British values oath

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gra­cious, the Most Merciful.

As-salā­mu ‘alaykum wa-rah­mat­ul­lāhi wa-barakā­tuh (Peace, Bless­ings & Mer­cy of Allah be upon You).

This state­ment is being issued on the 24th of Decem­ber 2016 and super­sedes all pre­vi­ous state­ments on the subject.

Wifaqul Ula­ma agrees with the opin­ion expressed by Aver­roes that the sug­ges­tion of a ‘British val­ues oath’ at a time when our soci­ety is divid­ed is point­less. We also agree that nar­row­ing the terms of the debate to suit cer­tain polit­i­cal agen­das should be stopped.

We sub­mit that the very val­ues which are deemed ‘British’ by the Gov­ern­ment are already found in all com­mu­ni­ties includ­ing Mus­lims. The sug­ges­tion that this isn’t the case is unhelp­ful and will only lead to greater con­fu­sion. Inte­gra­tion is more about accep­tance of dif­fer­ence than assim­i­la­tion, and is not just a Mus­lim issue. As we have seen since the brex­it vote, racism has not been removed from soci­ety by leg­is­la­tion, and it is only through edu­ca­tion and engage­ment that the gov­ern­ment will impact the hearts and minds of people.

We need a wider debate on how to cre­ate a more inclu­sive Britain.

Javid’s Oath of Allegiance for Muslims committed to Public Service

Murtaza Shaikh

On the 18th of Decem­ber, Com­mu­ni­ties Sec­re­tary, Sajid Javid, issued his first sub­stan­tive pol­i­cy state­ment in response to the Louise Casey’s review into Mus­lim oppor­tu­ni­ty and inte­gra­tion. He pro­posed an oath of alle­giance to British val­ues for every pub­lic office-hold­er. This would include word­ing such as “tol­er­at­ing the views of oth­ers even if you dis­agree with them”, “believ­ing in free­dom of speech, free­dom of reli­gion, free­dom from abuse…a belief in democ­ra­cy, and the demo­c­ra­t­ic process” and “respect for the law, even if you think the law is an ass”.

At Aver­roes, we were baf­fled when David Cameron in his Counter-Extrem­ism Strat­e­gy, which com­mis­sioned the Casey Review, defined ‘extrem­ism’ as a stand-alone con­cept denot­ing any oppo­si­tion to fun­da­men­tal British val­ues of democ­ra­cy, the rule of law, indi­vid­ual lib­er­ty and reli­gious tol­er­ance. How could any dis­course on extrem­ism absolve itself of estab­lish­ing even a weak causal link to vio­lence and ter­ror­ism? How would we, in prac­tice, inter­pret such hazy notions as democ­ra­cy, the rule or law or tol­er­ance? Should we even be stig­ma­tis­ing, penal­is­ing and ostracis­ing such unsavoury views from demo­c­ra­t­ic open lib­er­al soci­eties? Just some of the points we made in our sub­mis­sion to the Home Affairs Select Committee.

Javid has added to the con­fu­sion. He wants to instil these British val­ues through an oath of alle­giance. Can Javid aid us with even one exam­ple of a pub­lic office hold­er who was found want­i­ng in these val­ues? Do oaths have such an over­pow­er­ing effect, that their utter­ance imme­di­ate­ly and irrev­o­ca­bly etch the required feel­ings and beliefs into the subject’s heart? If only cleans­ing people’s hearts and minds of nasty unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic and intol­er­ant views were that simple.

The pro­pos­al is aimed at elect­ed offi­cials, civ­il ser­vants and coun­cil staff, who may be averse to the foun­da­tion­al ideas of democ­ra­cy and equal­i­ty. Fur­ther still, the con­text of the Casey Review and the Counter-Extrem­ism Strat­e­gy implies it is Mus­lim offi­cials, who we should be wary of. Giv­en the scant num­bers and gross under­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Mus­lims in all three fields of work, those few will already be feel­ing like Javid is point­ing a fin­ger at them. It is also unclear what the evi­dence base is for the pres­ence of such views. Even if we take Casey’s obser­va­tions as gospel, she is clear­ly not refer­ring to this sec­tion of the pop­u­la­tion, who have excelled pro­fes­sion­al­ly and more­over are giv­ing back to soci­ety through pub­lic ser­vice. After all, these Mus­lims were not the sub­jects of her Review. They are nei­ther iso­lat­ed, nor lack­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties, but well inte­grat­ed and suc­cess­ful. These are the exact peo­ple, who we should be cel­e­brat­ing, mak­ing men­tors and appoint­ing ambas­sadors for those Mus­lims and minori­ties, who lack the resources or the ambi­tion to aim high. They demon­strate the ide­al of not only inte­grat­ing, but con­tribut­ing to British soci­ety. Rather than be seen as a fifth col­umn or threat to ‘our’ way of life. They should be empow­ered and sup­port­ed, not sus­pect­ed and stigmatised.

It must be said unequiv­o­cal­ly and con­ced­ed that we are liv­ing in an ever more divid­ing soci­ety as was clear dur­ing the cam­paign­ing for the EU ref­er­en­dum. There was a sharp spike in hate crime post-Brex­it against almost all vul­ner­a­ble groups, includ­ing shock­ing­ly gay peo­ple and the dis­abled, not just EU migrants and Mus­lims. We have only recent­ly seen the mur­der of the MP Jo Cox by a neo-nazi lon­er and a man stab­bing anoth­er at For­est Hill Sta­tion, while shout­ing “I want to kill a Mus­lim”. From anoth­er per­spec­tive, as immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties become increas­ing sec­ond and third gen­er­a­tion, many are more inte­grat­ed cul­tur­al­ly and pro­fes­sion­al­ly. An indi­ca­tor of this is the dis­cernible rise in key fields such as pol­i­tics, media and the arts. This of course does not negate the ghet­toised com­mu­ni­ties, who con­tin­ue to be cul­tur­al­ly insu­lar and socio-eco­nom­i­cal­ly dis­ad­van­taged. By iden­ti­fy­ing such iso­lat­ed com­mu­ni­ties along reli­gious lines, we sub­sume oth­ers who we should not. By using the prism of extrem­ism to attempt a solu­tion, we shoot our­selves in the foot by secu­ri­tis­ing an essen­tial­ly inter­com­mu­nal prob­lem. It has to be a two/­mul­ti-way process built on trust and mutu­al confidence.

More impor­tant­ly, let us stop nar­row­ing the terms of the debate to suit cer­tain polit­i­cal agen­das and let us address the prob­lem objec­tive­ly and head-on. Inte­gra­tion is not pure­ly a mat­ter relat­ed to Mus­lims, nor is the only rea­son to address it, an unestab­lished link to vio­lent extrem­ism. Inte­gra­tion is essen­tial­ly an issue of eth­no-cul­tur­al (and lin­guis­tic) iden­ti­ty and val­ues. We mud­dy the waters by gen­er­al­is­ing it into reli­gious terms and sub­sume numer­ous com­mu­ni­ties. We need to drill down and iden­ti­fy unique imped­i­ments to inte­gra­tion with­in spe­cif­ic com­mu­ni­ties. We must also accept that not all prob­lems are down to iso­lat­ed com­mu­ni­ties, such as socio-eco­nom­ic fac­tors, or per­ceived and actu­al dis­crim­i­na­tion. What of increas­ing­ly ghet­toised white work­ing class com­mu­ni­ties, who often live adja­cent to eth­no-cul­tur­al ones? What of places where African, Indi­an or Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties exist in autopoi­et­ic social bub­bles, where they sel­dom have con­tact, let alone a rela­tion­ship with those of oth­er groups.

Inte­gra­tion can­not be about ‘extrem­ism’ as Cameron, Casey and Javid frame it. It must be about us being stronger, trust­ing, car­ing and hap­pi­er as a soci­ety, encom­pass­ing a rich tapes­try of cul­tures and beliefs. We must endeav­our simul­ta­ne­ous­ly to sign up to a Britain, where we all believe we have a stake, belong and are ready to stick our neck out for our fel­low Brit come rain or shine; whether black, brown or white.