This is highly personal account of the Muslim diaspora in Britain and the way in which it is and has been treated by the Governments of the day and by others over her lifetime. The author sets the title in context by relating how various ‘others’ (Catholics, Jews, gays etc) have, over the course of British history, been considered as ‘the enemy within’. Likewise she skips through an entertaining review of our brushes with Islam from the 8th century to modern times – King John could have had a lot more to answer for!
“Hard-headed”, “well informed”, “deeply shocking”, “thoughtful and passionate”, “politically charged” and “invigorating” are some of the claims made on the cover, and whilst it is all of these and more it is primarily for me a revelatory account of what it it was like to be brought up in a family of Muslim ‘girls next door’ in Yorkshire, to grow into a young lady and marry (divorce and remarry), to become a lawyer and subsequently a politician and Baroness and much more besides.
She explores her early encounters with racism in England, and how nationally this seemed to morph over time into religious bigotry, inflamed by the Salman Rushdie episode, and exploited by the newspapers to sell copy rather than provide balanced coverage (so what’s new?).
She describes how under successive governments a policy on non-engagement with those that they considered might be “extremist” was adopted, not based on any proper assessment by the security services but on ad hoc assessments by politicians and their aids subject to their personal viewpoint. Worse, she describes the ensuing paranoia which seemed to confuse activity at the very highest level of government. This scenario led to absurd situations where different departments were unable to agree on who was acceptable and who was to be shunned – a sure recipe for chaos confusion and counter-productive activity.
We (and she) may consider that the more fundamental interpretations of Islam deserve their criticism but she herself was clearly brought up within a far more balanced, even ambiguous, tradition which embraced values that she considers to be very British as well as Islamic. Islam world-wide encompasses a huge spectrum of belief and she moves the argument on to the logical proposition that British Muslims may and perhaps will naturally develop their very own British strain of Islam, wholly compatible with our democratic and social values. I would love to believe this as I think that it would form an essential basis for our successful and harmonious future in the United Kingdom.
She laments that this process has been, and is still being, undermined by the unhelpful and inconsistent attitudes of our politicians of both major parties, who over time have commissioned reports and policies in response to events only to stifle progress through lack of will to implement whilst pursuing short-term party-political ends. The latest ‘Prevent’ policies come in for particular criticism as founded in prejudice rather than evidence, and she makes a persuasive, indeed heartfelt case that this is divisive at a time when constructive policies are sorely needed.
This may surprise both you and her but as a UKIPper I found myself in support of about 99% of what she is saying. My principle point of disagreement is with her views on the Leveson report but in the scale of things that is a trivial gripe which probably amounts to nothing more than a difference in emphasis.
This is not just a political text, but her life story interwoven with all the religious, ethnic, personal and party political issues of our time, grounded in careful research, and told from her British Islamic viewpoint with her own personal intensity and conviction. The breadth and depth of her writing is seemingly daunting and her analysis and criticism of all parties (including our Muslims themselves) is unsparing. It is simply unmissable.
The columns of UKIP Daily have in recent times hosted quite a number of articles (my own included) which have sought to discuss the ‘Muslim issue’ in Britain today – I do urge everyone who would profess to pass judgement to read this book. The author has first hand in-depth experience from the inside living as a British Muslim, as a lawyer, as a politician, and most significantly simply as a native “girl next door”. She is one of us, and she is not alone.
This is not to say that she has the last word – life goes on – but as an outstanding, authoritative, very British, very personal, and perfectly timed contribution to a vital debate I consider this book essential reading.
A Tale of Muslim Britain is published by Allen Lane (part of the Penguin Random House group) on ISBN: 978-0-241-27602-0 and comprises 248 pages plus appendices, acknowledgements, reference notes and index making 379 pages in all.