It was supposed to represent another crack in the multicultural edifice. Many predicted that the film of Monica Ali's novel Brick Lane, which premiered in London yesterday, would provoke a spasm of intolerance from the British Bangladeshi community. After protests from a group of self-appointed community leaders, the police advised the film-makers to shoot outdoor scenes not on Brick Lane itself but at another "safer" location. Prince Charles pulled out of a planned royal screening.
But, in fact, the outcry on the street itself has been muted. British Bangladeshis are clearly less panicked by this tale of female empowerment than many assumed. Indeed, far from regarding the film's subject matter as a slur, the street's residents are hoping that the publicity it generates will attract more customers to their already bustling restaurants.
Ms Ali's novel is about the present-day Bangladeshi residents of Brick Lane. But the history of this street goes deep into the British immigrant experience. French Huguenots settled there in the 18th century. A century later, their places were taken by Eastern European Jews. These communities endured dreadful living conditions and the hostility of the native population. But both went on to make a significant contribution to our national life.
There are encouraging signs that Brick Lane's latest residents are travelling in the same direction as their predecessors. Bangladeshi children have been narrowing the results gap in school with other south Asian immigrant groups. Bangladeshi men are beginning to move from manual to skilled occupations. Crucially, more women are entering the workforce.
We should be careful not look at the situation through rose-tinted glasses. The British Bangladeshi community is still afflicted by terrible poverty and unemployment. And the attraction of a small minority of young Muslims to an intolerant and militant Islamic ideology is worrying. But the positive side of the Bangladeshi immigrant story too often goes ignored.
Those who would shut Britain off to new migrants have the wind in their sails. Calls are ringing out from across the political spectrum for the multicultural "experiment" to be brought to an end. Some are openly questioning whether outsiders can ever truly integrate. Brick Lane is surely the simplest and most eloquent rebuke to such ill-founded pessimism.Reuse content