Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

It's true that some British Muslims don't actually want to integrate – but this is about a lot more than religion

It is key that the Government and the media encourage the reality-based idea that you can be Muslim and British and not feel as though one is betraying the other

Rabbil Sikdar
Wednesday 20 September 2017 17:48 BST
Comments
Many young Muslims feel besieged. There is a natural instinct to withdraw and not engage with the wider society
Many young Muslims feel besieged. There is a natural instinct to withdraw and not engage with the wider society (Getty)

For London, there is a sense of tiring familiarity unfolding with terrorism. A catastrophe averted, a crisis remains.

How we respond to the Parsons Green attack matters. There is the far-right message that says Islam and the West are incompatible – this stirs up even more violence. Then there’s the other message, about keeping calm and carrying on, something typical of Londoners.

But we need to acknowledge that this is a battle that will not end soon. We are fighting a terrorism that exists through an ideology, and transcends organisations. We aren’t just fighting the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Isis, but the ideas that drive them.

People’s opinions differ on what radicalises young Muslims. People believe it’s either Islamism or grievances over foreign policy; focus on one automatically excludes the other. The truth lies in the unexplored middle.

Foreign policy plays a part, as it did in the 7/7 bombings. But that followed soon after the invasion of Iraq. Many Muslims believe that it creates the sense among young Muslims that the Middle East is being attacked because of its Islamic identity. The growth in Islamophobia simply feeds that assertion and creates a toxic mentality among some that the West truly does hate Islam.

Yet the Iraq War was 14 years ago, and the young extremists who are being radicalised are aware that the villains in the humanitarian crisis in Syria are Assad and Putin. The reality is that a portion of Muslims are simply not culturally integrated, do not see Britain as home, and resentment over foreign policy builds on their vulnerability to extremism rather than outright creating it.

Most who become radicalised are not religious. Being a Muslim today is as much a cultural identity as an actual religious one for young individuals like myself. It’s a sign of being different within the West, and often an identity which comes hand in hand with discrimination and persecution.

The conversations around Muslims in the UK, painting us as an “other”, reinforce that sense but the feeling of being an outsider isn’t a novel experience for many. The majority of British Muslims are South Asian and have experienced discrimination of some kind, creating the feeling that they will always be rejected by parts of society. Yesterday they were “Pakis” – today they are extremists.

Parsons Green: CCTV shows terror arrest in Newport

Most British Muslims are able to healthily integrate being both Muslim and Western, seeing those two identities as compatible and harmonious rather than conflicting. But there are an increasing number of young Muslims who find their sense of belonging and identity elsewhere.

That comes from Islamophobia, but also portions of the Muslim community refusing to culturally integrate, regarding integration as a compromise of their identity. They push the notion of Britain never being our home, that we will always be hated for being Muslim, that you cannot truly be British and Muslim.

Where does this refusal to compromise on identity arrive from? It may stem from the feeling that the West has always hated Islam, and compromising with that is a betrayal of any Muslim who has suffered against American imperialism or British colonialism. Many working-class families who did come over from countries such as India found that, culturally, Britain could never be home. It was too different and integrating deeply into that would be forgetting their roots.

Police make third arrest in Parsons Green bombing probe

In this, culture and religion becomes meshed as one to create a complex identity – and theology takes a backseat. The focus is always on the Middle East and the wider Muslim world, ignoring domestic issues like the NHS or austerity which might affect their lives more directly. To some, the Middle East is the only place where the Islamic identity is celebrated rather than condemned, and where they would be included and not marginalised on the fringes. And though austerity does impact them, given they are not specific targets of it, the community doesn’t feel attacked by it – even though they are among the most deprived in the country.

Combine this with anti-Muslim bigotry, fanned by the tabloid press, and many young Muslims feel besieged. There is a natural instinct to withdraw and not engage with the wider society. The far right here have inflicted considerable damage in convincing both young, vulnerable Muslims and wider society that Islam and the West are at war with each other.

Parsons Green bombing: Arrest is 'very significant' says Rudd

It is key that the Government and the media encourage the reality-based idea that you can be Muslim and British and not feel as though one is betraying the other. Working with local Muslim communities and genuinely responding to each other’s concerns can be the only way of tackling this, by building mutual trust.

We aren’t at war with Islam. Our fight is to convince pockets of the Muslim community that you can be British and Muslim. It requires confidence in our own liberal values and to accept – to borrow the American phrase – that this truly is a battle of hearts and minds.

Just look at London, which rebels against the wishes of terrorists. This is inspiring for young Muslims, and watching Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London is the proof that you can be British and a Muslim.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in