Trevor Phillips of vaulting ambition has a problem with Muslims. His progressive instincts extend to West Indian causes and needs, but to others he is patronising and judgemental. This prejudice must rule him out as the next boss of the Commission for Equality & Human Rights, the body soon to subsume his current empire, the CRE.
He finds Muslim cultural norms threatening ñ why canít they be like one of us, he seems to be saying. Why do you insist on your own faith schools? Why do you wish to dress differently? And now Mr Superior is telling Muslims what they can and cannot do in the ëmother countryí.
That Trevor Phillips has a problem with Muslims is clear from his contradictory statements. For example it is OK for segregated classes for black youth ñ they should be singled out for special booster classes because they were under-achieving (7th March 2005, The Times). However Muslim schools are undesirable because they are a threat to the "coherence" of British society! (19th January 2005, The Guardian).
Then in April 2004 he sounded off: ìThe word (multiculturalism) is not useful, it means the wrong thingsî. Shall we kill it off? ìYesî. ìMulticulturalism suggests separateness. We are now in a different worldî. By September 2005, the agenda became clearer ìIn recent years weíve focused far too much on the ëmultií and not enough on the common culture. Weíve emphasized what divides us over what unites us. We have allowed tolerance of diversity to harden into the effective isolation of communities, in which some people think special separate values ought to applyî.
His bug bear seems to be a fear that Muslims have an urge to separate from the rest of British society. In October 2005, he claimed ìWe are becoming more segregated residentiallyÖ to the formation of communities that are shut off from the outside world; that simply makes the situation worse. But that is what we are seeing emergingî.
However statistics tell us that far from living in ghettoes, the probability of a Muslim having a non-Muslim neighbour is greater than say a Jew having a non-Jewish neighbour. No wonder you see Sylhetti restaurants from Landís End to Stornoway!
His latest finger-wagging came a few days ago: ìMuslims who wish to live under a system of sharia law should leave Britain, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality suggested yesterdayÖHe rejected the idea that British Muslims should be allowed to live under sharia law in their communities. "I don't think that's conceivable," he said. "We have one set of laws ... and that's the end of the story. If you want to have laws decided in another way, you have to live somewhere else."
This was a reference to a Sunday Telegraph poll published on 19th February 2006, that reported ìfour out of 10 British Muslims want sharia law introduced into parts of the countryî.
Trevor Phillips did not quote other findings: while 40% backed introduction of Shariah, 41 per cent opposed it.î
His words are an echo of a speech by our Home Secretary to the Heritage Foundation in the US, where ñ presumably speaking to the gallery rather than from the heart - he said ììTHERE CAN BE NO NEGOTIATION ABOUT THE IMPOSITION OF SHARIA LAWî. Mr Phillips is whiter-than-white, a greater royalist than the king.
Here are 5 questions for Trevor Phillips:
1. Why convey the impression that Muslims are undermining British society? Is this really helpful? In any case why not reflect the opinion poll accurately ñthat more were against the idea than for? Why the obsession with getting Muslims to prove their ëloyaltyí?
2. Sharia law is not a single monolith that is either implemented in totality or not at all. Jews operate their own courts in the UK - the Beth Din or religious courts that make rulings on matrimonial/divorce issues. Why canít there be a level playing field for Muslims?
3. There are aspects of Sharia law that are operative in individual and community life and other aspects that are only operative if there is an Islamic polity or state. Does he appreciate this? By not making this distinction he is alienating Muslims. There is a lot of misinformation and orientalist propaganda about the ëbarbarity and misogynisic tendencyí in Islamic law ñ has he really tried to seek the views of Islamic scholars? There is a rich debate going on at present between scholars about the development of Islamic law ñ it is evolving and adapting.
4. He is not aware of the positive developments ñ the introduction of shariah Compliant financial instruments ñ in fact the government voucher baby bond (£250 for every child born after 2001) ñ there is now a version for Muslim parents offered by the Childrens Mutual called the Shariah Baby Bond!
5 . Who is he to ask British-born Muslims to leave their country because of their beliefs? Are progressive anti-racists like him now saying they are going to make a break with Muslims ñ even though Muslims form 1/3 of the countryís non-white population? Why shouldnít they be allowed to hold their views?
There was a suitable response from a Guardian reader: ìSo Trevor Phillips thinks that those Muslims who wish to live under Sharia law should leave (Report, February 27)? I'm neither a Muslim nor a supporter of Sharia law, but surely democracy is about accepting different views, albeit minority views, otherwise we are all destined to live under an elective dictatorship. If I don't want ID cards should I leave? If I object to internment without trial should I leave? Surely we shouldn't all leave because we want something that's important to us, even if it's unlikely we'll get itî.
Trevor Phillips of vaulted ambition may have his eyes set on heading up the Commission for Equality & Human Rights. Sorry Mr Phillips, you are the weakest link.