A Gallup survey has recently been published on Muslim citizens of Britain, France and Germany, comparing them to the majority communities in those countries.
The poll comes to two main conclusions: that on most indicators of loyalty to Britain, Muslims are not much different from other Britains. But on attitudes to relationships and sexuality, they do differ.
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed says this doesn’t matter:
To be sure, Muslims are indeed more conservative than the general population, but this is perhaps a trait shared with other religious communities. In fact, the areas which concern Muslims are in some cases those that we find socially contentious anyway: pornography, abortion, suicide, homosexuality and extra-marital relations.
The danger in focusing on sexuality as a litmus test of integration is that in turns this into a one-issue debate. The point here is that it is that it is completely irrelevant to a discussion of integration and a happily functioning society, where mutual respect and understanding for each others moral codes – whether we agree or not – ought to be the foundations for a shared vision of a shared society.
I disagree, for three broad reasons, which can be labelled respect/bigotry, coherence, and integration through intermarriage.
1. Respect/Bigotry. Quite a few of my friends are gay or bisexual. If someone says my friends are bad people because of it, I disagree, and I’m not going to like that person. In fact, I think that person is a bigot. Don’t ask me to respect people I think are bigots, because in all honesty I cannot.
I take it as axiomatic that if a behaviour harms no-one, it can’t be immoral (that’s why my blog contains the tagline liberty consists in being able to do anything that doesn’t harm others). Muslims, and other religious believers, on the other hand say X is immoral because God says so. It’s a bit hard to have a rational discussion with that sort of belief-system.
There’s also a practical point. If there were more Muslims in Britain they could, by allying with other religious and socially conservative people, get laws changed in ways that I wouldn’t like. People might say that the rights of gays are secure, but within living memory, homosexuality was a crime in Britain and gays were persecuted and driven to their deaths, including for example the great mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing. I don’t want those days to come back.
While I am not gay, I do enjoy activities that religiously-minded Muslims disapprove of, for example playing poker and drinking alcohol. While it’s unlikely that these activities will be banned altogether, they are restricted by the state, and it would not be at all surprising if religious/conservative people including Muslims managed to restrict them further.
2. Coherence. It makes for a more coherent more united society if everyone agrees on the really important issues. as an example, in 19th century America many felt strongly that slavery was wrong, and many felt it was right (mostly those with an economic incentive to do so). The issue was only resolved by a bloody civil war.
From this point of view it doesn’t matter what Muslims think on homosexuality and other similar issues, as long as they think the same as everyone else. If 100% of the UK population thinks homosexuality should be legal, or if 0% think so, then either way we have a cohesive society.
Of course, Britain isn’t likely to fight a civil war over social issues. But what might happen is that a loss of cohesiveness will mean the British are arguing with ea ch other at a time of world crisis — such as a nuclear war or environmental catastrophe — when otherwise we could be making a difference for the better.
And not just that, it’s better to live in a country that feels at ease with itself, rather than one that’s fighting a permanent culture war like the USA has over the past 30 years.
3. Integration through intermarriage. Britain’s two main Muslim ethnicities are people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent. Within these groups, over 95% of marriages are to people of the same ethnicity. If more married within the wider community, it would help integration in two ways: firstly because children born from these marriages would be of mixed ethnicity; and secondly because more Muslims would have non-Muslim people in their extended families, and more non-Muslims would have Muslims in their extended families.
There’s also the issue that may Muslims see themselves as being apart from and separate to the mainstream of British society. As a commenter on the Guardian put it:
The day you get muslims saying that they don’t mind what race or religion their daughter marries so long as she’s happy (instead of casting her out from the family or slitting her throat) then THAT is the day we can start talking about integration. Don’t hold your breath, though.
Parents (and this applies to Muslim parents as much as anyone else) should see someone who is thinking of marrying their son or daughter primarily as an individual and not in terms of their race / ethnicity / religious background.