Trevor Phillips: British Muslims "doing their damnedest" to integrate
Categories: Latest News
Monday June 20 2011
|The Sunday Telegraph published an interview with the Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips, ahead of a landmark EHRC report on religious discrimination in the UK.
Mr Phillips talks on the role of the EHRC in defending the rights of believers in religious traditions consistent with Equalities legislation which outlaws discrimination on grounds of religion and belief.
Speaking on the ridiculing of religion, Mr Phillips tells the Sunday Telegraph:
“The thing I’ve become anxious about in recent times is this – there is certainly a feeling amongst some people of belief that they are under siege, that they are often disadvantaged, that they are looked at and considered in some way different and their faith makes them less worthy of regard,” he said.
“There is a view that says religion is a private matter and it’s entirely a choice. I think that’s entirely not right. “Faith identity is part of what makes life richer and more meaningful for the individual. It is a fundamental part of what makes some societies better than others in my view.
“I understand why a lot of people in faith groups feel a bit under siege. They’re in a world where there are a lot of very clever people who have a lot of access to the airwaves and write endlessly in the newspapers knocking religion and mocking God. The people who want to drive religion underground are much more active, much more vocal.”
On religious identity in a pluralist, liberal democracy, he said:
“Being an Anglican, being a Muslim or being a Methodist or being a Jew is just as much part of your identity and you should not be penalised or treated in a discriminatory way because of that. That’s part of the settlement of a liberal democracy.
“Our business is defending the believer. The law we’re here to implement recognises that religious identity is an essential part of this society. It’s an essential element of being a fulfilled human being.
“My real worry is that there are people who may well feel they’re being treated unfairly because of their faith and who actually in fact may be being treated unfairly because of their faith but for some reason feel they can’t get our support in getting justice.”
On the role of Equalities legislation in protecting the rights of diverse groups, he said:
“Churches, mosques, temples, religious organisations of all kinds now have to some extent protection under the law but they also have to obey the law including anti-discrimination law because they are charities, because they offer a public service,” he said.
“People are being confused about the right of the individual to freedom of conscience and freedom of expression and the freedoms of particular institutions or organisations.
“Nobody is going to say that its OK for a Muslim community to apply in isolation and override the view of the civil courts that says a woman’s testimony is worth less than a man’s.”
On the prevalence of anti-Muslim discrimination, Mr Phillips tells the paper:
“I think the most likely victim of actual religious discrimination in British society is a Muslim but the person who is most likely to feel slighted because of their religion is an evangelical Christian,” .
He goes on to distinguish between attitudes of Christians and Muslims towards integration stating:
“I think there’s an awful lot of noise about the Church being persecuted but there is a more real issue that the conventional churches face that the people who are really driving their revival and success believe in an old time religion which in my view is incompatible with a modern, multi-ethnic, multicultural society.
“Muslim communities in this country are doing their damnedest to try to come to terms with their neighbours to try to integrate and they’re doing their best to try to develop an idea of Islam that is compatible with living in a modern liberal democracy.
“One of the aspects of that is essentially saying ‘whatever we feel about matter of sexuality we’re going to have to deal with the fact that most of our neighbours, most of our children’s friends, most of our work mates have a broader, more liberal view and we just have to live with that’.
“Integration is also about compromise and I think the reason you don’t hear a lot about that from Muslims is that they’re trying to find ways of being good Muslims in a way that is consistent with the society they’re living in.”
The EHRC chief’s interview is a welcome addition to the growing body of empirical evidence documenting the successful integration of British Muslims into British society. Something you’d be hard pressed to believe from the steady drip-feed of stories alleging the contrary in some sections of the British press.