Making integration work

Posted on 18 January 2016

Prime Minister David Cameron has set out new proposals to increase integration and tackle discrimination against Muslim women, including increased investment in English language classes for migrants and measures to challenge gender segregation.

The following extracts from British Future’s pamphlet How to talk about immigration examine in some detail the importance of integration, and specific integration challenges facing British Muslims.

What we feel about change is highly subjective. If you find change deeply unsettling, you will always struggle to persuade somebody who embraces change of your point of view, or vice versa. But we should still be able to agree that we do have a joint responsibility to make our shared society work. Only a fringe minority would still now disagree that the diversity of modern Britain is a settled and irreversible fact. Most of us think it is important to identify how our common citizenship should work, if we want a shared society, not a divided, polarised and segregated one.

Integration is partly a question of what we expect from migrants. It concerns their responsibilities and what reciprocal rights they can expect, in return, from the society they join. But integration is not only a question for migrants, or for their children and grandchildren to navigate as first, second or third generation Britons. These have to be debates about what identity and belonging mean for all of us if we are all going to have a voice and a stake in how we make the ‘new us’ work.



“To belong to our shared society, everyone must speak our language, obey our laws and pay their taxes – so that everyone who plays by the rules counts as equally British, and should be able to reach their potential.” In fact the integration deal that we recommend here has particularly broad appeal to the British public, with 83 per cent approval, and just 3 per cent opposition.

It is when integration works well that Britain benefits most from migration – when people settle here and become invested in the country by starting a family, setting up a businesses and becoming part of their local community. Migration works when migrants and their children get to be fully part of the society that they have joined.

 Is Muslim integration different?

‘Do British Muslims even want to integrate on similar terms that people of other faiths thought were a pretty fair deal?’ wonders the viewer of the six o’clock news, as it crosses from a row over faith in Birmingham schools to British-born teenagers heading off to fight in Syria.

‘Will Britain ever just accept me for who I am, on equal terms with everyone else?’, asks the young British Muslim undergraduate, scanning the tabloid headlines as the latest controversy about halal meat in pizzas hits the front pages.

These difficult conversations are necessary ones for integration and shared citizenship. If questions of Muslim integration are often central to our integration debates, they may feel quite different to the two participants in the above conversation. Both voices might want the answer to be ‘yes’ – yet they might hear the other voice seeming to say ‘no’.

While these debates about the experience of second and third generation Britons are not really about immigration anymore, getting integration right is a crucial ‘deal-breaker’ issue for cultural sceptics on immigration.


  • Most people are conflicted: 63 per cent of Britons believe that ‘the vast majority of Muslims are good British citizens’, and only 12 per cent disagree; apparently contradicted by just 24 per cent who agree that ‘Muslims are compatible with the British way of life’ while 48 per cent disagree.
  • Fear and anxiety is much more mainstream: 50 per cent believe ‘there will be a clash of civilisations between British Muslims and native white Britons’ while only 26 per cent disagree.
  • Most people believe there is more prejudice against Muslims than other minority groups: 54 per cent of all Britons say that Muslims face ‘a lot’ of prejudice (and 82 per cent recognise that Muslims do face prejudice).
  • Muslims feel more strongly British than any other faith or ethnic minority: when researchers asked 40,000 households how important being British was to them, every minority household scored more highly than the white population, with Pakistanis topping the list.
  • There is confidence about the integration of Muslims. Sixty-seven per cent of people say that the children of British Muslims are integrating well.

Britain’s ‘Anxious Middle’ is certainly very anxious about Muslim integration. And there is an anxious middle among British Muslim citizens too – with similar concerns about jobs and opportunities in Britain today, and worries about the impact on their children’s life chances if British Muslims face more prejudice than any other minority.

These findings exemplify Sayeeda Warsi’s claim that anti-Muslim discourse can ‘pass the dinner table test’ in a way that discourse about other minorities would not. They suggest a contrast between a warmth towards fellow citizens who are Muslim – especially if we meet each other as classmates or parents, colleagues and friends – and anxiety about the group, especially likely to be perceived as a monolithic bloc making unreasonable demands by those who have little or no personal contact with British Muslims.

Helping British Muslims to feel as much a part of British society as other ethnic and faith minorities, while getting the worried-but-not-prejudiced members of the mainstream non-Muslim public to a similar place, should be the top priority for those committed to inclusive citizenship and tackling prejudice in British society today. But that might mean shifting the approach to Muslim integration that we now have.

Firstly, we need to be tough on anti-Muslim prejudice without shutting down legitimate debate

Prejudice against Britain’s Muslim community undoubtedly exists and should be challenged. But it should still be possible to debate and critique cultural, political or theological claims that are made by some in the name of Islam, without being prejudiced against Muslims – as long as you keep prejudice out of the debate. Shutting down reasonable critiques with unfair claims of ‘Islamophobia’ provides a space within which genuine prejudice can fester; it also reduces the potency of legitimate rebuttal when someone does overstep the mark and express prejudiced views against Muslims. Any successful anti-prejudice strategy should make clear the boundaries between prejudice and legitimate debate.

Secondly, more efforts need to reach the anxious mainstream majority, not just those who are already onside

Efforts to tackle anti-Muslim prejudice should not be directed at those already onside: young people, the better-educated and those who live in bigger cities or who have more personal contact with their Muslim fellow citizens. It is good to entrench that positive shift by engaging the next generation – but the kids are alright. Anti-prejudice efforts need to reach more anxious audiences: not those with the most toxic anti-Muslim views but those ‘moderate majority’ citizens who are anxious about Muslim integration while holding benign views of other minorities. Effective anti-prejudice strategies should engage middle Britain and ‘middle Muslim Britain’ too, including by bringing about new contact between them. A joint jumble sale by the Women’s Institute and the local mosque might do more to work out how we live together than any number of postgraduate race relations seminars.

Thirdly, Muslim integration cannot be addressed in isolation; it is fundamentally a question of shared citizenship

While there are distinct challenges relating to Muslim integration and attitudes to British Muslims, tackling the issue in isolation is unlikely to be effective. One commentator responded to Rotherham by calling for a Royal Commission on Muslim integration: that would be precisely the wrong approach. The answer to the challenge of Muslim integration is to define the common ground of equal and shared citizenship across all groups and individuals in our society.

There is a clear analogy with debates about Catholic integration, over a much longer period. The IRA bombing campaign during the Troubles undoubtedly impacted on the Irish in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s. In 2014, British Muslims face similar questions. Another group may do so in thirty years time. The question of Muslim integration can not be for Muslims alone: it is up to all of us to find the common ground of shared citizenship that can bring people together.

We should sustain our strong commitment to freedom of religion and belief, combined with respect for the views of others. But there is public concern about those demands that don’t seem to be about ‘fairness’, but which instead seem to “carve out” demands or sound like an attempt to live in a different country within British society. Such demands will undermine the idea of a shared set of rules we all must observe. Faith schools have a legitimate role, as long as they commit to core values of citizenship and cohesion: those requirements must be equally applied across different faith backgrounds.

This broader context matters. It should reassure British Muslims about the dangers of being a special case; and it should reassure the wider British public too.


A proposal: Make English language the keystone to integration

Being able to speak English is the key to integration and a passport to full economic, social and democratic participation in our society.

Governments should aim to achieve universal fluency in English right across the country, and work with partners to identify the most effective ways to reach those who need help to achieve proficiency in the English language.

The government should make English language lessons free at the point of use, establishing a loan scheme to pay back the cost of tuition, as David Goodhart, of the Demos thinktank, has proposed.

School pupils who arrive in the classroom without English fluency are currently enjoying strong success in the school system, particularly in London, and are contributing to a general rise of attainment levels despite this additional challenge. Greater efforts should be made to engage parents too. Health services could have an important outreach role for some of those who may not often come into contact with the state: for example, women with poor language fluency could be offered advice and support through pregnancy services and post-natal midwife care, making this as routine a practice as advice on healthy eating or information on stopping smoking, and building on the motivation of new parents to have the capacity to be involved with their children’s education.

Here, the universities, who are significant beneficiaries of immigration, could be asked to contribute to achieving this goal. The Government should consult our leading universities to find practical ways to make some of their world-class facilities available – outside term-time, and at some weekends – as a practical way to assist local English language teaching projects. This could be combined with high-profile projects to actively encourage recent graduates, current students and university staff to donate time to literacy projects, for example as mentors or voluntary ESOL assistants.

This positive contribution to successful integration would be an important symbolic and practical example of how institutions that benefit culturally and economically from immigration can help the towns and cities of which they are a part to manage the challenges of making it work. It would also give citizens themselves a positive way to contribute to integration, promoting greater contact between communities. Engaging universities in how they can practically support such English language initiatives could be combined with a corresponding government commitment to support universities to actively increase enrolment of foreign students, an important source of income for universities and the local economy around them.

This is an edited extract from British Future’s 2014 publication ‘How to talk about immigration




  • Comment by Javed Iqbal Butt at 17:15 on 18.01.16

    Late, Butt Good Decision.

  • Comment by Gil Domingue at 12:24 on 21.01.16

    Think Brit Mus integration issue not just fears over terrorism. Reprehension towards “alien” women-unfriendly non-democratic practices only found in some (not all) Brit Mus communities & no other immigrant communities: forcing/ brainwashing women into covering face which undermines equality/glass ceiling fight in UK for all women & looks horrible – my experience from working abroad is woman covered up = a man marking out his chattels, he owns the woman & nobody can look at her, FGM fits in here; wanting polygamy, calls for sharia law, sharia wills too. Some Muslims berating indigenous women for their dress code. My female Mus colleagues all detest veil wearing – so as divisive as Sunni-Shia split so can’t be right. Brit suffragettes fought for equality & vote not veils. Now have illegal Mus schools, and Muslim paedos (adding to our indigenous problem).Conclusion: some Brit Mus disrespectful by forcing their views on host country/ tail wagging the dog. Also Brit Mus only 5% but ~40% of prisoners. Terrorism: used to be the IRA wanting to blow us up but now folk regarding themselves as good Mus when of course they are potential murderers.
    Think Brit Mus must seize PR high ground by F2F confrontation of above bad practices and confront F2F extremist preachers/mosques. There maybe a perception that Brit Mus not doing enough to eradicate these things but leaving it up to only non-Mus police etc. but really bad Brit Mus will only listen to good Brit Mus not non-Mus. Overall tho’ I really appreciate my NHS Mus colleagues, among the best. Sorry they are caught up in this mess. Thanks for oppo to comment. GD

  • Comment by Iftikhar Ahmad at 23:13 on 26.01.16

    Learning and Speaking English Language
    I’m not sure how learning English will help stop extremism either, many of those who have carried out/plotted atrocities have been highly educated. Speaking English does not promote integration into British, American and Australian societies, and broaden opportunities. English speaking Muslim youths are angry, frustrated and extremist, thanks to state schools with monolingual non-Muslim teachers and English language. English language is not only a lingua franca but also lingua frankensteinia. Human right are also covers linguistic right. Cultural and linguistic genocide are very common. British schooling is murdering community languages like Arabic, Urdu and others. English is today the world killer language. Linguistic genocide is a crime against humanity and British schooling is guilty of committing this crime. Language is not just a language. It defines one’s culture, identity and consciousness. It defines how we think, communicate and express ourselves. The fact is the most South Asian Muslims have come to know Islam by way of Urdu, the children’s alienation from the language that connects them the heritage of their parents and grandparents is disturbing. As a matter of fact, one has to get to know his mother tongue well if one is to master any other language.

    The Prime Minister has privately argued that one of the main reasons why young Muslim males fall under the spell of fanatics is because their mothers have too much of a subordinate role within their communities to argue against the influence of the extremists.
    He is expected to call for more Muslim women to learn the language so they can make advances in the job market and take on a more influential role.
    Prime Minister David Cameron will call on Muslim women to learn English to counter extremism.
    Mr Cameron has been shocked by the fact that at least 700 people from the UK – the vast majority of them young males – have travelled to support or fight for jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, with about half having since returned to Britain. Most who have gone are thought to have joined Islamic State.

    He has argued with advisers that he needs to ‘lift the horizons’ of women in those areas where the language barrier contributes to them being trapped outside the workforce.

    Why do we have a pop at Mr Trump when David Cameron seems quite happy to discriminate against Muslims himself with this idea of deporting Muslims’ who haven’t learned English within a certain time period; (bearing in mind that English is supposed to be one of the hardest languages to learn). You can’t say that David Cameron’s policy idea is exactly ‘Muslim friendly’. And why doesn’t he deport the Polish, the Czech, and not forgetting the Chinese students in this country’s universities? When I was studying at university, I found that Chinese students’, who had supposedly learned English before they could study in Britain, couldn’t actually speak the language at all. Me thinks there is a bit of money passing around to get these students in. The fact that they also pay large sums of money in tuition fees annually may be the reason the government leaves them alone. Strange that. Hey, we could just deport everyone who can’t speak fluid English. David Cameron would have loads of space then and it’d keep the economic cost down .

    If David Cameron’s idea becomes law, the only thing that this will do, is discriminate against Muslims by forcing people who are living within a very close knit community and splitting them up. Single mothers, who have fled tensions in their own country for a safer life in Britain with their children. How can we slag off Donald Trump for is comments when our government is thinking of doing the same?

    The Muslim Council of Britain has objected to what it describes as an attempt to place responsibility for extremism entirely on Britain’s Muslim population, arguing that they are also ‘struggling to challenge the terrorist narrative’. Beat fanatics by teaching them English? The national language here in Israel is Hebrew. Terrorists and their terrorist harbouring families here know Hebrew – children terrorists know Hebrew. The man is an idiot. He cannot seriously believe the guff written above. If they learn English and go out and get a job, they will stop young Muslims being radicalised. The man is an incompetent feminised man, who measures everything by women taking men’s jobs. Does he understand nothing at all. The UK was targeted for many years by IRA Terrorists , and THEY all spoke English , So Cameron , what is your point???????????

    A man is the product of his culture, language and faith. Muslim community is different from the host community as far as culture, language and faith is concerned. Muslim children must develop their cultural, linguistic and spiritual identity before they are exposed to wider world, otherwise, they would be lost in western jungle. British schooling is the home of institutional racism. The result is that Muslim children are unable to develop self-confidence and self-esteem. Racism is deeply rooted in British society. British schools are not doing enough to tackle racism and promote race relations. Many teachers are unaware of racist attitudes amongst pupils. Muslim children also need state funded Muslim schools with Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods.

    None of 7/7 bombers and British Muslim youths who are in Syria and Iraq are the product of Muslim schools. They are the product of British schooling which is the home of institutional racism with chicken racist native teachers. It is absurd to believe that Muslim schools, Imams and Masajid teach Muslim children anti-Semitic, homophobic and anti-western views. It is dangerously deceptive and misleading to address text books and discuss them out of their historical, cultural and linguistic context. It is not wrong to teach children that Jews are committing the same cruelty in Palestine what German did to them before or during Second World War. It is not wrong to teach children that anti-social behaviour, drinking, drugs, homosexuality, sex before marriage, teenage pregnancies and abortions are western values and Islam is against all such sins. This does not mean that Muslim schools teach children to hate westerners, Jews and homosexuals.

    Muslim children must learn and be well versed in standard English to follow the National Curriculum and go for higher studies and research to serve humanity. At the same time he must learn and be well versed in Arabic, Urdu and other community languages to keep in touch with their cultural heritage and enjoy the beauty of their literature and poetry. A Muslim is a citizen of this tiny global village. He does not want to become notoriously monolingual Brit. The whole world belongs to Muslims.

    There are hundreds of state and church schools where Muslim children are in majority. In my opinion, all such schools may be opted out as Muslim Academies. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school.