Pola Manzlia Uddin: Stranded in the slipstream of multiculturalism

Our parents' generation are devastated when they see their grandchildren still living in social decay
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Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, is right that that one of the effects of "multiculturalism" has been to produce a segregated community. But it is not because of the people concerned, but because we as politicians failed our communities. It is because we failed to be thoughtful about social policies which might enhance togetherness.

I can say this with some confidence having grown up in Tower Hamlets where the social apartheid is clear for all to see. Everyone there will tell you very little has changed. They will tell you that racism is as grave now as it was 20 years ago.

When I went to school I was told Muslim girls don't do anything except get married and have children, so why should I want to study law or medicine? When I wanted to stand for the leader's position in my local council I was told by my very liberal colleagues that our borough would throw out the Labour party if an Asian muslim woman was the leader. It would be electoral suicide. Similar arguments were made when I stood for Parliament. Where does integration start and where does it stop?

Our parents' generation are devastated that the years of struggling and mobilising of the early eighties for equality has meant very little when they see their grandchildren continue to live in social decay, and suffer high levels of underachievement.

My generation on the other hand, having led some of the struggles, began to believe that equality was achievable. At one time the future looked rosy with our Prime Minister's statement on understanding Muslim community and his informed comments on the Koran.

All the dreams and aspiration were washed away with the horrors of September 11. Yes, I condemn it at every opportunity I get. I welcome this opportunity to debate new ways of coming together as British citizens, I want to shout that we want to belong. Yes, I too welcome much of what Trevor Phillips has said about the need for integration and being British.

I wish, though, that he had used his very personal knowledge to extend the argument from our point of view a little more. If he did he would have added that multiculturalism has created a fantastic success for so many black men and women, but this has been at the cost of having left the largest minority community (the Muslims) excluded and on the margins of society. Multiculturalism has systematically failed the Muslim community, and that is why I welcome the call for an alternative strategy.

I also hope that that Trevor Phillip knows that he is speaking from an advantaged political position, where there is and has been, tremendously welcome black success within the British hierarchy: two black CRE chairman, a leader in the Lords, four ministers in government and countless other faces ranging from the media to key government policy appointments.

At these dizzy heights I can point to none who is a Muslim, not one who plays any significant role which gives any meaning to the term "power sharing". Before I get flooded by emails I do acknowledge a few appointment at the Lords.

Speaking personally about multiculturalism, I believe it was pure rhetoric. During the 1980's, women like myself were totally invisible under the banner of multiculturalism. Both the black leaders at the time, as well as those on the Left, insisted that we speak with one voice until we had success. Those of us from the Muslim community were grateful to be part of the process and genuinely believed that any success would trickle down to all. That time never came. Essentially we were pawns, and voting fodder. None of us who are Muslims ever came to prominence as leaders or MPs, and to date we have failed to produce one single Chair of anything. That is why I would like to see this debate open up.

We have to take our conversation beyond halal meat and scarves. I am fed up of being accused of not wanting to integrate. There has been endless blame heaped on our doorstep, and where there is responsibility I want to stand up and be counted. But who is going to take the job on to make sure my children aren't called terrorists each time they turn around; that my community is not terrorised with the allegation of harbouring criminals. And when are we all going to be believed that collectively we are devastated about what happened to New York, Turkey, and Spain?

Speaking English at home, not having a forced marriage, ,eating chips every Friday clearly do not make you or your family any more British in the eyes of those debating multiculturalism in the media at the moment.

So what now? I agree wholeheartedly with Trevor Phillips that again and again we have to say to our young people that they are British. But I also want to work with him to ensure the issue of under-representation is addressed.

What next? The immediate arrest of those criminals that are allowed to pollute the mainstream media and tarnish the Muslim community for a start. Then the mainstream must start to work with the Muslim community as a part of the British society - not some alien which landed post September 11.

Baroness Uddin was a Labour councillor for the London borough of Tower Hamlets, 1990-98

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