Chapter II: The Multiculturalism Backlash

I inform the proud Muslim people of the world that the author of the Satanic Verses book, which is against Islam, the Prophet and the Koran and all those involved in its publication, who were aware of its content, are sentenced to death. 

Ayatollah Khomeini (London Evening Standard, February 14, 1989)

 

This chapter examines the failures of assimilative policies for ethnic minorities, explicitly with regards to Muslims in the wake of the 1989 Salman Rushdie affair, in which Muslim previous identification with ‘non-whiteness’ converted to a strengthened perception of an Islamic identity; marking a departure with a shared identity with other non-white, immigrant and ethnic minorities. The chapter will highlight the British Muslim community’s push for an Islamic agenda, with data to indicate the rise of religiosity and attachment to Muslim ideals, making reference to the depleting levels of Christianity and examples of de-Christianisation within wider Europe and the United Kingdom. The chapter will finally introduce the concept of the Cultural Defence, in which the anger at British political reaction to the Salman Rushdie affair marked the beginning of a notable retreat into internal, Muslim communities, before concluding that parallel systems have since been created within the larger, British society.

 

2.1 From Race to Religion

The impassioned Muslim campaign against the publication of Rushdie’s Satanic Verses set a precedent for British race-relations, minorities and multiculturalist politics, in addition to redefining the Muslim identity through the Cultural Defence. The sense of a collective British identity in a decolonised, egalitarian multiculturalism context, is challenged on many fronts, perhaps most notably however in the Parekh (2000) Report on The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain. Parekh (2000) argues that:

‘Britishness as much as Englishness has systematic racial connotations; Whiteness nowhere features as an explicit condition of being British, but it is widely understood that Englishness and therefore by extension, Britishness is racially coded’ (Parekh 2000: 38).

 

Parekh (2000) alludes to this sense of institutionalised colonialism which is a reaction to the racial rhetoric espoused by Enoch Powell in stating ‘the West Indian or Asian does not, by being born in England become an Englishman. In law he becomes a United Kingdom citizen by birth; in fact he is a West Indian or Asian still’ (Powell in Smithies & Fiddick 1969: 77) . This concept of ‘Britishness’ remains current within domestic politics, where:

 

‘Politicians stress the need to reassert ‘‘core values’’ against those thought at odds with them. There is alarm about ghettoization, communal separatism, exclusion and demands that immigrants learn English and declare their loyalty to the nation-state in which they reside; rather than the one whence they came and with which many retained significant ties’ (Grillo in Vertovec & Wessendorf 2010: 53).

 

This condition of fear in which the extremities of right-wing politics feeds upon, is the context in which the infamous race riots of St Pauls (1980),Brixton (1981, 1985), Toxeth (1981), Chapeltown (1981) , Moss Side (1981) and Handsworth (1985) took place. It is important to note that religion was not considered an issue – rather a matter of race, evidenced by numerous reactionary organisations such as the Coordinating Community Against Racial Discrimination, Black People’s Alliance and Asian Youth Movement, which repeatedly banded together around cross-cultural issues such as ‘racial attacks, police brutality, housing discrimination’ (Lentin, Alana, Titley, Gavan 2011 :22) at a time where ethnicity and non-whiteness was a common denominator and therefore solidified as a bloc-identity across the spectrum of Commonwealth immigrants.

 

Thus, the publication of the Satanic Verses in 1989 was therefore a watershed moment in British multicultural politics, signalling an irrevocable departure from the collective ethnic-bloc identity and replacing it with an ‘identity versus identification’ (Findlay, Hoy, Stockdale 2004: 75) struggle, as factions of Muslims utilised the Cultural Defence as a justification tool for the disregard for freedom of speech. The violent reactionary campaign entrenched the phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism, officially questioning whether egalitarian multiculturalism was applicable within the UK; with a specific focus on Muslims. The infamous public burning of the Verses triggered deep symbolism of intolerance that swept across most of the Islamic world and Muslim diaspora, producing the very conditions in which British newspapers and televisions almost unanimously condemned the fundamentalism of Britain’s Muslims.

 

The re-emergence of internal British imperialist undertones in addressing the Salman Rushdie Affair provided the very foundations for an ideological shift, overturning the ethnic identification with race and replacing it with religion. Political commentary and opinion in the aftermath of the Affair now directed its condemnation towards the Muslim community. Home Secretary Douglas Hurd and Minister John Patten led the forefront of such condemnation in stating that ‘one cannot be British on one’s own exclusive terms or on a selective basis’ (Independent July 20, 1989). Furthermore in a letter entitled ‘Dangers of the Muslim campaign’ the Independent stated:

 

The present government does not often forcefully represent the views of left-of-centre intellectuals…but the recent observation of John Patten, Minister of State at the Home Office, responsible for Race Relations, on the need for the Muslim community to integrate with British society; have broadly echoed the view of liberal opinions… if Britain’s more extreme Muslims ignore Patten’s advice and continue to adopt hardline positions, they are likely to turn educated, as well as popular sentiments against them’ (Independent, 1989).

 

Asad (1990) challenges the implications behind the frequentative rhetoric of liberty and ‘Britishness’, believing the political elite to patronise the Muslim community upon the further release of the ‘On Being British’ document. He cites the work of Culls and Dodds’ (1987) Englishness, Politics and Culture who state: ‘the Tory government and ‘liberal opinion’ in Britain sensed a danger, a perceived threat to a particular ideological structure, a cultural hierarchy organised around an essential Englishness, which defines British identity’ (Culls & Dodds 1987: 21).

 

The recycling of internal colonisation and psyche of patriarchal subjugation feeds into the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ paradigm within the Muslim community, into a context of historical institutionalised racial tensions and inequality. Ultimately therefore, the denouncing of the global Islamic reaction to the Satanic Verses, at a time where Iran’s Ayatollah had issued a fatwa to the Umma in killing Rushdie, and the refusal to adhere to British Muslim calls to apply blasphemy legislation to cases of defamation to Islam inevitably paved way for the religious Cultural Defence, in addition to creating a polarisation of left and right wing politics in relation to how Islam is portrayed in Britain and wider Europe.

 

This creation of an Islamic sub-culture, as an alternative system of governance within an overarching framework of British norms, complies with the work of Gilroy (2000 ) and Bhabha (1989), who fundamentally argue that egalitarian multiculturalism cannot effectively be implemented as ‘culture is not a fixed and impermeable feature of social relations. They have been able to detach cultural practises from their origins and use them to found and extend the new pattern of metacommunication which gives their community substance and collective identity’ (Gilroy 2000 :217) Gilroy’s theory of fluid, transnational cultural attachment and affiliation fits well with those factions of especially segregated Muslim communities across Britain who have proven unwilling to assume ‘Britishness’ wholly, to the extent where unflattering depictions and literature of their Prophet is not permissible in accordance with western enshrined freedom of expression.

 

Moreover, Bhahba (1989) applies this to the Salman Rushdie affair:

 

Salman Rushdie sees the emergence of doubt, questioning and even confusion as being part of that cultural ‘’excess’’ that facilitates the formation of new social identities that do not appeal to a pure and settled past, or to a unicultural present, in order to authenticate themselves. The authority lies in the attempt to articulate emergent, hybrid forms of cultural identity’ (Bhahba 1989: 45).

 

The notion of a hybrid cultural identity with regards to British multiculturalism has undergone a mutation to specifically include faith-based multiculturalism, evident in the 1997 establishment of Islamic faith schools for example and acknowledging racism through a religious proxy ; most notably by revamping of previous Racial Acts to the current 2006 Racial and Religious Hatred Act. Modood (2003) emphasises the instrumental role the Satanic Verses played in the enshrining of anti-Muslim discrimination, contending that this ideological, left-wing shift was not a top-bottom enforcement, but reflected the increasing demand to recognise religion as a public and private indispensable identity reference.

2.2 The de-Christianisation of the United Kingdom/Europe

The rise of the Muslim Cultural Defence must be placed within two contexts: the first against the backdrop of a general de-Christianisation of Europe, in which Islam has plugged the religious vacuum and the second is the political polarisation of left and right wing attitudes towards the public expansion of the Islamic Question. Both conditions has served to facilitate Muslim consciousness of their cultural-religious identity.

The process of post-modernity throughout Europe is continuous and current, recently and infamously demonstrated through the European Court of Human Right’s (ECHR) 2010 Lautsi versus Italy ruling which prompted debate as to whether crucifixes in Italian schools should be permissible, as the presence of them ‘violates a child’s right to freedom of religion’ (Martin 2009:1). This challenge to traditional Italian practises set a precedent for all European Union (EU) member states, questioning the conventional display of Christian symbolism within public institutions.

This set an inexorable trend, as evidenced in the 2014 Travelodge removal of King James Bibles (Daily Mail 2014) in the UK and the rise in cases of Christian discrimination in the workplace. The 2004 case of Lillian Ladele who claimed Islington Council discriminated against her in her refusal to conduct civil partnerships and the 2006 case of Nadia Ewedia, who was informed by British Airways that her crucifix necklace violated uniform code (BBC, 2013) are illustrative of the preference for secularity in Britain and wider Europe, particularly since such discrimination directly contravenes the Equality Act 2010 which theoretically guarantees religious protection under UK equality opportunity laws in addition to existing international legal provisions.

 

Such examples of de-Christianisation is framed within the ‘Britain is no longer a Christian country and should stop acting as if it is’ (Bingham & Swinford 2015:1) rhetoric. The release of Baroness Butler-Sloss’ Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life (2015) effectively summarises that ‘the decline of churchgoing and the rise of Islam and other faiths means a ‘’new settlement’’ is needed for religion in the UK, giving more official influence to non-religious voices and those of non-Christian faiths’ (Telegraph 2015)

 

Further to the Commission’s findings, the British Humanist Association (BHA) conducted a religious survey across Britain in 2009, entitled ‘What is your religion?’ with 61% of participants opting for a religious option (53.5% Christian, 7.2% non-Christian) , whilst 39% considered themselves not religious.

 

In 2015, the Yougov poll conducted a repeat of the BHA survey, thereby discovering 49% of participants regarding themselves to be religious whilst 42% did not. The Church of England is experiencing a plummet in church membership, from 40.3% in 1983 to 16.3% in 2014 ( BHA,2014), yet the belief in modernity and secularity in Europe cannot be wholly applied to Islam, ‘which rejects a dualistic worldview that would compartmentalise areas of life into the religious/sacred versus the sacred/profane. Islam will not readily acquiesce to the privatisation of belief and practise that Christians have undergone’ (Leigh 2013 :5) and this demonstrated in the rise of Islamic institutions in contrast to the decline of Christian places of worship.

 

2.4 The Cultural Defence

The European/Western trauma triggered by the events of 9/11 manifested itself through the increase of polarised left or right-wing ‘camps’, in addition to legitimising these political definitions or labels in specific relation to Muslims. The ‘leftist’ camp applies sensitivity towards ‘Muslim’ issues, or reports of acts of criminality which bears correlation to the Muslim community- whether through fear of being accused of being racist and/or Islamophobic, or a genuine refusal to align religion with the actions of individuals or groups. In opposition, the ‘rightist’ camp tends to perceive Muslims as incompatible with western values and therefore a threat to internal security; yet both ‘camps’ have directly facilitated the solidification of the Cultural Defence through feeding into the existing psyche of Muslim consciousness.

 

The 2014 Trojan Horse scandal is a prolific example of the Muslim Cultural Defence, in which the Birmingham city council conducted an investigation concluding that:

‘the evidence shows individuals have been seeking to promote and encourage Islamic principles in the schools with which they are involved, by seeking to introduce Islamic collective worship or raising objections to elements of the school curriculum that are viewed as anti-Islamic’ (Huffington Post, 2014).

 

In addition to this statement, former Metropolitan counter-terrorism chief Peter Clarke and the Department of Education concluded that Trojan Horse was a sustained co-ordinated agenda to impose segregationist attitudes and practices of a hard-line, politicised strain of Sunni Islam (Huffington Post, 2014 ).

It is imperative to note the timing and context in which the Trojan Horse-scandal emerged, which plays an instrumental role in the mentality behind the Muslim Cultural Defence. The employment of counter-terrorism experts and rhetoric in the events of Trojan Horse must be analysed within the wider ‘Islam versus western compatibility’ framework where in 200? Chancellor Merkel disregarded European multiculturalism ‘as Muslim immigrants have kept their own languages, religious and cultural habits, thereby creating sub-worlds’ (Cesari 2013: 7). Britain’s Cameron also voiced the dangers to successful integration in his 2011 radicalisation and Islamic extremism speech:

 

The biggest threat that we face comes from terrorist attacks, some of which are, sadly, carried out by our own citizens… In the UK , some young men find it hard to identify with the traditional Islam practiced at home by their parents, whose customs can seem staid when transplanted to modern Western countries. But these young men also find it hard to identify with Britain too, because we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity. Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream. We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values’ (Cabinet Office, 2011).

 

Cameron’s critique of factions of disaffected Muslims comes after the swarm of Islamist attacks on traditional European norms, inevitably creating a paradigm of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ which has been influential in the formation of the Cultural Defence. The 2004 murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh the 2005 Jyllands-Posten Muhammed cartoons in Denmark, the 2007 Lars Vilks Muhammad cartoons in Sweden, the latest Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2010, 2012 and 2015 are all illustrative of the necessity to safeguard Islamic honour and ideals over European enshrined freedom of expression, conscience and speech.

 

This rejection of European ideals by a fundamental faction of Muslims is espoused in the 2006 Policy exchange report Living together apart: British Muslims and the paradox of multiculturalism , where ‘there is strong evidence of growing religiosity among young Muslims, with an increasing minority firmly rejecting Western life’ (Mirza, Senthilkumaran, Ja’far 2007:3) of which ‘Forty per cent of Muslims between the ages of 16 and 24 said they would prefer to live under sharia law in Britain, a legal system based on the teachings of the Koran. The figure among over-55s, in contrast, was only 17 per cent’ (Telegraph 2007: 1).

 

Such evidence of clear preference for Islamic cultural beliefs, over the adherence of national and international laws of the host countries in which they reside, leaves sections of Muslim communities torn between the countries in which they live and the western foreign policies towards the Islamic world which they oppose. The Muslim News states there are 13 Muslim Members of Parliament, out of a total of 650 seats in the House of Commons and across a population of 2 million Muslim citizens, thus leading to a sense of political unrepresentation (Nachmani 2010), frustration and sense of powerlessness, most shockingly demonstrated in the speech Michael Adebolajo upon his murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby:

 

We have killed this man today because Muslims are dying daily because of British soldiers…we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone. So what if we want to live by the Sharia in Muslim lands? Why does that mean you must follow us and chase us and call us extremists and kill us? Rather, you are extreme (ITV News, Youtube 2013).

 

This impassioned affiliation with the Western-afflicted grievances on the Islamic Umma (community) is frequently demonstrated through campaigns and protests in solidarity with the Palestinian cause, with reactionary organisations such as the British Muslim Initiative and the support for anti-Israel politicians, crucially influential in the election of West-Bradford Respect party candidate George Galloway. The infamous declaration of Bradford as a ‘no-Israel zone’ upon the 2014 Israeli ambassador’s UK visit resulted in numerous rioting across Tesco chains, following Galloway’s comments:

 

We don’t want any Israeli goods, we don’t want any Israeli services, we don’t want any Israeli academics coming to the university or the college, we don’t even want any Israeli tourists to come to Bradford, even if any of them had thought of doing so (Guardian 2014).

 

Yet whilst the ‘rightist’ camp has solidified the concept of Muslim consciousness and/or this religious Cultural Defence through the posit of Islam’s incompatibility with the West, the ‘leftist’, camp assumes a more apologist approach, raising the banner of Islamophobia through sensitivity in reporting news applicable to Muslim communities; also feeds into the Cultural Defence complex. The revisiting of the Trojan Horse scandal in April 2016, in which the latest inspection report praises how

fundamental British values are promoted highly effectively…innovative project work and initiatives facilitated through these partnerships have enabled pupils to explore in depth such issues as the dangers of radicalisation and extremism, the impact of the Holocaust and anti-semitism, and equal opportunities, including those related to sexuality and gender (Guardian 2016).

 

It is interesting to note the stress made upon Muslim pupils engaging with Semitism, homosexual and equal sex opportunities, topics traditionally disregarded or disrespected when assuming a literal translation of Islam; an emphatic ideological break with the radical history of the same school in 2014. Furthermore, on the issue of sexual gang grooming, The Jay report into the failings of Rotherham states:

“By far the majority of perpetrators were described as Asian by victims, yet throughout the entire period, councillors did not engage directly with the Pakistani-heritage community to discuss how best they could jointly address the issue… the 27 court cases that we found led to the convictions of 92 men. Some 79 (87%) were reported as being of South Asian Muslim origin’ (Channel 4: 2014).

 

The overt avoidance of highlighting the specific ethnicity of the general perpetrators -and then perhaps naturally the religious factor -indicates a sensitivity and unwillingness to perhaps be labelled Islamophobic and add further insult to injury to the Pakistani community, which is a recognition of the Muslim Cultural Defence.

 

In conclusion it is important to recognise that both ‘leftist’ and ‘rightist’ camps have created the very conditions in which Muslim consciousness has become both cemented and resistant to the frequent discussions of the role, contribution, effect and place Islam holds in Britain and wider Europe. This has resulted in an ideological retreat into the very communities that understand and offer a sense of immediate belonging whenever the external extremities of either political ‘camp’ instil a sense of alienation in which comfort can only be found in the Cultural Defence, thereby creating parallel communities and systems of governments within the British community and system.

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