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Foreigners, Minorities and Integration: The Muslim Immigrant Experience in Britain and Germany

Foreigners, Minorities and Integration: The Muslim Immigrant Experience in Britain and Germany Book Cover Foreigners, Minorities and Integration: The Muslim Immigrant Experience in Britain and Germany
Sarah Hackett
Manchester University Press
2013

Sarah Hackett's work is to be commended for the fieldwork in Newcastle and Bremen, which helps in clarifying three topical concerns:  Muslims are different and will not fit in - for example Trevor Phillips' recent comment  'they behave in a different way . . . It may be that they see the world differently to the rest of us' - because of Islam;  Muslims seek special favours or consideration-  they are  'grievance-seeking, responsibility-avoiding' for David Goodhart; there is a problem of Muslim 'loyalty'.

In response to the first of these caricatures Sarah Hackett notes,

Overall, religious affiliation did not play an overwhelming role in shaping Newcastle's South Asian Muslims and Bremen's Turkish Muslims' employment, housing and education careers. Although the historiography is increasingly calling for Islam to be recognised as an influencing factor in all three sectors and revelling in claims that Europe is failing to integrate its Muslim immigrant communities, there is no evidence to suggest that Islam acted as a barrier to integration in Newcastle and Bremen.  Whilst it is undoubtedly sometimes played a role in determining the types of products sold in shops, the neighbourhoods in which they lived and the community-led education they experienced, religious affiliation does not appear to have disadvantaged or hindered either city's Muslim ethnic minority population.  Moreover, the notion that Islam acts as a defining factor in the migratory experience is further undermined by the fact that Muslim immigrants in both Newcastle and Bremen adhered to patterns and traits that have exhibited by Muslim and non-Muslim ethnic minority communities in Britain, Germany, Europe and across the Western world, be it amongst Mexican and Pakistani entrepreneurs in the United States or Surinamese neighbourhoods in Amsterdam.

Hackett's field work challenges the populist right-wing often racist argument that Muslims are essentially and pathologically 'different'.

Muslim representative bodies are also blue in the face in explaining that special favours are  not being sought, but rather a level playing field; a policy document of the Muslim Council of Britain is aptly entitled 'Fairness, not Favours'. Two significant achievements by Muslim communities throughout Europe - the establishment of mosques and a halal food network - has been undertaken on the basis of self-help and entrepreneurship, rather than official patronage. Sarah Hacket commends this spirit and,

the role played by self-determination amongst Muslim migrants in both Newcastle and Bremen. This study concludes that the development of self-employment and Muslim ethnic minority neighbourhoods was not overwhelmingly the result of discrimination, enforced segregation or a lack of alternative opportunities. Contrary to the dominant historiographical argument, this work argues for the triumph of migrant agency over institutional and non-institutional constraints. In the employment and housing sectors of both cities, the performance and conduct of Muslim South Asians and Turks were often the direct result of consciously made choices and decisions, many of which reflected long-term ambitions.

The point of immigrant self-help and agency is well-made and applicable in many other locales,  though generalisations should be avoided: certainly the East London experience is that Bangladeshis are heavy users of social housing, not out of choice.

Sarah Hackett's work also makes an informed contribution to the debate about Muslims' sense of loyalty, with the interesting observation that this is not necessarily 'national', but to the city or neighbourhood,

Many Muslims have come to play a part in their local surroundings and can truly be referred to as 'Geordie Muslims' or 'Bremen Muslims'. Thus, whilst neither city's regional identity presented itself in a tangible or visible form . . .  it cannot be denied that, in some aspects at least, Muslims in both cities lived in remarkable and truly multi-cultural locations.

This work stands up to the author's claim that its findings 'offer an additional tier to the existing historiography on the integration of ethnic minorities in Europe'.

M. A. Sherif, March 2016

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