The report of the Casey Review will be seen by some Muslims as a bitter pill to swallow. But it is important to have an open and honest conversation about the issues it raises. We all need to step up and accept the challenge. The days of communities dealing with their own dirty linen in private are long gone. Having moral courage and leadership means facing up to truths, even when they may seem unpalatable. And now, more than ever before, Muslim activists and grassroots organisations need to take on these challenges.
But beyond this, integration has to be a conversation about everyone in our society, it has to heal divides and bring people together; it has to create a vision of what we aspire to, who we aspire to be and what binds a diverse nation of people together. Integration is not just about immigrants, or about minorities, not about ‘us and them’ but about everyone. And one of the key things we have missed from the conversation is the issue of trust, a vital ingredient to help us get along. This is not to say that everyone has to trust everyone else, but we can’t build a more integrated or cohesive society where there is a breakdown in trust.
The Casey review acknowledges the importance of organisations such as New Horizons and our work to promote a reconciled Muslim identity that is at home in Britain. Muslims do have a connection with other parts of the world, but this is our country and we need to develop a far more powerful narrative of what an integrated, harmonious approach to religion can be for Muslim Britons. An Islam grounded in Britain is a vital part of the answer.
The report makes 12 recommendations that are primarily addressed to government and the overarching push is for a revitalised integration strategy and “a major new communities programme that will do more to promote meaningful integration of new migrants and existing communities, to close the gaps between different groups and to target resources where they are most needed.”
The report is critical of the lack of progress in integration and finds shared challenges all round. We hope that whatever the immediate response, the real impact of this will be to spur on a more robust, open and inclusive integration strategy. And we should not forget that we have done this better than most other nations, according to the report. The report highlights that Britain is becoming more diverse – the proportion of people belonging to an ethnic minority grew from 12% to nearly 20% between 2001 and 2011 (including white minorities). Yet 89% of people in 2015 thought their community was cohesive.
But clearly not all the data relating to increasing diversity is positive – in 2015-16 there were 62,518 hate crimes recorded by the police – up 19% on the previous year and people from Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic groups are three times more likely than White British people to be unemployed. The report estimates that the cost of poor integration is a staggering £6 billion a year.
It seems that Casey has done what many aspire to, but actually don’t get round to, that is actively go out and listen, observe, engage with different people – in fact over 800 people – on the issue and considered over 200 written submissions.
The report has some hard-hitting points to make – particularly to Muslim communities – and some may see it as unfairly focused in its remarks. In 2015, 55% of the population felt there was a fundamental clash between Islam and the values of British society. The report argues that “women are being held back by misogynistic and patriarchal attitudes, or regressive or harmful practices justified in the name of culture or religion.” That there are an “estimated 137,000 women and girls living permanently in England and Wales with female genital mutilation, and 5,700 newly recorded cases in England in 2015-16.”
The report suggests that “integration efforts that have happened in recent years have been well-meaning but grossly insufficient to cope with the scale of the challenge.” While a lot of good work has been done and local and national integration, inter-community and inter-faith focused activities are invaluable, there is room to step these up. We know that when people get a chance to meet in localities and neighbourhoods that barriers can be broken down and there is an opportunity to build trust between people, even where they disagree. It’s not automatic, or to be taken for granted (and it can even backfire) but it can be done and we shouldn’t disregard work that has been proven to enhance trust.
Schools are critical here. The report has “serious concerns about the growth of unregistered schools and the use of home schooling rights to send children in some communities to unsafe and poor-quality education settings.” And it proposes “new measures to help create more integrated schools and to do more to help all young people benefit from social mixing, social action and resilience”.
For a broad integration strategy to be successful we need to work to improve education, housing, employment and more; as well as reduce the barriers to participation and belonging, such as prejudice, inequality and discrimination. We also need to think hard about online debate and how this spills into our everyday lives particularly in this ‘post truth’ political climate, as it is being called.
Over the last ten years government engagement with Muslim communities has been dominated by counter extremism concerns. The hope is that a more proactive vision for the future of our nation will bring much needed balance to this.