The Casey Review, a major report on integration within the UK, has found that successive governments have failed to keep up with the scale of immigration, allowing some communities to become increasingly divided. Although finding that, as a nation, the UK is becoming more integrated and more at ease with integration, there are pockets of the country that are becoming more and more divided. For instance, in some council wards as many as 85% of the population come from a single minority group. Issues such as this have created the environment for groups such as Britain First to thrive, and to the growing anti-immigrant feeling within the country.
Certain members of society believe that some minority groups do not wish to integrate, as they do not subscribe to British Values, the concept that can be moulded to mean precisely what you need it to mean. They point to mosques being everywhere, hijabs being worn and halal meat being eaten to point to a basic incompatibility between Britain and Muslims. Like it or not, current discussions about integration revolve around the integration of Muslims. This is despite there also being pockets of Hindu, Sikh and Jewish populations where integration has not taken on. But let’s stick with ‘Islamic Enclaves’ for now.
Solutions such as forcing new immigrants to learn English and teaching them about British values, miss the point. Learning the language of your new home is important, and some countries offer language courses to immigrants for free, should they wish to use them. And some countries, like Norway, have offered courses on aspects of their way of life, in this case – and not without controversy – on sexual values within Norway, aimed at those who do not come from ‘gender equal’ countries. The important thing about these schemes is that they are voluntary, that immigrants who wished to learn were able to learn. The idea of voluntary schemes is important because we have to get away from the idea that integration is a one way street, that it is ‘them’ that have to integrate with ‘us’.
If we force them to learn about and accept our values, we should force ourselves to learn about and accept their values. This would, for instance, enable Muslim women who wear the hijab to improve their chances of finding work. Pakistani and Bangladeshi women (at 20.5% unemployment) are three times more likely than white women (6.8% unemployment) to be unemployed when they have the same qualifications. Black women – who presumably don’t fit the hijab wearing, non-English speaking stereotype of Muslim women – have an unemployment rate of 17.7%. If we are to tackle one aspect of non-integration, implementing schemes that ensure employers do not just employ those that look and sound like themselves is important.
Another important thing to remember is that one British value that politicians always shout about is tolerance. As a tolerant country, we accept and welcome other cultures, religions and people. As a tolerant country we ‘live and let live’. This does not mean accepting cultural practices that harm people, such as FGM or child brides. These are illiberal values and we have laws in place to prosecute them. This should, however, mean that if someone decides that they do not want to integrate with the wider community, they shouldn’t have to. We shouldn’t force them to any more than we should force that grouchy old man who lives by himself to come to midnight mass. It is their choice and it is a choice that does not affect us. We should provide immigrants with the tools for integration such as language education, information about their rights, information about how British society works differently from their own society. But these should remain tools for the immigrant to use should they so wish. We should also open up our system to ensure that those who are new to it are able to enter it with ease. Improving their economic well-being is in everyone’s interest and is a crucial element in tackling extremism.
And with extremism I come to my final point. Extremism does not happen because of a lack of integration on the part of an immigrant. It happens for many reasons, including financial hardship, constant suspicion that they are a threat, feeling that they are unwelcome in this country. To tackle extremism, it is those who supposedly do not need to learn about British values that must open themselves up, and embrace different cultures. Someone choosing to stay at home and look after their relatives instead of learning English does not in any way change your life. People choosing to practice their religion and their cultural values does not mean that you cannot still go to church on a Sunday or sing God Save the Queen. Rather, their ability to do this makes Britain British.