Reap­prais­ing mis­con­cep­tions

A timely por­trait of Mus­lim Bri­tain im­presses Barn­aby Roger­son

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

So­cial his­tory Al-bri­tan­nia, My Coun­try James Fer­gus­son (Ban­tam Press, £20)

JAmes fer­gus­son is a war re­porter whose books chron­i­cle many of the flash­points of our times: the mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tion of south­ern Afghanistan, the tal­iban, Bos­nia and the im­plo­sion of so­ma­lia. Last year, he turned his at­ten­tion to his home­land and made a tour of cities that have large Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties, such as Lu­ton, Dews­bury, High Wy­combe, old­ham and Brad­ford.

there are now three mil­lion Mus­lims in Bri­tain, some 5% of the pop­u­la­tion, and, even with­out fur­ther migration, that fig­ure is set to grow to 5.5 mil­lion by 2030. Muham­mad has be­come the most pop­u­lar name for boys in Bri­tain. Brad­ford now has 125 mosques, with a quar­ter of the city iden­ti­fy­ing them­selves as Mus­lim.

the first gen­er­a­tion of Mus­lim mi­grants typ­i­cally came to work; the sec­ond im­proved them­selves by study­ing. three chil­dren of Pak­istani bus drivers are now work­ing at the very peak of Bri­tain’s mer­i­to­cratic so­ci­ety: Mayor of London sadiq Khan, Baroness Warsi and the Cab­i­net min­is­ter sajid Javid.

How­ever, side by side with these in­spir­ing sto­ries is the dis­turb­ing fact that three of the four sui­cide bombers of July 7, 2005, and the Glas­gow air­port at­tack were also Bri­tish born. And, de­spite be­ing brought up in leafy suburbs and com­pan­ion­able red-brick ter­races, ap­prox­i­mately 850 young third-gen­er­a­tion Bri­tish Mus­lims have gone to fight in syria and iraq.

even more con­tro­ver­sial are the crim­i­nal gangs that, in dozens of cities, have been pros­e­cuted for grooming and sex­u­ally abus­ing vul­ner­a­ble young girls. What was once an as­set to our so­ci­ety —the ar­rival of mil­lions of dili­gent and fam­ily-minded work­ers —seems to have planted a num­ber of cuck­oos in the nest.

We all des­per­ately need to un­der­stand what’s hap­pen­ing in these emerg­ing cen­tres of Mus­lim Bri­tain, par­tic­u­larly as only the colour­ful, ex­tro­vert ex­trem­ists, such as Abu Hamza and the poppy-burn­ing An­jem Choudary, at­tract the at­ten­tion of the me­dia. now, Mr fer­gus­son has pre­sented us with that op­por­tu­nity. re­ly­ing not on un­der­cover cam­era teams, but on hun­dreds of faceto-face con­ver­sa­tions over cups of tea, he has mar­shalled his sur­veil­lance tools of wit, tenac­ity and decades of ex­pe­ri­ence of the Mus­lim world to pro­duce a fine, de­tailed por­trait of Al-bri­tan­nia.

What he por­trays is a na­tion within the na­tion, one that doesn’t share our love of dogs, pork and al­co­hol or our re­cent pride in equal­ity be­tween gen­der and sex­u­al­i­ties. the Mus­lim com­mu­nity in Bri­tain is over­whelm­ingly work­ing class of south Asian ori­gin, com­ing from in­dia, Pak­istan and Bangladesh. it is not a ho­moge­nous pop­u­la­tion. Mr fer­gus­son takes us be­hind these coun­try la­bels to show that most of our mosques are af­fil­i­ated to ei­ther of the ri­val Barelwi or Deobandi net­works. the lat­ter was first formed in di­rect re­ac­tion to the fail­ure of the in­dian Mutiny/war of in­de­pen­dence and has an in­nate sus­pi­cion of Bri­tish im­pe­ri­al­ism.

He stresses the im­por­tance of un­der­stand­ing back­ground and its in­flu­ences; the dif­fer­ences be­tween Gu­jarati in­tel­lec­tu­als, solid, mid­dle-class Pun­jabi and mi­grant work­ers from the wilder po­lit­i­cal back­grounds of sind, Balochis­tan or the Pathan moun­tains. Among the groups he iden­ti­fies is the Mir­puri, who were trans­ported en masse to Bri­tain from Kash­mir and still re­tain a sense of a com­mu­nity apart.

the prob­lems, Mr fer­gus­son dis­cov­ers, are never to do with there be­ing too much is­lamic ed­u­ca­tion, but rather too lit­tle, leav­ing young peo­ple vul­ner­a­ble to half-baked no­tions re­ceived in the gym, the prison or off the in­ter­net. in a sense, the real is­sues faced by Bri­tish Mus­lims are the ones we all face in try­ing to achieve a proper, bal­anced, fam­ily life: ab­sent or cruel fa­thers, moth­ers over-pam­per­ing their sons and too much of child­hood lived through a screen.

the sto­ries of young peo­ple smok­ing too much weed and then fail­ing in ex­ams or work are fa­mil­iar in all cul­tures, but what the in­va­sion of iraq by tony Blair and Ge­orge Bush did was to pro­vide an in­stant so­lu­tion to that loss of self-es­teem: ter­ror­ism. All this is leav­ened by a whim­si­cal and en­chant­ing fi­nal chap­ter, in which the au­thor de­scribes be­com­ing a Mus­lim him­self for a month dur­ing the time of ra­madan.

A prayer vigil in Rother­ham for Mushin Ahmed ended in ri­ot­ing

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