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Blair on Muslim Integration

This is a cross-post by Shiraz Maher from Standpoint Magazine

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Tony Blair has written a fantastic piece for the Wall Street Journal about ‘making Muslim integration work’. As ever, it is spot on. His piece reminds us of the clarity and sense of purpose which pervaded his administration, and which is so desperately lacking today.

Blair pulls no punches, but neither does he pander to the easy canards about Islam and Muslims that have currently become so fashionable among a band of intellectually dishonest (or defeated) and self-appointed ‘experts’ in Europe and the United States. What he demonstrates is the purpose of the progressive agenda at its best against the rise of far-right extremism and anti-Muslim bigotry.

…violence is bound up with all sorts of political and regional disputes, but it feeds into the European alarm that immigration, terrorism, religious faith and ethnicity are all dimensions of the same problem.

The danger, certainly in Europe, is very clear. Especially in tough economic times, this issue can inject division, sectarianism and even racism into societies based on equality. Traditional political parties get trapped. Either they pander, but of course they can never pander enough; or they seem in a state of denial and condemn themselves to the position of out-of-touch elites. The backlash grows. The center ground becomes diminished.

We have to nail down the definition of the problem. There is no general failure to integrate. In the U.K., for example, we are not talking about Chinese or Indians. We are not talking about blacks and Asians. This is a particular problem. It is about the failure of one part of the Muslim community to resolve and create an identity that is both British and Muslim. And I stress part of it. Most Muslims are as much at ease with their citizenship in the U.K. as I am. I dare say that is true in other European nations too.

He goes on to offer a lucid exposition of what happens when the political mainstream fails to admit this problem:

However, some don’t integrate. But when we talk about this in general terms, without precision, for fear of “stigmatizing” Muslims, we alienate public opinion and isolate the majority of Muslims who are integrating and want to be as much part of our society as any other group. Then, because we won’t identify the problem as it is, a subterranean debate takes the place of an open one, and that debate lumps all Muslims together. So in the interest of “defending” the Muslim community, we actually segregate it by refusing to have an honest debate about what is happening.

Personally, I would go further here, and that is Blair only identifies one side of the equation. More Muslims also need to mobilise themselves to be part of this debate. It is not just the failure of the political class – though a great deal of blame must be levelled against them – but also of ordinary Muslims not to have confronted sooner, and with more vigour, the extremist threat within our communities.

But Blair is right to note the counter-intuitive point here. That is, those who preach pieties about ‘vilifying Muslims’ whenever genuine (and accurate) concerns are raised about some preachers, play into the hands of political extremists. Their refusal to engage in honest debate about what is happening drives it underground. Those on the political periphery are then empowered because they appear brave and willing to challenge an unfair status quo defended by an unsympathetic orthodoxy.

Blair’s article goes on to examine how we might overcome this quagmire:

…distinguish clearly and carefully between the common space, shared by all citizens, and the space where we can be different. We have different faiths. We practice them differently. We have different histories, different cultures and different views. Some citizens will genuinely and properly not like some of the more liberal tendencies of Western life. We can differ over this.

But there has to be a shared acceptance that some things we believe in and we do together: obedience to certain values like democracy, rule of law, equality between men and women; respect for national institutions; and speaking the national language. This common space cannot be left to chance or individual decision. It has to be accepted as mandatory. Doing so establishes a clear barrier between those citizens of the host community who are concerned for understandable reasons and those who are bigoted.

This is a drum I have beat for a long time. Last year I published a pamphlet for Policy Exchange which looked at this very issue: how the normative social values of the state should be championed by government and made an integral part of immigration, integration and Prevent policies.

After all, what is al-Qaeda’s challenge to the West if not – at its core – a challenge over values and the way we live?

Finally, Blair notes:

The first step in fighting back is to recognize the nature of the struggle. That is why what is happening in Europe today is not some random eruption of anti-immigrant sentiment that will subside as fast as it has arisen. We have seen many of those before. This is different: deeper, more dangerous than any in recent years, and ultimately connected to what is building in the rest of the world. It is time to wake up.

Quite! The piece is worth reading in full here.

Is it wrong to say I miss Blair?