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?
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).