Integration, not assimilation

I'm ready to integrate. But are you ready to accept me?

The question of integration has been thrown around very irresponsibly by many people, especially the politicians. The onus has been squarely placed on the Muslim community and the assumption is that if the Muslim community integrates Britain would be a spectacularly cohesive and multicultural country. This is far from the truth. Today’s Britain has many social problems that can not be traced back or solved simply through integration.

Islam does not see any problem in integration. In fact, it strongly encourages Muslims to take full part in society and its institutions. At least this is what the faith says. In reality it may not be the case. While I am not justifying the lack of integration of Muslims, I am extremely alarmed by the lack of honest and serious debate around the topic.

Firstly, integration needs a comprehensive definition. It needs all stakeholders to agree on a set of common values. In my view, integration could be defined as "the bringing of people of different racial, ethnic or religious groups into unrestricted and equal association, as in society and its institutions". Integration could also mean a process of desegregation, ie. dismantling of ghettos and removing barriers. Integration is the total opposite to disengagement.

Secondly, when I explain that Islam encourages integration, I ask you not to confuse it with assimilation. Islam would be opposed to any notion of assimilation. Integration is not about socially engineering a new generation based on no distinct faith, ethnic or cultural identity. This is precisely what assimilation would do. Islam proposes people to become loyal to their faith but their cultural or ethnic differences a reason for greater interaction and celebration.

Thirdly, integration it is not a one-way street. Minority communities do not have a moral obligation to integrate into the majority community. Such a suggestion assumes the majority communities’ values, lifestyle, cultures and customs are superior. This is simply an arrogant supposition. Integration must have an element of give and take and willingness to share.

Integration is not the end but simply a process where people of all background come together to make connections and develop shared values mutually. The outcome is a cohesive and integrated society. Integration is like a watch. A watch has small components inside; each component by itself can not be called a watch, although they may function individually. However when all the components are arranged in an orderly fashion the watch works perfectly.

All cultures, faiths, traditions and customs together would form an integrated society. If we take the example of the watch, every component is vital; similarly every stakeholder in such an integrated society would be a crucial partner. It must be a relationship based on proportionality and most certainly on equal worth and respect.

There are many challenges we need to overcome. When we are developing common values the biggest and most pressing question is how to resolve the problems of cultural norms and values that are at polar ends.

There are several examples I can mention that would make developing shared values very difficult. Such as, for one, the fact that British society’s social life is based around drinking alcohol while it is totally forbidden for a Muslim to drink, buy, sell, carry or sit around the same table where alcohol is being consumed. This means Muslims are not able to socialise with the non-Muslim communities fully where drinking alcohol is so prevalent. Would that prevent us from developing common values?

Let us take another example. The interaction between men and women in Islam is substantially different. While in this country physical contact between the sexes is normal in Islam there are restrictions - and these are for a reason. In today’s Britain sex outside marriage has become a cultural norm while in Islam sex outside a marital relationship is not allowed.

Despite some of these intrinsic differences I am, along with majority of the Muslim citizens of this country, willing to integrate fully but are you willing to accept me fully? My definition of integration is to retain my identity and values and you retain yours but we agree to interact on civic duties as equal partners, we work for the well being of our country and all the citizens. We run our affairs in a democratic, pluralistic and transparent manner. The aim would be to create a society in which we have unrestricted and equal association.

Ajmal Masroor is regularly invited to speak on issues on integration and Islam in the modern world. He leads Friday prayers in several Mosques across London.
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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times