Why is Muslim immigration such a huge issue in UK?


Saqib Manzoor |

A survey conducted last year revealed widespread opposition to Muslim immigration across UK. 47% are opposed to further Muslim immigration, according to a survey conducted by the Chatham House Royal Institute of International affairs. Furthermore, 55% of Britons believe there is a fundamental clash between Islam and the values of British society, according to a YouGov poll. Various other surveys have also shown that such attitudes persist among citizens all across Europe.

So why is Muslim immigration such a huge issue in the United Kingdom?

There are various dimensions to this problem. Islamophobia, bigotry towards Muslims and hate crimes against Muslims have been steadily rising. Muslims are targeted by racial epithets such as ‘Paki’ or barred from a number of jobs. Research has shown that candidates with Muslim sounding names are three times less likely to get an interview in the UK, while Muslim men are 76% less likely than their white Christian counterparts to get employed, according to the Office for National Statistics. Barrister Nabila Mallick, of London’s No5 Chambers, said,” There’s a perception of Muslim employees being considered disloyal, political … fundamentalist. Every time there is a terrorist incident you see growth in mistreatment.”

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Consequently, Muslims are more likely to be dependent on state benefits, a fact which fuels far-right jingoist forces like the British National Party or the BNP, who claim that Muslims are a burden on the taxpayer. Moreover, tragedies like the Rotherham scandal, are immediately seized upon by far-right groups like the BNP or-the ‘street protest movement’- English Defense League or EDL for spreading fear and hatred.

In 2014, hate crimes against Muslims in London increased by a whopping 65%, Metropolitan police figures show. A five-fold increase against Muslims was observed after the London Bridge attack, figures released by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, confirmed. Tell Mama, a UK-based national project which measures and records anti-Muslim incidents, said it recorded 141 hate crime incidents after the Manchester attack on 22nd May, a rise of 500% compared with a daily average of 25. All these hate crimes seem to be designed to discourage Muslims from coming to the UK, amid widespread public opposition to Muslim immigration.

Politicians from both the right and the left have spoken in favor of having a multicultural society, a society where people from different backgrounds and cultures co-exist in harmony.

More than 10,000 people from 10 different European countries were surveyed in the Chatham House poll and an average of 55% agreed with the statement that ‘all further immigration mainly from Muslim countries should be stopped’. Only one in five respondents felt that Muslim immigration should continue. 71% in Poland and 65% in Austria also agreed that there should be no more Muslim immigration, according to the Chatham house poll.

But does bigotry alone explain all these hate crimes and these attitudes? Prime Minister David Cameron once said that he hoped to see a British Asian prime minister. In popular parlance in the United Kingdom, Asian generally refers to people from South Asia. Politicians from both the right and the left have spoken in favor of having a multicultural society, a society where people from different backgrounds and cultures co-exist in harmony. They have argued that diversity is the greatest strength of British society. Britons certainly pride themselves on being an open and tolerant society. What explains these attitudes towards Muslim immigration then?

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A growing literature has been discussing the relationship between ethnic diversity and social trust. Research by American political scientist Robert Putnam suggests that diversity has negative effects on social cohesion. He argues that increased diversity erodes social cohesion, suggesting that ethnic diversity creates challenges for developing and sustaining social capital in urban settings. Research published in the Oxford journal also suggests that across European regions, different aspects of immigration-related diversity are negatively related to social trust. An increase in immigration is related to a decrease in social trust, regardless of the source country of immigrants, provided that the rate of assimilation is less than the rate of immigration. It just so happens that the majority of immigrants to UK and elsewhere in Europe are from Muslim majority countries, hence the opposition to Muslim immigration in particular.

With the way things are, it’s difficult to say we can expect any significant reduction in anti-Muslim sentiments in the near future. As Douglas Murray argues in his most recent book, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity and Islam, the situation seems to be getting worse, not better. Furthermore, Murray argues, the fact that white non-Muslim Britons have a birthrate much less than that of Muslims, in the coming decades, the population of Muslims is set to increase not only in absolute numbers but also in proportion. A third of all babies born in the UK are already not ‘white british’ and ‘Muhammad’ is the most popular name for baby boys in London. Considering all this, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that white Britons are now a minority in the capital of UK, London. This shift in demographics will fuel anti-Muslim sentiment even more and we can expect more hate crimes and bigotry towards Muslims in the UK in coming years, if not decades.

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For Pakistanis living in the UK or those that have relatives there, all this sounds terrible. The question is what can be done about it.

For starters, it’s useful to realize that the government in UK can’t solve this problem. A change in societal attitudes always results from civil society activists, media campaigns and grassroots movements. The government, or more specifically, law-making, is too blunt a tool for such an issue. Simply put, the government can’t legislate away prejudicial societal attitudes. In a working democracy, the government follows public opinion and not the other way around. The change cannot be top-down. It has to come from the bottom to the top.

Secondly, community leaders from the Muslim and non-Muslim communities, including other minorities, must realize the gravity of the situation. A change in deeply-rooted attitudes is something that takes time and effort. Groups like the BNP must not be allowed to seize the narrative or the media space surrounding the immigration debate in the UK. There needs to be an honest and open debate around this issue. This debate needs to happen in the media, in schools, at homes, in family or social gatherings. Members of all communities in the UK must encourage activities where people from different minority communities can come together and participate. Otherwise, the worrying levels of de-facto segregation of Muslim communities will continue, and with it, anti-Muslims sentiments will continue to rise.


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