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Integration: A two way street

Integration: A two way street

🕔21.Jan 2017

The Casey Review:  “A review into opportunity and integration” (Dec 2016) is not the first, nor do I doubt, the last report that will be published on the subject of integration and divided communities. I sometimes wonder if we will ever be in a position to just get on with one another and treat each other as human beings, respecting the rich diversity, then we can stop wasting taxpayers money on unintelligible reports, writes Waheed Saleem

Unfortunately we are not in that position. The constant attacks on minorities in the media, the rise of divisive politics, sweeping western democracies, from UKIP in the UK to President Donald Trump in America, openly advocating discriminative politics against Mexicans and Muslims, causing significant issues and distress.

I dread to be a Muslim or a Mexican in America right now! With Trump having taken his position in the White House, the ‘internment’ of Muslims will become a reality, feeling alien in their own country and facing a backlash from wider society.

This unacceptable behaviour by people in positions of power and influence, makes it acceptable for people to project their prejudices and stereotypes, especially against particular people, with Muslims in the firing line at present.

Unfortunately, the Casey Review propagates the stereotypes, emphasises the segregation of Muslim communities and puts the onus on the Muslim communities to integrate better. A cursory analysis of independent surveys of Muslim communities in Britain would have set out the real picture.

A significant percentage of Muslims described themselves as British. The ICM survey in April 2016, shows 86% of Muslims felt a strong sense of belonging in Britain, higher then the national average (83%). Furthermore, 88% said Britain was a good place for Muslims and 78% wanted to integrate into British life.

Of course there are certain issues that conflict with the religious teachings, for example homosexuality, however, this is true for other religions. A significant number of Muslims like me respect and treat everyone equally. For me it’s simple, if we want equality then so should everyone else be entitled to be treated equally and with respect.

It is unfortunate that the media amplify the demonisation of Muslims, despite only a fraction of people who purport to call themselves Muslims actually committing the crimes. An example is the media coverage on underage sexual exploitation. Instead of reporting these horrific crimes as being committed by sadistic pedophiles that require the full force of the law, the media went on overdrive describing this as a Muslim issue.

The Times front page headline ran “Call for national debate on Muslim sex grooming”. If they researched Islam, they would realise sexual crimes are considered as one of the worse crimes to be committed. These headlines create the perception that all Muslims are sexual predators.

I am a strong advocate of integration into British life, from participating in carol singing in Church at Christmas time to celebrating Guru Nanak’s birthday with my Sikh friends in the local Gurdwara. I have friends from a wide range of backgrounds and I wouldn’t change that, in fact I would go as far as saying I would even marry someone from a different background to me without a second thought!

I was talking to a prominent Pakistani businessman in Birmingham, who describes himself as an ‘English gentleman’ about this article and he strongly advocated that he wouldn’t live in any other country. He has been doing business with people from all backgrounds and was advocating the virtue of doing business with white people as being honest, respectful and open. He is a great advocate of integration and adopting the English way of life; he is the captain of the local golf club!

However, I do acknowledge that there are some in my community who either choose not to integrate or are unable to integrate, due to language and cultural issues, so I would agree with Dame Louise that people living in this country should be able to speak English and Government should be providing this as they provide education to young people.

I have previously also raised concerns that in some schools in Birmingham and other inner cities, there are schools with 99-100% of the school intake from one ethnic community, which is neither healthy nor should it be encouraged. Therefore, action should be taken to ensure this is not allowed to continue. This is why I ensured the armed forces cadet scheme was introduced into Rockwood School, which previously was labelled as a Trojan Horse school, to enable young people to widen their experiences and better integrate into mainstream society.

The reality is that integration is not ‘one way’. If people feel discriminated against, restricted in the opportunities available, stereotyped and under constant attack then they will withdraw and adopt a separatist approach.

A hard hitting report by the Women and Equalities Select Committee highlighted the significant barriers and discrimination faced by Muslim communities in the jobs market. Whilst this is something the Government’s Equalities Unit has acknowledged, worryingly it does not seem able to tackle this issue specifically.

We have seen the significant increases in Islamaphobic attacks. Tell Mama, the monitoring group highlighted the 326% increase in anti Muslim attacks, with horrific reports almost on a daily basis in the media and on social media.

Unfortunately, even I have found the underlying discrimination and prejudice perpetuated across the professional sectors, despite being a role model for displaying British values and integrating. The fact is when certain people look at my name on the CV, they will make assumptions and will think twice of offering opportunities that I am more then qualified for.

The NHS in the region, where there is a significant number of ethnic minorities, by and large is still run by people from a narrow background, mostly white and male. Let’s take one Trust, Birmingham Children’s Hospital, serving the most diverse area with significant number of children from ethnic minorities and specifically Muslim backgrounds. However, not one Muslim on the board, only one non executive director from an ethnic minority and one Muslim patient Governor. The ‘snowy white peaks’ (the title of the groundbreaking report by Roger Kline of Middlesex University on the discrimination in the NHS) seems to hold true in this case!

However, where there is clear leadership on promoting diversity instead of giving lip service, one can see the difference. Take Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust, which has one of the most diverse boards in the NHS, and this is translated into being an innovative and effective organisation.

The Police and Crime Commissioner has also appointed one of the most diverse boards to advise him in undertaking his important role. The West Midlands Police Chief Constable and PCC have made it their mission to ensure the police force looks like the people it serves and this is showing through.

Unfortunately, this kind of leadership is far from the norm, especially in the public sector, who are required to ensure diversity and equality, as it is the people who pay for the service.

The Prime Minister last week declared her mission to create a ‘shared society’, describing it as:

….one that doesn’t just value our individual rights but focuses rather more on the responsibilities we have to one another. It’s a society that respects the bonds that we share as a union of people and nations. The bonds of family, community, citizenship and strong institutions. And it’s a society that recognises the obligations we have as citizens – obligations that make our society work.

I hope the PM and Government will also lead on removing the discriminative barriers and everyday prejudice that ethnic minorities and especially Muslims continue to face. I can confidently speak for the majority of Muslims who would subscribe wholeheartedly to the above notion, if only we were also given the opportunity to contribute positively at every level of society.

Waheed Saleem is a social policy commentator. He is a Non Executive Director of Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust and the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Strategic Police and Crime Board, but writes in a personal capacity.

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