‘British values’ is an ambiguous term which means many things to different people, especially to those who were born and raised in the UK. I highly doubt that the ruling political class in Whitehall could define what British values are without parroting automated generic words like “freedom”, “tolerance” and “respect”. British Muslims primarily, have been under immense pressure to adopt British values in light of the London 7/7 terrorist attacks, the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich last year, and the Trojan Horse scandal involving 21 Birmingham schools.
Satirical critics have described British values as “driving a German car to an Irish pub for a Belgian beer, grabbing an Indian curry or a Turkish kebab on the way home, to sit on a Swedish sofa and watch American sitcoms on a Japanese TV.” Although I don’t necessarily agree with this over simplified and stereotypical cocktail of cultural realities, it is visually evident amongst many Britons today. If we look into Britain’s history with the Islamic world, we can begin to understand why many Muslims have been resilient in accepting this vague and politically motivated concept.
Britain had the largest empire in history and for over a century it was the world’s leading superpower. The term “the empire on which the sun never sets” was no exaggeration. By 1922 the British Empire had over 458 million subjects (one-fifth of the world’s population at the time), covering more than 13 million square miles (almost a quarter of the Earth’s total land area). However, it is well known that most, if not all, of this imperial glory was achieved by the use of systematic genocide, political treachery and the forceful imposition of colonial ‘British values’.
However, the Muslim world, namely North Africa and the Middle East, remained a thorn in the shoe which held the empire down by force. The former lands of the Ottoman Caliphate, which was split between Britain and France after World War One, shaped the uneasy relationship Britain has with its Muslim citizens today. Libraries are filled with books authored by historians and academics who described how Britain destroyed Islamic civilisation by military force, cultural infiltration and the infamous colonial strategy of ‘divide and rule’. Whether it was India, Egypt or the Middle East, memories of the British were far from that of a romantic liberator.
Where does this chapter from history fit into the British Muslim narrative of 2014? At the Living Islam Festival better known as “Islam’s Glastonbury”, the Ministry of Defence erected a recruitment marquee whilst 50,000 Muslims were entertained by a military marching band. These efforts came after Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon said at the Armed Forces Muslim Forum that more Muslims were needed in the army to “break down barriers between the UK military and the Muslim community.” Clearly, Mr Fallon has forgotten the carving up of the Muslim world with a ruler and a glass of brandy by British Colonel Mark Sykes and French diplomat Francois Georges-Picot in 1916. Furthermore, the Secretary of Defence failed to realise that many British Muslims refuse to have anything to do with the Armed Forces because of the military’s role in invading and occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, killing many Muslims in the process and further destabilising the region.
The MoD’s frenzied search for Muslim soldiers comes at a time when core Islamic practices, such as the face veil (niqab), halal meat, and gender segregation are attacked by the mainstream media and politicians under the guises of “freedom of expression” and “gender equality”. How are British Muslims expected to accept the same values which legitimise the demonisation of their religion? Where is the freedom for Muslims to voice their opinion without being labelled as extremists? Where is the respect when Muslim women are prejudiced for abiding to the Islamic dress code? Where is the tolerance when Muslim majority schools are criminalised for teaching an Islamic ethos within the legal educational framework? Where is the justice when British Muslims are prosecuted under anti-terror laws for travelling to Syria, whilst British Jews are freely joining the Israeli army without having to face the same consequences?
Taking all this into consideration, is it surprising that British Muslims have refused – not failed – to accept British values? Like most Britons, Muslims are hardworking, tax paying citizens that want the betterment of the country in which they reside in. Inevitably, the British establishment’s aim to redefine and eradicate core Islamic beliefs, whilst meddling in the affairs of the Muslim world, whether it be supplying arms to oppressive regimes or waging/supporting illegal wars – will fail.
Selective freedoms based on David Cameron’s “muscular liberal” values, is the not the universal default position for a harmonious society. One has to only look at the moral decadence in Britain today, to appreciate the positive contribution religious values could have in achieving a “big society“.