Tony Blair on Muslim Integration

Many British seem determined to make of Tony Blair what the Russians have of Mikhail Gorbachev – a greatly significant leader better appreciated outside his country than within it. Below, published on his official website, Blair demonstrates the frank and clear-sighted vision missing from so many who are blinded either by baseness or dull orthodoxy.

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.

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.

Most people instinctively understand the right approach to integration. We just have to articulate and enforce it. This approach is to 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.

Concerns about illegal immigration have a lot to do with the notion that the system can be gamed, played, or swindled by some who are hostile to the host community they seek to penetrate. Ensuring that there are rules, strictly enforced—and in Europe’s case, these could be pan-European as well as national—is not anti-immigrant. It is, in fact, the only way to protect the idea that immigration, properly controlled, is of enormous benefit.

We will not defeat extremism (and the fear it then produces in our societies) until we defeat its narrative. This narrative is Islam as a victim of the West, locked in an inevitable cultural conflict with it.

via Making Muslim Integration Work | Latest News | The Office of Tony Blair.

Shiraz Maher at Standpoint offers this one improvement:

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.

As has been so often the case, Blair gets the balance pretty much right.

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