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Blair on the Muslim integration 'problem'

Blair on the Muslim integration 'problem'

Categories: Latest News

Friday November 12 2010

  The Wall Street Journal printed a comment piece by former British PM, Tony Blair, on Tuesday titled ‘Making Muslim integration work’.
Blair reviews the rise of far right parties in Europe and the centre-stage debates on immigration have taken in recent years arguing, “This is a big and growing issue, and it cannot be understood simply in terms of cultural questions about immigration. [Terrorist] violence is bound up with all sorts of political and regional disputes, but it feeds into the European alarm that immigration, terrorism, religious faith and ethnicity are all dimensions of the same problem.”

Blair goes on to articulate the dynamics of ‘making Muslim integration work’. He writes:

“We have to nail down the definition of the problem. There is no general failure to integrate. In the U.K., for example, we are not talking about Chinese or Indians. We are not talking about blacks and Asians. This is a particular problem. It is about the failure of one part of the Muslim community to resolve and create an identity that is both British and Muslim. And I stress part of it. Most Muslims are as much at ease with their citizenship in the U.K. as I am. I dare say that is true in other European nations too.”

The paragraph repeats some of the contents of a speech Blair delivered in December 2006 on the ‘Duty to Integrate’. He said then, “…the reason we are having this debate is not generalised extremism. It is a new and virulent form of ideology associated with a minority of our Muslim community. It is not a problem with Britons of Hindu, Afro-Caribbean, Chinese or Polish origin. Nor is it a problem with the majority of the Muslim community. Most Muslims are proud to be British and Muslim and are thoroughly decent law-abiding citizens. But it is a problem with a minority of that community…”

Blair, in the WSJ comment piece, goes on to set out the terms on which integration is to be handled distinguishing between the liberties that allow for difference and dissent and the fundamental pillars of a liberal, democratic society on which there can be no negotiation. He writes:

“However, some don’t integrate. But when we talk about this in general terms, without precision, for fear of “stigmatizing” Muslims, we alienate public opinion and isolate the majority of Muslims who are integrating and want to be as much part of our society as any other group. Then, because we won’t identify the problem as it is, a subterranean debate takes the place of an open one, and that debate lumps all Muslims together. So in the interest of “defending” the Muslim community, we actually segregate it by refusing to have an honest debate about what is happening.

“Most people instinctively understand the right approach to integration. We just have to articulate and enforce it. This approach is to distinguish clearly and carefully between the common space, shared by all citizens, and the space where we can be different. We have different faiths. We practice them differently. We have different histories, different cultures and different views. Some citizens will genuinely and properly not like some of the more liberal tendencies of Western life. We can differ over this.

“But there has to be a shared acceptance that some things we believe in and we do together: obedience to certain values like democracy, rule of law, equality between men and women; respect for national institutions; and speaking the national language. This common space cannot be left to chance or individual decision. It has to be accepted as mandatory.

“We will not defeat extremism (and the fear it then produces in our societies) until we defeat its narrative. This narrative is Islam as a victim of the West, locked in an inevitable cultural conflict with it….Those who accept the narrative use their religious faith as a badge of identity in opposition to others. Integration is seen as oppression. Then the backlash is final confirmation that we are indeed in conflict.”

Blair is right to single out those Muslims who brandish their religious identity as though it stood as a barrier to integration. Groups like Al-Muhajiroun and Islam4UK are among those that do engage in this sort of deluded juxtaposition of a faith identity and national identity as though the two were antithetical and uncomfortable bedfellows.

Blair is right too to point to the majority of British Muslims as law abiding citizens, respectful of the rule of law and proud of their British identity. Gallup in its East-West survey in 2008 found that British Muslims expressed national pride and trust in national institutions in greater numbers than the average White Briton. A testimony to just how well integrated they are.

But Blair is mistaken in thinking that extremism is singularly borne of a narrative that perceives “Islam as a victim of the West”. Much like Blair’s refusal to acknowledge and accept that our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the latter widely accepted to be illegal given the absence of UN resolution, have contributed to the radicalization of Muslims, so does he rehearse the ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis as though this stood alone among explanatory variables for terrorism and its corresponding narrative.

As the former heads of MI5 have iterated, Blair’s wars have contributed to radicalization and extremism not because of some “inevitable cultural conflict”, but because our conduct has in itself betrayed our “obedience to certain values like democracy [and the] rule of law”.

How else can we explain the UK and US’s disregard for the UN ahead of the Iraq invasion of 2003? Or the protestations of a million people on the streets of London, all ignored by their elected representatives in Parliament in voting for the invasion?

Blair is absolutely right that “We will not defeat extremism (and the fear it then produces in our societies) until we defeat its narrative.” It is a shame that he does not see that the narrative thrives not on an “inevitable cultural conflict” but on the charge of hypocrisy and double standards.

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