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What the left and the right get wrong about Muslims

The majority of British Muslims are neither downtrodden victims nor Britain-hating extremists.

Rakib Ehsan

Rakib Ehsan
Columnist

Topics Politics UK

Debates about British Muslims tend to be based on crude caricatures. Identitarians on the left see Muslims as a victimised and disaffected bloc, marginalised by a supposedly bigoted society. Meanwhile, identitarians on the right tend to see them as disloyal and anti-British – a potential enemy within. My latest report, co-authored by Dr Jake Scott and published last week by the Institute for the Impact of Faith in Life, shatters these myths and misconceptions about British Muslims.

Our polling shows that the overwhelming majority of British Muslims feel positively towards Britain. We found that 86 per cent believe Britain is a good place to live and that there are opportunities here for people to make progress and excel in life. This is actually higher than the general population, where the proportion drops to 70 per cent.

This optimism towards Britain stands in stark contrast to the left’s view of Muslims as a helpless and downtrodden minority. It also debunks the myth among the right that Muslims are poorly integrated and uniquely hostile to the UK. But this finding shouldn’t actually be a surprise. Not least as many British Muslims are born outside the UK. Generally, they tend to come from underdeveloped countries with relatively high levels of social unrest, political instability and institutional corruption. This is why, for many Muslim migrants, Britain represents opportunity, not oppression.

Our research also found that four in five British Muslims believe that the UK is a better place for Muslims than France, Germany and the Netherlands. An astonishing 83 per cent feel that Britain is better for Muslims than continental Europe when it comes to having the freedom to practise their faith while being involved in wider public life.

This finding also shouldn’t come as a surprise. Contrary to the left’s claim that the UK is a hotbed of racism and Islamophobia, it is actually a far more welcoming and hospitable place for Muslims than many other Western European countries. The UK comfortably outperforms Europe on most rankings of religious freedom. And its anti-discrimination protections – on the grounds of race, ethnicity and religion – also tend to be far more robust.

Indeed, it is difficult to square the accusations of ‘Islamophobia’ that are so often made against the British state with actual government policy. Last week, the UK’s supposedly anti-Muslim Tory government announced funding for a war memorial to commemorate the contributions of the Muslim soldiers who fought with Britain in the two world wars. This week, it has announced £117million in funding for extra security for mosques, Muslim faith schools and other Muslim sites.

Although there are some positives to France’s model of secular, republican universalism, the state’s ban on collecting data in relation to race and ethnicity means it can be blind to very real forms of discrimination against minority groups. Although the government certainly wants Muslims to integrate into mainstream French society, in practice, many continue to languish in the banlieues of Paris, Marseille and Lyon.

The UK government and public institutions would do well to engage more with mainstream British Muslim opinion. Yet all too often, ordinary Muslims are ignored, while the state panders to vocal, assertive and self-selected ‘community representatives’, who tend to prioritise tribal interests over the wider common good. This mode of multicultural policymaking is not welcomed by most fair and civic-minded Muslims.

When we let British Muslims speak for themselves, it turns out they actually have lots of positive things to say about life in the UK. We must not allow radical activists on the fringes to shape the national conversation on British Muslims and their place in society. It’s high time we left the caricatures behind.

Rakib Ehsan is the author of Beyond Grievance: What the Left Gets Wrong about Ethnic Minorities, which is available to order on Amazon.

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Topics Politics UK

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