The Select Committee on Citizenship & Civic Engagement recently put out a call for evidence relating to a series of questions/issues it was keen to investigate. In response to this, I pulled together this written submission. In trying to keep it condensed, I focused on the following: British Identity & Nationhood; Values & Shared Values; Fundamental British Values; and, Alternative Approaches.
The submission can be downloaded for free by clicking here.
You can find out more about the Select Committee by clicking here.
Here’s a link to my most recent contribution to the German-published, Turkish language periodical, Perspektif. This month’s contribution is titled “Müslümanlar’ın Entegrasyonunda ‘Çözülmesi Gerekenler'” which loosely translates as “Solving the Needs of Muslim Integration” and focuses on the findings from the Commission on Islam, Participation and Public Life that were published in the report, “Missing Muslims: Unlocking British Muslim Potential for the Benefit of All”.
The article can be viewed by clicking here.
The report can be downloaded for free here.
Below is the first few paragraphs:
Müslümanlar’ın Entegrasyonunda ‘Çözülmesi Gerekenler’
Birleşik Krallık’ta İslam, Katılım ve Kamusal Yaşam Komisyonu’nun (İng. “Citizens Commission on Islam, Participation & Public Life”) bulguları temmuz ayında yayımlandı. Komisyon raporunun yayımlanmasının ardından Birleşik Krallık’taki Müslümanların entegrasyon konusu kamusal ve siyasi tartışmalarda yeniden gündeme geldi. “Kayıp Müslümanlar: İngiltereli Müslümanların Potansiyelinin Hepimizin Yararına Ortaya Çıkarılması” başlıklı raporda 18 aylık bir araştırma sürecinin sonuçları yer alıyor. Bu süre boyunca, Muhafazakâr Parti Meclis Üyesi Dominic Grieve öncülüğündeki komisyon üyeleri Birleşik Krallık’taki birçok şehir ve kasabayı gezerek, toplantılar düzenledi. Bu toplantılarda 500 saati aşkın bir süre zarfında, 21. yüzyılda Birleşik Krallık’ta Müslüman olmanın ne anlama geldiğine dair katılımcıların beyanları dinlendi. Ben de bu araştırmanın bir parçası olarak, Birmingham’da düzenlenen bir toplantıda yazılı ve sözlü ifadelerde bulundum. İfadelerimde, özellikle sokak düzeyinde İslamofobik nefret suçlarına maruz kalan kurbanların yaşadıkları ve Birleşik Krallık’taki “truva atı” skandalına vurgu yaptım. Birleşik Krallık’taki “truva atı skandalı” 2014 yılının mart ayında, aşırıcı Müslümanların birden fazla devlet okulunu ele geçirmeyi planladıklarının iddia edilmesiyle literatüre geçmişti. Çok değil yalnızca birkaç ay önce, hükûmet bu çılgın öfke seline karıştığı iddia edilen öğretmenlerin meslekten atılmaları yönünde iki yıldır süren çabalarına son verdi. Gerekçe olarak da bu iddiaların mesnetsiz olduğunu ileri sürdü.
Continue reading here.
Here’s a link to a piece recently published by the Sociological Review that was co-written with my long-term friend and collaborator Özlem Young. Focusing on new research we undertook in Birmingham with Somali families in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum, the full piece can be read by clicking here.
The first few paragraphs are reproduced below too:
Brexit, Birmingham and Belonging: Anxieties About ‘Home’ Among Secondary Migrant Somali Families
Having obtained full EU citizenship status elsewhere (including in Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden), a significant number of Somalis have arrived in Britain since the year 2000. Research suggests that Britain was preferred as a destination of secondary migration on the basis that it was perceived to be more tolerant of cultural and religious difference. Maybe unsurprisingly, many settled in Birmingham, a city that not only has a long history of welcoming and being home to many diverse communities but one that has also been referred to as being the best place in Europe to be ‘pure Muslim’.
In making Birmingham their home, many of those that have settled have had families while at the same time creating organisations and services that support their cultural, theological and political needs. In doing so, they have established themselves as a distinct ‘community’. Birmingham is most definitely seen to be ‘home’; their sense of belonging to the city being routinely conveyed to us when we began to engage Somali families in the city as part of a research project that sought to explore the impact of Brexit on a number of different minority communities. As one of those we engaged put it:
“The number one factor here is the social life. I grew up in Sweden and Sweden was a very secluded environment where people kept themselves to themselves… But here in the UK, especially Birmingham, people do more outdoor activities, go to restaurants… whether it is sheesha, whether it is the gym, people are always outside. So that’s what I like…And the mosque community in the UK, especially Birmingham, is very active. There are always activities. Not necessarily religious, they could be any sort. People can come from outside, say government or schools, and you can have awareness of different issues. So you’re never bored in terms of that aspect.”
Because the Somalis we spoke to were European rather than British citizens however, the vote for Britain to leave the European Union threw any sense of ‘home’ or belonging they had into disarray.
Continue reading by clicking here.
For those who have been following the thread on whether the Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) agenda is divisive and more importantly whether it’s working, here is the letter that I sent back to the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) following their inherently bland response to me a few weeks ago (read their letter here):
Thank you for your recent letter, ref P1/PD/027933/08, of which I have noted the comments.
I would like you to clarify two particular points for me.
The first relates to the sixth paragraph in your letter where you state that:
“…we have seen that violent extremism can emerge from even the most cohesive and empowered communities. It is clear that we need a specific response to this challenge.”
Could you detail what ‘specific response’ including examples you have made in this respect.
The second relates to your final comment:
“As a Government we are clear that all forms of extremism should be challenged, and we are taking action on this front – including work to tackle extreme right wing groups.”
When I was requested to attend the Cabinet meeting in Birmingham a short while ago, I was invited to put a question forward to Hazel Blears at the Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG). For me, the question had to be about the PVE programme:
Given that the PVE Pathfinder programme in Birmingham primarily funds Muslim groups and organisations to address perceived issues and challenges within Muslim communities, to what extent do you think that this deepens the divides that already exist between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities across the city paying particular reference to the fact that the British National Party (BNP) attracted a greater percentage of the vote at this year’s local authority elections in Birmingham than it did in London where it won its first seat on the London Assembly?
Below is the response that I have received from the CLG:
Dear Dr Allen,
Thank you for your recent email to the Downing Street website. Your message has been sent to me in Communities and Local Government with apologies for the delay in replying.
The threat from terrorism and violent extremism remains perhaps the greatest threat facing the UK.
Our overall aim as a department is to create strong, prosperous and empowered communities which are positive environments of which we can be proud, and where people want to live, work and raise a family. To achieve this vision, we need to create an environment where every person can realise their full potential and feel that belong. Everyone, regardless of background, has the right to similar life opportunities and to freedom and respect. Our aim is to create communities where people know and act on their rights and responsibilities and where people trust one another and local institutions to act fairly.
Communities and Local Government’s role in preventing violent extremism is to put real power in the hands of local people – enabling a community-based and community-led campaign. Local authorities play a key role in this by supporting grassroots organisations to deliver local solutions for local challenges.
As part of this response, we need to ensure we foster community cohesion: building strong and positive relationships between people of different backgrounds, a sense of belonging and a shared vision for the future. Furthermore, strong, organised and empowered communities are better equipped to effectively reject the ideology of violent extremism, to confront and isolate apologists for terrorism, to channel legitimate grievances through democratic means and to provide support to vulnerable individuals.
Despite this, we have seen that violent extremism can emerge from even the most cohesive and empowered communities. It is clear that we need a specific response to this challenge.
It is, however, important to see these agendas as mutually supportive rather than contradictory. Our recent publication ‘Preventing Violent Extremism: Next Steps for Communities’ sets out the importance of a ‘whole community’ approach to Preventing Violent Extremism – engaging all communities as we seek to strengthen the resilience of those communities who are most at risk from violent extremism. As a Government we are clear that all forms of extremism should be challenged, and we are taking action on this front – including work to tackle extreme right wing groups.
I hope this addresses your concerns.
Local Partnership Support Officer
Preventing Extremism Division
Communities and Local Government
Zone 6/J10, Eland House
London SW1E 5DU
Tel: 020 7944 4993
Given the news this morning that a growing number of voices are concerned about the Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) agenda and its funding in Birmingham, I am reproducing below a short briefing paper that I put together through my role at BRAP in July 2007 for the Birmingham Strategic Partnership and the Equalities Department at Birmingham City Council. Many of the issues raised today are in line with those flagged up over a year ago, long before the PVE Pathfinder budget was allocated: on paper at least. Unsurprisingly, none of the recommendations were considered and the paper was immediately discarded.
Are we preventing extremism?
This is a short paper to provide a brief analysis of the Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) programme – formerly known as Preventing Extremism Together (PET) – including the way in which this is approached at the local level in Birmingham. We feel that before the city commits to a large-scale series of projects as part of a PVE Pathfinder, it should carefully consider the limitations of previous projects in other parts of the country and discuss associated learning points.
Following the 7/7 terrorist attacks, ‘extremists’ and ‘extremism’ have been given a much more important emphasis in public and political life. Whilst ‘extremist’ typically refers to Muslims who have become radicalized and who advocate violence against society at large or the Government, ‘extremism’ has become much more politicised and is used to describe a flammable mixture of ideology, methodology and religion without differentiation. The shift has occurred not least through the Government’s PET programme. Setting up various working groups in partnership with Muslim communities to combat the threat from ‘home-grown terrorists’, the programme initially made 64 recommendations: 27 for Government, 37 for Muslim communities covering youth, education, women, imam training and the role of mosques amongst others.
Whilst many of these recommendations are yet to be taken up, the PVE Pathfinder fund has followed some of them and has funded a variety of projects and initiatives designed to tackle violent extremism at the local level. On the whole, these have focused on three strands that have sought to build the capacity of: leaders; organisations; and women in Muslim communities. An indicative list of some of the projects funded is set out below (further information about projects can be found in the PET Progress Report available on the DCLG website):
Tottenham Hotspur Youth Forum, Haringey
A scheme to improve self-esteem, confidence, and other important skills using high-profile Muslim footballers and coaches as role models for young Muslims who are not in education, training or employment and who lack positive aims.
Barking and Dagenham Islamic Awareness
Here the local authority supports organisations through providing education about Islam and its teachings, contrasting the reality of Islam against the rhetoric of violent extremism.
Black Country Imams
Dudley Muslim Association, the Black Country Sunni Ulema Council, the British Muslim Forum and other local authorities are developing a programme to give new skills to imams and help develop future ‘home grown’ British imams. This includes offering language courses; training in citizenship, British history and the British legal system; training on health and safety, child protection and other necessary governance functions.
Kirklees Webspace and Radio Activity
A scheme create a managed webspace for young people to express, share and develop their views on issues of identity and community relations as an alternative to extremist websites.
Life In Britain: Rights and Responsibilities
Calderdale Authority, the Local Education Authority, schools and local faith bodies are developing citizenship education resources to be used by young people of all faiths in schools as well as youth groups and madrassahs to address the specific challenges that face the Muslim population.
Crawley Awareness Training
A programme of Islam awareness training for key service providers including police, teachers, neighbourhood housing managers, youth workers, and college lecturers amongst others. It will focus on inter-generational issues; community structures and relationships; challenging stereotypes and ‘myth busting’; the impact of national or international events on local minority communities; and how negative impacts can be mitigated.
Watford Bridge of Peace
This Women’s Group works by bringing Muslim women and Christian women together to share experiences and understanding, and support each other in promoting tolerance.
Has the PET Programme made an impact?
At a national level, the answer to this question is fairly close to ‘we don’t really know’. One of the overwhelming characteristics of the projects listed above and with other projects and recommendations made as part of the PET programme is the lack of empirical evidence available to show how and indeed whether projects of this type are having an impact on the levels of extremism. Whilst we recognize that the PET programme came about largely as an urgent reaction to acts of terrorism two years ago, it would appear that monitoring or evaluation of the projects is still relatively scant. A review of the PET Progress Report identifies that certain projects are currently underway, yet the report does not discuss whether these projects have helped to prevent the emergence of extremism or address its root causes.
We face a situation then where it is extremely difficult to identify which projects might be best to build upon, which might be rolled out to a wider constituency, which are merely chasing red herrings and which – if any – are just too little, too late either because they are completely ‘missing’ where extremism occurs (as with the Crawley project for example) or that it has already gained a firm foothold.
For example, whilst the Black Country Imams project seeks to develop ‘home-grown’ British imams, there have been for many years imams trained in British Deobandi ‘dar ul-uloom’ or seminaries. If these have been unsuccessful in reducing extremism, is it not more important to understand ‘why’ seminaries of this type have failed to make an impact? At least before commissioning a scheme of the type we see in the Black Country.
Given that those who were behind the atrocities of 7/7 – as well as those who failed on 21/7 and more recently in London and Glasgow – would have been very unlikely to have ‘bought-in’ to the types of projects listed above, surely we need to reflect critically upon their appropriateness as a tool for ‘preventing violent extremism’. There is also a case to be made for considering the influence of broader political debate on the direction of the PET programme (in particular, debate about the influence of ‘living parallel lives’ and the wearing of the niqab on integration and cohesion).
Who speaks for the ‘Muslim community’
‘Representation’ has been the means through which Government have sought to engage with BME groups in the past and has on many occasions been highlighted as having serious flaws. However, when issues around faith and religion are involved, some of these flaws could be further accentuated, as with the Barking & Dagenham programme for example when it states that it aims to contrast ‘the reality of Islam against the rhetoric of violent extremism’. Can we ever be certain for instance that those representing the ‘reality of Islam’ are actually doing that? In a number of cases, it is the ‘usual suspects’ that are asked to ‘represent’ Muslims. This has led some of those within the Muslim community to question the ‘representatives’ ability to ‘represent’. It has also led to a number of charges of ‘cronyism’ from those outside Muslim communities.
How useful are ‘projects for Muslims’?
Group representation is often used to advocate and lobby on behalf of views and interests of particular groups. Historically this dynamic has encouraged groups to play up their victimhood and unique cultural/religious identities in a bid for public funds or social influence. In a programme like PET, unduly focusing on the needs of Muslims as expressed by self-appointed Muslim representatives can have a number of negative effects. Most significantly, it can reinforce divisions and encourage those from outside Muslim communities to believe that Muslims are getting preferential treatment (consider for example the use of ‘grants for Muslims’ statistics used by the BNP in their campaign material).
By focusing primarily on Muslims, the ‘problem’ of extremism is also seen as being about ‘them’ rather than ‘us’. In this way emphasis is placed upon how Muslims should be changing, rather than on how society as a whole can take shared responsibility for promoting integration and preventing violent extremism. This latter point and the need to go beyond understanding individuals and communities through the lens of a ‘single identity’ was also something that was identified as being particularly problematic in the findings of the recent Commission on Integration & Cohesion report, Our Shared Future. The Commission’s decision to restrict ‘single-identity funding’ in the future has significant implications for the development of the PVE programme.
Opportunities for the Birmingham PVE Pathfinder
The Birmingham PVE Pathfinder fund offers a unique and real opportunity to do things differently. In line with the PET Working Group ‘Supporting Regional and Local Initiatives and Community Actions’ observations, Birmingham should be leading the way by encouraging projects and initiatives that are “stimulating and supporting inter-community communication and co-operation”. The PET Working Group stated “…what is missing is the exchange of best practice…valuable experience is not being captured or shared in ways that would prevent the repetition of past mistakes or stimulate new advances”. We think that the Birmingham PVE Pathfinder has a real opportunity to ‘prevent this repetition of past mistakes’, stimulate and support ‘inter-community communication and co-operation’ and make ‘new advances’. To do this BRAP recommends:
Initial research should be commissioned into extremism – both Islamist and far-right – in the city. The research should also consider the link with socio-economic factors such as inequality, deprivation and disengagement.
More rigorous processes of looking at how the success and impact of projects and initiatives are and indeed might be measured.
More inclusive projects are commissioned so that preventing extremism is achieved ‘together’, rather than placing the responsibility squarely within Muslim communities. This will help to redress a number of the associated negative cohesion issues that can result from single-identity funding of this type.
A clear message is communicated that ‘extremism’ is not a ‘Muslim-only’ issue in order to reduce the sense of victimization experienced by Muslim communities. This will also go some way towards challenging the perception that Muslim communities are being afforded ‘preferential treatment’ and that far-right extremism in the outer city can also be tackled That projects and initiatives go beyond ‘Muslim representation’ and that a broader collaboration of groups, organizations and institutions – both Muslim and non-Muslim – from the private, public and third sectors have the ability to ‘buy-in’ to the Pathfinder and embed preventing extremism into all that they do.
The recommendations of the PET Working Group ‘Supporting Regional and Local Initiatives and Community Actions’ as well as the Commission on Integration & Cohesion more recently, should be more closely adhered to and used as a benchmark against which all projects and initiatives are undertaken.
Everything on this site by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. www.chris-allen.co.uk.