:
1. Prejudice, fuelled by unbalanced media representation, in the following areas:
· The association of Islam and Muslims in general, explicitly or implicitly, with fundamentalism, terrorism, and intolerance. Disproportionate emphasis in institutionally Islamophobic media on unrepresentative extremists, arrests of suspected “terrorists”, etc. The use of biased language to stigmatise Islam and Muslims.[ii]
· The reduction of the richness of Islamic tradition to a few simplistic clichés around controversial issues which tend to stigmatise Islam as ‘backward’ or oppressive – e.g. hijab, jihad, madrasa-style education,[iii] ritual slaughter.
· The misleading association of Islam with specific cultural identities and practices, especially Asian and African, e.g. female circumcision, forced marriage, honour killings.
· Blatant and unchecked dehumanisation of Muslims, including abuse and incitement .[iv]
It should be noted that these misleading associations and stereotypes, all of which underlie the widespread existence of Islamophobia in British society, are motivated not only by ignorant prejudice but also by deliberate design in certain quarters so as to sustain the pernicious doctrine of a clash of civilisations between Islam and the West. The deliberate cultivation and dissemination of such prejudices by unscrupulous ideologues sustains the false notion of the Islamic “bogey” which justifies in the popular mind the demonisation of all Muslims.
It must also be admitted that such prejudices are also aggravated by disproportionate emphasis placed by some Muslims themselves on those very issues which ignite inter-cultural and inter-religious tensions, and also by the occasionally hostile and exclusivist manner in which such Muslims convey their own beliefs to others. However, the existence of such minority elements is common to all communities, whether religious or secular. No community should be universally stigmatised on the basis of unrepresentative attitudes, beliefs and opinions held by a vocal minority.
With regard to Islamophobia, the Muslim community needs to avoid the confusion between valid and constructive criticism and self-criticism on the one hand, and unwarranted Islamophobia on the other. It does not serve the community to use “Islamophobia” as a label to repel all criticism, especially when elements of the community many have phobias of their own against other communities and openly express them.
2. Persecution, as a result of a) and in direct contravention of the best traditions of British fairness. Muslims feel under suspicion, and feel unjustly targeted as a community. In such a climate, they feel vulnerable to false accusations based on unsubstantiated assumptions about their supposed level of “radicalism”, “extremism” or “fundamentalism”, and these fears are confirmed by the draconian measures which they see applied to those Muslims who have been harassed, arrested, abused, humiliated, released without charge and even detained without charge.[v]
Given the way in which Muslims feel targeted, it is fundamentally unjust to blame them for isolating, segregating and turning in on themselves when such a reaction is itself one of the understandable consequences of persecution.[vi]
Muslims still experience discrimination as a result of inadequate legislation,[vii] as well as institutional discrimination[viii] and indirect discrimination.[ix]
4. Unease with (and hostility to) religion in dominantly secular Britain.
A recent survey has identified Britain as the most secular country in the world on the basis of the number of people claiming an active religious affiliation.[x] However, religion is so central to Muslims and so interwoven into their daily lives that exclusion of religion from public life and the absence of a public discourse for religion inevitably results in the exclusion of Muslims.
Furthermore, gross misunderstandings about the role of religion in fomenting violent conflict are endemic in popular and even academic secular discourse.[xi] These misunderstandings exacerbate prevailing unjust associations between Muslims and violence.
Recent debates about the desirability or otherwise of increasing the number of faith schools in Britain have revealed extreme prejudices by secularists, atheists and others opposed to religious education which often seem to reflect the prevailing ideological perspective in Britain today.[xii] “Secular schools as opposed to religious schools are not ideologically free zones. Secularism has its own ideological assumptions about the human person, the ideal society, the ideal system of schooling and the meaning of human existence. While these assumptions may not be formally codified into a curriculum subject designated ‘secular education’ as an alternative to ‘religious education’ they characteristically permeate the ethos and culture of state-provided secular schools and form a crucial part of the ‘hidden curriculum’”.[xiii]
The marginalisation of religion and religious discourse is also reflected in the fact that when it comes to the analysis of the concerns and needs of ethnic minorities, “religion is subsumed in the race construct even when it plays a more visible role than race.” However, “policy provisions, legislation and action flowing from such analyses do not include religion, and thus often exclude Muslims”. [xiv]
5. Low participation and under-representation in key areas of British public life, including Politics and Policy Making[xv], Public Authorities, Media and Popular Culture
6. Endemic ignorance of the finest elements of the Islamic intellectual, cultural and spiritual tradition, not only amongst non-Muslims, but also amongst many Muslims themselves. Concomitant with this is the over-emphasis by the Muslim community on social and political issues, at the expense of a deeper understanding of their religion and its spiritual values. However, this disproportionate emphasis can in part be justified by the exclusion experienced by Muslims in British society which has understandably led them to focus on such issues and demand greater inclusion and an end to discrimination.
It also has to be said that the Muslim community needs to do much more to advance intelligent understanding of authentic Islam amongst mainstream British society. The Muslim community needs more ambassadors who can build inter-cultural and inter-faith bridges, connect with mainstream Britain, and present universally applicable Islamic values to non-Muslims in a friendly and open manner. A glance at the bookshelves on Islam in mainstream British bookshops (as opposed to Islamic bookshops serving Muslim communities) reveals disproportionate space given to books, often by Western authors, which identify problematic aspects of Islam in the contemporary context. The reason for this is that Islamic publishers have often failed to break into mainstream distribution and are unrepresented as a counterbalance to this unsympathetic literature. Behind this is the failure to develop more widespread distribution channels but also the failure to develop appropriate aesthetics in book design which would make many Islamic publications more attractive to non-Muslim readers.
7. Low educational achievement[xvi], especially of young men. This can be attributed to various factors:
. social exclusion which has led to disaffection
. prejudice by poorly trained and uninformed non-Muslim teachers lacking understanding of non-Western cultures in general, or even with active antipathy to certain cultural or religious identities, notably Islamophobia[xvii], despite the requirement to actively promote such understanding and respect under the statutory diversity strand of the new National Curriculum Citizenship programme (DfEE/QCA 2001).[xviii] This lack of understanding also extends to the underestimation by teachers of the abilities of bilingual and multilingual children, despite evidence that these children often do better at school than monolingual children.[xix]
. poor proficiency in English in some Muslim communities[xx]
. inadequate educational aspiration amongst some Muslim communities
. inadequacies in curriculum and teaching methodology in some Muslim schools.
However, as I have written elsewhere,[xxi] “it would be a great pity if faith schools, including Muslim schools, in their desire for recognition and their anxiety to be seen to subscribe to the performance culture of “success”, simply reproduce the innate flaws in the worst of the state secular education system.” Similarly, the first statement in the Executive Summary of Muslims on Education: A Position Paper (2004) [xxii] states that “Qualitative aspects such as spirituality and independence of thought are as important as quantitative aspects such as key stage assessments and examination grades in setting a vision for education”. The Muslim community is faced with a challenge to maintain those qualitative aspects in the face of a narrowly defined utilitarian and functional secular curriculum, as are all schools which seek of offer a truly holistic education fostering full human potential, rather than mere schooling for the work place in the service of the “economic health” of the country. Significantly, the latter is the first priority of the educational system according to the government.[xxiii] Our young people are not to be fully formed human beings but units of production.
8. Socio-Economic Disadvantage and Deprivation
In addition to educational under-achievement, Muslims experience disadvantage and deprivation in Employment and Income,[xxiv] Housing[xxv] and Health[xxvi].
9. Fear of Assimilation into mainstream culture and erosion of the Islamic faith and heritage
Many Muslim parents are concerned that the assimilationist model is a long term attack on the survival of their faith, identity and heritage.[xxvii] Given evidence of widespread social, environmental, moral and spiritual decline in Britain,[xxviii] which some have characterised as a crisis reflecting terminal civilisational decay, if not total civilisational collapse, it is hardly surprising that concerned parents should wish to protect the higher civilisational values represented by their faith and cultural heritage.
The justifiable fears of such parents are not allayed by proposals for tests on knowledge of British history, culture and way of life to be administered to immigrants seeking British citizenship, especially in view of the fact that pilot studies have revealed that many white British citizens lack the requisite knowledge to pass the tests. Decline in historical knowledge amongst British schoolchildren of all cultural backgrounds is pervasive, and it seems prejudicial to expect people of other cultural and ethnic backgrounds to give evidence to a high degree of knowledge of which the majority of the population may be ignorant.[xxix]
Many Muslims feel that the dominant concept of what it is to be British is often not truly inclusive and does not reflect the multi-cultural nature of British society. They feel that pressure should not be put on the minority to adapt to the majority and to conform with majority values, but that the ideal relationship should be one of mutual accommodation in which different communities share in developing a common set of values and norms, so that all communities feel at ease and at home with a larger community of communities.
Unfortunately, an increasingly jingoistic climate fostered by certain sections of the media which exploit xenophobia in the name of patriotism does nothing to facilitate such a mutual accommodation of values.
10. The challenge to contribute to wider British society
What can Muslims offer as a contribution to a better society at large? The challenge for the Muslim community is to find ways in which the finest elements of their own faith and way of life, including all those elements which engendered a great world civilisation, can begin to exert a positive influence on Britain and play a part in arresting the evident decline in British society.
Muslims and other people of faith have a major contribution to make as the guardians of many civilisational values, including principled standards of behaviour, both public and private, in which there is accelerating decline. But such a contribution needs to be orchestrated by people who are able to demonstrate and articulate in fresh language how the Islamic vision of the fine human being is accessible to everyone, and how in its primordial essence it is in harmony with the core identity of all human beings. A problem, or rather, a challenge, for the Muslim community is that their ability to make such a contribution to the whole of society, and thereby to benefit not just Muslims, but all mankind, (as they are enjoined to do by the Prophet Muhammad) necessitates a concerted effort by the most visionary and articulate members of the community to renew and animate the message of Islam in ways which will strike a chord amongst a much wider cross-section of the community as a whole (i.e. the community of communities which make up British society).
In such a way, bridges will be built and common ground found between the best of Islam and the best of the British way of life. In such a way, also, will Muslims cease to regard themselves as a victimised minority and play a larger role in the reclamation of civilisation for the British people. In such a way too they can play a positive, proactive role in actively addressing and pre-empting prejudices which cause Islamophobia instead of relying heavily on a reactive stance concerned predominantly with correcting misrepresentations and countering attacks.
11. Narrow focus on a few high-status professions as a mark of success
The positive contributory effort highlighted above needs people with many skills, but especially those with well-developed interpersonal and communications skills and inter-cultural knowledge and sensitivity. This represents a barrier for the Muslim community if such emphasis continues to be placed on a narrow band of conventionally high-status or high-earning professions as a mark of success, i.e. law, medicine, accountancy, academic research, engineering, science, technology.
If the Muslim community is to communicate the full depth of its heritage as a means of reclaiming civilisational values for the society as a whole, it needs to educate people in the humanities as well as the sciences; it needs journalists, media professionals (presenters, editors, producers, directors), writers and teachers able to articulate Islamic principles in universal ways which inspire non-Muslims as well as Muslims; it needs ecologists, environmentalists and horticulturalists who can reclaim the Qur’anic vision of the sanctity of Nature in an age when Nature has been desacralised; it needs people of spiritual insight (not merely conventional religiosity or intellectuality wedded to academic rationalism) who can restore to mankind the original, primordial conception of the human Intellect as a spark of the divine; it needs historians, anthropologists, archaeologists, psychologists and counsellors who have studied the human condition; it needs well-read people well-versed in breadth and depth in their own tradition and familiar with the essential elements of other traditions too; it needs translators who can translate into many languages the rich heritage represented by the huge corpus of Islamic literature still buried in libraries and never brought to light; it needs librarians who know about books of all cultures; it needs artists and designers who can reclaim beauty of form for Islam in publications which are attractive to the eye, but who have sufficient substance in themselves never to overrate style over substance. The list is a long one and I have only begun to explore it here.
12. Achieving unity of purpose
A further challenge for the Muslim community will be the need to find a common purpose and work together to achieve it. There are many disparate strands in the Muslim community. Rivalry and disputation between groups and organisations (whether doctrinal or national) fragment the community and deprive it of the power it needs to advance itself and exert a positive influence on the wider society.
Dr. Jeremy Henzell-Thomas
In Understanding British Muslim Alienation and Exclusion: Exploring the Challenges and Developing Working Solutions (2004, unpublished draft document), Mohammed Abdul Aziz identifies the bitterness felt by Muslims at how they are portrayed in the media and the perception that “some parts of the media industry are institutionally Islamophobic.” Furthermore, this appears to be “acceptable to those in power and a large section of the British public in general”. This document is referred to as UBMAE henceforth.
[ii] See my paper “The Language of Islamophobia” presented at the Exploring Islamophobia conference at the Diplomatic Academy, University of Westminster, 29 September, 2001, now available on numerous websites.
[iii] See Muslims on Education: A Position Paper, The Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS), Richmond, 2004, section 4.2.2, which points out that “the reality of Muslim education is far less threatening than some media commentators have suggested. It is not entirely flippant to remind ourselves that non of the Asians arrested following the Oldham disturbances attended Muslim schools nor indeed did those British Muslims held captive at Guantanamo Bay.” Ken Livingstone, while serving as an MP, famously declared on visiting Islamia Primary School in London that he had expected to find “trainee ayatollahs” but departed having seen a happy and ordinary school with an Islamic ethos”. Section 4.2.1 also points out the inconsistency in some of the criticisms of Muslim schools in media discussion and political discourse, which tend to denounce Muslim schools as “separate” while rarely using the word “separate” negatively to describe Christian or Jewish schools.
[iv] An article in The Times of 12 August 2004 by Inayat Bunglawala, Media Secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain diagnoses a critical situation in which “Muslims in Britain are being tuned into pariahs”. He refers to “a series of four incendiary ant-Muslim comment pieces published in the Sunday Telegraph in July under the pseudonym Will Cummins. Apart from comparing Muslims to dogs (25 July) and ridiculing the Conservative candidate in the recent Leicester South by-election because he had dared to listen to Muslim concerns (18 July), Mr. Cummins offered us the following historical lesson: ‘Christians are the original inhabitants and rightful owners of almost every Muslim land and behave with a humility quite unlike the menacing behaviour from the Muslims…’” Mr. Bunglawala expresses his justifiable outrage that the editor of a national newspaper which had permitted such a barrage of abuse and incitement should still be in his job and concludes that “these articles are indicative of a rising Islamophobia and the systematic dehumanising of British Muslims”.
[v] The Observer of 8 August 2004 reports that “high-profile arrests of young men are beginning to alienate a whole community” (“How fear preys on British Muslims” by Tariq Panja) and how these arrests “create false impressions in the hearts and minds of the wider public”. This perceived repression is undoubtedly exacerbating the disaffection of young Muslim men which already exists because of “overt and covert discrimination”. The article maintains that “among some British Muslims, these arrests are merely another example of what they perceive as police victimisation and an attack on Islam”, and “some even spoke about the threat of a possible reaction from young local Muslims in response to what they describe as a growing schism created by anti-terror legislation and its indiscriminate use by the security authorities.” Official figures reveal that between 11 September 2001 and the end of March 2004 562 arrests have been made under terrorism legislation, and 97 people were charged with terrorist offences, of whom only 14 have been convicted. This leaves Muslims feeling “disenfranchised by a system that regularly picks up people in an ad hoc manner only to release them without charge, but with their reputation in tatters”. Parallels with the perceived victimisation of Afro-Caribbean men by an institutionally racist Metropolitan police force are inescapable. Inayat Bunglawala’s article in The Times, referred to in note 3 above, upgrades the number of arrests at that time (12 August 2004 ) to 609 and diagnoses a critical situation in which “Muslims in Britain are being tuned into pariahs”. He relates the distressing case of Babar Ahmad, who claims that when he was arrested at his home in Tooting in early December 2003 he was forced to kneel with his face to the ground – in the style of Islamic prostration during prayer – while being taunted with cries of “Where is your God now?”
[vi] Trevor Hemmings, deputy director of the human rights group Statewatch says that he is amazed that “people sit there and talk about how the Muslim community has isolated itself in a de facto segregation. The problem is the Muslim community has never asked to be where they are, they’ve been forced there”. He also makes the telling point that by “forcing people to the margins the police will lose their most vital sources of intelligence” in combating terrorism. (Observer, 8 August, article referred to above).
[vii] Muslims are not covered by legislation which was originally intended to protect ethnic minority communities, even though the vast majority of British Muslims originate from one or another ethnic minority. As a result, “Muslims are still not covered by anti-discrimination legislation on incitement to hatred, delivery of goods and services, law enforcement, regulatory and control functions, and the positive duty to eliminate discrimination and promote equality. Muslims also have no access to institutional support to assist with advice and enforcement when faced with discrimination.” (UBMAE (see note 1))
[viii] See note 5 illustrating the growing concern about treatment of Muslims by law-enforcement agencies. UBMAE (see note 1) identifies a number of related issues, amongst which are the following: “Muslims are more likely to be arrested rather than summoned; more likely to suffer disproportionately higher levels of charging by the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service; more likely to suffer disproportionately harsher treatment from the Courts – e.g. more likely to be remanded in custody than bailed and given higher levels of sentencing than others for similar acts. The net result of this sequence of discriminatory treatment…is that contributes to a disproportionately higher presence of Muslims in prisons. Muslim inmates are more likely to receive harsher treatment in prison due to institutionalised Islamophobia and less likely to receive satisfactory services from the Probation Service”.
[ix] UBMAE (see note 1) refers to the “growing concern about how apparently neutral legislation may be disproportionately affecting British Muslims, particularly in the areas of anti-terrorism and immigration.
[x] It is clearly difficult to evaluate such a survey without knowing how it arrived at such a conclusion. Surveys of this kind are, of course, generally blunt instruments which fail to encompass the increasing numbers of seekers who follow a spiritual path but who are disenchanted with institutional religious authorities and forms of worship. A more recent survey in Time Magazine (“O Father, Where Art Thou?”, June 16 2003) reports the surprising statistic that 83.4% of people question in “Great Britain” (excluding Northern Ireland) said they belonged to a religious denomination, although only 18.9% attended religious services at least once a month. On the basis of these criteria, other European countries are more secular than Britain. In France, for example, only 57.5% of people reported that they belonged to a religious denomination, and only 12% attended religious services once a month or more (Surprisingly, these figures are broadly comparable with Russia, where the figures are 50.5% and 9.1%). In Estonia, the figures are 24.9% and 1.2%, which makes Estonia by far the most secular country according to the criteria used by the Time Magazine survey. The most extreme gap between claimed membership of a religious denomination and actual attendance at religious services is in Finland, with figures of 88.1% and 14% respectively. However such figures are interpreted the truth is, as Time magazine reports, that Christianity is becoming a minority faith in Europe, and the lack of any mention of religious faith in the proposed new European constitution is a clear sign of pervasive secularisation.
[xi] For example, the commonly held belief that religion is the cause of most wars and human conflicts can easily be shown by basic research to be totally unfounded. In fact, of the ten worst wars, atrocities and massacres in human history, in which it is estimated that about 250 million people have been killed, less than 3% can be attributed to religious causes. In the 20th century, the most violent in human history, accounting for more than 70% of those deaths, the percentage attributed to religious beliefs is actually negligible.
[xii] In a discussion on the BBC radio 4 “Moral Maze” series about the advantages and disadvantages of faith schools, a well-known atheist philosopher said that he thought teaching religion in schools was “intellectual abuse”. Muslims, on the contrary, would uphold, in common with other faith communities, that the real abuse is to deny to young people the spiritual dimension in their lives and give them no means of activating and developing their highest spiritual capacities. We only have to look around ourselves to see the consequences of this deprivation in our contemporary culture. The assertion of the atheist is also contradicted by new research by the Professional Council for Religious Education (Blaylock, L. (ed.) (2001) Listening to Young People in Secondary Religious Education. Professional Council for Religious Education (PCfRE) Report). This showed that among secondary school students aged 11 to 18, those who enjoy religious education (RE) and see positive benefits for their own lives from studying religion outnumber those who are negative about RE by four to one. The report also gives examples of statements by students which show that many students also like RE because of the opportunities it gives for expressing opinions, improving communication skills, acquiring knowledge of other faiths, developing inter-cultural awareness and sensitivity, developing the skills of philosophical enquiry and reflection, and pondering the meaning and purpose of life. From this, it appears that is it generally the adults in our society who openly mock and vilify religion, or equate religion with indoctrination, not the young.
[xiii] G.G. Grace, Catholic Schools: Mission, Markets and Morality, London: Routledge-Falmer, 2002,
p.14, quoted in “Faith Schools – A Review of the Debate”, a paper presented by Ron Best to a seminar at the Centre for Research in Religious Education and Development, University of Surrey Roehampton, February, 2003).
[xiv] UBMAE (see note 1)
[xv] UBMAE (see note 1) points out that only 0.03% of MPs are Muslims, despite the fact that Muslims make up 3+% of the British population, and that there is an equally drastic “absence of Muslims in senior Civil Service and similar policy impacting positions elsewhere”. The result is that “Muslim concerns and viewpoints scarcely profile in mainstream politics and policy circles. When they do, they usually receive very negative and unsympathetic treatment” as in “the recent treatment of such issues as extremism and terrorism, immigration and asylum, law and disorder, and family related matters”.
[xvi] Educational achievement by Muslims is lower than other pupils at all stages of compulsory education. Fewer Muslim 16-year-olds are in education, training or employment than any other group of the same age, and Muslim students need an extra 2 years to obtain the same qualifications as their White counterparts. They are also less likely to obtain a first or upper second class degree. (source: UBMAE, see note 1)
[xvii] See Muslims on Education: A Position Paper, The Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS), Richmond, 2004, section 2.7.3, page 23, which refers to the fact that “many educationalists, such as Robin Richardson, are highlighting the effect that Islamophobia plays in the underachievement of Muslim pupils.” (Inclusive Schools, Inclusive Society, Richardson and Wood, Trentham Books, 2000). The Executive Summary of the AMSS report includes the statement that “The education system should aim to produce individuals who can survive in and relate to a society of diverse faiths without a need to compromise their own faith.”
[xviii] A recent radio 4 series on the Sikh community included a program in which a young Sikh women talked about the prejudice she had experienced in secondary school from teachers and examiners who had devalued and even openly scorned her artwork because its traditional form and content did not conform to their Eurocentric modernist assumptions about what constituted “creative” work. In this example, the diversity strand of the Citizenship program of the National Curriculum is actively flouted, although it may well be that this strand will more typically be simply given lip service in a curriculum overloaded with examinable content and delivered by teachers inadequately trained in inter-cultural knowledge and skills.
[xix] Recent research by the University of London Institute of Education, which brings together a number of studies on bilingual and trilingual children, shows that children who speak at least two languages do better at school than those who speak only one. In the light of this, Caroline Haydon in an article in The Independent newspaper (9 October 2003) asks why it is that so many teachers still see multilingualism as a problem rather than an asset? She describes how a group of six-year-olds in a school in Hackney, London, proudly told her about their language skills. “And they were quite astonishing”, she says. “They speak Gujerati (and a little Urdu) to grandparents, they speak English and Gujerati to their (second generation parents), and a great deal more English to their siblings. And from age five they spend two hours a night studying religious texts in Urdu and the Koran in Arabic in the local mosque.” Dr. Raymonde Sneddon of the School of Education and Community Studies at the University of East London has shown that, far from begin confused by different languages, the trilingual children she studied were accomplished speakers of English and performed better on a test of reading comprehension than children who spoke only English. Despite these findings, Sneddon’s study also showed that even where schools had positive attitudes about multilingualism, some teachers often persisted in underestimating the skills of multilingual children and wrongly believed that even bilingualism (let alone trilingualism) was a problem rather than an asset. Dr. Charmian Kenner, who researched six-year-olds growing up in London and learning to write Chinese, Arabic or Spanish as well as English, concludes: “The price of ignoring children’s bilingualism is educational failure and social exclusion.” In this regard note the final statement in the Executive Summary of Muslims on Education: A Position Paper (op. cit.): “Opportunities to study community languages such as Arabic, Bengali, Hindi or Urdu would better reflect the linguistically diverse nature of our communities”. (See also the Contemporary Issues in Education interactive forum on the website of The Book Foundation, www.TheBook.org, which regularly presents research-based topics such as this).
[xx] See Muslims on Education: A Position Paper (2004), op. cit. section 2.7, page 23. This paper refers to specific language issues contributing to under-achievement, although it also states that “underachievement cannot be explained by language factors alone” since a much higher percentage of Indian and Chinese pupils achieved educational benchmarks (section 2.7.3). However, section 2.7.5 highlights “poor proficiency in English” as “another barrier to progress in some Muslim communities”, and points out that “Gaps in the understanding of the English language among bilingual children in particular have been identified by OFSTED.” However, see note 6 above for evidence that highlights the educational advantages conferred by bilingualism.
[xxi] “Excellence in Islamic Education”, available on the website of The Book Foundation, www.TheBook.org
[xxii] op. cit.
[xxiii] White paper, Schools Achieving Success DfEE (2001), London: HMSO. The following statement occurs in the first paragraph of the Introduction to this document (Section 1.1, p. 5): “The success of our children at school is crucial to the economic health and social cohesion of the country, as well as to their own life and personal fulfilment” (my italics; note the order in which these priorities are set out, which leaves little doubt that economic considerations come first).
[xxiv] Muslim men in general experience a significantly higher rate of unemployment than counterparts in all other groups. Muslim graduates are more likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts. More than 80% of Muslims live in households with an income below the national average compared to 20-25% of White households. (source: UBMAE, see note 1)
[xxv] More than half of Muslim households live in the 10% of the most deprived wards in England. Around one third of Muslim households live in unfit properties in the private sector. Around a quarter of Muslim households are overcrowded. (source: UBMAE, see note 1)
[xxvi] Muslims are one and a half times more likely to suffer ill health than their white counterparts. They are more than 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes, and 50% more likely to be diagnosed with coronary heart disease than Whites. (source: UBMAE, see note 1)
[xxvii] See Muslims on Education: A Position Paper (2004), ibid., section 4.2.1, page 31.
[xxviii] A recent survey has discovered that 30% of Britons would like to leave the country and live elsewhere if they could. Reasons most often cited were social, moral and environmental decline.
[xxix] In a recent BBC poll reported in The Independent newspaper of 5 August 2004, 15 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds thought that the Orange marches celebrating the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 actually celebrated the victory at Helm’s Deep at the end of The Two Towers, the second book of Tolkien’s Trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, and perhaps even more worryingly one in 20 thought it was Gandalf, the wizard, not Francis Drake, who led the British fleet to victory against the Spanish Armada in 1588, while one in five thought it was Columbus. Given the decline in historical knowledge, it is hardly surprising that History at A level is regarded as such a narrow and impoverished historical education that Cambridge University no longer requires undergraduate historians to have it (as reported in the Times Educational Supplement of 28 June 2002). See the Contemporary Issues in Education interactive forum on the website of the Book Foundation (http://www.TheBook.org) for a recent article I have posted about this decline.