Jack Straw’s calculated entrance into the seething right wing debate on Muslims and multiculturalism has little to do with the wearing of the veil – and still less with the need to “open a dialogue” with Muslim communities.
It is rather an attempt to portray Muslims in Britain as a “self segregating” minority that refuses to fit in to the so called “British way of life”.
According to Trevor Phillips, who has recently been appointed as the government’s equality chief, this is leading to a Britain that is “sleepwalking” into racial ghettos. Muslims, we are told, are increasingly choosing to live only among other Muslims.
We are also told that the children of mainly Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani Muslim immigrants that arrived here in the 1960s and 1970s are being brought up to see other British people as their enemies.
This is a poisonous lie that is being repeated by pundits and politicians alike as though it were fact. Yet all those who have conducted any serious research into this question say that nothing could be further from the truth.
Far from Britain becoming more residentially segregated, it is becoming more integrated. A report based on the 2001 census by Dr Ludi Simpson of Manchester University makes this clear.
He found that “the number of mixed neighbourhoods (electoral wards) increased from 964 to 1,070 in the ten years between the last two censuses of 1991 and 2001. There will be at least 1,300 mixed neighbourhoods by 2011 – one in five throughout England.”
Simpson explains, “The kind of segregation people are talking about in a scaremongering way is that people are retreating into their own areas, that people are moving away from each other in racial terms.
“Now that is about migration – people moving from one area to another. So you can look at that through the census data. What that data shows is that black and Asian families, just like white families, move out of the inner city when they have the money to do so.”
Out of over 8,850 electoral wards in England and Wales there are only 14 in which a non-white ethnic group makes up over half the population. In none does a single ethnic minority account for over three quarters of the population.
According to Danny Dorling at the University of Sheffield, “For all ethnic minority groups identified by the census, the indices of segregation fell between 1991 and 2001.”
Even where there are concentrations of minority ethnic communities in particular areas, it would be wrong to see this as evidence of a desire to live apart from other British people.
In cities such as Bradford, where there is a surplus of council housing available, people of South Asian origin repeatedly say they are offered only the most run down accommodation. As a result, many have chosen to rent privately in some of the poorest areas of the city.
Asian families in Bradford who manage to save enough to buy a house in a wealthier area find that estate agents are also playing a role in creating ethnic divisions.
In 2001, a report by the Chartered of Institute of Housing found that if an Asian family moved into a street that is mainly white, estate agents notified residents of a potential fall in the value of their property.
When it comes to children, right wing scaremongers suggest that many young Muslims are developing a hostility towards other British people as a result of segregated schooling.
According to Dorling, schools are slightly more segregated than neighbourhoods – but this is hardly a universal picture.
And even where schools have an overwhelmingly Asian intake, the result is not necessarily an entrenching of division.
Last month Lancaster University conducted research into the attitudes of children at two schools, one in Burnley and the other in Jack Straw’s Blackburn constituency. The report’s conclusions would confound the scaremongers.
Among the majority Muslim 15 year old children at the school in Blackburn, 69 percent believe that it is important to respect others regardless of their religion. Just 17 percent of pupils there think that one race is better than another.
But at the overwhelmingly white school in Burnley, just 30 percent think that people of other religions should be respected, and 41 percent think that one race is better than another.
While many of the pupils at the majority white school seem to have fallen victim to the daily barrage of stereotypes and racism, the attitudes of pupils at the majority Muslim school appear to be entirely in keeping with what Straw would describe as “British values”.
As yet there appears to be no clamour to deal with the presumably “un-British” attitudes on display by some of the white children at the school in Burnley.
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