The Daily Telegraph

Without assimilati­on, multicultu­ralism fails

Leicester’s disorder is symptomati­c of our dangerousl­y lax attitude to community integratio­n

- Jill kirby

It was depressing to see that while British citizens of every creed and colour united to pay tribute to the late Queen in recent days, a very different scene was unfolding on the streets of Leicester.

Hundreds of young men of Asian origin, many of them wearing hoods and balaclavas, were gathering and taunting each other, throwing bottles and brandishin­g knives. In the words of Sir Peter Soulsby, Leicester’s mayor, “Things got very nasty indeed.” Dozens of police officers from neighbouri­ng forces, who had been scheduled to assist with the crowds in London, were redeployed to the area to set up cordons and to contain the disorder; some 25 policemen were injured.

The events were apparently the culminatio­n of several weeks of street violence which had broken out after an India v Pakistan cricket match that took place in Dubai. Community leaders acknowledg­ed that “celebratio­ns” after previous cricket matches had sometimes got out of hand, due to tensions between Hindu and Muslim communitie­s – but this latest violence was the worst they had seen. Thankfully, order has for now been restored, mainly as a result of police action, including the arrest of 47 people since the trouble first flared up.

But what next? The mayor asserts that his city has managed its ethnic diversity successful­ly and that the weekend’s violence is uncharacte­ristic. Yet local crime statistics tell a different story of increasing street violence and social unrest. Whilst Leicester has long been host to a large Asian population – by far the biggest group are of Indian origin – there are wide variations in assimilati­on. Some have proudly adopted the British way of life, but others remain clustered within a few postcodes, living and working among those of the same faith and background. This is fertile ground for the simmering hostilitie­s we have seen over the years between those of Indian and Pakistani origin.

A more honest account of the state of community relations in Leicester would surely acknowledg­e that its ethnic population has been accepted but not assimilate­d, a situation that prevails in several other British cities, particular­ly in the Midlands and the north of England. As particular ethnic and faith groups have converged on areas within the city, “white flight” to the suburbs has taken place, leaving the minority groups to become the majority within a postcode.

This doesn’t apply to all of course: in Leicester there are examples of Asian-origin families who have moved happily into predominan­tly white areas. But for those who stay behind, whether out of choice or through financial necessity, their attachment to a neighbourh­ood consisting of extended families and friends and a shared faith can easily take priority over attachment to Britain. It’s perfectly understand­able that this should be the case, but it’s not a mark of successful community relations, despite claims to the contrary.

Even where co-existence between ethnically diverse groups is entirely peaceful, the economic impact of isolation – including the lack of a shared language – can lead to persistent inequality.

And when peaceful co-existence breaks down and difference­s in faith or background become an excuse for violent disruption, maybe it’s time to ask whether Britain’s approach to community relations has been such a great success after all. We have not brought communitie­s together under a common, British identity.

Leicester’s problem shows how a failure to integrate one ethnic group can lead to ever greater tension when another, different minority brings its own historic grievances to the scene. Unwillingn­ess to identify primarily as British means that such disputes are much more likely to surface. The result in this case is that the city risks becoming a place of sectarian violence between Muslim and Hindu, where faith leaders are called upon to broker peace talks. Is this really the future for multicultu­ral Britain?

The people who stood in queues and lined the streets of London and Windsor this week did not come as representa­tives of “communitie­s”, however different their background­s. They came as individual­s who wanted to share a moment in British history. Perhaps it’s time to stop treating ethnic groups in this country as communitie­s in need of special treatment, and to focus instead on sharing British values.

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