wHAT IT MEANSMuslim Identity & Global Change [Archives:2008/1136/Local News]

March 10 2008

Dr. Terry Lacey
The controversy in the UK over voluntary partial adoption of shariah law to help solve domestic disputes within some Muslim migrant communities led to a storm of criticism of the Archbishop of Canterbury , the leader of the Anglican Church, over what he did not say, and very little discussion on the implications of what he did say.

The subsequent bashing of the Archbishop with the image of violent intolerant Islam did not reflect the findings of the recent global Gallup poll on what world Muslims think, and was ritualistic, political and diversionary. But it did convey that part of British public opinion is now frightened of Islam and that British Muslims are nervous that British identity and loyalty are in question. The problems encountered in UK are not unique and are part of a more global picture. The Archbishop was right to imply that a new synthesis must emerge, but this goes wider than a new synthesis with Islam.

First, globalization is accelerating and migrants from countryside to town may find themselves marginalized in poorer urban communities, whether in Pakistan or the UK. Economics is the driver and social development has to catch up. Second , urbanization and the drive for secular rights and democracy, especially in rapidly modernizing Muslim states, conflicts with traditional tribal and religious values. Thirdly , society whether in Europe or in modernizing Muslim societies wants consumerism and secular democracy but seeks to preserve religious, cultural and regional identities. We cannot build the new world in the cathedral of a shopping mall with the values of a TV soap opera. There has to be more to life than that.

Given these rapid changes those feeling loss of identity search for their roots, or seek to retain the values of the past. There can be a retreat from globalization and modernity as a reaction to lack of success in adaptation to new circumstances, and this can lead to pockets of rural under development inbetween factories and shopping malls. This is now happening in Europe as well as in the countries in economic and social transition from whence the migrants come. The marginalized part of the Muslim migrant community in the UK has a disproportionate number of its young men in jail, with too many poorer male migrants held back by lack of education and training. These are problems of economic deprivation and underdevelopment, not of religion.

It is inevitable in this process that the host society changes as well as the migrants, and in the UK these demographic and social changes may be one of the reasons why Islamaphobia can become a symptom of a deeper unease at the felt loss of identity , especially by the marginalized groups in the majority culture – ” the poor whites “”.

There are therefore two parallel synergistic processes going on in the UK. The first that the migrants are changing