Thursday, 12 of December of 2013
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed
It’s Friday today, Jum’ah, and as a special treat, the Foreign Secretary has written his first ever posting on a Muslim blog, here at Spirit21. David Miliband is no stranger to cyberspace and writes his own prolific blog over at the FCO website.
It would be fair to say that the relationship between the Foreign Office and the British and global Muslim community has been a tumultuous one (ahem, understatement), and many Britons, including British Muslims, believe that the Foreign Office needs to be held more strongly to account, and should adopt a more proactive and ethical approach to Foreign policy, working in partnership with Muslims and the Muslim world.
So here is your chance, people: our Foreign Secretary is reaching out and wanting to create dialogue, so take up the opportunity to question him – that’s how we create change. I’ll be posting my own comments a bit later, but dear readers – grill him, debate with him, criticise him, offer him positive and innovative policy ideas.
Foreign Secretary: here is your opportunity to listen and to make real change. And you should keep going with more direct engagement like this with the electorate – we like it when our elected politicians talk to us directly, really listen, and then make real the aspirations of the people of this nation.
David Miliband: Compromise and coalition of consent required
There is hardly a more important issue than how we build strong coalitions with Muslim majority countries on issues as diverse as non proliferation or climate change, or how we deepen understanding between people of different faiths. This was the theme of my speech yesterday in Oxford.
I’ll be speaking this evening at an event hosted by the Radical Middle Way entitled “Divan 2.0: Wired Warriors for the Soul of Islam”. It will be a panel discussion and Q&A between some of the UK’s most active cyber citizens.
So here are some of my inital thoughts: the web has certainly opened doors for Muslims – especially young Muslims – to have their voices heard and hold discussions that had very little space elsewhere. I’m one of those and my blog is testament to how the web helped me discover and shape my voice. But I do worry that there is a lot of yelling that goes on, and that we have lost the ability to discern wisdom and learning from polemic. And how does the invisible, intangible blogosphere fit into the social structure of a faith that is built around physical congregations such as the Friday prayers and the hajj? Are we destined to turn into two parallel ummahs, those who go to the mosque and those who go online?
Come along to the event to hear the panel talking about Wired Warriors for the soul of Islam
Date: Friday 22 May 2009
Location: Old Theatre, London School of Economics
Address: Houghton Street (off the Aldwych) London WC2A 2AE
Time: Doors open 6:45 pm; Starts 7:15 pm; Ends 8:45 pm
I’m not one that usually advertises many other events on my blog, but this one caught my attention: Save the Children, and a new charity called IF which seeks to raise money for worthwhile causes through fun and innovative ideas, are staging a World Record breaking attempt for “the most people running 100 meters in a 12-hour relay.” (according to the Guinness book of records official title). I think the number will be around 3000 – 4000 people, who will run in relay at Mile End Stadium, and hopefully bring the record in for London. Each runner is being asked for £100 sponsorship minimum, which means that the run could raise upwards for £300,000, which will be donated to Save the Children’s Humanitarian fund for Gaza.
It’s great to see innovative ideas for fundraising, especially those which challenge the participants themselves. I wish all the runners well.
You can read more here, and of course, remember to get out your chequebook, or access your paypal account: http://www.ifcharity.com/gaza100.html
This article was just posted at the Guardian’s Comment is Free
The Muslim attitudes survey reveals a loyal community, keen on integration – far from the usual stereotypes
My British glass is half empty. According to a Gallup poll released yesterday, only half of the UK population identifies itself as very strongly British. And in Germany only 32% of the general public feels that way about being German. Who then identifies most strongly with their nation, reaching a whopping 77% in the UK? Muslims.
This refreshing piece of information is part of a wider picture that Gallup paints of a European Muslim population that is more tolerant and integrated, as well as more strongly identified with Europe’s nations than other communities. It is an excellent and much-needed study, capable of informing the ongoing debate about the situation and place of Muslims in Europe.
The report investigates the usual allegations levelled at Muslims. It establishes that religiosity is no indicator of support for violence against civilians and that in the UK and Germany Muslims are more likely to state that violence is not justified for a noble cause than the general public.
This vital information needs to be channelled immediately into policy, where Muslims are only ever seen through the prism of violent extremism and are falsely considered to be predisposed to violence when in fact the opposite is the case.
The idea that Muslims want to live in isolated “ghettos” is also untrue. Muslims are in fact more likely to want to live in a neighbourhood that has a mix of ethnic and religious people: 67% of Muslims vs 58% of the general public in the UK, 83% vs 68% in France.
Muslims also believe that it is nonreligious actions that will lead to integration – language, jobs, education. For example, over 80% of Muslims in the UK, France and Germany believe that mastering the local language is critical.
Whilst both the general and the Muslim populations believe these things are essential for integration, these are the areas where Muslims are found to be disproportionately struggling. They have lower levels of employment and lower standards of living. For our public discourse and for government, this is where the focus needs to be and funding need to be applied.
The really worry is the gulf between how Muslims see their integration into society and how the wider population sees them. Some 82% of British Muslims say they are loyal to Britain. Only 36% of the general population believe British Muslims are loyal to the country.
This has its roots in misinformation and miscommunication across society and means we all need to work hard to dissipate the dark cloud of fear that hangs above our heads. The Gallup report points to other countries like Senegal, Sierra Leone and South Africa which have a very high level of tolerance and integration across society and suggests that this may be a result of governments that actively promote religious tolerance, recognise multiple religious traditions in official holidays and national celebrations and enshrine religious freedoms in the constitution.
As a British Muslim woman who wears the headscarf, I was particularly proud to see that in Britain the headscarf is seen positively. When asked what qualities it was associated with, a third said confidence and courage, and 41% said freedom. Some 37% said it enriched European culture.
Instead of building on the platform for understanding and communication that this report brings, the mainstream media coverage has sensationalised the report by reducing it to one thing: Muslim opinions about sexual relationships.
To be sure, Muslims are indeed more conservative than the general population, but this is perhaps a trait shared with other religious communities. In fact, the areas which concern Muslims are in some cases those that we find socially contentious anyway: pornography, abortion, suicide, homosexuality and extra-marital relations.
French Muslims appear to be more “liberal” with regards to sexual mores than German or British Muslims. This is a red herring. It does not necessarily mean that they have “more integrated” sexual attitudes. All it seems to reflect are broader views on sexuality in those countries. For example, the French public considers married men and women having an affair far more morally acceptable than Brits or Germans, and this difference is reflected in the Muslim population across all three countries.
The danger in focusing on sexuality as a litmus test of integration is that in turns this into a one-issue debate. The point here is that it is that it is completely irrelevant to a discussion of integration and a happily functioning society, where mutual respect and understanding for each others moral codes – whether we agree or not – ought to be the foundations for a shared vision of a shared society. We see this in the statistics about homosexuality: it’s true that no Muslims in the UK found this to be morally acceptable (though there is a 5% margin of error for Muslims across all the statistics in the report). However, this needs to be seen in context of the fact that Muslims are more respectful of those different to themselves than the general British public. The important point here is not that we should have homogeneous social and moral attitudes, but that we can respect and live with those who hold opinions at different ends of that spectrum.
The message is this: we should use this report to silence those who spread hate once and for all. We need to move on from the monochromatic discussions of loyalty being either to the state or to religion, discussions that force a choice between “my way or the highway”.
Our glass is actually more than half full. There is much hard work to be done, and many aspects of economic and social policy that need to be addressed, but the status quo offers all of us much hope for an integrated future. It is a future that can be built on the evidence before us of ample scope for dialogue and understanding.