Trevor Phillips OBE – Keynote address at the “Muslim Integration Conference – engaging with the discourse”

By Myriam Francois|November 9, 2015|Uncategorized|1 comments

Muslim Integration Conference – engaging with the discourse

Trevor Phillips OBE – 05 11 2015

As delivered:

Thank you… I’d like to start by congratulating the new Director of SOAS on her appointment. Such a distinguished institution needs a great leader, and there are few who have Valerie Amos’ mix of wisdom, experience and steel, all of which are sorely needed in Higher Education today. I’m grateful for your invitation. I don’t do this sort of thing very much these days; much as I enjoyed being Chair of the EHRC there are many things in public life I was glad to leave behind. – being confused on the bus with Trevor Macdonald, David Lammy and Howard from the Halifax; – being called 100 times in a day as Christmas approaches to adjudicate on whether schools could celebrate Xmas and whether teachers could say that it had something to do with the baby Jesus without offending Muslim parents.  But it’s a privilege to contribute to your discussion. Your topic today could not be more timely. And I am delighted that in spite of recent events, it is still possible to talk about difficult subjects on a British campus without the meeting being disrupted or subject to a ban because someone has decided to be offended even before they’ve heard what anyone else has to say. Today, we’re focusing on the word integration. But we are also talking about a deeper, more profound question that faces virtually every society in the world today. In the twenty-first century, the human species will face two overarching questions.

First – how do we live with our planet? And second – how do we live with each other? I have no doubt that of the two dilemmas, the second is less tractable. It is also more urgent. We have all seen graphically this summer what is happening at Europe’s margins and in the Mediterranean. And these scenes represent just the start of an immense demographic change in our continent – one, by the way, that Africa has been facing for some time. And the numbers we face are small by comparison with say, those laid out to me by my Chinese equivalent some years back; I now gather that China is planning to move a quarter of a billion people from the land to the cities over the next decade – an unprecedented undertaking. The reasons for these great movements of people may be to encourage growth, to flee conflict or starvation, or simply the product of human restlessness. But whatever the cause the demographic challenges ahead are enormous. The fact is that these changes are bringing more different kinds of people into close proximity or even conflict, with more others of a different background than at any point in human history. These migrations aren’t just an economic and social issue – they bring serious religious and cultural dilemmas in their wake. For example, today there are 44 million Muslims in Europe. By 2050, that number will be 71 million – some one in ten of the continent’s population. We will, if we’re lucky enough still to be around, be living in a very different Europe. Here in the UK the visible minority population will rise from its current 13% to between 25-35% by 2050. Some cities – Birmingham, Leicester, for example – will be over 50% non-white British. London already feels like a different country to, say, Northumbria or Kent or Norfolk. According to the leading demographer Peter Rees of Leeds University we can expect more than half of Britain’s districts to become more like London – and the other half to be very different in character.2 I’d like to say a few words about why this topic holds so much personal as well as professional significance for me. I was born in London. But our family’s circumstances were such that my parents thought it better to send me back to Guyana, the country that they still called “home”. So like the School’s new Director, as a child and a teenager I was lucky to enjoy the privilege of living in one of the most diverse countries in the world.

I went to school with a student body as diverse as you could imagine – Europeans, Asians, Arabs, Africans, Native American. On the other hand, there was no TV, no fancy restaurants that I knew about and just one major library in a city of 200,000 people. As in most Commonwealth nations we had the experience of living within a cultural, ethnic and racial mix probably not paralleled since the last days of the Roman Imperium. My old class lists in Guyana show names like Ali, Ishmael, Persaud, Chan, Ming, Ten Pow and Singh as well as the conventional European names given to the descendants of slaves – Adams, Harris, Alleyne, Moore – and Phillips. But as in so much of the Commonwealth, behind the racial and religious rainbow there lay a bitter and often violent history of ethnic feuding which still disfigures that small country. One of my own classmates and friends, Donald Rodney, in later years saw his brother, the writer and academic Walter Rodney murdered, largely for espousing the cause of non-racial politics. Today, Guyana remains one of the poorest nations in the world, fatally stricken by its racial and ethnic divisions, unable to realise its natural resources. So I have seen and lived first hand with the tantalising possibilities of diversity – and the ghastly consequences of the absence of generous toleration. That period taught me several things about integration.

First integration isn’t an automatic human response to diversity. It’s a learned behaviour. And that learning is inherited – or not. I also learned that integration is a two way street. The absence of integration isn’t always just down to an absence of opportunity. It sometimes is; when my parents came here some people really would move out of the street when they moved in. But that wasn’t always the case. The traffic on this highway runs in both directions. The absence of integration almost always involves a mix of motivations, and some element of unconstrained choice also features; and whilst we’d like to pretend this is not true, it is hard to explain why for example, East African Asian millionaires, who could afford to buy homes in any part of the capital choose to congregate in the perfectly pleasant but undistinguished suburbs of north-west London; or why schools are more segregated than they need to be – a topic I’ll address in a moment. 7 And third, growing up in Guyana, I learned that the absence of integration can lead people to believe that outcomes which are in fact entirely unrelated to their race are somehow due to the colour of their skins.

Anyone who has read Rob Ford and Matthew Goodwin’s stellar book on the UKIP tribe will know that most UKIP voters do not start out believing that they were left behind because of their colour. They knew that they were losing out because of globalisation, because of their lack of education or because of their age. But as they coalesced into a single grouping, the identity that came most naturally was the visible characteristic that most of them shared – being white. Over time, for many UKippers, this factor has actually eclipsed the original cause of their disquiet. The emergence of this white tribe isn’t a British peculiarity. We only have to look across the Channel where almost one in three French people support a party, the Front National, which is arguably anti-immigrant and is certainly, by its own declaration, anti-Islamic. Its new leader, Marine Le Pen currently leads the polls in voting intention for the Presidential election of 2017.  In Austria a similar party is polling above a fifth of the popular vote. In Sweden – liberal, civilised Sweden – the largest party in Parliament the Sweden Democrats – described by the Daily Telegraph as an anti immigration party with roots in the neo-Nazi movement – is polling above 25%. There’s a similar story in Denmark, in Finland and Holland. And in Supposedly left wing Greece the anti-immigrant Golden Dawn took 7 percent of the poll in last month’s general election. And if you want to know what they stand for listen to what one of their MPs, Ilias Panagiotaros, said, before they became popular according to the Daily Mail: ‘If [Golden Dawn] gets into parliament, it will carry out raids on hospitals and kindergartens and it will throw immigrants and their children out on the street so that Greeks can take their place.’ I think we can say that whatever our problems, we would not exchange them for those of our neighbours right now. The task of those of us who study integration is to wrestle with the reality of what the philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin predicted many years ago; that restless humanity would one day have to find a way of living together graciously.

I like Berlin’s formulation – living together graciously – because the alternative – tolerance – has, incorrectly, and sadly come to imply, in English, a grudging coexistence between people who barely know each other and who, frankly, like it that way. The original Elizabethan idea of toleration was a more active proposition – a dynamic convergence of cultures and traditions to create a new kind of Englishness. Today’s date being what it is, it is worth recalling that if we worry about the growth of Islamophobia today, it really pales by comparison with the ferocious persecution of Roman Catholics for several hundred years in this country – the manifestations of which only truly faded in the last century. For the avoidance of doubt, I do not think we want to emulate all the practices of the first Elizabethans. We know about Walsingham’s use of torture and the cruelty of the 16th century police state he created. I do care about security – but I think we need to think pretty hard before we reinvent the Elizabethan security state. But even so I do think that we could well follow some aspects of the Elizabethan template, without the thumbscrews, of course. The idea of toleration does provide a practical guide to what we might be looking for when we talk about integration – a dynamic convergence. I should say what I have in my mind when I say the word integration. I am not a social scientist by training. I am a chemist, so I do tend to think in terms of processes and numbers. I know that I do not think of integration as what the former Home Secretary Roy Jenkins called a flattening process of assimilation. On the other hand I do not regard a society which simply consists of a series of separate but more or less interlocking communities, with different values attitudes and behaviours as integrated. Instead, with apologies to any mathematicians in the room, I think of integration as a process of dynamic convergence on a single set of basic values, attitudes and behaviours.

Remember, this is a two way street in which everyone is in motion. How do we know it when we see it? Well I tend to go for something that I can measure. In this case, for me the perfectly integrated society is one in which an individual’s life chances, preferences, and behaviours are randomly related to his or her race or religion. A sociologist might say a society in which race and religion carry no explanatory power in predicting outcomes. 11 A common, shallow journalist like me would translate that as meaning that when I walk into the room, my skin colour or shape of features should give you no clue as to whether I would be a dustman, a doctor or a bus driver. That’s a technical definition, and I’ll return to what it might mean in practice before I sit down. But of course we don’t live our lives through equations. I think we need to bear in mind what integration – and its opposite – means in an everyday sense for most people. I’m not naïve. Race and religion do still render us vulnerable to unjustified discrimination. And that is for many, a major obstacle to integration. But that isn’t the only cause. The real world challenge now is very different for most people to the challenge of the past fifty years, for three reasons. First, we now understand that each of us is a composite of many things – our family history, our professions, gender, race and so on.  For much of my lifetime, making your way in society meant suppressing aspects of that complex configuration – your race, your sexual orientation, your religion, for example – in order to fit in with prevailing norms. But as our societies have become more affluent and more secure most of us want to live lives that are more in tune with all aspects of our identities. We want everyone to know who and what we are. We want to bring our whole selves to work. In essence, well-off societies are enjoying more freedoms, and accommodating more public differentiations of identity. It’s all out there – both to celebrate and to irritate. Second, individual attitudes are so much more tolerant and so much less prejudiced. We are simply less likely to face overt and deliberate acts of individual bigotry. Twenty years ago, more than a quarter of us would express some unease about a black or Asian boss or neighbour – usually by saying that we ourselves had no worries but we thought that there might be problems for our fellow workers, or other neighbours or other relatives who were not so open-minded. Today, you would struggle to find one in ten people admitting to these attitudes. And amongst people under thirty I suspect that the very questions we used in the 1980s would seem incomprehensible.

Third, particularly because of technical advances in data gathering and monitoring, we now know a great deal more about the systemic effect of belonging to an identity category than we used to. And we know that some of the obstacles to integration aren’t invented, or the result of unequal treatment. They are the result of a gap between the way that some of our institutions work and the way that some of citizens want to live. And nether is necessarily at fault. We know that some differences and some disadvantages are inherent and generally speaking inextricably associated with our race, gender and so forth. They are not simply symptoms of unequal treatment. For example, the Ipsos MORI study of GP patient opinion – a sample of over 100,000 individuals – shows that British Muslims – corrected for class and geography – are 40% less likely to rate their GPs as “very good” than the average person. But NHS doctors are far from being an all white, all Christian grouping.

This is clearly a cultural issue. How do we address it? Well, we can take some clues from a study my colleague Professor Richard Webber conducted some years ago for Tower Hamlets Primary Care Trust. Between 2002 and 2004 use of A&E in Tower Hamlets doubled; local hospitals struggled to meet the government’s 4-hour waiting target. Analysis of 200,000 attendance records, using Origins, showed that the over-users were disproportionately Bangladeshi. The first assumption was that this was an immigrant problem – older people who didn’t really understand the system. But analysis showed that the over users were a group with age spikes at 0-5 and 20–29 – in fact, young families with British born parents. Further focus groups showed that; when Mohammed or Asma fell off the slide, unlike their classmates, the decision to take children to A&E is a family decision. And older Bangladeshis believed that GPs were less professional – not real doctors – no white coats, no battery of intrusive tests. Targeted educational campaigns reduced the overuse in target hospitals within a year. In the target hospitals there was a 6.4% total decline in 2005/06 compared to increases of 3.6% and 2.6% in neighbouring hospitals. 15 GP attendance figures went up. Savings were significant at between £55–100 per visit to A&E; and the 4-hour waiting targets were met This problem was solved through marketing and campaigning. To take another, current issue, we urgently need to find ways of addressing the issue of diversity in the police for example. As usual, politicians and activist have reached for the law. The evidence is that we can achieve change faster and with less confrontation. Avon and Somerset Police, worried about the poor scores of minority candidates in one of their online recruitment tests asked the Behavioural Insight Unit – the so-called nudge unit – to help them understand what was going on. The researchers came up with a simple plan. They adjusted the tone of a reminder email that went to all candidates, making it friendlier in tone.

Astonishingly, this no-cost intervention, had the effect of increasing the pass rate amongst ethnic minorities by 50 percent – and in fact eliminated the gap in pass rates between whites and non-whites. I could give you a range of other examples, but time doesn’t allow. The essential point is that we are now learning that problems of integration we thought could be solved by legal or regulatory means may be better addressed by other means. Ultimately, the puzzle here is how we change human behaviour without state or legal compulsion. That is the question that confronts all of us who worry about the real, on-the-ground, everyday practice of integration. I want to sketch out, briefly, three areas that we should be exploring to address that problem. First, culture and manners. (AD-LIB INSERTED: THE SIGNALS OF INTEGRATION OR ITS ABSENCE CAN BE VERY SUBTLE, AND THERE’S NOT NECESSARILY A RIGHT OR WRONG E.G. WHAT ARE THE RULES ABOUT WEARING A POPPY? FEW OTHER THAN ME WEARING THEM HERE – BUT IN MK THIS AFTERNOON I SUSPECT THE REVERSE WILL BE TRUE.) How do we change people’s reflexes? How do we influence the way we speak and relate to each other? Historically in this country we’ve relied on a class-based set of rules. In the past they didn’t need to be written down or even properly articulated. For example, returning to the issue of immigrant integration, for newcomers to participate fully in society they do have to know what the rules of the society actually are.

Unfortunately, in Britain we do tend to turn those rules into a kind of cryptic crossword puzzle. For example, a couple of years ago, I was invited to what was described as a small, informal supper at a stately home. Very nice. Small meant twenty-four people – not quite my family’s definition; and informal meant an invitation on stiff card, with the words “no dress code”. That’s not a problem if you’re a bloke; you wear a suit and no tie. For a woman it’s more complicated. Obviously no tiaras – but pearls or no pearls? Summer frock or business suit? Trousers or skirt?  My wife made me ring up some people who’d been before to get some steer on the rules.

Their guidance was uniformly vague, of course. In the end she wore an outfit in which she felt comfortable – and of course being a woman of taste and discernment she got it right. But the point of the story is that it taught me a lesson about our country. When someone says “no dress code” what it really means is that if you don’t already know what the code is – are you sure you really belong here? In future we may need to take a leaf out of the French book. They go too far in prescription – but at least you know what you’re doing. So to give integration any chance at all we are going to have to be more explicit about our rules of behaviour; and that means deciding what they are. One place where this will be especially difficult is in relation to the question of what causes offence. There are many people who think we should be more active in policing what people say. There are some who think that we should be sensitive to others’ feelings of hurt when we make fun of Jesus or the Prophet Mohammed. I disagree. We cannot and should not censor speech. One reason is that this path is always oppressive and usually ends up making the censor look foolish. If we did give into that temptation, we would be no better than the old Soviet Union or the present China. Offence is a part of the reality of a diverse society; it need not make us unequal. So there are issues of culture and manners which can’t be dealt with by statute but which are vital to resolve. I want to turn to the hardest nut of all. Apparently inherent cultural and ethnic preferences. Remember my mathematical definition of integration: a society in which life chances, outcomes and preferences are random with respect to race and religion? The evidence is emerging that though we may make progress towards reducing the predictability associated with race and religion we may never get anywhere near that definition. There are intrinsic differences between identity groups. This is a sensitive issue which most public figures would prefer to avoid, but which I believe, will in time end up in the legal arena. 20 Let me give you a couple of examples of why I think that we find it hard to discuss these differences. I’ll focus on a topic that matters to everyone – educational success, or otherwise. It is clear that in this country standards of achievement at 16 – GCSE level – are rising. For over a decade we have monitored the numbers. We’ve learned that girls generally do better than boys. We’ve learned that different ethnic groups perform differently, but that they can improve – for example African Caribbean boys, who used to trail the pack are catching up. However, the data confront us with one extremely uncomfortable and consistent finding, which by the way is echoed internationally.

In most ethnic groups there is 20% gap between the performance of the poor and the average student. There is one exception: children of Chinese heritage, where the poor/not-poor gap is just two percent – and where it doesn’t really matter anyway, because poor Chinese children, 90% of whom get five good GCSEs beat the pants off every other demographic irrespective of class. 21 The hard question here is: what do they have that the rest of us don’t? And if we can copy it, should we? Or should we regard it as kind of unjust inequality – which of course would lead to some form reverse discrimination? Second, look at the effect of school choice. Today parents have greater choice over the schools which their children attend in England and Wales than they used to. That’s a good thing. But work from Bristol University has shown that over the past ten years parents preference for schools with more children who are similar to their own in various ways means that most schools are more ethnically segregated than the communities that they sit in. Let me emphasise, that these people are not bigots; this is not white flight. But it does mean that our schools are changing in character. In some cities, most minority children sit in classes where there are hardly any children who do not share their ethnicity. According to the mapping Integration Project at Demos, between 2008 and 2013 there was a 31% increase in the number of ethnic minority children starting school in England. 61% of minority children began their education in schools where ethnic minorities are the majority of the student body.

In London that figure is 90 percent. 4 4 ref tba (from speech to Newham head teachers 03 07 15)  Experience from the USA where laws have been in place for half a century to deter segregation shows that their schools have experienced the same phenomenon. American schools are now more segregated than 50 years ago when the Supreme Court ruled segregation in education unconstitutional. Ultimately, we cannot and should not restrict choice. So how do we encourage a shared future? I would say that the single most important step right now is simply to begin to have the courage to acknowledge those differences. The most extraordinary story of educational success in the past decade has been the transformation of London’s schools from, as it were, bottom of the class to standout success. Simon Burgess, Bristol University’s Professor of Economics has shown convincingly that even after accounting for family background and other factors, the improvement can be accounted for almost completely by the change in the composition of the student population. Compared to 2001, there are now many more pupils from highperforming ethnic groups – Indians, Chinese, African and Polish and far fewer from low achieving groups – African Caribbeans and of course, whites. Yet despite the evidence the government and educational authorities have yet to produce any programme to try to understand what is happening in our schools, to try to work out whether the success of some groups – Bangladeshi girls for example – might help us to find ways of dealing with the chronic failure of others – white or Pakistani boys being key demographics. My time is up. I wish you success with your debates. The word academic has come to mean abstract, and irrelevant to everyday life. Actually, this conference is an example of exactly the opposite – rigorous analysis of an intensely relevant contemporary issue. I might also point to the brilliant work carried out by Professor Miles Hewstone at Oxford, which was reported on the Today programme this morning. That is why society needs universities and the work they do. I look forward to your outcomes.

Thank you.


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About Myriam Francois

This is the official blog for the SOAS-CIS. It aims to encourage scholars to debate and engage with the wider public on the basis of their research and will foster discussions about mainly UK and also European Integration discourse as relates to Islam and British Muslims. We tweet @SoasCis

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