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The Outrage Industry

This is a guest post by Rupa Huq

When the Bishop of Rochester Michael Nasir Ali claimed last week that Muslims had created no-go areas in the UK, his remarks were seen as a bit of a loony lone opinion. Government condemnation followed from Hazel Blears. Corporal Clegg dismissed the idea (although no-one much noticed) and even the Tories recognised what a ridiculous argument this was. More predictably the MCB’s Inyawat Bunglawala declared himself to be against. Fast forward however to this week however and just like the Obama/Clinton pendulum has swung the other way, people seem to be queuing up to big up the Bishop.

Monday morning saw Trevor Philips on the Today Programme ostensibly invited in to talk about women’s pay, come out in support, leaving me to wonder if this significant yet throwaway remark is what proponents of the old status-quo feared from a mega super-dooper Commission swallowing up the targeted specialised CRE, EOC and Age-Discrimination quangos. Other vocal Nasir Ali-fans include Muslim self-appointed spokespersons for Islam who condemn self-appointed spokespeople for Islam like this “very brave woman” from Birmingham Gina Khan who comes up with the startlingly original “I blame the government”.

Most of all ex-Islamicists are saturating media coverage; there is a ready market for their utterances. Ex Hizb ut-Tahrir organiser Shiraz Maher is claiming “Nazir-Ali’s observations are not only valid, but don’t go far enough”. Author of the Islamist Ed Husain has affirmed his pro-Nasir-Ali views in the Telegraph which aired the original views that kicked all this off. The media’s favourite former Islamist writes: “This is not about blaming any one community or culture – we’re all in this together. When young, confident blacks and Asians move out of monocultural enclaves and their new white neighbours put up “for sale” signs, we have to ask: what causes “white flight”? Why is it an embarrassing social statement to have a black or brown person as a neighbour?” I hven’t noticed it in the street I moved to this Summer – my white neighbours see positive benefits to mixed communities and were delighted to see a child move in (my three year old). In any case given current estate agent commission fees and the price of hips, this assertion is pure fantasy fiction.

The Bishop commented “there has been a worldwide resurgence of the ideology of Islamic extremism. One of the results of this has been to further alienate the young from the nation in which they were growing up and also to turn already separate communities into ‘no-go’ areas where adherence to this ideology has become a mark of acceptability.” Tellingly he could not name a single example. If he were not a bishop the sentiments would have gained less attention – his Asian origins may even have helped raise the thoughts to prominence. Perhaps in the light of declining influence over state and society leading Church of England clergy need to pull off attention-grabbing stunts. Archbishop John Sentamu had to scissor up his clerical collar on live tv a few weeks ago to get the plight of the Zimbabweans onto Prime Time.

The substance of the bishop’s claim is quite absurd and does not stand up to scrutiny. I doubt he has been recently to the buzzy vibrant Brick Lane that is a Mecca – sorry, bad choice of noun, make that magnet – for yuppies, boho types, foodies, Bengalis, people coming to worship in its mosques and others. Some fit in all these categories at once. Many analagous districts are incorporated into local authority development plans and actively encouraged for positively enriching the local economy – I remember Manchester City Council’s “There’s Only One Rusholme” campaign. The area drew in coach trips from all over when I lived there (1998 – 2004) and was popular with students and academics. The bishop’s thesis has already been pulled to bits in the last week. Had he addressed relative structural disadvantage between ethnic groups his argument might have had some validity but the call to prayer v church bells seemed to be what got his goat. From the standpoint of this week, what’s most interesting is the outrage industry in the wake of this affair.

The former Ex Hizb ut-Tahrirites are playing out a variant of the burden of representation but it’s a dangerous game they are engaging in. They may delight the Murdoch/Torygraph axis but at a time of increasing racial tension their posturing is unhelpful and, whether intended or not, this stance sadly does the bidding of the BNP. Articles with headlines like “Muslim Britain [sic] is becoming one big no-go area” will be music to the ears of the far right but white liberals scared to offend insist on calling them “brave”.

My advice to this lot? Firstly cultural canutism is never good. Recent Barrow Cadbury research findings projects that Birmingham, Slough and Luton are set to follow Leicester in becoming towns where there is no white (or any) majorityby 2020. Secondly and maybe more crucially…. they should get out more.