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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Islam in Europe and the United States

Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

On March 28, the Boisi Center welcomed Kishwer Falkner, Baroness of Margravine and the first Muslim “frontbencher” (party spokesperson) in the United Kingdom’s House of Lords. She spoke about the challenges and opportunities Muslims face in integrating into British society.

Generational differences are extremely important in matters of cultural integration, she noted. The first generation of Muslims immigrated to the UK in the 1950s and 1960s, and as a whole they express more allegiance to British and Western values than successive generations, who were in many ways more excluded from British society and thus more amenable to radicalism. The most troubling aspect of immigration trends today, Falkner noted, is the continuing “high levels of spatial segregation” of Muslim communities “combined with a very generous family reunion policy” whereby these segregated communities are repopulated by new immigrants from rural villages with very low literacy rates and no exposure to the English language.

Falkner argued that the debate regarding Muslims in the UK has shifted recently as a result of the failed policy of multiculturalism associated with the political left. The lack of integration and governmental paternalism that contributed to this failure has now become the center of a discussion about how Muslims might become more active citizens. In fact, recent survey data points to an increasing social integration of British Muslims. Surprisingly high numbers in a recent survey reported having consumed alcohol (21%), paid interest on a mortgage (65%), gambled (20%) and taken illegal drugs (10%); and 84% of Muslim respondents said they are treated fairly by the authorities. Together this suggests that British Muslims are becoming more integrated in mainstream society, for better and for worse. “I’m optimistic about Muslims,” Falkner said, “because I think they are beginning to realize that their own destiny lies in their hands” so long as they “set about engaging more openly in the public debate.”