A British comedian quotes his German girlfriend complaining that one can’t get good bagels in Berlin; he pauses for effect and then asks: “Well, whose fault is that?” We might repeat the question after reading Mr. Joseph Pearce’s recent essay on The Imaginative Conservative, sounding the alarm on the Muslim Peril.
The mere “presence” of Islam is a threat to the world, warns Mr. Pearce, referring to all 1.6 billion Muslims. Then he dredges up a right-wing historian at his most populist and swivel-eyed, predicting that just one more act of terrorism “could be” (not “will be”—note the safety clause) “the trigger for the next English civil war.” Really? It’s 1641 all over again? I haven’t noticed any Christian harquebusiers or pikemen marching on the village green, and the Muslims running my nearest corner shop seem preoccupied with watching televised soccer and selling chocolate bars. As I understand it, civil wars require at least two sides willing to fight, so who are they, Mr. Pearce?
Europe is so overrun with Muslims that it is probably beyond rescue, Mr. Pearce warns, but America may just survive if she slams her doors to “non-Christians.” Obviously, that means no more Jews. And at the Simpson’s convenience store, Apu has to go. Mr. Pearce, an English immigrant, cannot oppose all immigration, so he agrees so long as the newcomers are just like him. He sounds less convincing under scrutiny, especially when he writes of America which his US audiences know; but they understandably know less about Britain and are conveniently prone to trust him.
He warns us of what non-Muslim Brits believe that UK Muslims are thinking; a tortured piece of guesswork where, according to some poll which he presents without citation, “one in five Britons stated their belief that ‘a large proportion of British Muslims feel no sense of loyalty to this country…’” Which poll? When and who? What percentage is large? He doesn’t say. And only one in five is pathetic: in Britain, twenty per cent think potato chips come from underground mines and Jesus plays soccer for Nottingham Forest. But like that celebrated dog in the Sherlock Holmes stories, that “didn’t bark in the night,” what Mr. Pearce doesn’t say is often more informative than what he says.
Mr. Pearce avoids mentioning what British Muslims actually think, a far more useful yardstick than how many other people are scared, misinformed, upset or confused by the lightless heat of populist media, opportunistic politicians and the virulent but small white-supremacist parties. Moreover, the better British media, offline and online, is awash in details of what our Muslim citizens really do think. It’s worth a look because the data is so damaging to Mr. Pearce’s argument that Muslims are ultra-dangerous insurgents burrowed into the beating heart of Christian Europe.
A survey, using 2,000 interviews and 60 focus groups in 11 cities, found British Muslims more patriotic than their co-religionists anywhere else in Europe. In another, UK Muslims are less likely to be ashamed of their Britishness than the Scots (13 versus 17 per cent). The respected conservative reporter Peter Oborne writes, this summer in the conservative Daily Telegraph, that another poll “showed that Muslims are more patriotic than other Britons (83 per cent said they were proud to be British as opposed to 79 per cent of the general population), and are more integrated than is often thought to be the case.” Additionally, surveys show that “77% of Muslims strongly identify with Britain while only 50% of the wider population do (and) 86.4% of Muslims feel they belong in Britain, slightly more than the 85.9% of Christians.”
Patriotism isn’t their only virtue. Veteran broadcaster Jon Snow cites a 2014 YouGov survey: “Seventy per cent of British Muslims say they believe in ‘freedom, tolerance of others, accepting personal and social responsibility, and respecting and upholding the rule of law’—the core values of Britishness as recently defined by David Cameron—while a tiny 6% do not…This poll paints a very different picture of the British Muslim community from the extremist caricature that is sometimes peddled by certain politicians and in some sections of the media.”
This is not surprising to anyone who actually knows British Muslims and who socialises with them as I have. The majority, with relatives still in “the Old Country” (often Pakistan or the Middle East), are enormously grateful to live in Britain and be spared the intolerance, injustice, poverty, corruption and misrule flourishing where they, or their parents or grandparents, grew up. Perhaps for this reason I know British Muslims who, wearing checked tweeds and still chomping on briar pipes, seem more English than stereotypical Englishmen of the 1950s!
The intensity of British Muslim patriotism is all the more remarkable given their relative poverty: “only 7 per cent were considered ‘thriving’ compared with 56 per cent of the general population and only 38 per cent said they had a job, compared with 62 per cent of the general public.” We can explain this while we dispel another convenient inaccuracy.
Mr. Pearce refers to any Briton’s “self-ghettoised Muslim neighbours.” He clearly wants you to believe that all 2.7 million of them are voluntarily huddled up a dark alley somewhere, as far from us filthy infidels as possible, twirling their foreign moustaches and plotting to kill us in our beds. His clumsy word “self-ghettoised,” however, is swift, convenient, and untrue.
A recent Gallup poll shows that 82% of British Muslims want to live in diverse and mixed neighbourhoods compared to 63% of non-Muslims. Most British Muslims, like many other poor and/or immigrant Brits, number among the UK’s 24 per cent who live in public sector housing. Due to well-known shortages of so-called “council houses,” the inmates find it virtually impossible to move and change public accommodation, rendering them unable to pursue jobs in more economically vibrant areas. Poor Irish, poor Caribbean blacks, poor immigrant Muslims—none are “self-ghettoised,” and all are prisoners of socialism. Mr. Pearce grew up in Dagenham, East London, where perhaps a third of the populace lives in public housing, and for all we know Mr. Pearce grew up in a council house too. It is mystifying how so articulate a self-proclaimed conservative could ignore such pernicious socialism, in order to blame widespread social problems on a single minority.
What Mr. Pearce may not know is how a few British cities acquired such densely populated immigrant ghettos, which four-fifths of British Muslims wish to escape in order to live with the rest of us. White people put them there.
During the UK’s first big wave of 20th Century immigration in the 1950s and early 1960s, newcomers from South Asia and the Caribbean were greeted by British officials and handed free train tickets, particularly to Bradford at first. It was thought more collegial to keep all the “darkies” together, and away from the “normal” white Britons. Immigrants, who often had no relatives already in Britain, used the free tickets to go wherever the nice officials wished to send them. Had they been intentionally integrated broadly, today there would be a few darker-skinned families intermarried, integrated and employed in each town and village across the UK. But we crowded them into ghettos. So as the British comedian asked his girlfriend, “whose fault is that?” Conveniently but unfairly, Mr. Pearce points at the outsiders.
This also reveals another historical fact, one that Mr. Pearce may not know, explaining why some UK Muslim youth have been radicalised. After having been herded into ghettos, then enslaved by socialism and imprisoned in council houses and kept without jobs for a variety of reasons (some well beyond their control), Muslims were understandably slow to join mainstream British society. Even so, there has been some assimilation. This began especially in the 1970s, when the children of the first wave of immigrants (both South Asian and Caribbean) reached university-age, made a wide circle of friends, and romances sometimes thrived beyond ghetto barriers.
Since independence in 1947, Pakistan has been economically dependent upon financial remittances from its people who emigrated abroad: in largely tolerant Britain, intermarriage and assimilation threatened immigrant families’ emotional and financial ties to the Old Country. The 1980s dictator of Pakistan, General Zia ul Haq, was alarmed by this; he began shipping Pakistani mullahs to Britain to strengthen immigrant commitment to Islam and to Pakistan and its culture. Sunni mullahs often lack education, and Zia’s Islamist regime sent the most backward ones they could find. They told elderly Asian Brits that they were going to Hell if their hip, street-wise grandsons weren’t married off to illiterate village girls from a “homeland” they had never seen, and their fashionable granddaughters wedded to hirsute Kashmiri “freedom fighters.” The hardship caused to parents, as well as to young men who couldn’t even speak Urdu or Punjabi, and to young ladies set on studying science or literature at university, can only be imagined.
Meanwhile, the British government, under the Labour Party’s Prime Minister Jim Callaghan and the Conservative Party’s Margaret Thatcher, had no idea that this was happening. Some British Muslims knew but had nowhere to object, while others told me they were mystified. “The damned idiot could be studying at Oxford,” one deeply patriotic ex-Pakistani father told me, “instead he’s squatting on a filthy carpet upstairs above a dry-cleaners, memorising the Holy Koran parrot-fashion, in a bloody language he can’t even understand!”
This is not the only reason for radicalism among a fairly small minority of Britain’s Muslim youth. People denied jobs find mischief on the internet or in clandestine meetings, often just searching adventure, self-respect or other meaning in their lives. This helps to explain the bigger problems with radical Muslim youth on the continent. In France, for example, the banlieus or ghettos are even greater and less escapable than in Britain. This is partly because of pan-continental policies that protect existing jobs at the expense of new job formation and economic growth. Hence continental unemployment is always into double digits overall; now between 25 and 50 per cent for youth, and virtually 100 per cent for immigrant youth from ghettos with poor schools. What looks more interesting to an 18-year-old male: sixty more unemployed years on welfare or glamour on the battlefields of Syria?
But it isn’t all about minorities. Some bored or ideological teens from Europe’s white Christian or Jewish families joined the 1970s terrorist Baader-Meinhof Gang or the Red Brigade. Reputable modern media, from the Middle East, broadcasts real injustices wrought on the Palestinians or Afghans or Iraqis and others, with Western governmental compliance, and it generates outrage that inspires hateful strategies elsewhere. The Muslim doctors who plotted to blow up Glasgow Airport in 2007 had no connection with radicals in South Asia, and did not appear to be uncommonly religious; but they were moved by perceived injustice. Answers are complex; combining economics, psychology and sociology, media, technology, foreign policy and more.
Mr. Pearce explains none of this, preferring to point fingers at “multiculturalists” and the allegedly evil Muslims they let in. Not to say that multiculturalism has helped, nor that immigration hasn’t been excessive, particularly given socialist impediments to assimilation. But the complex real issues are less politically useful tools for the propagandist than scapegoating. Finger-pointing always works best in groups of two: the evil “outsider” and the traitor or dupe who intentionally or unwittingly lets the outsiders into our midst. For Orwell in 1984, the outsider was the seemingly state-concocted Emmanuel Goldstein while dupes were ferreted out by the security services. Hitler used the excuse of internal Jews manipulated by external Communists. Stalin portrayed capitalists on the outside and Fifth Columnists within. The sleazier end of British media earns gazillions with such tactics, yet this too needs context.
When the UK Government recently warned young Muslims against volunteering to fight the Assad regime in Syria, almost instantly one hundred or more of Britain’s leading Muslim religious leaders lent their authority, pulpits and websites. The white-supremacist British National Party, unsatisfied, somewhat impractically wants the UK government to “replace all Wahabi and Deobandi imams with Sufis.” It’s still preferable to Mr. Pearce’s implied outcome: mobs in armour brandishing pikestaffs and muzzle-loading muskets.
Fraser Nelson, a respected conservative editor of the conservative Spectator magazine, writes that Britain’s penny-dreadfuls and their fans ignore how British Muslims interact with their neighbours:
“Last year, for example, the Jews of Bradford were facing the closure of their synagogue. Its roof was leaking, and the few dozen remaining regulars could not afford the repairs. Its chairman, Rudi Leavor, made the decision to sell the building and face up to it being transformed into luxury flats. As things turned out, the synagogue was saved after a fundraising campaign led by a local mosque. Zulfi Karim, the secretary of Bradford’s Council of Mosques, now refers to Leavor—who fled the Nazis—as his “newfound brother”. He gave his support, he says, to protect the diversity of Bradford.
“After the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich last year, skinheads went on the march in hope of stirring up a reaction against Muslims. It was the perfect moment, given how high feelings were running. The next week, a mosque in Muswell Hill, north London, was burnt down—an act that might, in other places, have started a cycle of reprisals. But here, the Muslims were given shelter by the local Jewish community, who offered space, laptops and whatever support was needed. Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner said she was proud to help ‘our brothers and sisters of the Muslim community, emotionally and physically.’”
Mr. Pearce quotes an actor whose claim to expertise is having played a dwarf in one of those interminable Tolkien movies. He’s neither an historian nor a philosopher nor a diplomat nor a theologian; just some guy who, um, acted like a dwarf. Impressive.
The actor worries that what he calls our “Graeco-Judeo-Christian” types aren’t having enough children compared to Muslims. The 70-year-old has two children, falling just short of population replacement, so presumably he’s being theoretical. He adds that race matters little and Western culture matters much—a good point, except that by most measurements Britain’s Muslim immigrants are more patriotic and in other ways more strongly supportive of conservative Western values than their non-Muslim neighbours. British Muslims virtually never produce bastard children, while about every second baby born in Britain started “on the wrong side of the blanket.” Muslims rarely have abortions. They pray often, sometimes five times a day, to the one true God of Abraham, while many non-Muslim Brits don’t believe in God and most wouldn’t go to church even if subpoenaed. British Muslims tend to respect their elders and, yes, they like families, even big ones. Their marriages last. They rarely get drunk in pubs, slash each other with broken bottles and vomit over the sidewalks.
Judging by most social indicators over which they have any control, British Muslims are better than the supposed Christians, apart from small minorities of exceptionally bad Muslims and uncommonly good Christians. But the Muslims are neither Christian nor, generally, um, white. So do most Britons love and respect them? If not, is it because anti-Christian Brits object to Muslims not being Christian, or because Muslims are mostly, as my sardonic Nepali neighbour says, “brownies”?
The Guardian newspaper reports that “47% of Britons see Muslims as a threat. Only 28% of Britons believe Muslims want to integrate into British society…52% of Britons believe that Muslims create problems…45% of Britons admit that they think there are too many Muslims in Britain…55% of Britons would be concerned if a mosque was built in their area…” and “58% of Britons associate Islam with extremism.” It’s demonstrably wrong, but why?
First, the UK economy is in a slump and, during the post-war depression a century ago, Austrians and Germans blamed innocent Jews. Newly-arrived British Muslims make a convenient “other” and are more visible than Jewish people. Then, I bet that many respondents have seen Muslims yet never knew one. Also and critically, irresponsible opportunists exaggerate the risks, misstate the problems, fail to inform the British public and for whatever reasons peddle hatred. I imagine that, for similar reasons, 1930s German media sold more sensationalist newspapers by pandering to National Socialism than by opposing it.
However, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of another English civil war are greatly exaggerated. The popular surge of the far-right parties in Holland and France simply does not occur among the phlegmatic and—on an individual level especially—deeply tolerant English. They are in practice more likely to make a pot of tea, send over baked goods or let their neighbours camp out in the synagogue, church or mosque, no matter what Mr. Pearce believes.
One must take Mr. Pearce at his word, of course, and everyone may read his works attentively. Good Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus may remember him in their prayers.
Mr. Masty is the author of The Muslim & the Microphone: Miscommunications in the War on Terror. Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.