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Ruining a Community: A Cyclical Process

Muslims in the UK have been extremely assertive over the past two decades in dismissing media representations and stereotypes which seek to demonise Islam. If there is ever to be a decline in this representation, it will commence with the demise of negative representations of British Muslims as America and Britain’s international agenda has only just begun. The demise of negative domestic representations of Islam, however, does not mean an increase in accurate representation. What I propose it means is radicalisation, alienation, further under-achievement and lack of participation.The experiences of members of the afro-Caribbean community in the UK and the current experiences of British Muslims are not symmetrical, though they are extremely analogous. The most important analogy at present is that they are both minorities and are both the moral panics in society. Targeted communities are subjected to the ‘show business’ experience in that if you are worth the story, you are given constant coverage; the media frenzy begins to disperse only after it has contributed to destroying you. Of course, media coverage emphasises, if not creates, moral panics, but what lessons can we learn from the afro-Caribbean experience?Since the rise of immigration from the West Indies in 1948, the afro-Caribbean community in the UK has been subjugated to overtly institutionalised racism, and principally, its youth have been demonised as a threat to a cohesive society.1 There is no shortage of literature on this matter, so I’ll avoid dwelling upon established history. It is evident that assimilative policies and extremely heavy policing during the 1980s and 1990s led to the marginalisation of black youth by the police, and consequently changed the role of the police from local bobby on the beat to ‘stop and search the black man’ operations.2 The youth were stereotyped in schools and became the sample of which the self-fulfilling prophecy of failure and underachievement manifested itself (the Asian experience at that point in history was hardly any different).Sociologically, it seems that the Muslim community is destined for a similar course experienced by the Afro Caribbean community. Rates of underachievement, criminality, inequality of employment and ‘ghettoisation’ have made no significant changes. In fact, in some cases they have increased. The anti-racist movements that existed at the time of negative black representation produced a polarisation within the afro-Caribbean community. On the one hand, there were those organisations that were actively involved in promoting the anti-racist agenda, who largely seem to comprise of the middle class of the black minority dictating what the black person should be, though this notion is rejected by most as a ‘plastic black man’ or ‘sell out’. The organisations that they endorsed appeal only to like-minded middle class black children, who are brought up in very much white (but black) middle class homes. On the other hand, afro-Caribbean children who are raised in working class families suffering poverty, deprivation and poor housing continue to exist as victims of government policy and police activity.Local initiatives about embracing culture, having an appropriate identity, and being an assertive black person in society, is to most black people the promotion of a ‘white’ black man, and so is rejected. What has developed over the last 15 or more years is a distinct working class black culture. However, the creation of this culture of garage music, gangs, male ‘machoness’ and increased uninhibited sexual activity is a reaction and rejection of the initiatives of the government in encouraging certain segments of the black community to promote their definition of ‘blackness’.

While the ‘elite’ of the black community managed to secure streams of funding, the media and government think that the problems will solve themselves. There has been negligible mention concerning the genuine problems within the black community, even though such evidence emerged from the recent shootings in London, the riots in Birmingham, and of course, the tragic death of Damilola Taylor. The media has failed to cover the issues, perhaps because they were not as entertaining, or possibly because they are the same problems we were aware of a decade ago. But that also has meant lack of public awareness, and a lack of influence on the activities of the government in addressing these issues. Of course, it raises the question of who actually runs this country, and the responsibility that the media should take. But it also raises another important issue.

When the media choose to focus upon a certain community due to government policy or other factors, it contributes to the demonisation and reinforcement of negative characteristics of that community. So much so, that the very people within that community believe that the misinformed representation is actually an accurate one. The whole process is cyclical, and it means consistent reinforcement of these communities as moral panics, ensuring a lack of class mobility. It begins with the sensationalisation of threatening fringe activity and leads to the demonisation of the very characteristics that the whole community stands for, whether it be their ethnic or religious belonging. After one or two decades of alienating the community, the whole framework of understanding it, even by academics and youth-work organisations within the community, is tainted by an ill-defined idea of what is really going on. Subsequently, the media and government abandon the community, leaving the organisations that have adopted their framework of understanding to implement identity shifts within it.

While this process has already happened in the afro-Caribbean community, the recent crimes will results in an increase in the same activity. Community organisations will now be given the opportunity to engage with the youth, and a certain criteria of ‘blackness’ will need to be adopted in order for these organisations to receive local regeneration funding. On the face of it of course, black people delivering black programs seems a romantic picture, and so the process is rarely objected to.

Not surprisingly, the same process is under way within the Muslim community. Quite ironically to many Muslims, The Muslim Council Britain (MCB) was recently named as an organisation not worthy of government funding, perhaps because it was emphasising the wrong issues, like the illegality of the war in Iraq, that is, reinforcing the wrong element of ‘Muslimness’ in the community. Similarly, recent new youth-work organisations promoting self-identity, self-esteem and self-confidence in Muslims; who provide life skills and ‘spaces to explore their spiritual identity’, promote a very left-wing, liberal universalistic and individualistic approach to Muslim identity. Members of the Muslim community, just like those of the afro-Caribbean community, suffer from institutional problems such as education, housing and poverty, and not from personal problems such as self-esteem and lack of exploration. To denigrate the problem to youth identity is to shift the blame from institutions failing to engage these young people, to the communities themselves, who have allegedly failed to integrate because of their cultural, religious or even pathological tendencies.

Based upon the model I have proposed, the next phase for the Muslim community will be abandonment by the media and government as if the community has ceased to exist. This will reinforce the current social problems it has already suffered from, with added demonisation and alienation due to the ‘war on terror’. Meanwhile, local initiatives from organisations will attempt to re-shape Muslim identity with the funding it receives, delivering government initiatives, but failing to address the institutional problems imposed upon and reinforced within the community. The community will be left to decay, and in years to come, crime and prison percentages, gang affiliation, anti-social behaviour and increased levels of underachievement will be highlighted in random spotlights by the media. This will only serve to repeat the cycle, as is currently occurring with the afro-Caribbean community. New initiatives arise promoting a new middle-class elite Muslim identity, shaping the work of ‘Muslim’ organisations and academia, and re-alienating already troubled communities.

I believe that this has already begun in the Muslim community, whereby Muslims are demonised and new initiatives have arisen promoting a ‘moderate’ British Islam. However, it is more dangerous for Muslims, as variations in promoting ‘Muslimness’ can involve grave consequences for a faith community. Youth work and regeneration organisations have already adopted the promotion of identity I have described. I don’t think they can be blamed for this, as they are simply trying to implement solutions to the perceived problems. However, even more hazardous are religious sects and Muslim ‘academic theologians’ using the situation for self-promotion at the cost of others, in what is supposed to be one and the same community. Perceived to be the opinions of Muslim academics by many followers, it seems they are even guiltier of promoting a superior and elitist Muslim version of ‘blackness’ (i.e., British ‘Muslimness’) that developed in the afro-Caribbean community some years ago. What may seem to be inevitable during this process further indicates a gloomy depiction of the future. However, it should serve to highlight questions members of the community should be asking – who is shaping my identity, and how?

 


Notes:
source: www.islam21c.com

1. See, for example, literature on Immigration of West Indian Community. Citizenship and Immigration in Postwar Britain (Handell Hansen, 2000) is a good introduction to racist policies surrounding immigration and non-white settlement.
2. See Gilroy’s work into Black culture and the ‘inherent’ link with crime: There Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack (1987).

About Ataullah Parkar

13 comments

  1. Farouk Michaels

    Really good insight, I like the sociological aspect of analysing the Muslim community with those of the past – abit like when the Qur’an refers to past nations!

  2. Institute of Education Islamic Society

    Atuallah Parker, Sheykh Haithem Al-hada and Dr Anil Khamis in conference @ IOE
    The Principle of Leadership

    Friday 15th June 2007

    Elvin Hall 5.30pm (Institute of education)

    Free entry
    Light food and Salah provisions included.

    For a map of location see:
    http://ioewebserver.ioe.ac.uk/ioe/cms/get.asp?cid=4075&4075_0=9083

    Speakers

    Shaikh Haitham Al Haddad: – Judge on Islamic Shari’ah Council and director of the Muslim Research Foundation.

    Br Ataullah Parkar: – Research and development officer at the association of Muslim schools

    Dr Anil Khamis: – MA course leader and lecturer at the Institute of Education, University of London

    We invite all members of the community, both students and professionals to join us in learning about the principle of leadership within Islam and to discuss how and why Muslims should be proactive in leading in their respective fields.

    For further enquires email: [email protected]

  3. My two pennies worth!
    Nice article. I found the opening a little confusing and have to concurr with Abdu-Layth:

    “There are a few points that I would like to point up in this article. Where the author says, ‘The demise of negative domestic representations of Islam, however, does not mean an increase in accurate representation. What I propose it means is radicalisation, alienation, further under-achievement and lack of participation’ then this, to me, is unclear, confusing. Does the author mean what he says, that the end of negative, stereotypical representations in the media will lead to radicalism and so on within the Muslims community? If so then bring on the negative representations in order to stave off such unwelcome consequences!”

    I’m sure this is not what you meant but found the writing a little unclear.

    The rest was very gripping.

    However, I think the article lacks thoroughness for it seems to presents the media both as a conglomerate and a blind agent, ravishing one community after another. There is little attempt to locate the media circus within a wider political (national and international) matrix. It also overlooks the ideological dimensions of the media. Secondly, it makes a categorical error when it draws a parallel between the black community and the Muslim community*. The two are very different. But that aside, I think it is somewhat contentious to even speak about communities. The word evokes some traditional ideas (features like being close knit, having community centres and community events, etc), which today are largely lacking. This suggests that a corrosion of older non-governmental institutions is something we all need to work in re-establishing.

    I did like the close following of a (in this case, black community) model and inducting from that possible outcomes for the Muslim community. I think this model-methodology is good. It may be worthwhile to look for certain models further in the past, e.g. the witch hunts (more academically than in the tabloid sensationalist sense!)

    Keep it up.

    * I acknowledge, however, that the writer makes it clear he is deliberately focusing on certain convenient similarities.

  4. would do you like some more?
    Ataullah Parkar recently took part in a conference at the Insititute of Education University of London’s Islamic Society and his talk was addressing the above, but with respect to Muslims in Education.

    InshaAllah- we are planning to have our second event this June ( Principles of leadership), which is exaclty what it says on the tin, but within a Muslim community context- adverts will be coming in May and Ataullah Pakar will be speaking again for us from this kind unique angle- so watch this space!

    Please contact [email protected] for further details or to join our maling list.

    Assalamu A’laykum Wa’rahmatulah


  5. A brilliant article. It definitely suffices the notion of provoking thought. Now to move beyond this, I think we need to look at/for these “solutions”, not only for the Muslim Community, i.e. “solutions” which not necessarily look to unite the Muslims only, but the non-Muslims too: the former and latter united on common thoughts and emotions, but not necessarily the same practices. As the article highlighted, it’s not necessarily a “Muslim issue”, it’s a cyclical process which manifests itself in different communities.

    Disregarding the notion of “absolute answers” I fear disregards the notion of even searching. There can be an “absolute objective”. This means on a practical level, the diversity of people, their thoughts and practices can prove to be an expression of the diversity in delivering (or even looking for) the “absolute solution”. I think there has to be one common objective extracted from the problem for everybody to reflect on nationally. Failing to accept this, I fear will and leave the local communities to delve in their own the little thing. This can prove to be weak as the little communities will be working at the pace of their own objective, which may in fact lack clarity and offer nothing more than “community mobility”; something which we may find hard to fit in the bigger-picture nationally and hence never suffice a “solution”.

  6. Imran Abdullah

    !!
    I found the article quite interesting and found that I have never analysed the Muslim community and possible further scenario’s from such an angle. Maybe this new line of thought we change things…

  7. Cordial Andrews

    Interesting article
    I did find the article somewhat interesting and find it comforting to observe Muslims engaging with problems they face within their respective communities.

    Ataullah speaks of self-empowerment which has been over played by the black community. Do Muslims really want to tread the same path? Furthermore, I would like to attend these beneficial conferences, are they open to the general public or only for the Muslim community?

  8. Ataullah Parkar

    Good point, I think one of the problems we face as a community is seeking absolute answers. Things have to be solved locally. National and global responses in the days of globalisation lead to “national unity events” and that kind of jargon. Each community needs to take it’s own action, though perhaps influenced by another community’s model. How does it work though…?

    How do we mobilise our communities? Self-empowerment and a degree of self-control is always possible at the local level, whether that be simple community work, or being involved at the local council level…At the moment, community mobility tends to be limited to organising Alhamdulillah beneficial conferences but we may need to move on soon, or at least add to the list.

  9. but then
    Quite Ameer, but they aren’t the solutions of the author, only ones he describes or alludes to, from, as you intimate, unwelcome sources; and then of course, they are not solutions at all but another expression of the problem(s) themselves. Solutions, that is ‘real solutions’ must come from within the community in the first instance, for only then will they authentically represent the situation as closely as one can get… it will never be absolute given the diversity of people, of thoughts and practices. Allah knows best.

  10. Perhaps the point is that solutions to problems that still haven’t been defined are being imposed upon us, and this is most dangerous of all

  11. mmm… maybe
    It is true that no solutions are offered but that is assuming solutions need to be offered rather than a situation described and highlighted. Perhaps it is enough to get the ball rolling that the situation has been brought to more people’s attention in order that a collective consciousness might be mobilised to formulate solutions and so on? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps more should have been said about the possible routes around the problems; if not solutions then a guiding hand to direct towards possible sources where solutions may be found, for example, examining whether there is enough similarity to benefit from the history of the American Civil Rights movement? I am sure ideas are welcome…

  12. Joanne Matare

    mmm…
    What Parker does not seem to present is a solution. What can the Muslim community do if either ‘negative representations’ or ‘radicalism’ occur? Is he saying that either results are inevitable?

  13. Some observations
    There are a few points that I would like to point up in this article. Where the author says, ‘The demise of negative domestic representations of Islam, however, does not mean an increase in accurate representation. What I propose it means is radicalisation, alienation, further under-achievement and lack of participation’ then this, to me, is unclear, confusing. Does the author mean what he says, that the end of negative, stereotypical representations in the media will lead to radicalism and so on within the Muslims community? If so then bring on the negative representations in order to stave off such unwelcome consequences!

    Where the author asserts ‘the media frenzy begins to disperse only after it has contributed to destroying you,’ then I would suggest that it never truly disperses. Once a group has become an ‘accepted’ moral panic then the old mechanism of fear can be wheeled out whenever to keep that group in line. Still teenagers, those invokers of angst and symbols of moral decay in the 1950s, are focal points for moral panics even today. It is not the rock and roll that is feared today but the many other ill effects of the ASBO teen. I think nothing disperses so much as is shelved until the next opportune moment; the group in question once stigmatise, always stigmatised.

    Perhaps I am showing my age but weren’t the ‘stop and search the black man operations’ more commonly known as SUSS? I believe that similar authority still resides with police officers, and as the author alludes, they still use offender profiling, only this time it is not only blackness and ‘hoodies’, but now also ‘beardies’ and ‘Muslimness’ that attract unwarranted attention!
    ‘However, the creation of this culture of garage music, gangs, male “machoness” and increased uninhibited sexual activity is a reaction and rejection of the initiatives of the government in encouraging certain segments of the black community to promote their definition of “blackness”.’ Leaving aside the idea of male as opposed to female machoness (!), this is starting to sound a bit like the white man and his turncoat middle class black friends are solely to blame for the creation of the said culture. Is this both true and fair? Is it really that simple? There has to be some part played by would-be ‘gangsters’, ‘playas’ and so on. It is as if everything has been forced on people, and whilst this is true to a degree the simplistic picture emerging here seems to be that whites will do anything to continue to dominate society, but isn’t this the same for any already pre-eminent or dominant group in almost any society, that they try to control those who are not like them, or at the very least try and make other groups be like them? This seems more like a human condition than one of mere whiteness, blackness or Muslimness, doesn’t it?

    My moans aside, a thought provoking, if not clearly worrying article – jazak Allahu khayr.

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