Back in 2011, Sayeeda Warsi said that Islamophobia had passed the dinner table test. 6 years on, that statement couldn’t be truer as a newly released report by the Social Mobility Commission (SMC) about social mobility in the Muslim community shows that Islamophobia is occurring at all levels of British institutions.
The report claims to speak about the Muslim community but largely focuses on the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities that live in socially deprived areas of the country and suffer from cultural misogyny and live in patriarchal infrastructures where women are held back from certain modes of employment. It cannot go without saying, however, that the report acknowledges that the terms ‘Muslim’ are reductive in an incredibly heterogeneous Muslim community and that there is diversity even within certain ethnic groups. The term ‘Muslim’ is indolently used in this report to speak of Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities that identify themselves as adherents to Islam yet their ethno-cultural practices are cemented to be the common practice of all Muslims.
Last year, the Casey review followed in the same vein – it spoke of Muslim integration into Britain, yet it made the same lazy mistake of referring to the cultural practices of Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities as well as the practices of some East African as ‘Muslim problems’. It’s interesting to note that neither documents have spoken of the experiences of White or White European Muslims, nor do they refer very much to the Black Muslim communities either. While it’s understandable that the spotlight falls on the immigrant ethnic groups as they make up a large portion of British Muslims, it’s still grossly inaccurate and alienating to ignore the views of other Muslim groups that are equally vocal in their profession of the faith. In doing so, it superimposes the views and practices of immigrant Pakistani and Bangladeshis as a homogeny onto the rest of the Muslim community who are then forced to defend their very different approach to the faith.
Although the SMC report concludes that Islamophobia is occurring at all levels, by choosing to exclude Black and White Muslims, this report cannot offer a full insight into the thought process behind the discrimination faced by British Muslims overall. It would have been far more accurate if, for example, a comparison could have been offered between the experiences of White English Muslim converts who use their English names on job applications as well as the experiences of their children at school. Moreover, the comparison in their progress throughout education with those children from immigrant Muslim communities would have provided a more detailed picture and therefore, a better understanding of how Islamophobia is invariably a racialised problem, as opposed to merely being a hostility to anyone who professes to be a Muslim.
Indeed, the report may well be accurate in describing the reactions of some non-Muslims when they see a Muslim in the workplace or someone tells them they’re a Muslim, but given that much of the research and the inaccurate media representation of British Muslims is based more on their ethnic backgrounds and regressive cultural beliefs, such whisperings and snide remarks aren’t a huge surprise. Islamophobia is merely a branch of racism. After all, such sentiments don’t arise simply because people have studied Islam, but what has been fed to them about its current adherents who, in an ironic twist, don’t know their own faith fully. Given that most British Muslims are of an Asian background and the attention falls mostly on the discrepancies of the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, the hostility subsequently falls on people who are visibly Muslim and are of colour. Of course, the problem is far more nuanced than that.
The daily microaggressions and racial discrimination that seem to have seeped into the infrastructure of Britain are aimed at anyone who is of colour, of an immigrant background and has a Muslim-sounding name. These aren’t new experiences; they have always existed. Just ask any Black person. The problem is that reports of this nature deliberately overlook the fact that the qualification of the term ‘Muslim’ should be and is literally entrenched in religiosity, yet has been applied to ethno-cultural communities. Part of the fault lies with these communities for allowing such an application of the term to cultural problems. The lack of education among cultural communities on what is and isn’t Islam has massively contributed to this conflation of religion with culture and, unfortunately, creates an inextricable link of Muslim with certain Asian practices.
The report mentions that there are social mobility problems between the communities that reside in the South and those that reside in the Midlands, but it fails to state that this is a problem for all residents of those regions. There is also a bigger picture – the last 15 years have seen a decline in Britain’s economy, particularly since 2008 where job security declined and zero hours’ contracts have become a commonality; such factors have played a crucial part in a lack of social mobility and for those communities living on the poverty line, this has become an increasingly acute problem. For Muslims living in socially-deprived areas, the SMC report can only result in despair and despite its suggestions for improvements, it does very little to allay the fear and frustration of the Muslim community that their faith is unjustifiably under scrutiny and subsequently, under attack.