After the 7/7 terror attacks, Trevor Phillips, then the head of the Commission for Racial Equality, issued a stark warning. “We are sleepwalking our way to segregation,” he declared. “We’ve emphasised what divides us over what unites us. We have allowed tolerance of diversity to harden into effective isolation of communities, in which some people think special separate values ought to apply.”
Sixteen years later, optimists will point to the minorities reaching the top of UK business and government. The Business Secretary is black, the Chancellor and Home Secretary have Indian heritage, the Foreign Secretary is the son of a Jewish refugee, and the recent London election saw a black Tory challenge a Muslim Labour mayor. Many minorities are thriving at school, building successful careers, and raising confident and happy families, secure in their identities.
And yet paradoxically, just as millions of citizens are showing the successes of multiracial Britain, its failures are becoming more apparent, too. The segregation identified by Phillips is growing worse, and fuelling new sectarianism between minority groups. In many ways, our predicament is more visible and alarming than it was even in 2005.
In the past week, we have seen continuing race hate and incitement to violence on British streets. Pro-Palestinian protestors have, quite openly in front of cameras and police officers demanded “Jewish blood”, and called for “Muslim armies” to march. A BBC journalist is under investigation after tweeting that “Hitler was right”. Salma Yaqoob, who was backed by some Labour figures to become the party’s candidate in the West Midlands mayoral election, called for an “intifada” in British cities.
Schools have reported huge spikes in anti-Semitic abuse of pupils. In Leicester, gangs of college students were filmed stamping on tables and chanting “Allahu akbar!” The intimidation of Jewish pupils and teachers grew so severe that Education Secretary Gavin Williamson wrote to schools warning that while pupils are allowed to express political views, anti-Semitic language and threats must not be tolerated.
In response to the Williamson letter, Miqdaad Versi, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, complained that the Government was being “one-sided”. The letter, of course, was not about events in Israel, but the harassment of British Jews. In suggesting there might be two sides to racism, Versi revealed more than he intended about why the Government refuses to engage with the MCB.
And yet they and other organisations such as Mend, a controversial campaigning group accused of increasing hostility by the Board of Jewish Deputies, are treated by many MPs, local councils and other parts of the public sector as unproblematic and representative community bodies. But by engaging with them, the state is contributing to the sectarianism and hatred it should be doing its utmost to prevent.
Tahir Alam, the teacher banned for life after leading the Trojan Horse plot to take over state schools in Birmingham, was previously the MCB education committee chairman. Purpose of Life, the Muslim charity that named the Batley teacher who showed pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, has provided training workshops for the teaching union. Mend was even invited to provide evidence for the independent inquiry into discrimination within the Conservative Party.