Much has been written about the appalling events in Manchester last Monday night when a suicide bomber killed 22 people and changed the lives of hundreds of others, survivors with injuries and all the family and friends connected to each and everyone.
I will not add to those countless words both written and spoken centred on the immediate tragedy and its aftermath but perhaps some general thoughts on the inevitable question that arises, Why ?
“What kind of crazy animal could do this ?” is an obvious shocked reaction, “Something must be done !” And inevitably; “Of course the vast majority of British Muslims are peaceful and law abiding citizens and we must remain united”. Today Jeremy Corbin and to be fair these are his long held beliefs, casts the blame for domestic radicalisation on Britain’s involvement in foreign wars such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
To each of those statements there is an answer and beyond the initial shock, these issues need to be addressed, even the highly simplistic ones such as “Something must be done” that avoid looking at what should be done, by whom and at what pace. The one thing that I feel can be dismissed out of hand as largely irrelevant is Corbyn’s assertion that it “Was foreign wars wot dun it !” The reason that I’m dismissive of the idea is simply that it doesn’t stack up, maybe it makes a good excuse to the simple minded for their evil acts but if these military deployments hadn’t happened the focus instead would be on the “Western Way of Life”, its decadence and ungodliness that makes it legitimate to be struck down by any means including violence ! It is not foreign policy that is to blame, more domestic policies or the lack thereof that is.
I will return to these two topics shortly but from a slightly different direction for now I want to focus on the majority of law abiding British citizens that happen to profess the Islamic Faith and the broader background of immigration.
Post WWII Immigration
To a greater or lesser extent, the vast majority of immigrants are “economic migrants” and this is true of immigration to all countries. By and large there is no problem with this, if ‘our people’ don’t want to pick crops, be doctors or nurses, wait on tables and so on, it creates job opportunities for others and whilst the wages and conditions are “not good enough” for the native population, they are highly attractive to some. The point is that this is a pretty common pattern globally and historically Britain has thrived on this both culturally as well as commercially.
There is however a problem in the UK and especially the area called England where the majority (well over 80%) of the population and the economic opportunities exist. Although there are a handful of St George flag waving headbangers, the vast majority of the English wear their nationality lightly, a fairly open and relaxed society, people are not required to conform in any particular way even though strangers here. Now this is broadly speaking a good thing but it does have one big downside namely, because they are economic refugees and are not required to “swear allegiance to the flag”, they often feel far more attached to the “old country” and its ways than the UK. This is largely highlighted by the very few who choose to join the UK armed forces or police, which are both “service to the community/country” callings rather than just a commercial opportunity for individuals.
Perhaps one of our biggest failings as a Country has been a failure to insist that anyone who settles here even if they came here as a dependent, speaks English reasonably fluently, living here and not speaking the language and not having a basic grasp of the local culture leads to ghettos and greater cultural isolation. The whole post war story of immigration where places like Southall in West London are home to thousands of women in particular that don’t speak English and rely on their children to act as their interpreters is a nonsense. The vast majority of post war immigrants came from relatively poor areas of the Indian subcontinent and at this stage I am neither talking about Muslims, Sikhs or Hindus, the religion may vary but the cultural background based in rural areas is the same and that is important because the whole basis of male domination and the inferior status of women remains similar. In some instances there seems to be a confusion between what is a “religious” thing and what is in reality “use and custom” thing that was only relevant to ‘back there’, few if any of these people have any theological training, given their background we cannot expect that so they fail to see the difference.
It is interesting to compare immigration from the Indian sub continent to the more recent EU immigrants in terms of language skills, the majority from the EU will be quite fluent in English because they have learned it at school and it has become the international language of business. Additionally and whilst most EU countries have their own distinct culture, commonly based on Christianity, Europe broadly has been on the same liberal and socially aware cultural ‘journey’ since the ending of WWII.
Our failing in Britain has been to bring our immigrants from former colonial countries forward with us on this journey, we should have insisted on fluency in English and the first generation of immigrants should also have been made to look and understand ‘British Culture’. It is the failure to do these two things that has led us to where we are today.
The Fundamental Problem
Most people settling in the Britain will tend to ‘cluster’ in an area where people with a similar background to their own already live. As economic migrants, they will generally feel positive towards their new host country if they are doing well economically however, they will bring their children up according to the “norms” of where they come from both in terms of religion and culture. This is where the problems start because this second generation even if born in the UK can become culturally ‘stateless’ and feel alienated both from their parent’s culture and yet also not feel part of British culture a situation made worse if also bound up with personal economic disadvantages.
As for any child, if you have middle class aspirational parents, they will use their “elbows” to get you the best chances in life plus encourage within you an attitude to education and personal accomplishment that you follow. What happens if your parents were from a rural part of India, ‘imported’ to work in the Northern Mills which are then shut down throwing everybody out of work, you were bought up in a strict culture in what amounted to a ghetto, what are your life chances ?
There will be many from just such a background who rise to the challenge, overcome it, prosper and remembering their own experiences, become truly awesome parents to their own children, a third generation but there will be many who don’t make that leap and they will be fertile recruits for any fundamental and violent cause whether political, religious or both. Everybody wants to be some kind of hero, to feel that they and what they do matter, add in the right lack of empathy towards others and such people will be capable of committing any atrocity imaginable which is what happened last Monday.
What To Do
I will start with the British State: To me it is obvious that with the major economic changes that will take place over the next decade, we need to invest heavily in training programs for all our young people, there will be a need to especially target second generation young people of immigrant origins and probably belatedly, to bring them into a discussion and the reality of a multi-cultural/multi faith and tolerant society. The trick is to promote inclusion.
But it is not a job for the British State alone, the various immigrant communities also need to get off their bottoms and start contributing something positive too, we need to see far more engagement with mainstream society. We need to see the acceptance by those communities that joining the UK Armed Forces or Police is a quite natural thing to do because these institutions to function best, need to represent the whole of British society.
Muslim religious and community leaders need to be far more visible in condemning acts of violence when they happen rather than the current case of being seen to be reluctant to do so until forced into it like drawing teeth, this is not a good look. These people need to engage with society more, there should be people explaining the Sunni/Shia split and how it impacts, if at all within the UK Muslim community. Talking about religion and culture may not seem fashionable but I’m sure that they could find their equivalent Rabbi Blooms to take to the airways because NOT discussing their religion publicly leaves space for the ignorant to rabble rouse be they bigots or would be jihadists.