Recent comments by a senior MP in Britain have stirred up a great deal of debate over Islamic dress, and with it has come a lot of talk about integration and Muslims becoming “more British”. But what exactly does that mean?
Over the past year or so the government has attempted to define (in order to encourage) a greater sense of “Britishness” amongst the population – yet, no matter how many lists of values and attributes they come up with, no real satisfactory definition of our national identity has been found. Too vague and it’s too weak to create a sense of community. Too specific and it proves too divisive, leaving out large sections of the country.
Part of the problem is that there often seem to be two separate concepts melded together…
1) Relationship with the state: obeying British law, using British services, voting in elections, standing for public office, etc.
2) Relationship with society: engaging in social affairs, sharing in cultural trends, etc.
It’s hard to see something like the veil as a real barrier to No 1. as extreme clothing doesn’t really affect your legal status. With one or two exceptions (passport photos for example) women can comply with the law, use public transport, and vote or stand for office while veiled.
This is the reason why the state has no business regulating something like clothing. (Unless it’s somehow dangerous to others).
However, it’s the second relationship which sees a number of problems arise.
The main reason for a lot of the unease about Muslims (and other minorities) is the perceived lack of a common frame of reference. No matter which part of the country a “native Brit” comes from, I have a fair idea of what their life is like, and what their views could be. This sense of understanding is lacking when it comes to “alien” cultures - which could explain the ease with which distrust and suspicion spring up. We’re constantly told that a clear barrier exists between the majority of this country’s Muslims and those committing terrorist atrocities in their name, but how many of us have a clear enough understanding of Islam and the Islamic world to judge that assertion properly? How many of us are in a position to judge whether the veil is oppressive or not?
(In the same way: does a lack of understanding of mainstream western culture feed the sense of a general war on Islam among Muslims?)
A sense of “solidarity” across the various religious/ethnic communities in Britain can only come through increased interaction – we need to learn more about them as they learn more about us. This has to be done in a genuine spirit of co-operation. Attempt by one group to force their ideas and values onto another will only increase the sense of separateness.
I look into the world and i think that we live a great time, where, in a click you can talk to people all around the world. Interested in being a member (click here) or if you just want to leave a short message (click here)