How to meet the multicultural challenge

There is a population in Britain that holds abnormally high levels of antisemitic sentiment, that already vastly outnumbers us, and is growing rapidly, writes Jonathan Boyd. How should we address this?

December 14, 2017 12:39

I know what I want to say about the recent controversy around the new Islamic centre in Golders Green. It’s simple really. Of course we should be welcoming to the Muslim community. We should be open to everyone, irrespective of their faith, colour or creed. We should love our neighbours as ourselves; we should treat strangers with compassion and kindness, because we know what it is to be a stranger. How is it even possible to be a Jew without having absorbed these principles?

And yet I understand the apprehension being expressed in some quarters. I shudder at some of the more vitriolic language, and doubt the motives of some of the more subtly expressed opposition. But I don’t dismiss the underlying anxieties. Neither should any of us.

There are some cold and stark empirical realities staring us squarely in the face, which we would be wise to acknowledge. Based on evidence JPR painstakingly gathered, analysed and published this year, British Muslims are, on average, three to four times more likely to hold intensely anti-Jewish views than members of the British public in general. Prejudicial anti-Jewish views, of various kinds and with varying degrees of intensity, can be found among more than half of all British Muslims, and one in seven Muslims in this country can be unambiguously classified as antisemitic. That’s not my opinion. That is empirical reality.

Furthermore, new Pew Research Center data project that Muslims could comprise anywhere between 9.7 per cent to 17.2 per cent of the total UK population by 2050. The lower estimate assumes zero net migration between now and then; the growth, from a current estimate of 6.3 per cent, is based solely on fertility rates. The higher estimate assumes 2014-16 migration rates will continue (an unlikely scenario given recent Office for National Statistics migration figures), but Pew’s more probable mid-range estimate is 16.7 per cent, and a British Muslim population by that time of over 13 million. Put another way, there were about ten Muslims to every Jew in Britain in 2011; by 2050, there are likely to be 40 or 50.

In short, there is a population in Britain that holds abnormally high levels of antisemitic sentiment, that already vastly outnumbers us, and is growing rapidly. Irrespective of the motivations of the members of the Golders Green Hussainiyat Al-Rasool Al-Adham centre, that context is disturbing and worrying.

The question is: what are we going to do about it? I see just three options. One possibility is to campaign against the establishment of large-scale Muslims institutions in neighbourhoods with large Jewish populations, as some Golders Green residents have chosen to do. But irrespective of whether it is possible to construct a moral case for such a strategy, it won’t work. We live in a multicultural country where Jews comprise less than half a per cent of the entire population. Ethnic and religious diversity is a fundamental part of Britain today, and that’s not going to change. The neighbourhoods we live in will become more diverse over time whether we like it or not.

Another possibility is just to move out. That, after all, is what we have always done. Many strong Jewish neighbourhoods in the UK have declined over time as Jews have quietly migrated elsewhere, partly in response to local demographic change. That’s the story of many of the old regional communities, as well as several parts of London. And, to be honest, looking ahead, that’s a conceivable scenario for Golders Green, too.

But there is a third option: to build relationships and work to break down the prejudices that exist. It takes courage and faith to do that, and only a deliberate, concerted collective effort stands a chance of success. But there is a logic to trying. Close to half of all British Muslims dismiss all anti-Jewish tropes, and about a quarter dismiss all anti-Israel ones, and research evidence indicates both that British culture and society often exert a moderating influence on many over time, and that the more we all know one another, the less hostile and prejudiced we all become.

I don’t know whether a strategy of engagement will work. But I know we have to try. British society is changing and becoming ever more diverse. If we want to be a strong and confident part of its future, we can’t avoid that. We have to embrace that diversity, too.

Jonathan Boyd is Executive Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR)

December 14, 2017 12:39

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