In the aftermath of the Trojan Horse scandal, we are left with some very serious questions: what are ‘British values’? How do we define what it means to be Muslim in contemporary Britain?
If Michael Gove posed the question, David Cameron sought to provide the answer, as to what we might define as ‘British values’:
“The values I’m talking about – a belief in freedom, tolerance of others, accepting personal and social responsibility, respecting and upholding the rule of law – are the things we should try to live by every day. To me they’re as British as the Union flag, as football, as fish and chips.”
Yet, these values are not uniquely British nor does this country hold any historical monopoly on a free press, tolerance or parliamentary democracy. A weak definition merely fuels the belief that ‘British values’ are merely a coded term to remind a non-white minority about their lesser position in Britain. We should not forget that many of the students in the schools affected by the Trojan horse scandal are from disadvantaged ethnic minority backgrounds. So a discussion of ‘Britishness’ in this context frames the debate on racial and religious lines.
For some, the scandal proved a deeply held suspicion that some Muslims promote intolerant, illiberal and potentially illegal views, which left unchecked, risk corrupting the minds of future generations.
That corrupting influence hinted at violent extremism (but Ofsted found none). Instead, extremism became redefined by the non-violent and overreaching hand of religious orthodoxy in non-faith schools, (despite a majority of students being Muslim.)
Religiosity (in its various agreeable and disagreeable manifestations), when within the remit of the rule of law, risks being choked by a ‘muscular’ implementation of British values, as we move to redefine Muslim identity in Britain. Patriotism forms another key part of this ‘muscular’ identity but an affinity for Britain is already strong within various Muslim communities. Over the years, research found that Muslims are more likely than the general population to strongly identify with Britain.
Muslims were also more likely to feel they belong in this country when compared to Christians, (despite the rhetoric of this being a Christian nation.)
British Muslims largely agree that an education, job and grasp of the English language are important for integration. But all of these points are overlooked as Muslims are once again asked where their loyalties lie (to their faith or nation-state.) Such a position flies in the face of evidence and presupposes that the two positions do not intersect.
But what do some British Muslims actually think?
Others were more whimsical but the common thread that binds their individual statements is a collective appreciation for freedom of faith, fairness and tolerance. Such freedoms (unlike in other countries) allowed Shayan to strengthen his own faith by challenging those around him on what it means to be Muslim.
Diversity might breed disagreement and flashpoints of tension, but it can bring us towards mutual understanding. If we took the time to speak to British Muslims, we might find that the stories that make negative headlines hold little sway for the majority, and ‘British values’ are values we already hold dear, regardless of faith.