The Times front page today features the headline “Muslims are not like us, race equality chief says”, in an article on the comments by the former Chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Sir Trevor Phillips, at a meeting organised by Policy Exchange on Monday.
The headline does a disservice to the reported comments by Sir Trevor, which to all intents and purposes appear to suggest the drawing of a distinction between “assimilation” and “integration” when talking about British Muslims.
The comments included in the article are few but are nonetheless instructive.
Sir Trevor, as reported in The Times, told the meeting in Westminster “Continuously pretending that a group is somehow eventually going to become like the rest of us is perhaps the deepest form of disrespect. Because what you are essentially saying is the fact that they behave in a different way, some of which we may not like, is because they haven’t yet seen the light. It may be that they see the world differently from the rest of us.”
“Part of the integration process is for the rest of us to grasp that people aren’t going to change their views simply because we are constantly telling them that basically they should be like us.”
Sir Trevor hits on a point that if often lost among Conservative politicians too many of whom use the term “integration” when they actually mean “assimilation”.
While Muslim communities rarely dispute the need for integration, in as much as it means social, economic and political equality among citizens, few have embraced the idea that British Muslims should shed their religious and cultural attributes in order to “fit in”. Indeed, assimilation is resisted on the grounds that it effaces the characteristics of minority groups and enforces absorption into the majority culture.
In arguing that “Part of the integration process is for the rest of us to grasp that people aren’t going to change their views simply because we are constantly telling them that basically they should be like us”, Sir Trevor highlights two aspects of the thrust of assimilationism that are troubling. Firstly, the supposition that the majority culture is superior, or more enlightened, and secondly, that integration is a two way street, something that requires effort on the part of minority and majority communities.
Media coverage of Sir Trevor’s remarks, as from The Times headline, would suggest that the more nuanced facets of his comments have been all but lost.
There are other aspects to the meeting organised by Policy Exchange on Monday that seem to have garnered much less attention but which are newsworthy in their own right.
For example, a short report in the Daily Mail highlighted comments by Louise Casey, who is currently spearheading the PM’s review on employment opportunities among BME and building the ‘One Nation’.
Casey told the meeting, “’We let forced marriage happen because we were so wrapped up in political correctness and wanting our multicultural Britain. We forgot to talk about equality and we forgot to talk about equal rights. We forgot that a girl of the age of eight is being promised to someone. That is not a Muslim issue, that is an equality issue.”
She added, “This is not just about a particular community not wanting to integrate. It is about those people on the outside who have been hand-wringing.”
It is hard to reconcile her comments with her present job and those engaged in offering evidence, written and spoken, to her inquiry should certainly be alarmed at her singling out Muslims when talking about forced marriage and child sexual exploitation.
And then there is the curious case of choosing Policy Exchange as the platform to share these views.
Policy Exchange was brilliantly profiled in the Spinwatch report, The Cold War on British Muslims. The report details the think tank’s approach to issues pertaining to Muslims and multiculturalism in particular noting that “its major preoccupation has not been protecting citizens from violence but with a perceived need to reassert ‘Western values’ against ‘extremism’. In other words, it is less concerned with public safety and more with counter-subversion.”
The Spinwatch report details the various publications by Policy Exchange about Islam and Muslims in Britain but perhaps none is as much embedded in memory as the report that was removed from its website after it was found to have forged “evidence” to support its false claims. The report, ‘The Hijacking of British Islam: How Extremist Literature is Subverting Mosques in the UK’, was published 2007 and removed from the PX site following a BBC Newsnight investigation into fraudulent receipts.
The think tank was also lambasted by the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, for its “bizarre and underhand behaviour” in trying to deter Ministers from attending one of the largest Muslim gatherings in 2008, the Global Peace and Unity conference.
James Forsyth in the Spectator last week advertised the creation of a new ‘Integration Hub’ at Policy Exchange led by David Goodhart, stating “With Number 10 eager for policies to counter ghettoisation, expect this new unit’s work to be closely followed by those who matter in Whitehall.”
It’s unlikely that the PM’s recent misguided interventions on telling British Muslims how to integrate will improve if where he is getting his policy advice is Policy Exchange.