Muslim alienation has home-grown roots

spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London).

Mick Hume

Mick Hume

Topics Politics

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There were 2,000 Jews working in the World Trade Centre, and not one of them turned up to work on September 11. At least, that is the rumour going around the Asian community in East London. ‘I’m not saying the Israelis did it,’ young men in Brick Lane will tell you, ‘but can that be a coincidence?’

This is not the old-fashioned anti-Semitism of Mosley’s East End. For these British-born Muslims, Israel is a symbol what’s wrong with the West today. The resonance for such rumours reflects the extent of their alienation from the societies where they live (although they do seem to have absorbed the X-Files conspiracy culture). They are not going to sign up en masse to fight for the Taleban. But, as opinion polls confirm, neither will most Muslims in Britain stand up for the quaintly named ‘Mother Country’.

The Koran-reading Prime Minister, the Prince of Wales and the Archbishop of Canterbury have emphasised that this is not a war against Islam, while generously offering Muslims advice on how to interpret the Koran as an early edition of The Little Book of Calm. Yesterday, at the start of Islam Awareness Week, Tony Blair signed a pledge to British Muslims promising to ‘build respect and tolerance’.

Not for the first time in this conflict, the authorities are aiming in the wrong direction. The estrangement of our Muslim communities has little to do with any Western hostility towards Islam. It is more a consequence of the weakness of the West’s own common values, the lack of any core beliefs around which people could assimilate into British society.

The problem is not in Afghanistan, but over here; Muslim alienation has home-grown roots. Most first-generation Pakistani or Bengali immigrants, who came here as foreigners from Muslim countries, now tend to feel more affinity with Britain than do their children, who were born and raised in this country.

Continually banging on about the war not being against Islam only begs the question: what are we supposed to be fighting for? What do the US and the UK stand for now? That is a question many found difficult to answer with conviction, long before September 11. The old identities have crumbled, but nothing much has emerged in their place. The result is a profound sense of confusion and uncertainty about what it means to be British. A year ago, a report from the Commission into the Future of Multi-Cultural Britain argued for disowning the word Britishness as ‘racially coded’.

In Oman last month, Mr Blair told British troops that they were fighting to defend not just borders, but values, chiefly ‘our ability to respect people of different faiths and persuasions, different races and creeds’. In other words, Britain’s core value is that it tolerates other values. The intention may be worthy, but this kind of tolerance is not itself a value or a national identity at all. A community cannot be cemented together simply by saying that differences should be ignored, like a belch at a dinner party.

Now a senior Labour MP has proposed an American-style Oath of Allegiance in schools, as a way of bringing society together. But what symbol of multicultural national unity should children swear allegiance to? The Crown’s public standing has sunk so low that the Broadcasting Standards Commission says it was not offensive for a black comedian to call the Queen a bitch on BBC Television. Parliament is widely dismissed as an irrelevance, the Union Flag as the standard of the far Right. Maybe English kids could salute David Beckham and Michael Owen. Or how about Hail, Harry Potter?

Contrary to coalition hopes, this aimless-looking war has done nothing to counter atomisation or alienation in the West. Instead, the anthrax scare has revealed our societies turning in on themselves and taking cover. And no sooner have New York firefighters been elevated into heroes whom we can all unite behind, than we see them being arrested for fighting with police at Ground Zero. When the elite of Western society rejects its own values, it is hardly surprising that others will do the same. The Muslim youth of Britain are an extreme symptom of a national identity crisis. It makes no more sense to imagine that they are the root of the problem than it does to blame the Jews.

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Topics Politics


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