Baroness Warsi is probably right when she claims that there is a certain degree of social acceptance of anti-Islamic thinking in Britain at present, shading into respectable prejudice. But let’s have some context and perspective here, for goodness’ sake.
Anything to do with Islam in our shared community way of life today has reference to one or more of a number of sociopolitical and cultural factors: the permanent stand-off in the Middle East; the way that crisis shocks and embitters Muslims everywhere, and a perception amongst them that the British government is not doing enough to help solve the problem. Then there is the undeniable fact that many of the people arrested under terrorism legislation seem to be from the Muslim community. Many people, I am sure, also see Islam as a strand of public life making certain demands: on our tolerance of the burqa, for example, and all it represents.
Couple these factors with public awareness of unusual goings-on in some parts of local government in London and elsewhere (cf Private Eye), the comparatively high levels of deprivation experienced by Muslims and the hurtful rhetoric spouted by hotheads in places like Luton, and you get a picture of exceptionalism which contrasts strikingly, for instance, with the comparatively low profile of the UK’s Indian and Sikh communities. Add two more ingredients to the mix, the dire quality of some of our media and the fact – particularly regretted by Whitehall and Westminster – that no-one can be said to be the leader of the community in the way that the Chief Rabbi is of his, and you get a situation which is somewhat unsatisfactory. But it is nevertheless temporary. These things are all in flux.
It would help if we knew that Islam in Britain is not wholly in the grip of Wahhabism and that Christians in the Middle East are not persecuted. But we don’t. What we see is that the Muslim community and its tensions ‘stick out’ in British public life in a way that other communities from the sub-continent do not. We are impressed by its bonds of family and we all eat ‘Indian’ food, to be sure, but we don’t like threats. So we should be alert and aware, certainly, but I cannot believe that anti-Muslim measures will be taken by any British government in the foreseeable future, with any degree of public support: no Kristallnacht, no talk of the ‘Muslim Problem’ and possible ‘solutions’ for it.
I do believe, however, because I have seen its like in many places in the world, that as the Muslim community’s ‘Generation X’ become more and more ‘British’ in demeanour, and economically successful, many of these problems will fade away through a natural process of attrition.
I remember reading some years ago (where?) of the imbalance between the Palestinians and the Zionists in their lobbying of the British government in the early 1930s. The latter came across, even in those days of unthinking antisemitism, as educated, reasonable people of European stock and attitudes, with something of a good case, whilst the representatives of the Grand Mufti, for example, appeared to be much less sortable, less educated and aware, crude, and generally more uncompromising and extreme. Who was more successful at getting what they wanted?
That sort of thing happens less and less. Nowadays we all have experience of being job-interviewed by Muslims, having Muslim colleagues at work, being treated by Muslim doctors or taught by Muslim teaching staff; of having Muslim friends. This context will deepen and expand over time, not the opposite. Britain is tolerant and we lessen tensions by our sense of humour. That is not a bad way of ventilating concerns, surely.