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Friday, 17 May, 2002, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Is integration good for multi-cultural Britain?
A UK minister has caused controversy by urging Muslims to try harder to integrate into British society.

Europe minister Peter Hain has been criticised for saying sections of the Muslim community are too "isolationist".

While he said Muslims were welcome and enriched British culture, he said isolationism left them open to exploitation by extremists.

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament in Britain, described Mr Hain's comments as "divisive" and said that "he should know better".

Is integration good for multi-cultural Britain?

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below

I my opinion integration plays a major role in belonging to any particular society. I myself consider to a British-Muslim foremost. This does not mean that I am entirely alienated from any aspect of British life. What is more, I feel the better for being both. I am a third generation Muslim in this country and I only see this country as being my home. So, I make every effort to participate in its future & prosperity. That does not also mean I loose other identities as well. As human beings we all belong to different groups in society and according to our needs and interests we manipulate our membership of those groupings.
Shahidul Alom, London, UK

I moved to the US from Britain about 7 years ago, and the issue of immigrants integrating with the host-society seems more a matter of class rather than race. Here in New York, there are thousands of middle-class and wealthy people from India, China, Korea, etc. who are largely assimilated and highly successful. Their poorer and working-class countrymen here eke out a hard living and remain largely shut out of American society. Race appears to be a non-factor here. As an example, I cite the Italians in New York. It took them about 100 years to become fully assimilated into US society (after decades of isolation and prejudice). So, how can one expect people from non-White, non-Christian backgrounds to assimilate so readily?
John Mc., New York US

Integration? Let's speak first how to get money
Khalid Lealami, Germany

I was still at school when there was a large intake of Asian immigrants in the 60's. They received the most terrible hostility and racism from the white population and had to face gangs of "paki-bashing" skinheads. They all smelled, they ate catfood etc. etc. Muslims were particularly singled out for abuse. Under such circumstances it is only human nature to group together and hang on ever more tightly to 'traditional' values. I think politicians should stop blaming the victims and openly admit to the root cause of segregation and racial tension in places like Oldham and Burnley, the racism from the white community that was there from the very beginning.
Mick B, UK

A society where members of different cultural, ethnic, or religious groups feel that they are free to integrate, but also free not to, is ideal. I do not have any problem with British Muslims choosing to segregate themselves from mainstream society. I do have a problem if they arrived at that decision due to prejudice, racial attacks, or abuse. Nobody should be forced to the margins of society, but I believe they have the right to make the choice not to integrate.
Stacey Turner, American in the UK

I don't think that anyone should be forced to integrate - however life is easier if you do. Adopting the ways of a new country is part of living in it - I think that if we even have to discuss this issue of integration then we are skirting around the real issue of British people wanting to allow others to integrate into their country
Suzanne McMillan, Japan (ex-UK)

I have to say when British or other expat go to the Gulf region we are expected to integrate into their society. (i.e. female cover themselves up, not eat on street during fasting, etc.) This is respectable and polite. The least they can do is do the same when they come over here. You can integrate with other society without losing your identity and belief.
Mark Kelly, Wales, UK

One society, many subcultures, 60 million individuals

Toby, Brighton, UK
One society, many subcultures, 60 million individuals
Toby, Brighton, UK

Many people on this page, I guess, come from a Muslim background, have totally got the wrong idea about this. You are not expected to drop all your customs and beliefs, but there is a difference between that and as some members of the Muslim community do cut themselves off from the rest of the community. This is what is meant by integration which works pretty well in the USA.

If multi-cultural races wish to live in the UK, then they should be prepared to abide by our laws and customs, they same as we have to do when we live in their countries. I have no objection to them continuing to follow their own customs and religions, so long as they don't expect me to change the way I live.
PhilT, Cornishman in Oman

Is there such a thing as 'Brutishness'? What is it? How do you act like it? What do you say, think, do, feel? This country has no sense of identity so how can people integrate in an identityless world?
Mark, The North

It seems to me that none of us has the luxury to live exactly as we like. Perhaps the frequent use of that phrase is self-conscious hyperbole, but the truth is that we all must integrate or conform or compromise to some extent. We should certainly be able to think as we like, but it doesn't follow that we may act as we like. Our actions outside the confines of our private homes directly affect those around us. It would be irresponsible to act exactly as we like whether we're driving a car or making a hiring decision.
Chris, US

Only a small percentage of young Asians integrates

Amalia, UK
It is really a mystery for me, how for so many generations almost three, I suppose, the Asian community has been able to keep their children tied at their cloths. Only a small percentage of young Asians integrates. I settled in England 20 years ago marring an English man, I am Italian and I felt very much the difficulty to integrate, I rather never felt the need. I am a European and that's is enough for me. We share many centuries of history in some how and the mentalities are very much the same about many points. They stick together to survive and maintain their tradition. If I went to live in Asia would I stop to be an Italia, an European? I think that these people would go back home if they could. If the place were they come from were more open and democratic, of course. The problem is that they do not want to fight for democracy and all the other ideals that are deep rooted in the west cultures.
Amalia, UK

It's interesting to read some of the view expressing the desire for Muslims to integrate more into British society. I live and work in Spain. Here there are close on one million Brits living in "English Ghettos" particularly on the south coast. How integrated are these people? Many of them know not a single word of the language.
Peter Clarke, Spain

It seems ironic that we have fought wars to try to stamp out fascism from our lands, and yet on the other hand we are all too ready to look down at other cultures, deny a relationship or behave generally in an intolerant way. Culture and Religion are a smokescreen that pervades modern society, and the sooner we learn to see through it into the hearts of people around us the better life will become for everyone. The heart (or Heart Consciousness) is the key. All hearts are filled with the same Love.

If integration means trying to understand the people you are sharing your house, street, city, with, then yes. Trying to ram your beliefs down other people's throats won't do. Neither will being forced to give up your own. In today's uncertain times, people are holding on firmly to what they know. There is little space for tolerance, uncertainty and suspicion prevail more than ever.

Integration doesn't mean a compromise in beliefs or culture. The most important aspect of any way of life is what goes on in the mind of the subject. The way you express yourself, dress, speak, eat and worship are all symptomatic of that important state of mind. So don't confuse what you see with culture. Culture is freedom of mind and attitude. Integration occurs when individuals welcome one and other into their lives and/or communities. This way people start to experience other peoples values in a practical way. Everyone is guilty of putting up their own barriers and coming up with a reason not to talk to someone from a different culture or that has a different colour of skin. So don't let silly superficial choices of how people wish to live their lives get in the way with trying to communicate with each other on some level.
Cam, UK

Integration can simply mean all people sharing in the same opportunities on an equal level. Therefore working together and learning together. By simply spending time in these settings integrated thinking will naturally take place but without the need for some kind of "culture change". Let people into your lives, don't assume they can't understand because they are from a different culture and the chances are relationships will grow.
Chris C, UK

No one has to integrate with anybody if they don't have to.

Russell, UK
No one has to integrate with anybody if they don't have to. Life is better if you do but it's an individual choice. However, if people want to live in a country, then they should at least learn it's language. What right have I got to move to France for example and not bother to learn to speak the language. Why should they have to accommodate themselves around me?
Russell, UK

My parents are immigrants, but I was born and brought up in this country. My group of friends are all people who share interests with me or whom I get on well with. Surely this is the benefit of "integration" for the individual - access to a wide range of people from which to form a social circle. And the benefit for society - if society is not segmented by race, then racist attitudes should struggle to survive.
Ganesh Sittampalam, UK

Anyone who cares to wander around Oldham, Bradford, Preston etc will see what Peter Hain means by integration. Whole areas of Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims who dress, talk, eat and live their lives as if they lived in Pakistan and Bangladesh. This is not integrating, nor is it multi-culturalism. These people are turning their areas into smaller versions of the countries they or their forefathers came from and it is simply wrong. Integration isn't an option, it should be a pre-requisite to wanting to live here.
Jon, UK

Jon, UK: "Anyone who cares to wander around Oldham, Bradford, Preston etc will see what Peter Hain means by integration". Yes, it's a fair point, there are ghettos of isolation. But ask yourself why? When immigrants arrived here they were met by signs reading "No Irish, No Dogs, No Blacks" and abuse in the streets. Moving into affordable, white working class areas, was simply too dangerous, and who wants to volunteer themselves for abuse? As a result, people moved into areas where there was a support network of people in a similar situation to themselves. It's pretty rich for politicians to dish out the blame on a largely defenceless minority, when the root causes of the problems have little to do with integration and the lack of it, rather economic failure and persistent prejudicial attitudes.
Idris, UK

As an educated, law abiding, tax paying, mixed race, British born and bred Muslim, I would really like to know exactly which aspects of so-called British culture I should adopt and which aspects of my terribly backwards parent Islamic culture I should drop. Should I change the way I dress, the food I eat, the media I read, the company I keep, the way I decorate my house, or the God I worship?

Or should I be able to live exactly as I like, and defend my rights to do so, as long as I harm no other community or individual? You see, that's what I have been led to believe were my rights as a British subject.
Idris, UK

Idris - You are "British born and bred" why shouldn't the "so-called British culture" be your parent culture rather than the Islamic culture - which is itself a religious culture, not a national one. Roman Catholics are not aligned first to the Pope and Italy before the country of their birth. Stop looking down on the country you were born in, after all it gives you all the benefits you described which are unavailable in many countries ruled by the Islamic culture. You are British - not a "British subject".
Tone Wasson, Australia

Multi-cultural does not mean societies within a society, it means one fully integrated society.

Graham Rodhouse, The Netherlands
Full integration is essential if any multi-cultural society is to succeed. Once ethic minorities isolate themselves within their own groups and ghettos, racial tensions quickly result and disaster follows. Multi-cultural does not mean societies within a society, it means one fully integrated society.
Graham Rodhouse, The Netherlands

If any immigrant doesn't want to integrate themselves into UK society they should politely be shown the way to a country that suits them more.
Martin, England

Peter Hain's comments are right up to a point. Multiculturalism should not mean that religious minorities should get special privileges at the cost of the host community. We all must make a greater attempt at integration. Isolation only increases ignorance of the culture and traditions of this Country. When my parents came here in the 1960's from India, they made a concerted effort at mixing into this society, with the result that they suffered little racial prejudice.
Sanjay, UK

What everyone has to understand is that integration can ONLY happen naturally. It cannot be forced. Sometimes it will probably be hindered by prejudice but it is inevitable, if not in the short term then in the long. It warms my heart to look out of my window to see a group of kids of all kinds of creeds and colours playing around and having a damn good time! That's where integration happens. Integration comes from common roots. Growing up together. Our children's children will see the best of it as I imagine that by then the colour of a man's skin will be of no more significance than the colour of his eyes.

It is common sense that you can get more out of life if you can take an active part in the society you live in.

Stuart, Scotland
I think it is just plain rude to move to another country and expect to not have to change to fit in, the British abroad are included in this as well as immigrants to the UK. Integration doesn't mean giving up your beliefs or racial identity, but it does require a few behavioural modifications to be able to relate effectively with those around you. Learning the local language, having a basic grasp of how the legal and democratic systems work, even something as simple as trying to understand the British obsession with sport. When I went to work in Switzerland for 3 months, I brushed up on my French and read up on the history and traditions of the area I was going to, which at least gave me a start in fitting in with the folk I was working with. It is common sense that you can get more out of life if you can take an active part in the society you live in.
Stuart, Scotland

In this era of global migration, countries that can integrate immigrants will prosper socially, economically, and culturally. It seems that North America has the greatest ability to meet this challenge, and Europe/the UK have much to learn.
Shawn, Washington, DC, USA

I think foreigners could teach the British a thing or two about integration. Whenever we went gallivanting around the world we set up our own places and kept ourselves separate from the natives. The vast majority of immigrants speak English and, in my experience are hard working and law abiding. In fact they speak English a lot better than some English people. And you try and get a desk in the public library at Hounslow on a Saturday morning. They're full of Asian kids, working all hours to improve themselves, while white kids hang around on street corners underage smoking and drinking.
Colin, UK

There's a difference between integration and giving up your identity. I'm a foreigner in the UK and I wouldn't dream of not integrating into society. That doesn't mean I've given up my identity though. That doesn't mean that I've lost who I am and where I come from. When you move to a foreign country you have to accept that things are different and adapt yourself to those differences. This is not saying that the way the British do things is better than the way they're done elsewhere. It's accepting that this is how it works here. If you're not prepared to accept the differences nobody is forcing you to live here.
Christine, UK

I think the important thing is the definition of what is integration and what is not

Shehzad, UK
I think the important thing is the definition of what is integration and what is not. For instance if going to church, drinking pint of beer at local pub, going clubbing and having sex before marriage are indicators of integration, then I we have a problem. Muslims, especially are forbidden by their religion to do the above activities. However, speaking English, making friends with other community members is the right barometer for integration.
Shehzad, UK

Personally, I would try to make the British integrate more - for example, there are massive cultural differences between working class and middle class people, in terms of education, health and shared cultural values. This problem should be solved first.

I am of Indian Punjabi descent and was born and raised in London. I feel 100% Punjabi and am very proud of it. I feel grateful to be able to live in a relatively wealthy and stable country like Britain, I have a job, pay my taxes, and do not commit any crimes. However, I refuse to compromise any part of my culture, which is rich, meaningful and fulfilling to me. I don't understand what people like Hain and Fortuyn really mean when they say people like me should "integrate". Does it mean I should get drunk in pubs every night and fool around on my wife and watch endless hours of MTV? As long as I live a peaceful, productive life, why must I "assimilate" at all? Who am I bothering? And I doubt that most conservative right-wing white Englishmen will EVER accept me as a Briton anyway!
P. Shah, UK

No Mr P Shah, integrating doesn't mean you have to get drunk every night, cheat on your wife and sit around only watching MTV. Most "indigenous" Brits don't do that either. If I may say so, your comments speak volumes on your opinion of this country. Clearly you are not very happy here, for which I am sorry, but tolerance is a two way street. And finally, if you're British, of course I accept you as a Briton. To do otherwise is absurd!
Paul B, Oxfordshire, UK

P. Shah - your views of English culture are offensive and narrow minded. It seems you are openly allowed to insult the country you to choose to stay in, yet the English are not allowed to insult yours? With your attitude, no wonder racial tension exists. Ever heard of the expression, 'when in Rome'? You are the type of immigrant that gladly accepts the benefits of this country, but refuses to acknowledge how and why this nation is so much better off than your homeland.
Roger C, UK

Well done ( Paul B, Oxfordshire, UK ), you were spot on, I do agree with you. I am indian origin born in the UK, I feel 100 percent british. Maybe its the way I grew up in this great country. I served 12 wonderful years with the Royal Air force. I now have a great job and good standard of living here at London. Unfortunate I still get some hassle from a particular group, yes its from the ASIAN Community, WHY: I am in my early 30's, single and enjoying life. Most of the other Asians are not fortunate to have that chance as their parents/Relatives still living in a time warp.
S Bhogal, London, UK

I think the English/British are quite hypocritical when it comes to "integration". We yak on about immigrants adapting their lives to integrate with us, yet order egg and chips and travel miles to find baked beans when retiring to Tenerife and don't even have the courtesy to learn one or two words of Spanish. A simple gracias or hola goes a long way!
Deb, Manchester, England

Peter Hain is (not for the first time!) talking rubbish. This is a false stereotype of Muslims. I went to a comprehensive in east Oxford with kids from all backgrounds and faiths, including Muslims, and we all integrated fine. In fact, at the time the stereotypes in the media were the other way round; Asians were supposed to be hard-working and law-abiding, and West Indians were accused of being troublemakers and "refusing to integrate"! It was nonsense then and it's nonsense now.
Ben Drake, York, UK

People's natural tendency is to stay within their own communities. After all, everyone feels most comfortable around people that share their own background, beliefs and language. On a small scale this doesn't cause a problem, but as immigration figures increase there does need to be more emphasis on integration. After all, allowing significant numbers of people to shut themselves off from everything the host country can offer does no one any good.
Paul R, UK

Immigrants must learn the language and the cultural traditions of the culture in which they are emigrating. Otherwise, they will be getting in the way of the country achieving the sense of national unity which is imperative to having a cohesive society and a competent government. Thus, Mr. Hain was correct in his assessment of the British situation. To respond to a previous comment, English-speaking people do indeed eagerly learn the cultures of foreign counties to which they emigrate - after all, they only emigrate because they are fascinated by the culture to begin with.
Roland, USA

People are getting themselves pretty confused. There is little or no comparison between British citizens working abroad, or retiring to the Costa Brava, and Muslim immigrants in the UK who are supposed to be making the UK their own country. If Muslims in Britain want to see the consequences of non-integration, they should come to California and talk to Hispanic families who still speak Spanish only after three generations, and as a result still have jobs cleaning offices. If you don't integrate with the culture of a country you move to, you can't expect to integrate with its economy either.
Jon Livesey, USA

Integration does not mean abandoning your cultural heritage. It means that the country of birth should have your main loyalty. Many of my ancestors arrived in the UK from Eastern Europe - I have not forgotten this, but I am British, nothing else.
Steve Wade, UK

Mr Hain's comments made me smile. Whenever people here in Wales ask (mostly English) immigrants to adopt Welsh culture and learn our language, Mr Hain's Labour colleagues go apoplectic with rage, denouncing it as racist. Yet another example of one rule for the UK, a different one for Wales? Or am I just being cynical?
Jon B, Cymru

They have many friends from many different backgrounds

Lilla Amadeo, USA
My parents are Muslim. They moved to England from India about 40 years ago and have happily integrated into British society without giving up their values. They have many friends from many different backgrounds and feel joy every day for such a blessing. I have since moved to America with my husband and have integrated with my community, which also consists of people from many different backgrounds. What is the point of going to a new country if you have no interest in taking part in that country's ways?
Lilla Amadeo, USA

Didn't think I'd ever feel sorry for Peter Hain but this shows that even he can fall foul of the CRE thought police. Personally, I find it interesting that there is a Scottish parliament, a Welsh parliament and even a Muslim parliament but anyone calling for an English parliament is automatically a racist...
Frank, England

How typically arrogant and hypocritical of western societies and cultures to demand such actions. When English speaking people go to other countries, do we bother to learn their languages before we go? Their customs? Yet we would expect it of another person from a different culture.
Jeremy Cedenio, UK/Bermuda

Living in a racially diverse part of London, I would just like to say how richer this diversity makes my life. But problems do occur if there is a clash of cultures. I believe the complex solution is for all cultures/races to be forced to integrate with each other - then the second and third generation immigrants will be able to mix well with everyone at the same time as enhancing Britain. Getting rid of faith-based schools would also be a good start to ensuring our diversity is a source of empowerment rather than division.
Richard N, UK

Tim (UK) says "we haven't really got a British culture which can be applicable to everyone." My jaw hit the desk reading that one! Are you serious? A culture that is how many centuries old? What part of British culture is not "applicable" to anyone lucky enough to live in the UK? Is it freedom of religion, democracy, a judiciary and parliamentary system that is envied worldwide, a cherished monarchy, a reputation of fair play on and off the field, be it business, sports, diplomacy or combat, the English language, etc? I would imagine this is what attracted immigrants to your country in the first place.

As I see it the problem is not with immigrants to Britain not "fitting in" but Britons like Tim who seem to have a problem saying "Hey, this is a great country, your welcome to make it greater" and have some inkling as to "Britishness". It's not a terrible word, concept or idea. It's really rather wonderful! If you have to apologise for being British, then how on earth! can you expect newcomers to be proud to be British too?
Peter C. Kohler, USA

The next few years should be spent soul-searching

Tim, UK
I think there was some truth in Mr Hain's comments. But saying that, I can fully understand recent Muslim immigrants' desire to retain their culture and values. The same applies to established, white communities. The main problem here is we haven't really got a British culture which can be applicable to everyone. The next few years should be spent soul-searching and thinking of ways to draw all communities together into a more cohesive culture of tolerance and co-operation.
Tim, UK

Mr Hain was correct. Muslims in Britain are increasingly isolationist and poorly equipped to survive and prosper. Contrarily, other immigrant groups (namely Hindus and Sikhs from India) are far more assimilated into UK society and, in most cases, are flourishing (without too much dilution or corruption of their traditional cultures).
Joe Romaine, USA

As soon as someone tries to talk common sense they are hounded by the politically correct brigade. Typical. We need to bring these things out in the open otherwise resentment will fester and grow and we all know where that leads. Peter Hain was absolutely right in what he said. Anyone who comes and makes a home in this country should be willing to integrate and adopt our ways. Building ghettos only builds fear and resentment on both sides. If people want to come to Britain then they should be prepared to fit in with the British culture and way of life. I do not think this unreasonable.
Louise Laffette, UK

All sections of the community should try to integrate more

Crozby, UK
There are plenty more 'isolationist' white Christians in our society than Muslims. All sections of the community should try to integrate more, it's the only way to combat the fear and bigotry that still exists everywhere.
Crozby, UK

The sooner the latest immigrant groups make positive efforts to adopt our way of life, accept interracial marriages and promote religious tolerance on their part then the more ready the indigenous people will be to accept their quirks or differences into British culture. Eventually they too will be indistinguishable from the rest of us. Should immigrants insist on maintaining ghetto communities then it will only lead to conflict and racial tension.
James, UK

Of course integration is desirable, both for the "indigenous" population and for those who arrive here. I can't see why anyone would go through the stress of uprooting and going to another country, and then continuing to live as if they never left (I'm particularly critical of British ex-pat communities in Spain in this regard). If one looks forward over the next 20 years, a period when this country needs something like 2 million extra people of working age to balance our ageing population, the needs for integration will be even stronger. I'm pretty certain that we could learn a lot from countries like Canada, where there is a far higher rate of immigration than we currently have in the UK.
John, England

I really don't see what the problem is. I would not dream of living in another country and not try to adopt their culture and language. This does not mean losing my identity, I just think it part of what happens when you decide to live somewhere else.
Anon, UK

See also:

13 May 02 | UK Politics
Europe Minister fuels race row
09 May 02 | UK Politics
Right-wing Tories cry betrayal
05 May 02 | UK Politics
Senior Tory sacked over racist joke
05 May 02 | UK Politics
Tory leader defends 'tolerant' party
06 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Tory's golly joke 'moronic'
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