Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: This country is already integrated, Ms Kelly, but in ways your government would not like

The millions who marched against the war were not only disgruntled, unintegrated Muslims
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The Independent Online

In the week when alleged Islamicist airline bombers were arrested, I wrote dejectedly about ordinary British Muslims who find themselves punished for the crimes of others and once again fall under generic suspicion of being the enemy within, especially if they question the powerful. How viciously this government turned on Muslim MPs and peers who raised legitimate concerns about New Labour policies. We must, it seems, surrender our democratic right to oppose political decisions, otherwise we are fair game.

I quoted some of the racist e-mails I have received to illustrate my points. A cascade of unexpectedly supportive e-mails descended, almost all from white Britons, many from Middle England, including retired army men, chaplains and a farmer or two. (Thank you all. You drove away my dark pessimism.) They said they agreed with the Muslim parliamentarians and were highly suspicious of government propaganda and authoritarian policies.

I have the full findings of an NOP survey commissioned by a recent Channel4 programme, which set out to 'prove' Muslim alienation. What the numbers actually reveal is convergence between the general population and the Muslim sample. Both groups were asked whether the July bombings were justified because of British support for the US war on terror. Almost the same proportion of respondents in each sample agreed with the statement, 22 and 20 per cent. This shared view never appeared in the programme.

A YouGov poll showed 80 per cent of Britons want us to change our unconditional support for US foreign policies. Another poll showed 85 per cent of Britons believe there is a connection between these foreign policies and the bombs in London.

Here is integration of the sort the Government would rather not highlight, the common sentiments and emotions that led to all of us across race, religion, class and culture to oppose Blair's policies abroad and the UK. The millions who marched against the war were not only disgruntled unintegrated Muslims; the millions who resist new clamps on civil liberties are not all sympathisers of al-Qa'ida.

It suits New Labour, and separatist Muslims too, to terrify the nation into believing that nearly two million Muslims live in mental and physical ghettoes bearing only ill will towards other Britons, with bizarre, monstrous values that cannot co-exist with civilized beings. Both sides have imagined a new crusade into existence. Hence the new commission for "social cohesion" set up by Ruth Kelly, herself an advocate of faith-based schools and a member of the cultish, exclusive Opus Dei Catholic order.

The initiative is based on a meta narrative so flawed and so cynical and so bogus it is no wonder New Labour has latched on to it. They tell us, and many in the media repeat the slur, that Britain is a hopelessly fragmented society largely because of immigration and the Muslim "problem". The state must enforce integration; otherwise, or so they tell us, these islands are doomed. Perhaps the commission will suggest new laws saying it is an offence not to get tanked up on a Saturday.

You can be sure the commission will not be recommending the re-education of whites who refuse to share their spaces with outsiders. A new video installation by American artist Jordon Baseman, in Boston, Lincolnshire, features a Portuguese immigrant, one of 5,000 who arrived to work the land. She describes the prejudices they face. Bostonians object to schools marking Portuguese festivals; a young mother and her baby were burnt to death in an arson attack. The insularity of the locals will be ignored by Ruth Kelly's gang; it is the hapless migrants who will be the cause for concern. But that's not the worst of it. This commission is based on a false prospectus.

There are indeed some homicidal young Muslims in our midst who want to create mayhem and destroy our hard-won liberties and precious institutions. Some bright and educated Muslims are that angry with the West, they are becoming Trojan horses willing on an Islamic state, Allah help us all.

In some enclaves there are Muslim communities where women and young people are oppressed and denied fundamental rights. Like my fellow columnist Deborah Orr, I am affronted by the fully burkhaed females on our streets, buried beings whose individuality is obliterated by custom.

But in spite of obscurantists and racists, Britain is one of the most integrated countries in the Western world, and, yes, I do include Muslims in that sweeping, happy generalisation.

In that same NOP survey, there were other illuminating findings: 94 per cent of the Muslims surveyed disagreed that Muslims should keep themselves separate from the rest of society; 61 per cent agreed that British children had too many freedoms; the figure for the general population was higher - 72 per cent. So much for "our" values' versus "theirs".

We have higher rates of intermarriage than anywhere in the Western world and growing. Almost all my professional female Muslim friends have married out - some husbands converted, others didn't. The families have reacted with disappointment, pragmatism or joy, but no excessive fury.

In most of our inner cities, previous racial and ethnic homogeneity gets broken down by new arrivals from abroad or people buying their first properties, the young mostly who cannot afford more affluent localities. In cities workplaces are getting more, not less, mixed.

My mother was a devout Shia Muslim but even more devoutly a humanist. For her funeral, after some negotiations, our mosque agreed to break ancient injunctions and allow outsiders into the private prayer area, and to allow men from all backgrounds who loved her to carry her coffin to her burial spot.

Even where there appear to be closed borders to other cultures, what you see and hear isn't what it seems. I have some male friends outside of London, solid Sunni folk who, if asked, would give you a right lecture on good Islamic ways. Unbeknown to their parents and their wives (imported from Pakistan), each of them has a second, white family. They communicate better with their clandestine partners because, well, they were both born here. The white women know of the traditional wives who remain ignorant of the truth. Secrets and lies.

This underground integration shows a certain inevitability, a coming together of unstoppable momentum. You could argue detractors want to stop this fast-amalgamating new Britain before it grows further. The Communities minister understands neither the country nor the challenges. Her commission will fail, that I predict, and Muslims will be blamed once again.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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