As a child of immigrants, I’m screwed by the community I’m associated with (Muslims). And I’m screwed by the community I live in (the UK).
The double whammy of disadvantage one faces for being a secular minded individual from a Muslim community living in the UK is really quite astounding. It’s bad enough that I have to battle with tiresome conservative values within my own immediate community, then on top of that, I have to contend with the whims of UK public policy makers who are more eager to have tea with fundamentalists than with secular minded individuals such as myself.
Identity anti-racists such as the Stop the War Coalition have dismissed and continue to dismiss secular activist voices like those of Gita Sahgal or secular organisations such as Just Peace (a young organisation founded by progressive and secular Muslim activists) and Women Against Fundamentalism. Instead they befriend the likes of Muslim Association of Britain which is an offshoot of the Arab Muslim Brotherhood. It makes my blood boil. It’s a form of racism masquerading as cultural cohesion and tolerance. In reality, such high tolerance for fundamentalists in the UK just exacerbates some of the inaccurate national (and global) perceptions of what all British Muslims are like. Such alliances completely ignore the fact that people like me do exist. There are secular, non-religious Agnostic (or Atheist) cultural Muslims who have needs that can not be served by Muslim fundamentalists, conservative Muslim values, nor by the Ken Livingstones of the world.
The contradictions in the UK’s approach to fundamentalism is encapsulated in the following scenario. Salman Rushdie was knighted after coming out of hiding after 10 years thanks to a fatwa against him. So was the man who stated “Death, perhaps, is a bit too easy for [Salman Rushdie].” Iqbal Sacranie. Who by the way believes that homosexuality is “not acceptable” and served as the Secretary General of the “Muslim Council of Britain”. Just wonderful.
Being culturally Muslim does not mean that you are automatically an anti-semitic, anti-women’s rights, homophobic, pro-gender segration halali. I’ve met several people like myself through social networking sites. It is a mark of cynical politics that caricatures such as Iqbal Sacranie have in the past been chosen to represent “British Muslims”. Such individuals eventually end up having an influence over communities that were more progressive before politicians gave these individuals their stamp of approval.
On the one side, I am discriminated against by the society that I live in by getting racist chants thrown at me by football hooligans on a sunny afternoon, in the town that I grew up in. I am racially profiled at the airport causing me to be held longer than other passengers almost every time I fly. Simultaneously, I am discriminated against by the conservative (but not necessarily fundamentalist) Muslim communities which exist in Britain that cannot understand why I am not a misogynistic, homophobe whose sole mission in life is to fit every patriarchal stereotype of a “Muslim woman” that there is. As if things weren’t hard enough, on top of all this I then have to deal with politically correct non-Muslim Brits who don’t have the moral courage to say “You know what? This is bullsh*t!” Instead, cultural relativist pus festers in every corner of British society where I am told by non Muslims to accept the “free choice” of a 12 year old Muslim school girl that attempts to (unsuccessfully) challenge her school in court for not allowing her to wear a face veil (niqab) to school. It’s enough to make me nauseous.
Where do I fit in British society? Oh yeah. That’s right. Nowhere.
Anyway, that’s enough ranting for now. I will write more on this subject (perhaps in a less clumsy manner) at a later date. At that point I will also clarify why I see a contrast between characters such as Qaradawi and the diversity of Muslims in Britain (despite the largely conservative values that run through British Muslim communities). For now, allow me to direct you to Gita Sahgal’s BRILLIANT article on the shrinking secular spaces in the UK. Click on the abstract of the article below to go to the link. Thanks for reading.
“This article, an analysis of the role of religion in British life, examines the ways in which religion is promoted by British governments as part of public policy, leading to the shrinking of secular spaces, particularly in education. Successive governments have failed to recognise the lessons of the Rushdie affair and promoted fundamentalists who are Christian as well as Muslim. Class and educational aspiration rather than religiosity have opened the space for religion in public policy. Fundamentalists have also been embraced by identity anti-racists, while queer theorists and activists attack secularism and label those challenging Islamists as Islamophobes. Communalism is the default mode of academic theory, public policy and activism, putting at risk the gains made by egalitarian movements against racism and discrimination.“
Note for readers wishing to republish any of my posts: Thank you for reading. Please respect my intellectual property and my copyright and leave all the identifying information intact. Feel free to “re-blog” and share my work, but please do not reprint or republish my work in any other format without my permission. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.
“Cohesion, Multi-Faithism and the Erosion of Secular Spaces in the UK” Implications for the human rights of minority women by Pragna Patel. Excerpt: “This approach is being repeated throughout the UK and the organisations that have so far been closed or threatened with closure are secular organisations for black and ethnic migrants, secular women’s refuges for black and minority women, disability groups and rape crisis centres. Following SBS’s[Southall Black Sisters] lead, organisations confronting similar funding problems with their local authorities have mounted legal challenges against their councils using the equality legislation but while some have been successful, others have not. Paradoxically, the emphasis on funding faith-based groups have led some previously secular black and minority organisations to re-fashion themselves as faith-based groups – this has the effect of reinforcing the view that questions of identity within minority communities can be reduced to questions of religious values only. Discussions with a number of antiracist activists in the north of England have suggested that minority groups have recently adopted a faith-based identity in order to attract local authority funding that has been diverted from anti-racist projects to cohesion and preventing violent extremism work.”
“How to be a Real Muslim” by Kenan Malik. Excerpt: “Liberal multicultural policies have not created radical Islam, but they have helped created a space for it in Western societies that previously had not existed.”