In December 2016 Dame Louise Carey published a study into social integration and found that ‘high levels of social and economic isolation in some places, and cultural and religious practices in communities…. run contrary to British values and sometimes our laws’. Casey also found that, by faith, the Muslim population has the highest number and proportion of people aged 16 and over who cannot speak English.
According to a study published in 2016, Oldham has one of the highest concentrations of Muslims in the UK, but is one of the most segregated places in Britain, but just how segregated is Oldham? In 2017, Sarfraz Manzoor visited Oldham to find out just what ethnic segregation looks like today and how much potential for change there is. (Below is a summary of an article published in The Week, 24 June 2017.)
The Ethnic Divide in Oldham
Safraz spends some time with Imran, who runs a general store in Goldwick, part of Oldham that has one of the highest concentrations of Muslims in the country. He finds that every single on of the customers in Imran’s store is Asian, and Imran himself says that ”we are not mixed in – we don’t integrate. We don’t do it and it’s wrong’, and he also says that “if a white person were to walk down the street in the local area, I swear nine out of ten people would crane their neck to at them.”
The Muslim community in Goldwick has its origins in Pakistan and Bangladesh and some of the outdated attitudes and traditions from over there have been imported into this country – some women are expected to walk yards behind their husbands and some men only take their wive’s out twice a year, on their birthdays and anniversaries.
Many members of the Pakistani community actually view Pakistan as ‘their country’, because that’s where their parents came from, a sense of identity reinforced by visits back to Pakistan, which is often the only other country in the world they’ve been to besides Britain.
The Fatima Women’s Association is about a four minute walk from Imran’s store where Manzoor meets with a dozen Pakistani and Bangladeshi women who are learning English. They are among 100 such women who attend thrice weekly English language lessons funded by BBC children in need.
The problem with this initiative is that some of the women interviewed only want to learn English so that they don’t have to use an interpreter when, for example they go to the doctor, they don’t actually want their children to fully integrate with British society because there is deep apprehension, bordering on fear, of what English culture is and how it may damage their families – they think English culture is drinking, partying, boyfriends, sex and tolerating things that are not allowed in Islam.
Not one of the women has a white friend and they limit their children’s freedom in similar ways, encouraging them to stick to Asian friends only so that they do not lose their culture.
Reasons to Be Hopeful
While the above appears to paint a bleak picture of a high degree of ethnic segregation, there are reasons to be hopeful…
Firstly, even amongst the people Manzoor spoke to, stereotypes about white culture were being challenged, chiefly by those who worked with white people, suggesting barriers can be broken down.
Secondly, the degree of segregation found in Oldham is rare. Professor Eric Kaufmann, professor of politics and Birkbeck College, notes that 80% of the wards of Britain are 90% white, and what appears to be happening is that Asians are increasingly moving out of Asian only enclaves and moving to super-diverse areas. It appears that multicultural Hackney is more our future than segregated Goldwick.
Finally, there is the case study of Manzoor himself – who recognised a lot of Goldwick in his own upbringing, but himself ended up marrying a white woman and bringing up mixed race kids.
Initiatives to Increase Ethnic Integration
A number of things are suggested which might promote integration
- Providing more opportunities for minority women, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds
- Providing cross-cultural activities – such as shared cooking events.
- Setting up a buddy-system for women learning English as a second language
- Making schools more ethnically mixed, even establishing quotas
- Doing the same through the National Citizen Service.
Manzoor concludes the article by suggesting that the key to greater integration is to build a society in which everyone feels like it is their home, which in turn will require white culture to stop blaming all Muslims when there are fundamentalist terror attacks, and Muslims need to stop retreating into victimhood when anyone suggests there may be issues within their culture which need confronting.