Multiculturalism, Muslims and the British State
Posted Sep 18, 2002

A hundred years ago, the African-American theorist, W.E.B. de Bois, predicted that the twentieth century would be the century of the color line; today, we seem to be set for a century of the Islam-West line. The political integration or incorporation of Muslims (there are more Muslims in the European Union than the combined populations of Greece, Ireland and Denmark) has not only become the most important goal of egalitarian multiculturalism, but is now pivotal in shaping the security, nay, the destiny of many peoples across the globe.

British Association for the Study of Religions, 2002 Annual Lecture, 9th September, 2002

Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy
and Director, Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship
University of Bristol

* The lecture is derived from my essays in N. Alsayyad and M. Castells (eds) Muslim Europe or Euro-Islam: Politics, Culture and Citizenship in the Age of Globalization, New York:  Lexington Books, 2002, and in E. Hershberg and K. Moore (eds), Terrorism and the International Order: Global Perspectives on September 11 and it Aftermath, New York: New Press, 2002).

Today is the 9th of September, 2002 and it would be surprising if what in shorthand we all call ?September 11th? did not cast a shadow over ? over a conference on Religion and the State. At least it means that I do not have to justify or explain the significance of my lecture topic and can proceed directly into my subject.

The large presence of Muslims in Britain today (between 1.5 and 2 million, more than half of South Asian, primarily Pakistani, origins) is a result of Commonwealth immigration from the 1950s onwards. This was initially male labor from rural small farm owning and artisan backgrounds seeking to meet the demand for unskilled and semi-skilled industrial workers in the British economy, with wives and children arriving from about the 1970s. The proportion of urban professionals among South Asian Muslims was small, though it increased with the arrival of political refugees from East Africa in the late 1960s and 1970s (though the majority of this group were Hindus and Sikhs). Britain, especially London as a cosmopolitan centre, has been very attractive to some of the rich and the professional classes from the Middle East, especially from the 1970s onwards, and many of them have large investments in property in the city. There have, during this period, also been waves of political refugees from other parts of the Muslim world, Somalia and Bosnia being two notable recent cases.

Racial Equality Movements

The presence of new population groups such as these has made manifest certain kinds of racisms in Britain, and anti-discrimination laws and policies began to be put into place from the 1960s. These laws and policies, initially influenced by contemporary thinking and practice in relation to anti-black racism in the US, assume that the grounds of discrimination are `color? and ethnicity. Not only is it in the last decade or so that Muslim assertiveness has become a feature of majority-minority relations, but indeed prior to this racial equality discourse and politics was dominated by the idea that the dominant post-immigration issue was ?color-racism? (Rex and Moore, 1967; CCCS, 1982; Sivanandan, 1985; Gilroy, 1987). This perspective was epigramatically expressed twenty years ago by the writer, Salman Rushdie: ?Britain is now two entirely different worlds and the one you inherit is determined by the color of your skin? (Rushdie, 1982). He, together, with most anti-racists, has come to adopt a more pluralistic perspective, and one in which the Muslim presence is seen as a fact to be ignored at one?s peril. Nevertheless, in a pure or in a mixed form, the US-derived racial dualism, continues to be an influential force in British social science and radical politics (Luthra, 1997). One consequence of this is that the legal and policy framework still reflects the conceptualisation and priorities of racial dualism.

To date, it is lawful to discriminate against Muslims qua Muslims because the courts do not accept that Muslims are an ethnic group (though oddly, Jews and Sikhs are recognized as ethnic groups within the meaning of the law). While initially unremarked upon, this exclusive focus on race and ethnicity, and the exclusion of Muslims but not Jews and Sikhs, has come to be a source of resentment amongst Muslims. Muslims do, however, enjoy some limited indirect legal protection qua members of ethnic groups such as Pakistanis, Arabs and so on. Over time, groups like Pakistanis have become an active constituency within British `race relations? (Middle Easterners tend to classify themselves as `white?, as in the 1991 Census, and, on the whole, have not been prominent in political activism of this sort, nor in domestic politics generally). One of the effects of this politics was to highlight race.

A key measure/indicator of racial discrimination and inequality has been numerical under-representation in prestigious jobs, public office, etc. Hence, people have had to be (self)classified and counted, and so group labels, and arguments about which labels are authentic have become a common feature of certain political discourses. Over the years, it has also become apparent that by these inequality measures it is Asian Muslims, and not Afro-Caribbeans, as policy-makers had originally expected, who have emerged as the most disadvantaged and poorest groups in the country (Modood, 1992, Modood et al, 1997). To many Muslim activists, the misplacing of Muslims into `race? categories and the belatedness with which the severe disadvantages of the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis has come to be recognized by policy-makers means, at best, that race relations are an inappropriate policy niche for Muslims (UKACIA, 1993) and, at worst, they see it as a conspiracy to prevent the emergence of a specifically Muslim socio-political formation (Muslim Parliament, 1992). To see how such thinking has emerged, we need to briefly consider the career of the concept of ?racial equality?.

The initial development of anti-racism in Britain followed the American pattern, and indeed was directly influenced by American personalities and events. Just as in the USA, the color-blind humanism of Martin Luther King, Jr. came to be mixed with an emphasis on black pride, black autonomy and black nationalism as typified by Malcolm X, so also in the UK (both of these inspirational leaders visited Britain). Indeed, it is best to see this development of racial explicitness and positive blackness as part of a wider socio-political climate which is not confined to race and culture or non-white minorities.  Feminism, gay pride, Quebecois nationalism and the revival of Scottishness are some prominent examples of these new identity movements which have come to be an important feature in many countries, especially those in which class-politics has declined.

In fact, it would be fair to say that what is often claimed today in the name of racial equality, especially in the English-speaking world, is more than would have been recognized as such in the 1960s.  Iris Young expresses well the new political climate, when she describes the emergence of an ideal of equality based not just on allowing excluded groups to assimilate and live by the norms of dominant groups, but based on the view that `a positive self-definition of group difference is in fact more liberatory’ (Young, 1990, p.157).

The shift is from an understanding of ?equality? in terms of individualism and cultural assimilation to a politics of recognition, to ?equality? as encompassing public ethnicity.  ?Equality? as not having to hide or apologize for one’s origins, family or community, but requiring others to show respect for them and adapt public attitudes and arrangements so that the heritage they represent is encouraged rather than contemptuously expected to wither away.  There seems, then, to be two distinct conceptions of equal citizenship, with each based on a different view of what is ?public? and ?private?.  These two conceptions of equality may be stated as follows:

i) The right to assimilate to the majority/dominant culture in the public sphere; and toleration of ?difference? in the private sphere.

ii) The right to have one’s ?difference? (minority ethnicity, etc.) recognized and supported in the public and the private spheres.

While the former represents a liberal response to ?difference?, the latter is the ?take? of the radical identity politics. The two are not, however, alternative conceptions of equality in the sense that to hold one, the other must be rejected. Multiculturalism, properly construed, requires support for both conceptions. For the assumption behind the first is that participation in the public or national culture is necessary for the effective exercise of citizenship, the only obstacle to which are the exclusionary processes preventing gradual assimilation. The second conception, too, assumes that groups excluded from the national culture have their citizenship diminished as a result, and sees the remedy not in rejecting the right to assimilate, but adding the right to widen and adapt the national culture and the public and media symbols of national membership to include the relevant minority ethnicities.

It can be seen, then, that the public-private distinction is crucial to the contemporary discussion of equal citizenship, and particularly to the challenge to an earlier liberal position. In a complete reversal of the liberal position, it has been argued that the assumption that difference must be privatized works as a `gag-rule? to exclude matters of concern to marginalized and subordinated groups, such as their religious practice, and the political integration of these minorities on terms of equality inevitably involves their challenging the existing boundaries of publicity (Benhabib, 1992; Fraser, 1992). Integration flows from the process of discursive engagement as marginal groups begin to confidently assert themselves in the public space, and others begin to argue with and reach some agreement with them, as well as with the enactment of new laws, policies and so on. So, the focus becomes participation in a discursive public space (Arendt, 1963 and 1968; Habermas, 1983 and 1987) and equality becomes defined as inclusion into a political community, not in terms of accepting the rules of the existing polity and its hallowed public-private boundary lines, but the opposite. It is in this political-intellectual climate that Muslim assertiveness has emerged as a domestic political phenomenon, namely a climate in which what would earlier have been called ?private? matters had become sources of equality struggles. In this respect, the advances achieved by anti-racism and feminism (with its slogan, ?the personal is the political?) acted as benchmarks for later political group entrants, such as Muslims. As I will show, while Muslims raised distinctive concerns, the logic of their demands often mirrors those of other equality-seeking groups.

Muslim Identity Politics

The battle over The Satanic Verses that broke out in 1988-89 was seen by all concerned as a Muslim versus The West battle. On the Muslim side, it generated a far more impassioned activism and mobilization than any previous campaign against racism (Modood, 1990a). Many `lapsed? or `passive? Muslims ? by which I mean Muslims, especially, the non-religious, for whom hitherto their Muslim background was not particularly important -  (re)discovered a new community solidarity. What was striking was that when the public rage against Muslims was at its most intense, Muslims neither sought nor were offered any special solidarity by any non-white minority. The political embrace of a common ?black? identity by all non-whites - seen up to then as the key formation in the politics of post-immigration ethnicity - was seen as irrelevant to an issue which many Muslims insisted was fundamental to defining the kind of `respect? or `civility? appropriate to a peaceful multicultural society, that is to say, to the political constitution of `difference? in Britain (Modood, 1994). It was, in fact, some white liberal Anglicans who tried to moderate the hostility against the angry Muslims, and it was inter-faith groups rather than Christians active in anti-racism, let alone political-black organizations, that tried to create space where Muslims could state their case without being vilified.

Why some identities are asserted rather than others is of course a contextual matter. Part of the answer as to which identity will emerge as important to a group at a particular time, however, lies in the nature of the minority group in question (Modood, 1990b). Pakistanis were ?black? when it meant a job in a racial equality bureaucracy, ?Asian? when a community centre was in the offing, ?Muslim? when the Prophet was being ridiculed, ?Kashmiris? when a nationalist movement back home had taken off and blood was being spilled. That the Caribbeans have mobilized around a color identity and the South Asians around religious and related identities is neither chance nor just a ?construction?, but based on something deeper about these groups. That Muslims in their anger against The Satanic Verses found a depth of indignation, a ?voice? of their own, in a way that most had not found in relation to events and in mobilization in the previous decades cannot be explained just in terms of issues to do with political leaderships, rivalries, tactics, etc. Certainly, some individuals and organizations exploited the situation, but they could not have done so if there was not a ?situation? to exploit.

Religious Equality

I have given some account of what terms like ?equality?, ?inclusion? and ?recognition? mean in contemporary discourses, but what do they mean in practical terms? What kinds of specific policy demands are being made by or on behalf of religious groups and Muslim identity politics in particular, when these kinds of terms are being deployed? I suggest that these demands have three dimensions, which get progressively ?thicker? and are progressively less acceptable to radical secularists.

1. No religious discrimination

The very basic demand is that religious people, no less than people defined by ?race? or gender, should not suffer discrimination in job and other opportunities. So, for example, a person who is trying to dress in accordance with their religion or who projects a religious identity, such as a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf (hijab), should not be discriminated against in employment. At the moment in Britain there is no legal ban on such discrimination, and the government has said that the case for it is not proven. The legal system leaves Muslims particularly vulnerable because while discrimination against yarmulke-wearing Jews and turban-wearing Sikhs is deemed to be unlawful racial discrimination, Muslims, unlike these other faith communities, are not deemed to be a racial or ethnic group. Nor are they protected by the legislation against religious discrimination that does exist in the UK, for that, being explicitly designed to protect Catholics, only covers Northern Ireland. The best that Muslims are able to achieve is to prove that the discrimination against them was indirectly against their ethnic characteristics, that they suffered an indirect discrimination in virtue of being, say, a Pakistani or an Iraqi. While, it is indeed the case that the discrimination against Muslims is mixed up with forms of color-racism and cultural-racism (Modood, 1997), the charge of indirect discrimination is a much weaker offence in law, carrying with it no compensatory requirements for the victim. Moreover, some Muslims are white and so do not enjoy this second-class protection and many Muslim activists argue that religious freedom, being a fundamental right, should not be legally and politically dependent on dubious concepts of race and ethnicity (UKACIA, 1993). Campaigning for religious discrimination legislation in Britain has an importance for Muslims greater than for other minority faiths. The same applies to the demand for a law in Britain (again, it already exists in Northern Ireland) to curb and punish incitement against religious hatred to parallel the law against incitement to racial hatred (which extends to certain forms of anti-Jewish literature) (CRE 1990; Modood 1993). After some years of arguing that there was no evidence of religious discrimination, the hand of the British government has been forced by the European Union?s Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty (1999) including religious discrimination in the list of the forms of discrimination that all member states are expected to eliminate. Accordingly, the UK government has recently announced its intention to implement a European Commission directive to outlaw religious discrimination in employment in 2003 (Cabinet Office et al, 2001). A Muslim organization concerned with these issues is the Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism (FAIR), set up in 2000, ?for the purpose of raising awareness of and combating Islamophobia and racism, monitoring specific incidents of Islamophobia and racism, working towards elininating religious and racial discrimination, campaigning and lobbying on issues relevant to Muslim and other multi-ethnic communities in Britain? (publicity materials).

2. Parity with native religions

Many minority faith advocates interpret equality to mean that minority religions should get at least some of the support from the state that older established religions do. Muslims have led the way on this argument too, and have made two particular issues politically contentious, namely, the state funding of schools and the law of blasphemy. After some political battle, the government has, in the last few years, agreed to fund four Muslim schools, as well as a Sikh and a Seventh Day Adventist school,  on the same basis enjoyed by thousands of Anglican and Catholic schools and some Methodist and Jewish schools (in England and Wales, over a third of state-maintained primary and a sixth of secondary schools are run by a religious group - but all have to deliver a centrally determined national curriculum). Some secularists are unhappy about this. They say they accept the argument for parity, but believe this should be achieved by the state withdrawing its funding from all religious schools.  Most Muslims reject this form of equality in which the privileged lose something, but the under-privileged gain nothing (except perhaps the resentment of the newly dispossessed). More specifically, the issue between ?equalizing upwards? and ?equalizing downwards? here is about the legitimacy of religion as a public institutional presence.

Muslims failed to get the courts to interpret the existing statute on blasphemy to cover offences beyond what Christians hold sacred, but some political support exists for an incitement to religious hatred offence, mirroring the existing incitement to racial hatred offence. The government, indeed, inserted such a clause in the post-September 11 new security legislation, in order to conciliate Muslims, who, amongst others, were strongly opposed to the new powers of surveillance, arrest and detention that were being proposed. As it happened, most of the latter was made law, but the incitement to religious hatred offence was defeated in Parliament.

3. Positive Inclusion of Religious Groups

The demand here is that religion, in general, or at least the category of ?Muslim? in particular, should be a category by which the inclusiveness of social institutions should be judged in the same way that anti-racists use ?black? and feminists use ?female?. So that, for example, employers should have to demonstrate that they don?t discriminate against Muslims by explicit monitoring backed up by appropriate policies, targets, managerial responsibilities, work environments, staff training, advertisements, outreach and so on (FAIR, 2002; CBMI, 2002). Similarly, local authorities should provide appropriately sensitive policies and staff, especially in relation to (non-Muslim) schools, social and health services and, say, fund Muslim community centres or Muslim youth workers in addition to the existing Asian and Caribbean community centres and the existing Asian and Black youth workers (Muslim Parliament 1992; UKACIA, 1993) . Or, to take another case: an organization like the BBC currently believes it is of political importance to review and improve its personnel practices and its output of programs, including its on-screen ?representation? of the British population, by reference to making provision for and winning the confidence of, say, women, ethnic groups and young people. Why should it not also use religious groups as a criterion of inclusivity and have to demonstrate that it is doing the same for viewers and staff defined by religious community membership? In short, Muslims should be treated as a legitimate group in their own right (not because they are, say, Asians), whose presence in British society has to be explicitly reflected in all walks of life and in all institutions; and whether they are so included becomes one of the criteria for judging Britain as an egalitarian, inclusive, multicultural society. A potentially significant victory along these lines was made when the government agreed to include a religion question in the 2001 Census. This was the first time this question had been included since 1851 and was largely unpopular outside the politically active religionists, amongst whom Muslims were foremost, but has the potential to pave the way for widespread ?religious monitoring? in the way that the inclusion of an ethnic question in 1991 had led to the routinization of ?ethnic monitoring?.

These policy demands, no doubt, seem odd within the terms of, say, the French or US ?wall of separation? between the state and religion and may make secularists uncomfortable in Britain too. But it is clear that they virtually mirror existing anti-discrimination policy provisions in the UK. In an analysis of some Muslim policy statements in the early 1990s, following the activism stimulated by the Rushdie Affair, I argued that the main lines of arguments were captured by the following three positions:

i) a ?color-blind? human rights and human dignity approach;

ii) an approach based on extension of the concepts of racial discrimination and racial equality to include anti-Muslim racism;

iii) a Muslim-power approach.

I concluded that these ?reflect not so much obscurantist Islamic interventions into a modern secular discourse, but typical minority options in contemporary Anglo-American equality politics, and employ the rhetorical, conceptual and institutional resources available in that politics? (Modood, 1993b: 518).

All three approaches are present today, though some high-profile radicals have made a Muslim-power approach more prominent, not dissimilar to the rise of black power activism after the height of the civil rights period in the US. This approach is mainly nourished by despair at the victimization and humiliation of Muslims in places such as Palestine, Iraq, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir, Kosovo - and now, Afghanistan. For many British Muslims, such military disasters and humanitarian horrors evoke a strong desire to express solidarity with oppressed Muslims through the political idea of the Ummah, the global community of Muslims, which must defend and restore itself as a global player. To take the analogy with US Black Power a bit further, one can say, that as black nationalism and Afrocentrism developed as one ideological expression of black power, so similarly, with political Islamism as a search for Muslim dignity and power.

Muslim assertiveness, then, though triggered and intensified by what are seen as attacks on Muslims, is not primarily derived from Islam or Islamism but from contemporary western ideas about equality and multiculturalism. It is, however, increasingly being joined by Islamic evocations and Islamists, especially as there is a sense that Muslim populations across the world are repeatedly suffering at the hands of their neighbors, aided and abetted by the US and its allies, and Muslims must come together to defend themselves. Politically active Muslims in Britain, however, are likely to be part of domestic multicultural and equality currents - emphasizing discrimination, direct, indirect and institutional, in relation to educational and economic opportunites, political representation, the media and ?Muslim-blindness? in the provision of health care and social services, for example - and arguing for remedies which mirror existing legislation and policies in relation to sexual and racial equality (Modood, 2002).

A Panicky Retreat to a Liberal Public-Private Distinction

If the emergence of a politics of difference out of and alongside a liberal assimilationist equality created a dissonance, as indeed it did, the emergence of a British Muslim identity out of and alongside ethno-racial identities has created an even greater dissonance. Philosophically speaking, it should create a lesser dissonance for it seems to me that a move from the idea of equality as sameness to equality as difference is a more profound conceptual movement than the creation of a new identity in a field already crowded with minority identities. But this is to naively ignore the hegemonic power of secularism in British political culture, especially on the centre-left. While black and related ethno-racial identities were welcomed by, indeed were intrinsic to the rainbow coalition of identity politics, this coalition is deeply unhappy with Muslim consciousness. While for some this rejection is specific to Islam, for many the ostensible reason is that it is a religious identity and in virtue of that should be confined to the private sphere. What is most interesting is that in this latter objection, if it is taken at its face value, the difference theorists, activists and paid professionals revert to a public-private distinction that they have spent two or three decades demolishing. The unacceptability, the bad odor, of Muslim identity is no doubt partly to do with the conservative views on gender and sexuality professed by Muslim spokespersons, not to mention issues to do with freedom of expression as they arose in the Rushdie affair (Modood, 1993). But these are objections to specific views, as such they can be argued with on a point-by-point basis - they aren?t objections to an identity. The radical secularist fundamental stated objection to Muslim identity as a politicized religious identity is of course incompatible with the politics-of-difference perspective on the essentially contested nature of the public-private distinction described earlier. It is, therefore, in contradiction with a thoroughgoing conception of multiculturalism, which should allow the political expression of religion to enter public discourse (Modood, 1998; Parekh, 2000). We, thus, have a mixed-up situation where secular multiculturalists argue that the sex lives of individuals - traditionally, a core area of liberal privacy - is a legitimate feature of political identities and public discourse, and seem to generally welcome the sexualization of culture, if not the prurient interest in the sexual activity of public characters, while on the other hand, religion - a key source of communal identity in traditional, non-liberal societies - is to be regarded as a private matter, perhaps as a uniquely private matter. Most specifically, Muslim identity is seen as the illegitimate child of British multiculturalism.

Indeed, the Rushdie affair made evident that the group in British society most politically opposed to Muslims, or at least to Muslim identity politics, weren’t Christians, or even right-wing nationalists but the secular, liberal intelligentsia.  Muslims are frequently criticized in the op/ed pages of the respectable press in a way that few, if any, other minority groups are. Muslims often remark that if in such articles the words `Jews’ or `blacks? were substituted for `Muslims’, the newspapers in question would be attacked as racist and indeed risk legal proceedings (Runnymede Trust report on Islamophobia, 1997). Just as the hostility against Jews, in various times and places, has been a varying blend of anti-Judaism (hostility to a religion) and anti-Semitism (hostility to a racialized group), so it is difficult to gauge to what extent contemporary British Islamophobia is ‘religious’ and to what extent ‘racial’. Even before the aftermath of September 11, it was generally becoming acknowledged that of all groups, Asians face the greatest hostility, and Asians themselves feel this is because of hostility directed specifically at Muslims (Modood et al, 1997). In the summer of 2001, the racist British National Party began explicitly to distinguish between good, law-abiding Asians and Asian Muslims (see BNP website). Much low-level harassment (abuse, spitting, name-calling, pulling off a headscarf and so on) goes unreported, but the number of reported attacks since September 11 was four times higher than usual (in the US it has increased thirteen-fold, including two deaths) (The Independent, 4 January, 2002).

The confused retreat from multiculturalism has of course been given an enormous impetus by September 11. It led to wide-spread questioning, once again echoing the Rushdie affair, about whether Muslims can be and are willing to be integrated into British society and its political values. This has ranged from anxiety about terrorist cells and networks, recruitment of alienated young Muslims for mischief abroad and as a ‘fifth column’ at home; to whether Muslims were willing to give loyalty to the British state rather than to transnational Muslim leaders and causes; and to whether Muslims were committed to what were taken to be the core British values of freedom, tolerance, democracy, sexual equality and secularism. Many politicians, commentators, letter-writers and phone-callers to the media, from across the political spectrum, not to mention the Home Secretary, blamed the fact that these questions had to be asked on the cultural separatism and self-imposed segregation of Muslim migrants and on a ‘politically correct’ multiculturalism that had fostered fragmentation rather than integration and Britishness. The New Labor Government was at the forefront of this as were many others who were prominent on the Centre-Left and had long-standing anti-racist credentials. For example, the Commission for Racial Equality published an article by the left-wing pseudononoymous author, Kenan Malik, arguing that ‘multiculturalism has helped to segregate communities far more effectively than racism’ (Malik, 2001). Hugo Young, the leading liberal columinist of the Centre-Left newspaper, The Guardian, went further and wrote that multiculturalism ‘can now be seen as a useful bible for any Muslim who insists that his religio-cultural priorities, including the defense of jihad against America, overrides his civic duties of loyalty, tolerance, justice and respect for democracy’ (6 November, 2001).  More extreme again, Farrukh Dhondy, an Asian who had pioneered multicultural broadcasting on British television, writes of a ?multicultural fifth column? which must be rooted out and state funding of multiculturalism redirected into a defense of of the values of freedom and democracy (Dhondy, 2001).

One of the specific issues that has come to be a central element of this debate is that of ‘faith schools’, that is to say, state-funded schools run by religious organizations rather than local authorities. While they must teach the national curriculum and are inspected by the central government, they can give some space to religious instruction, though not all do so. They are popular with parents for their ethos, discipline and academic achievements and so can select their pupils, often giving priority to children whose parents can demonstrate a degree of religious observance. Violent disturbances in some Northern English cities in the summer of 2001 in which Asian Muslim men had been amongst the central protagonists were offically blamed on the fact of segregated communities and segregated schools (Cantle, 2001, Ritchie, 2001). Some of these were church-run schools and were 90%+ Christian and white. Others were amongst the most under-resourced and under-achieving in the country and had rolls of 90%+ Muslims. They came to be called, including in official reports (Ouseley, 2001), as ‘Muslim schools’. In fact, they were nothing of the sort. They were local, bottom-of-the-pile comprehensive schools which had suffered from decades of under-investment and ‘white-flight’ but were run by white teachers according to a secular national curriculum. ‘Muslim schools’ then came to be seen as the source of the problem of divided cities, cultural backwardness, riots, lack of Britishness and a breeding ground for militant Islam. Muslim-run schools were lumped into this category of ‘Muslim schools’ even though all the evidence suggested that their pupils (mainly juniors and girls) did not engage in riots and terrorism and, despite limited resources, achieved better exam results than local authority ‘secular’ schools. On the basis of these ‘Muslim schools’ and ‘faith schools’ constructions, tirades by prominent columnists in the broadsheets were launched against allowing state-funding to any more Muslim-run schools, or even to a church-run school and demands were made once again to make the British state entirely secular. For example, Polly Toynbee argued in The Guardian that a pre-condition of tackling racial segregation was that ‘religion should be kept at home, in the private sphere’ (12 December, 2001).


In conclusion, I will not attempt to sum up my argument but merely say that the emergence of Muslim political agency has thrown British multiculturalism into theoretical and practical disarray. This is worrying, because on any objective reading there cannot be, what one might call, a race relations settlement in Britain without the Muslims, as nearly half of all non-whites are Muslims. On the other hand, Muslims cannot prosper without political allies and without the goodwill of the educated classes, both of which are denied to them at the moment. What is true of Britain is true of other countries too. A hundred years ago, the African-American theorist, W.E.B. de Bois, predicted that the twentieth century would be the century of the color line; today, we seem to be set for a century of the Islam-West line. The political integration or incorporation of Muslims (there are more Muslims in the European Union than the combined populations of Greece, Ireland and Denmark) has not only become the most important goal of egalitarian multiculturalism but is now pivotal in shaping the security, nay, the destiny of many peoples across the globe.


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