Thursday, January 04, 2007

Britain should integrate into Muslim values

So says Sarfraz Manzoor in today's Guardian, hot on the heels of Neal Lawson's comment piece yesterday, exhorting us to look to religious leaders for moral guidance.

I don't think Manzoor fairs much better in his quest to turn us on to the benefits of a religious upbringing. Take this:

My father often used the threat of "what might the community say?" as a weapon to control my rebellious teenage desires. I resented the power that this community had over me, but it is only now that I can appreciate its value.

There are some rebellious teenage desires we might all agree are worth suppressing. Excessive onanism, perhaps. Maybe not so rebellious. I suppose a great deal depends on what sort of community you live in. You might live in a place where bashing-up homosexuals is seen as the way to spend a Saturday night. If your parents collared you over your refusal to participate in such high-jinks I'd advise you to foster your rebellious streak. Make no mistake: there are communities where the accepted wisdom will border on the example I've used.

He continues:

Muslim children are more likely to be brought up in two-parent families rather than the single-parent households that are increasingly common in Britain.

Now this fact may hark back to some degree to his earlier point. If the fear of local opinion is all-consuming then divorce or separation are probably off the menu. It is probably fair to say that Muslim family systems are more patriarchal than the average British nuclear set-up. An unhappy spouse, even one less restricted by the community opinion, may find it difficult to request divorce or separation as a consequence.

Muslim parents also tend to be less interested in child-centred parenting and more into parent-centred parenting. For example, when I was growing up there was no possibility of answering back to my parents, and this was accompanied by an all-pervasive fear of letting them down. This was a model of parenting that put great faith in deference and, while at the time it felt regressive, it was also what kept my generation in check.

He's got a point here but not a definitively Muslim one. I think my experience was much the same. Fear of a boot up the backside was my prime motivation for not answering back. And, at the risk of sounding like Bernard Ingham, it never did me any harm. Admittedly now it is considerably less tolerated to give your child a clip round the ear. And rightly so. Yet, Manzoor does not expound exactly what it was that forbade his answering back, what made his family unique.

He concludes:

As the clamour for British Muslims to integrate grows louder, it is worth remembering that, amid all the negatives arising from living inside a tightly knit community, there are also positives worth retaining - the greater the integration, the weaker the sense of community. It is the third generation - those in their teens and 20s who have been raised by parents often more liberal than my parents' generation - who are the young men and women now tarnishing the reputation of British Muslims.

Whether the danger is religious extremism, drugs or crime, those involved are largely third-generation Muslims who are so integrated into white society that they are emulating its worst characteristics. Integration did not save them, it created them.

I sympathise. The notion of integrating places too great a burden on those expected to do it. It places little on those with whom integration should be achieved. A level of reciprocal understanding is what is required above all. It is patent nonsense to state that "the greater the integration, the weaker the sense of community". Again I do not think Manzoor explains why he believes this to be true. A sense of community can only be born from a group recognising that they share something of a situation or place. How an integrated populus is a barrier to this I cannot explain. Certainly, if families are integrating into large areas where religious extremism or drugs or crime exist prominently then the likelihood of one of their family becoming involved in one of those things is increased. However, Manzoor's concession that third-generation Muslims can be caught up in those things suggests the values he holds dear are perhaps not as powerful as he would wish them to be.

Society is moving away from ideas of the fanciful and the superstitious. There do exist values which many, perhaps a majority, of us recognise as common. It is time those values were held up as things good-in-themselves and not good because a particular text or dogma says so. It is such a connection which repels many who are proselytised at.

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