EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Social and Economic Integration of British Muslim Women
DATE: 1 pm – 2 pm: July 18th, 2019
VENUE: Committee Room 3, House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA, United Kingdom
SPEAKERS: Nimco Ali, Emma Fox, and Iram Ramzan
EVENT CHAIR: Baroness Falkner of Margravine
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Good afternoon everyone and welcome to the Henry Jackson Society’s event on social and economic integration of British Muslim women. First, my name is Kishwer Falkner. I’m a member of the House of Lords. I first came to this issue around – I was trying to recall – I think it was around 2006 when I was parachuted in, completely unexpectedly, to speak in a debate in the chamber here on BAME women’s pensions and economic status. It was particularly about pension rights and I knew as much about pensions as possibly, I suspect, some of you younger members sitting at the back do. But as I looked at the data and actually even then the department, what is now the Department for Business, had done quite an extensive survey on economic exclusion of BAME women. I was astonished at what I found, and tried to dig behind the scenes to find out what were the reasons for this economic exclusion. So I’ve kept a sort-of watching brief on this, all of those years since, and I’m delighted today to welcome – I’ll tell you a little bit about our speakers – three extraordinary young women who have done a lot of work in this area. So we’re going to start with Emma Fox, who is a Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society at the Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism. Emma’s work specialises in UK extremist networks and their exploitation of institutions within civil society. I have to say I myself feel a little reluctant about looking at Muslim women’s economic integration from the perspective of a counter-extremism narrative. I’m not sure I feel entirely comfortable with that, but perhaps Emma will explain why that came about when she’s working on radicalisation and terrorism. The one thing that I think I would concede is that the inter-generational social exclusion that relates particularly to the communities that I know rather well, which are Pakistani and Bangladeshi, might have something to do with it. Our second speaker will be Iram Ramzan, who’s a journalist working at the moment for the Sunday Times and she’s been writing about issues relating to South Asian and Muslim communities for some time. She’s a founder and editor of a website called Sedaa which is a platform which gives voice to those of Muslim heritage, both religious and none. Iram decided to set up Sedaa after seeing a lack of progressive voices in the media, particularly those of Muslim background. [Referring to Ramzan] You mean you didn’t see my voice? You’re right, I wasn’t in the media; that’s the point. Then we’re going to have Nimco Ali, who was born in Somalia, grew up in the UK, and co-founded with a psychotherapist, Leila Hussein, an organisation called Daughters of Eve. It is a non-profit set up in 2010 to support and protect young women from communities that practice female genital mutilation, or FGM. Nimco is a little bit delayed, but we don’t want to delay our proceedings today; we’ve got to compress all of this within an hour. So I’d like to kick-off by inviting Emma to give us some detail as to the underlying picture.
Emma Fox: Thank you Baroness Falkner and Iram for being here. Hopefully this is going to be a very, very personal discussion; it’s very important that we do have these types of sensitive discussions. As Baroness Falkner mentioned, I am a Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society’s Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism. My interests focus on Islamist networks, youth vulnerability to extremism, and the effect of extremism on minority groups. [Referring to Baroness Falkner] I do share your concerns about looking at Muslim women’s social and economic integration through a sort-of counter-extremism narrative. However, it has been through my research on particularly Islamist extremism and looking at some of the preachers that I was seeing come on to university campuses, saying things like “Women shouldn’t be working; a woman’s role is in the home”, and some worse things, actually which I hope to go into later, made me realise that we need to look at ‘minority within minority’ communities and the effects of Islamism on particularly Muslim women. Again through my work I’ve had a lot of eye-opening and sobering discussions on the effect of extremist and ultraconservative practices on those closed communities; particularly the ways in which central government and local councils have actually turned a blind eye. So for example HJS hosted Dr. [Inaudible], who spoke about her work on Sharia councils in the UK and the effect that they have on Muslim women. Previous researchers looked at issues such as honour violence, again something that I think we don’t have enough conversations about, and on the issue of gender segregation that is apparent within the education sector. I think to all of us through analysis the effects of the previous state policy of multiculturalism, coupled with cultural relativism, are clear. Further, the treatment of the Muslim community as just a homogeneous block with a collective identity and a culture that can be sorted by community representatives has led to a big failure in social integration, particularly on Muslim women. So in 2016 we had the Casey Review; she talked about women of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage facing a double onslaught of gender inequality coupled with religious, cultural, and social barriers that are preventing them from accessing even their basic rights as British residents. She also noted the level of misogyny in closed communities. This was also echoed in an ICM poll in 2016 of Muslim attitudes; it revealed that 4 out of 10 of those surveyed said that wives should obey their husbands. The Muslim Women’s Network UK has spoken about the myriad of challenges facing Muslim and female victims of domestic violence. Finally, the 2016 Select Committee on Women and Equality’s report on employment opportunities for Muslims in the UK also revealed some concerning statistics. Muslim women are far more likely to be economically inactive than their female counterparts outside of the faith. 44% of those Muslim women surveyed were inactive as they were looking after the home, compared with the national 16% average. It also revealed some differences in ethnicity; again the Muslim community is not one homogeneous block. Somali women have an 87% labour market inactivity rate compared to 65% of Pakistani women. A lot of these challenges are related to English language-skills, discrimination, family pressures, poverty, etc. For example, the Bangladeshi community is more likely to live in low-income neighbourhoods and face barriers to housing and services. Although, we have seen some positive changes. More Muslim women are participating in full-time education, attitudes towards marital roles are changing with the new generation, and there is across all the polls I looked at strong support for more integration. Nevertheless, as I said there is a lack of research in this area and it is clear that British Muslim women in particular face a plethora of challenges when it comes to socioeconomic integration. But, I thought perhaps that was something I would then more generally open up to the panel as to why.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Thank you very much. I was wondering if I could just ask a quick question of clarification. When you say there was strong support for more integration: was that within those communities or was it in general?
Emma Fox: Yes, within. So there was an Ipsos poll, of which there were three different reports done on this, and whilst integration was noted as being different from cultural assimilation, which was seen as a kind-of loss of values, beliefs, and traditions, there was a majority support in every single one of the polls that I was looking at for more integration with those beyond the faith communities. This is something perhaps the media doesn’t show or people are unaware of.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Thank you very much. Iram, would you like to -?
Iram Ramzan: Thank you so much for inviting me to speak here. I was hoping to go last but, thanks to Nimco not being here, going second makes me slightly nervous.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Don’t worry.
Iram Ramzan: Well, this is a subject that I am very passionate about. This subject [inaudible] women is obviously of interest to many people. That’s why we’re all here today. This is often discussed about in our media and it’s also why I set up a website as was mentioned earlier. I was constantly hearing voices, mostly from reactionary or conservative viewpoints. There were a lot of women, particularly, who were quite progressive and secular who wanted to challenge those conservative narratives. The aim is to give them a voice and show actually that all those people on TV shouting and being aggressive don’t represent that many people. I will mostly be focusing on the social integration side of the discussion, ultraconservative gender roles, and about patriarchal hierarchy and to what extent that is still a genuine problem within some Muslim communities. I wanted to start with a really personal account; I largely grew up in a single-parent household in Greater Manchester. My mum raised me and my younger brother pretty much by herself. When I was about nine or ten years-old she went back into education, having left school initially without any qualification. She went on to university to get her nursing degree; she got a job as a nurse in our local hospital. A few years later she did her Master’s in midwifery. To some that might sound inspirational; you know: young, divorced woman going back into education and getting a job in order to provide for her family and being a sort-of breadwinner. At the time however, and this was just over 20 years ago, it was still seen as controversial in our community, which was a largely British Kashmiri community. Nearly all of the women were married with children and simply didn’t work; the men went out, worked, provided for the family. The women’s job was to stay home and look after the children; they didn’t go out to work. So when my mum started going out to work, [inaudible] horrors and started wearing Western clothes instead of the traditional clothes expected of her. It did raise some eyebrows to say the least. “Why are you going out to work instead of looking after your children?”, they would ask, to which she would reply, “Well someone has to take care of my children and provide for them financially”, which they certainly weren’t going to do. But that’s often the case in tight-knit South Asian communities: everyone pretty much likes to get involved in your business. The other side of living in such a community is that when one person starts to do something, everyone else wants to start copying and doing the same thing as well. So despite the initial reservations, other women in the community started emulating my mother. Now there are so many of them who are her age and slightly younger who are working in the nursing and health and social care industry, and all it took was just that one person to have that domino effect. Very few women want to be the pioneer because of community pressure. It takes a very thick-skinned person to put up with that. Emma also mentioned, you know, the language barriers for Muslim women. In 2016 then-Prime Minister David Cameron announced he was launching a £20 million language fund, calling for an end to, “passive tolerance of separate communities”. I remember that caused a bit of a backlash at the time, especially when he said that non-English speakers could be more vulnerable to extremism. That got people’s backs up a little bit; made them very defensive, you know why link the two together? Critics also pointed out that cuts have been made towards the funding to English classes over the years. So do one thing and say something completely different down the line? When I was at school actually my mum was one of a handful of South Asian parents who spoke English, which meant she could go to Parents’ Day meetings and discuss my education with my teachers. Other boys and girls would have to bring in their older siblings, and I’m not actually sure if they shared the progress with their parents once they got home. I think that makes a huge difference; if your parents don’t take much interest in the education then imagine what effect that has on the young person. There were girls in my school, in my year or the year above, who were really talented and creative especially in Art, English, and History. However, they knew that as soon as they left school they’d just be married off. Predominantly they were married to their cousins, mostly from abroad, so what good were GCSEs to them once they were married? They’d just have to concentrate maybe on getting a job straight after and getting income so that their spouse could come over from abroad, which meant there was a lot of wasted talent there I thought. Emma also pointed out the attitudes in some households where a man’s role is still being seen as the ‘main breadwinner’. Demos did an analysis that found that 50% of Muslims aged 55 or older agreed with the statement that a husband’s job is to earn money and a wife’s job is to look after the home and family. On the other hand, half of Muslims aged 16-24 disagreed with that statement and fewer than 24% agreed. So we can see that there is a big divide between the young and the old, which makes me more positive about the future generations. We do often see ultraconservative Muslims getting more of a platform because they shout loudest. They are the ones that insist that a woman’s role, especially in Islam, is in the home and it’s the man’s duty to provide. Also, if a woman goes out to work she’ll be mixing with the ‘opposite sex’, which we can’t have and possibly face sexual harassment. In one sense, I think that the ‘Me Too’ movement, and I can see this on social media and on YouTube, was seized upon by prominent scholars who wanted to remind people of their duties in Islam. “If we maintain segregation and not mix with the opposite sex then none of this would happen”. But this idea of women simply staying home has never really been a working-class reality. Throughout history, economics dictated that not only both parents but in most cases even the children as well needed to work, and research now is showing that women have worked in a much wider range of occupations than previously thought. You’ll see this even in developing countries; the women aren’t just sitting at home, cooking, or looking after the children. Rather, they’re out there in the fields or on the land working away because they have to do that in order to survive. So it seems more of a luxury: being a housewife and caring for children. This is something that was an illusion created by the middle classes. You know, we also hear as Muslims as well about the Prophet Muhammad’s wife, Khadijah, who was a businesswoman. She was a merchant and she’s often held up as this great role model particularly for Muslim women. We’re told that they are your role models to emulate, so should we not be championing the modern-day Khadijahs then? It’s also been mentioned as well the ‘young family dynamic’ for Muslim women is a barrier for them to enter the labour market or to return. A third of British Muslims are aged 15 or younger, so it’s a very young population. That places greater demands on women to have to stay at home and look after the family, but that is not just restricted to Muslim women though. There are women across the board that will face similar issues around childcare and going back to work. So what you see is that a lot of workplaces now are offering flexi-time hours so that women can go and do the school run and come to work after that so they don’t penalise themselves with childcare costs. So there are places doing that to help them out. One study that I actually found interesting was a 2017 study by Huddersfield University titled, “The Intersectionality at Work: South Asian Muslim women’s experiences of employment and leadership in the UK”. It suggested that Muslim women struggle to adopt basic traits from home that white women are likely to adopt from a young age, such as being confident, assertive, and outspoken. If you’re a Muslim woman, you know that we’re not really encouraged to speak out as much and if you speak out and challenge the status quo, you’re not really championed for that. If you’re working in a very competitive environment or industry where you are expected to be slightly more ruthless then that can count against you. In terms of pressures from local community and family, that can also impact and affect their progression at work. A lot of families wouldn’t want their daughters maybe going away for work conferences if they’re going quite far from home, abroad, or alone. The same study found that some of these women were restricted from travelling for work because some families were a bit overprotective. There’s also still this expectation that once you complete your education that you get married and have children straight after you finish that, so these women don’t really get much of an opportunity to step into the labour workforce. Of course, there are instances of discrimination in the workplace. The Equal Rights Committee spoke with Saida, who chose not to give her real name, about her experiences of religious discrimination and harassment when she was working for a local authority in 2006. The Equality and Human Rights Committee found that her case was a one-off and she faced a lot of prejudice simply for the fact that she was a Muslim woman. She recommended a complaint system for individuals who don’t want to take legal action against their current or former employers so that the EHRC can investigate their complaints on their behalf. If you’re working in a really big organisation sometimes you might be too afraid to take on your superiors. So that can also be another barrier, but since then we’ve had the 2010 Equality Act so we do have legislation in place to address that. In terms of solutions I know that the women in the Equalities committee called on the government to roll out a plan to tackle inequalities by the end of 2016, but I think that everyone’s been so obsessed with Brexit that I’m not sure what’s been happening with that. One suggestion was name-blind recruitment, so CVs that don’t have a person’s name because white-sounding names are more likely to get interviews. There’s also workplace mentoring schemes, so City University of London announced just last week that it was offering two journalism scholarships for the next academic year for British Muslims that want to go into journalism because they’ve realised that there’s an under-representation of Muslims in the media. Also bursaries for education; there are some women out there that want to apply for certain jobs but they can’t because there’s a requirement for a degree and some of them just don’t have that, which might put them off from applying for certain roles. The report also suggested working with mosques, which I find slightly worrying because by and large they are unelected and unaccountable with a poor record in women’s rights. A lot of studies have found that a lot of mosques are still hostile places for women and don’t offer adequate provisions. There are women themselves in these communities who are challenging these institutions and so-called ‘community leaders’, so why are we telling women to rely on them? But I mean on the whole, I know that the statistics paint a [inaudible] picture but I am more positive about the future. I think we all know young Muslim women who are either in full-time education or work, and I think in the next generation we will see more big changes.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Great, thank you very much. I’m delighted now to welcome Nimco Ali. We’ve already introduced you, so you can go straight into things and then we’ll pick up after we finish with the Q/A.
Nimco Ali: Great, I won’t necessarily talk that much because I’ve just been running around all day, so I haven’t really put a speech together. Ultimately as one of the key things I want to say is thank you for having me here. It’s been really interesting listening to what you’ve been saying. For me, the first thing I have to say is that I’m a Black Muslim woman. The idea is that the fact the UK has very much over the last 30 years since I’ve been growing up has been very focused on the idea of being Muslim and being South Asian, so Black Muslim women have been very much isolated in the conversation. A lot of those Black Muslim women have come from immigrant communities and have come here through displacement and being refugees. They could be from Somalia, Rwanda, or somewhere else on the African continent. From the community that I’m from, specifically that Somali community, it is quite ironic how things have changed in the last 30 years. So my mother and her generation that came here in the mid to late 80s were women who had fought for their freedoms, and a lot of the Somali households right now are female-led. So there were a lot of strong female attributes within the communities. I was freely educated; I grew up in an area of Cardiff which was high in both the Somali and South Asian communities. There were two things that really stood out for me. One was the hard left’s acceptance of certain things that happened to young brown or black girls. I was a survivor of FGM and a lot of the girls that I went to primary school with were going to be married at the age of 14, so they never needed to do their education or qualifications. But for me, I had FGM, I was freely-educated, and I was raised by a feminist mother. A lot of people are very confused by the fact that FGM is the most horrific thing that could happen to a woman; how could she be a feminist and yet allow FGM to happen? I was seven, she was 27 at the time. She had no context and no support within the patriarchal society that she came from in Africa, and there was definitely no support within the community here in the UK. They never necessarily saw her as a leader within her own standpoint. So a lot of us who went through FGM from the Somali community went on to finish university and went on to try to enter the work sector. A lot of us were very secular at the beginning, but then came the Noughties when post-9/11 there was very much an identity crisis within my generation: first-generation African migrants from a Muslim community. Islam was a unifying factor; Islam was the call for us to have an identity. I saw more and more of my friends going towards Wahhabism and start to identify less as Somalis, less as Africans, but more as Muslims. That has been the massive issue over the last 10 years. The women and the people who are the gatekeepers who are supporting these men who have stood in the way of me trying to talk about FGM, early-forced marriage, sexual violence and paedophilia within our communities. I think that’s a key thing we have to understand; marrying a 14-year-old girl is not a cultural thing. Rather, it is a violent, paedophilic, and predatory thing to do. However, the western, liberal communities within the UK feel very uncomfortable calling brown people paedophiles. Obviously, we don’t have the same tendencies as white sexual predators do but they’re similar. So it’s important for me to have these conversations. Even saying I was going to come here today, the people that were calling me Islamophobic to be sitting in this conversation are very much the people that do things that I fear are derogatory and pulling girls like me, women like me backwards. So the people and the gatekeepers that I’m fighting at the moment are not self-appointed men who don’t speak the language or not understand the system. Rather, they are very conniving, powerful, and manipulative young people who have been educated and radicalised in this country and because they have no cultural idea they have latched on to this really narrow, misogynous, and patriarchal interpretation of Islam. You spoke about Khadijah, peace be upon her, the Prophet’s first wife. The Prophet’s first wife is never spoken about within the community that I’m from at the moment. In the Islam that’s being very much propagated at the moment, the focus is on Aisha: the child bride, innocent, a virgin, lack of education. It reinforces the power that the men have over women. To see the girls I graduated with at Bristol be the girls in the burqas, be the girls who are telling me that the regressive legislation practiced inside Saudi Arabia are the things that we should be looking forward to, these are the things that really concern me. For me as a feminist and as an auntie to young girls, who on a day-to-day basis are called whores at the age of seven for not wearing the headscarf, I’m not really concerned about my community. Rather, I am concerned about the large population of white, Western women who seek to demonise someone like me for having the opinion that a headscarf on a seven year-old is actually sexualising a seven year-old. For me to say that and write that in an article in the Evening Standard, 400 words that many did not even read, I got death and rape threats. I was seen as the one who was actually harming the Muslim community. Another article that I recently wrote was about Abdul from Bristol. I’m sure a lot of people have heard the line about the, “burqa looking like a letter box”. I’m not sure how many people in the Muslim community have read that. I’m not sure how many in the white working-class community, who are having tensions with the Muslim community who have segregated themselves, have read that. What I can tell you is that these inner-city communities are dealing with men like Abdul who are specifically insistent that people don’t learn English and don’t integrate, and men like Abdul are being given platforms. Thus, we have to apologise to him due to his taking offence on behalf of women about an article in a paper that I don’t think he ever read. So in my position, I don’t necessarily work with Islamic scholars or Islamic forums. I don’t have conversations as a Muslim woman, but rather as a woman on a day-to-day basis who is met with many obstacles including gender, faith, and race. My general calls to arms as civilised people is to have conversations in an open market, as well as to really understand what Islam means. Islam is a faith, not a race. You can’t put aside Islamophobia and Antisemitism at the same time. The idea that the Jewish people are a race and persecuted for years and years; I once said something on Twitter when somebody talked about Bosnia and the war there. They said that, “it was Islamophobic that lead to that”. I’m the result of a civil war and we were both Muslims. It wasn’t our faith but it was our cultures and bloodlines. We were from a specific clan, just like the Serbians were from a different clan, as opposed to faith. So we have to be intellectual and we have to stop fearing that we might offend people. Because it is only when we offend people and have real, honest conversations is it that we can get to the nitty-gritty. The kind of protests – I don’t want to call them protests – the men and women that are taking to the streets of Birmingham and other places right now is the result of the allowance of people self-segregating for the last 20 to 30 years. We have allowed people to live outside the legal boundaries of this country and outside the foundations of what civility really means because we did not want to be offensive. So in 2019 we now have young people, an entire generation under 10, who will be educated that homosexuality is wrong, to not be covered at the age of 11 is to be a whore, and that educational aspirations for university are misplaced. We have a whole generation of young people who are segregated like that; there can never be integration. When there is no integration, there are going to be community issues. That is the fundamental cause of the things that are happening. The problems across the country are not because of a fear of Islam. Rather, it is because people are sick and tired because they can’t understand each other. When poverty is at the heart of that, there will be community in-fighting. I am really honoured to be here and the only thing I can contribute is, being someone who lived behind the hard left and apologists for Islamic extremism, that I deal with this on a day-to-day basis. It is us in this room who have the power to change this. It is us in this room that really need to ensure that our political leaders understand that challenging these self-appointed community leaders, challenging these people who are as educated as I am who are benefiting from segregation, is not acceptable. In a post-Brexit world, those tensions will come to the forefront. As scarcities of resources hit, what’s going to happen is that those communities that are in tension are going to start becoming more fragmented. I am more about taking questions, but ultimately as somebody who sees young girls less free than I was 27 years ago it is quite scary. I don’t have an issue with the headscarf, though I have a massive issue with the burqa. I think that we should all have a massive issue with the burqa. Overall, I think that we should have a massive issue with the legal representation and the theories that it comes with, and we shouldn’t be ashamed with saying that. I’m not saying we should ban the burqa, but we should have a real, honest conversation about that. For me, it is focusing on women’s rights and what the growth in terms of Islamophobia really means for feminism and women’s rights.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: It was a powerful call to arms. I’m here to chair, not really to talk about myself. There is one point that I would make: you’re looking at four Muslim women here. The difference between the young women and me – sorry.
Emma Fox: I was about to say.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Rather three of us, can’t count. It’s a liberal failing. The difference between the two girls on either side of me, or rather two young women on either side of me. I don’t want to upset anyone. However, the difference is that I actually grew up in a Muslim-majority country. I think that many of the things you’ve both picked up such as self-confidence, education, and the ability to speak up differ. Muslim-majority countries, such as in Pakistan, where I am from, or Bangladesh, where I grew up, are at a certain level more liberal and more rights based than the diaspora communities who you find in the West. For example, in Pakistan, and most people don’t know this, but trans people have been given the vote. Incidentally talking about burqas, and I couldn’t agree with you more, but people who wear burqas are not allowed into public buildings in Pakistan. This is because of terrorism and the fact that too many public buildings have been raided, with people killed, by men with Kalashnikovs wearing a burqa. So it’s actually fascinating for me to reflect on the conversations that we’re having here today and to think that I am rather lucky to have grown up in a Muslim-majority country. Daughter of liberal parents, university-educated, and professionals. Therefore, when I arrived here I was at entirely at home with Western culture because that was what my education and liberal upbringing had been. It was only when I travelled like you around the country, particularly up north after the Oldham and Bradford riots, that I discovered what a big problem diaspora communities have here. But anyways that’s my one insight. Questions, shall we take questions? I’d like for you to identify yourselves please, and I’m going to take them in groups. So, gentleman over there and lady over here?
First Question: Thanks. Steven Adams at the National Secular Society. Thanks Nimco, Iram, and Emma for your contributions. I was just wondering if you thought the current push to define Islamophobia along the lines of the APPG [inaudible] are proposing serves the interest of British Muslims or does it work against them?
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Do you want both or everyone to answer? Or specifically? Oh right.
Second Question: Hi, Karen Carver. I’m just a member of the public, but I was a teacher for a while. Very, very interested in what you two said about your experiences of Muslim girls getting educated and getting into professions, etc. As a teacher I’ve observed women like that who have very good jobs overseas, etc. But then your experiences of people of a new patriarchy developing and what will happen to girls in [inaudible]?
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Okay, so my suggestion is that not everyone has to answer every question. So, who’d like to take Islamophobia?
Iram Ramzan: I’ll mention that very quickly. I don’t agree with the use of the word or the term, especially how the APPG defined it. “[Inaudible] racism against perceived Muslimness”. I mean, what is Muslimness? I am amazed a bunch of academics approved that definition as well. I don’t think the word’s going away because it’s so widely in use, so I think the next push is to get a better definition of it rather than saying, “Let’s not use it”. It is used quite widely. In terms of how it affects Muslim women; about two years ago there was a campaign to stop girls from having to wear the headscarf in primary schools, which is not even a requirement. Many of those people who signed that letter were predominantly Muslim women as well and they were labelled Islamophobic for even challenging that. So what does it mean to be Islamophobic? What if Nimco says stuff about the niqab or the burqa: is she being Islamophobic? Challenging those preachers who think it’s ok for young girls to get married off, which they can justify religiously even if other people disagree: is that also being Islamophobic. FGM also; there are Muslims out there who do believe it’s mandatory to perform FGM on girls and there are activists saying, “Actually it’s not, it’s a crime against girls or women”: is that also not Islamophobic, because aren’t you challenging their perceived Muslimness? So yeah, I don’t agree with the use of the word but it’s there, so let’s maybe get a better definition of it.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Just on that point, you probably know the Home Affairs Select Committee looked it and are doing an inquiry at the moment. I wrote in opposing the definition because I actually don’t believe we need a definition. My starting premise is: why do you need a definition for anti-Muslim hatred? We have a plethora of race laws on the statute books. Actually, one of the problems we have in this country is that we have too much law and not enough implementation of the law. So we’ve got the law, hate crime is covered by law, so there is no need for a definition. Of this particular definition: everything that I would say is that I know several of the academics who support the definition, and they are not terribly good academics. We’ll leave it at that. It was very interesting to see that amongst the great political scientists of the United Kingdom, US, and Europe, who have written on Islam over 50 years, not one of them submitted a submission to the inquiry. It was only of the APPG, it was only somebody from Bristol, and one or two others on the fringe. Interestingly, they are not political scientists but sociologists and they do not know this area in depth. So, young girls and what’s happening to young girls in depth?
Nimco Ali: So I’m apparently a massive Islamophobe because I oppose the burqa, I oppose segregation, I don’t think 10-year-olds who are not mature should be wearing the headscarf. The definition of Islamophobia upholds the toxic masculinity that is rife within a lot of these communities. Then as well it is the liberal, well-to-do lot. The left cannot deal with a successful minority, and I always say that because they’ve had issues with the Jewish community, women, black people, everything else. There you are, a successful minority, but you should’ve known your place. But that’s another conversation. Ultimately, the thing about young people is that we need to accept this: can you have a dual identity? Yes. Are you allowed to choose this dual identity? Yes. I think the problem is that we’ve given too much power to parents. I think that all started off with creating academies within schools and then free schools, which then became more and more isolated. Therefore, young kids have been indoctrinated and not educated, and because of those child premium schools they’re listening to parents instead of really educating the kids. So we have to have a broader conversation saying: are we raising citizens of this country or are we just raising little children within certain communities who will be indoctrinated? That was the problem with early forced marriage that was happening within South Asian communities. It was said, “Well, we’re just helping the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. This is not something we should be interfering with”. It was the same with FGM. So as I talk about the investment in the human capital in Africa and investment in the girls, we have to invest in ethnic minority girls here as British citizens and we have to not be ashamed of saying that there are certain things that all children should be taught. Those things are that you have the ability to be free and the ability to aspire to whatever you want to be. I don’t see my niece being taught that, unless we teach her that and then move her out of her current school to another type of school. What I’m also really concerned about is the fact that a lot of girls were taken into Wahhabism and real narrative interpretations of Islam are now well-educated enough to start home-schooling their kids. We need to start regulating the home-schooling of girls and assess why these girls are being taken out. For me that’s my biggest concern, as well as the anti-vaccination within these communities as well. So there’s a lot of things that are going on, and we’ve just been too afraid to be called racist or Islamophobic to intervene and we need to intervene. So that would be my take on the next generation.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Okay, I can see the lady in blue here, then the lady in the back. Anyone else? Okay.
Third Question: My name is Zeynab. I am from Somalia and I live here in Great Britain since [inaudible] years. I came here because of civil war in my country, especially in the north of Somalia called Somaliland now. My question is two: one is Islamophobia and one is integration. Sometimes I am surprised how Islamophobia is mentioned in this country. I ask myself why Great Britain people cannot understand Islam, because they colonised so many Islamic countries with their empire. At that time there was no problem, so why don’t they understand and why doesn’t the government educate people here? Or is it something else, or maybe the media. It shouldn’t be a problem. Britain was in my country for nearly 200 years and we were allies with them. We fought side by side in First and Second World War. We are 100% Muslim and Sunni and there were no problems. Why are there problems here now in Great Britain? The other question is integration. In my community in Somalia, when we came here the large part of women and men came here for their lives. They did not come to integrate, but came for safety and economic and political reasons. Still now their backs are on the door, they were planning to go back. They were never planning to integrate and didn’t raise their children to integrate into society. So that’s the problem. We are different from someone from Bengali or Pakistani community because they’ve been here for longer than us. Some of them may come here for economic integration. [Inaudible] it is the British government to educate English people to tell them [inaudible] how Muslim culture works. It is not us who have to educate them; they were with us for 300 years and they were happy to live with us, in our world, throughout Africa, Afghanistan, India, and Iran. It’s not a big issue because they were there [inaudible], First World War, Second World War –
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Thank you but we need to move on.
Third Question: – dying because of Great Britain. But the integration is that how you educate the newcomers like someone from my community, and getting them to understand the children that are born here the situation –
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Thank you.
Third Question: It’s really important to contribute in this country altogether.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Thank you very much. Yes?
Fourth Question: My name is Linda [inaudible], and I’m just a member of the public. I have about three websites [inaudible] concerning the integration [inaudible] the difference between the Christian and the Islam and where it might be going wrong. But I’m really just talking to myself on those websites because they’re not looked at very much. The issue is that I’m very pleased to see the united front of the panel, showing that it is not necessarily all down to our government or the British … English people, Christian or otherwise, that have to do all the work about the integration. Because everything seems to be upon us to make the changes, and there is reverse racism –
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: When you say us, who do you mean by us?
Fourth Question: Sorry, the non-Muslims I suppose. The basic question is that would you agree that, if we remove faith schools and Sharia courts and if we have a system where, when people come to this country, that certain things are written down very clearly? Such as FGM is against the law, the honour killings are against the law, etc. You know, something that they see in their language when they enter the country, so that they know for a fact that that is not allowed here. Even from a media sense, where it should be said although [inaudible], vilified on the internet because she said something against Islam. There is a danger [inaudible] change the narrative, but it has to be clear from the government.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Thank you. I’m going to start with Emma because she hasn’t spoken yet. Emma, anything you would like to add in response to the questions? This is our last round so these are your closing remarks.
Emma Fox: Well, I think maybe on the last point I would just say that that the discussion here should be on everybody to look at these issues. It shouldn’t be just the government or members of the Muslim community but I think it’s all of us. I think it’s this recognition that a lot of these issues have been going on behind these doors. The liberal left for example has turned a blind eye, and I think that some government policies have actually enabled some of these issues to come to the forefront. So I mentioned some things like multiculturalism and the type of cultural relativism that goes on in this country –
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: That’s not a government policy. There isn’t a law that says we have to be culturally relative.
Emma Fox: I would say there was definitely an emphasis from the state to push forward, as opposed to pluralism which I think was the idea that went on to segregated communities living side-by-side. And again, what I know in terms of going back to the extremism side; I was heavily critical of early government policies when it came to extremism where they would work with community representatives, who tended to be hardliners. I think that that was a huge mistake, and I think again it affects those closed communities, those ‘minorities within minorities’, those often who don’t have a voice. I think that we do have a part to play in that, and I do think that there were huge failings that we need to own up to. But I think yes, it’s everybody’s fault and it’s everybody’s role to stand up for these values and rights. However, I do think it is a little more complex than that.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Thank you. Iram?
Iram Ramzan: I would like to address Zeynab’s point about how she says that the ones who left Somalia were fleeing war and as a consequence didn’t necessarily come here to integrate and always had the –
Nimco Ali: ‘Mentally unpacked’, that’s what my mum used to say.
Iram Ramzan: Mentally unpacked, yes. It was the same with my grandparents; they didn’t exactly come here to integrate but instead came to work and look after their family with an aim of eventually going back. As a result, you had this second generation which maybe grew up a little bit more confused, never quite fitting in with one culture or the other. Then you have the third generation that firmly feels more British. So I don’t think we should use that as an excuse that people didn’t come here to integrate. Once you’re here, and you’ve raised children here, then there should be a duty there on both sides. Not just the government, it has to be two ways. Earlier this week I spoke with an American Muslim who was a political activist, saying that in America there is a greater incentive to integrate because the Muslim communities are dispersed and not all concentrated in one area. When you get there, you get support for about three months and then after that you have to work, that’s it. Whereas here, you could probably be on a lifetime of welfare support as opposed to America. So I think you can’t just say that the government needs to do this. This is because, for example what we’ve seen in Birmingham with the school situation with people that are saying that the government should step out and leave it alone, either we want the government to act or we don’t. As we’ve all mentioned the government, or maybe other politicians or groups, constantly align themselves with these gatekeepers or so-called ‘community leaders’. Mosques or organisations that are heavily dominated by men; we never ever hear from the women or if we do they’ll pull out a token woman to show it. Some of these mosques are charitable institutions, so why are they blatantly discriminating against half the community?
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: That’s right, and today you’re hearing from the women. So Nimco, over to you?
Nimco Ali: I completely agree with both of what my panellists have said, and ultimately it is the government’s role to integrate. But one of the things that I want to leave you with and really focus on is this; people do not need to be told that FGM is wrong. We definitely need to stop using the word ‘honour killings’ because it’s just murder. We also need to stop using the word ‘early-forced marriage’ because it is paedophilia. I had a conversation with somebody recently, and I’m going to leave you on this, but she said, ‘What do you do on FGM?’, and I said, ‘What do you do, policy?’, and she goes, ‘No, I educate communities that it’s wrong’. So I said, ‘Do these community members drive cars?’ She said yes. I said, ‘Do these community leaders take out their bins?’ She said yes. ‘Do they pay their council tax?’ She said yes. If they can follow the basic civility of a civil society, they don’t need to be educated that FGM is wrong. That is actually racism in the sense that to assume that somebody, because they are a barbaric human being, is doing this because of their race and faith as opposed to the fact that they’re a criminal person. So I want each and every one of you to understand that people commit crimes because they want to, not because they’re ignorant. FGM has been illegal for over 35 years, but GBH, which FGM is, has been illegal for hundreds of years. So people that understand that they can’t punch someone in the street because they’ll be arrested should not therefore be mutilating a seven-year-old girl. So let us please stop thinking that we have to educate these people that these things are wrong and start instead challenging people. This is to say that, if we are going to live in this country, if you are going to pay tax, if you are going to be given the liberty to vote and consider who the local government is, then you have to abide by the same rules as everybody else does. That’s what I wanted to leave on.
Iram Ramzan: Can I just quickly add; somebody mentioned faith schools, you know, the government telling communities to integrate yet it allows faith schools which effectively segregate the next generation. How does that work; there is no consistency.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: That goes to the heart of our constitution, the role of religion and the state, and the role of our monarch. Let me leave you with one thought: one of the things that I discovered when I did my journey in 2001 up north, which I did again and again repeatedly, was that it is impossible to talk to communities that do not partake in any of the normal cultural pastimes of the mainstream. So when I would go into houses in West Bradford to talk to families, I would discover that they were watching Pakistani television or rather in Arab households in Birmingham instead Arab television. If you’re not even able to have your children grow up going to school as they cross through the sitting room to see the BBC, why are you then surprised when you ask those children, born and bred in this country, at the age of perhaps 13 or 14, ‘Who is the Prime Minister of this country?’ and they won’t know. But they’ll be able to tell you who the Prime Minister of Pakistan is, they won’t have any trouble saying that. So I think that if I made one plea when I went to talk with these communities: just imbibe yourself, even in your privacy, in a bit of the culture of this country. Even if it doesn’t change you it will change the young people in the household, and even that isn’t happening. So I’m it’s a council of despair, but you’ve got the new generation and have heard what they’re saying. I think it’s hugely uplifting, so I am enormously grateful to all of you for spending time and energy as well as for bringing such passion to this issue. Thank you, thank you so much.