British South Asian Muslims after
7/7: ethnicity, multiculturalism
and political radicalism
PowerPoint presentation to the Centre for Research
in Ethnic Relations Seminar Series, University of
Dr Tahir Abbas
Senior Lecturer in Sociology
Director, Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Culture
University of Birmingham, UK
28 February 2006
An analysis of British Muslim identities, particularly in the light
of the events of 7 July 2005. I will cover,
1. The migration and settlement of Muslims in Britain
is elaborated upon.
2. The debates in relation to
assimilation, integration and multiculturalism are
3. How radical political Islam has developed
globally and how it has impacted in the local
context is examined, pre- and post-7/7.
4. The discussion explores the pertinent
sociological and policy relevant questions that
emerge, identifying key trends and issues for the
2. Population (a)
1m of Britain’s 1.6m Muslims originate from South Asia (two-thirds are
from Pakistan, under a third from Bangladesh and the remainder
from India). The other half a million or so is from Middle East, North
Africa, Eastern Europe and South East Asia.
British Muslims remain concentrated in older post-industrial cities and
conurbations in the South East, the Midlands and the North
The Muslim population of London – 1 million (total 7.2 million);
Birmingham - 150,000 (1 million) – this includes the world’s biggest
expatriate Kashmiri population. Nine per cent of all British Muslims
were found to be in Birmingham (ONS 2003)
Scotland 60,000 (33,000 in Glasgow); Wales 50,000; N. Ireland 4000
This British Muslim population has grown from about 21,000 in 1951 to
1.6m at present (Peach in Abbas, 2005).
3. Population (b)
4. Nature, significance and
Muslims are from Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and
South-East Asia, but the profile is dominated by people from
South Asia, and principally Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Independence of former East Pakistan in 1971 and the fact
that the vast majority of all Pakistanis in Britain are from the
Azad Kashmir region of North East Pakistan masks the true
ethnic identity of people ordinarily defined as Pakistanis.
There is a considerable body of people who originate from the
North West Frontier but as a result of huge population
movements from Afghanistan to Pakistan since the Russian-
Afghan War and beyond, their ethnic identities as Pukhtan
and Pathan are subsumed under the title of Pakistanis.
Furthermore, there are subtle religio-cultural differences
between the Sunni, Shia, Wahabi, Ahmadiya sects that groups
are a part of.
Around a third of all British Muslims are under
the age of fourteen.
33.8 of Muslims are aged 0-15 years
(national average is 20.2 per cent); 18.2 per
cent are aged 16-24 (national average is
10.9 per cent).
50 per cent of Muslims are born in the United
54.5 per cent of Pakistanis and 46.6 per cent
of Bangladeshis are born in the UK.
Education: Ethnic minority candidates found strong evidence of bias against
ethnic minority candidates within the ‘old’ (i.e. pre-1992) universities. The
probability of a white candidate receiving an initial offer was greater (.75)
than for Pakistani or Bangladeshi candidate with equivalent qualifications
Employment: Bangladeshis and Pakistanis are two and a half times more likely
than the white population to be unemployed and nearly three times more
likely to be in low pay.
Health: Self-reported diabetes among Bangladeshi men and women is six
times more than the general population. 
Housing: 77 per cent of Pakistani households are composed of owner-
occupiers. They are overwhelmingly concentrated in terraced housing. About
45% of Bangladeshis are owner-occupier. Another report by Peach states that
43% of Bangladeshis live in council or housing association properties - 50%
higher than the national average.
 National Statistics, Labour Force Survey, Spring 2000.
 ‘Help or Hindrance? Higher education and the route to ethnic equality’ by Tariq Modood and Michael
Shiner, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 2002.
 The Health Survey of Minority Ethnic Groups, Health Survey for England 1999, Department of Health.
 ‘Ethnicity in the 1991 Census’ Volume 2 edited by Ceri Peach (HMSO); table (5.12) ‘Percentage of
households by tenure and ethnicity’.
7. ‘Race’, politics, and religious
Race paradigm shift from ‘colour’ in the
1950s, to ‘race’ in the 1960s/1970s, to ethnicity
in the 1980/1990s, to religion in the current
Shift in politics from integration, to
multiculturalism, to antiracism, to antiracist-
multiculturalism, to community cohesion
Questions being asked of multiculturalism in the
current period – ‘community cohesion/cultural
adaptation’, ‘loyalty to the state’; is to be
English / British / European / Muslim / Kashmiri?’
8. Islam in British Society
up until 1980s: Muslims were seen as
quiet, peaceful, and law-abiding, but also
Salman Rushdie Affair 1989: issues raised in
relation to religious minorities, cultural
tolerance, blasphemy laws, incitement to religious
Collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1989; shifting geo-
politics towards ‘clash of civilisations’
But then… ‘War on terror’ as a response to 9/11
And more recently…. Events of 7/7 – first ever
suicide-bombing on European soil.
…a process of acute economic, social, cultural
9. Political discourse (a)
Since 9/11 and 7/7,
There are questions raised about the loyalty of Muslims
to Britain as well as the idea of maintaining cohesive
communities in both the Cantle (2001) and Denham
(2001) reports, which were produced as a response to
Politically, issues of social class, structural and cultural
racism are less at the forefront – unlike the first Labour
government of 1997-2001 which helped to bring the
Race Relations (Amendment Act) 2000, Human Rights
10. Political discourse (b)
The 1997 Islamophobia Commission set up by the Runnymede
Trust provided a range of important findings more relevant
today than ever.
The wholly negative attitude towards Islam in the West has a
very long history and has a palpable feel more than ever at
the moment. Islamophobia is alive and well.
The mass media, popular culture and the leading forces in
world politics are all mostly hostile to and in their
representations of Islam and Muslims.
Parekh Report (2001) showed the extent to which
racism, discrimination and prejudice is rife in all spheres of
society and how important it is to remain conscious of both
internal community as well as structural factors.
The idea of a ‘community of communities’ provides the most
progressive way in which to describe the situation of ethnic
minorities in Britain.
11. Political discourse (c)
In the third New Labour term, many in
government suggest that part of the
‘problem’ of British Muslims is their
unwillingness to release their religio-cultural
beliefs and practices, which are regarded
by some as especially antithetical to the
ways and function of Western-European
social behaviour and action.
12. Political discourse (d)
British Muslims, however, feel beleaguered by recent Home
At the same time, elements of the British right-wing target
Muslims as the new ‘enemy other’.
Not only are there are questions of integration at one level, at
another, is the politically-loaded question of ‘loyalty’ to state
There has been a focus away from racism towards ethnic
differences, with a concentration on religious markers of
But, in the post 7/7 period, where the concepts of nation and
identity are often intertwined, multiculturalism needs to inform
the general consciousness and permit a new sense of
Britishness to emerge as part of the changing ethnic identities
of British Muslims…. (Modood, 2005)
Defined as The fear or dread of Islam or Muslims.
Although the term is of relatively recent coinage, the idea is a
well-established tradition in history.
Since the genesis of Islam in 622, awareness of Muslims in Europe
has been negatively smeared.
Has been convenient for to pain Muslims in the worst possible light, so
as to prevent conversions to Islam and to drive the inhabitants of
Europe to resist Muslim forces at their borders.
Although there have been periods of learning and understanding on
the part of the English, there has also been ignorance, conflict and
Muslims characterised as barbaric, ignorant, closed-
minded, ‘terrorists’ or intolerant religious zealots.
Attitudes still present today in the negative representation and
treatment of the Muslim-other, all of which exists as part of an
effort to aggrandise the established powers, legitimising existing
systems of domination and subordination.
Role of ‘evil demon’ the media.
Sharp focus on ‘extremist groups’ and ‘Islamic terrorism’ has dramatically
increased in recent periods.
The language used to describe Muslims is often violent, thereby inferring
that the movement themselves are violent too.
Arabic words appropriated into journalistic vocabulary. Jihad, for
example, has been used to signify a military war waged by Islamists
against the West.
Words such as ‘fundamentalist’, ‘extremist’ and ‘radical’ are regularly
used in headlines across all sectors of the British press.
Indeed, the portrayal of British Muslims in the current period is part of a
‘new racist discourse’.
‘New’ racism differs from the ‘old’; more subtle but at the same time
explicit in the direction it has taken.
In the post-9/11 and 7/7 era, politicians have used the fears people have
of Islam for their own ends; by focusing on the ‘war on terror’ instead of
Islam, politicians use the existing anti-Muslim frame of reference but
replace it with the idea of ‘terror’.
the state of British Muslims (1)
Ever since the Iranian Revolution since 1979, Muslims across the
globe have become a focus of attention.
The Salman Rushdie Affair of 1989 revealed how British South
Asian Muslims were shown to be weak and intolerant when in fact
they were merely expressing their opinions in relation to the
publication of The Satanic Verses.
The first Gulf War (1990-1991), the genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina
(1993-1996), The Oklahoma Bombing (1995), the Taliban in
Afghanistan (1997-2002), Grozny and Kosovo (1999), the recent
Palestinian Intifda (since September 2000) and the War on Iraq
(2003) have all played a part in creating a transnational Muslim
solidarity; a genuine and conscious identification with others of
the same religion.
Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilisations’ thesis – positioning East and
West, Islam and Christianity as diametrically opposed and
irreconcilable has served only to build on growing anti-American
sentiment and increased Orientalism through over simplification
the state of British Muslims (2)
Nothing, however, could have prepared the
planet for the 11 September 2001 attacks on the
World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in the
Reactions were swift and associations between
Islam, terrorism and the juxtaposition of
Christianity versus Islam only fuelled added anti-
Islamic and anti-American sentiment.
Gave rise to efforts of far right groups to paint
Muslims as epitomising unwanted difference, and
excused anti-Islamic violence.
In the days following the attack an Afghan taxi
driver was attacked and left paralysed in London.
the state of British Muslims (3)
Externally, after 9/11 the international agenda
dominated domestic politics, there has been a
tightening of security and anti-terrorist measures
and citizenship tests for new immigrants, for
Internally, young British Muslims are increasingly
found to be in the precarious position of being
impacted by radical Islamic politics on the one
hand and developments to British multicultural
citizenship on the other.
Creates tensions and issues, encouraging some to
take up the ‘struggle’ more vigorously while others
seek to adopt more Western values, for example.
This finally came to ahead in the events of 7/7.
the state of British Muslims (4)
British multiculturalism is a distinctive philosophy
that legitimises the demands on unity and
diversity, of achieving political unity without
cultural uniformity, and cultivating among its
citizens both a common sense of belonging and a
willingness to respect and cherish deep cultural
Muslims in Britain are considered by their religion
first and foremost. But at the same time, Muslims in
disempowered, disenfranchised, disenchanted, di
saffected groups at the margins of
economy, society and polity.
the state of British Muslims (6)
British South Asian Muslims have reached the third
generations: issues have shifted from cultural assimilation
and social integration to religious identity and
Subsequent generations have grappled with issues of
integration and racism in the climate of the early 1960s;
cultural pluralism in the 1970s; free-market economic
determinism and the rolling back of the frontiers of the
state in Thatcher’s and Major’s Britain, through to the ‘third
way’ centre-left politics of assimilationist New Labour.
At the same time, identification with Islam is strengthening
amongst some of the current generations of South Asian
Muslims, both as a reaction to racist hostility as well as a
desire to understand Islam in more literal terms.
the state of British Muslims (7)
Have had to address citizenship, not only within
the framework of the legal and political structures
of their new home, with its emphasis on
democracy, secularism, individual rights and
pluralism but also to negotiate and harmonise
that in terms of Islamic doctrine.
Muslims need to discover how to ‘participate in a
society which has no need for Islam in its public
In addition, British South Asian Muslims have
inherited the colonial history of their past relations
Combined with racism, which endemic in the host
country, this creates an atmosphere of mistrust.
the state of British Muslims (8)
British multiculturalism is under severe
test, as is how Muslims experience it.
What is apparent, however, is that 7 July
attacks have further changed the
landscape and, along with it, how Muslims
will be regarded, considered and treated
for the foreseeable future (‘sleepwalking
Direction based on nation-states and their
policies towards different Muslim
migrants, minorities and citizens as well as
how Muslims work to adapt to majority
the state of British Muslims (9)
Society even more sensitive to the threat of
‘Islamic terrorism’, while at the same the ‘war on
terror’ continues to shape government attitude
towards Muslim citizens as well as being important
foci for political, social and policymaker
discussions in the current period here in Britain.
British Muslims are at a crossroads in their history of
immigration to and settlement within Britain.
At the same time, a striking feature of the
structural experiences of British South Asian
Muslims is the economic and social positions they
24. The question of Islam and
Young people are
marginalised, ostracised, subjugated, op
Economic (education, labour market)
Social (inter-generational, gender/masculinity)
Political (lack of representation in mainstream
Cultural (identity, citizenship)
Religion (local, national and international
25. The reality…
Radicalism in British Muslim is partly myth, but…
‘Seven in Yemen’, ‘Tipton Three’, Mike’s Place
Bombers, Richard Reid and Saajid Badat (both
Under the 2001 anti-terrorism legislation, there have
been 700 arrests, with 15 charged and two
convictions (more have been convictions of Irish
Presently, decline of habeas corpus, emergence of
control orders and the possibility of ‘internment’.
Currently, al-Muhajiroun, Hizt-ut-Tahrir and other
organisations to be banned…
26. Radicalism analysed
‘Islamic’ radicalising forces of emerge outside many of the South
Asian Muslim traditions found in Britain
(i.e., Deobandis, Brewlvis, Hanifis)
Young people of South Asian origin are affected by
ethnic, cultural and religious prejudice/discrimination/racism –
leading to a process of acute alienation
Alienation encourages young Muslims (men) to seek alternative
forms of expression – issues to do with
Masculinity in western settings
Reaction to individual, community and group Islamophobia, which is
in part ‘theologically abstracted’
The problem is not of the faith of Islam, it’s more to do a reaction
of lived experience – the interaction with secular, liberal society
Future: debates around social (community)
cohesion, multiculturalism, civil society and citizenship will inform
the next steps but crucial remain the factors of the economic
and the social.
27. Conclusions (a)
A striking feature is the economic and social position Muslim possess.
This group constitutes one of the most
marginalised, alienated, isolated, discriminated and misunderstood
groups in society.
South Asian Muslims experience the highest rates of
unemployment, with up to three times overall the city or town levels.
These inner city areas show relatively clearly that it is Muslims (largely
Pakistanis and Bangladeshis) that occupy them in abundant numbers
and that it is they that are at greatest disadvantage.
It begins to outline the deprivation that many Muslims are becoming
accustomed to. The examples of high youth unemployment, lack of
space in households and the limitations of central heating all suggest
Furthermore, apart from structural issues of social class, there are
matters of housing, health, entrepreneurship, political representation.
28. Conclusions (b)
In the end, we have
Acute socio-economic inequalities
Questions raised about citizenship and loyalty to the state
Limited formal and Islamic education… which leads some to become
radicalised (sociological, criminological, and theological explained)
Reverberating in discussion about multiculturalism – and the Muslim other
and their ability to co-exist in a liberal, secular state
In the long-run Muslims and non-Muslims will find a solution to the
malaise, as there are plenty of positives:
increasing number of Muslim MPs
greater wealth and cultural capital among some
the development of progressive outlook among the professional classes
changing marriage patterns
and the realisation of the position in Britain compared with the rest of Europe
are all contributing factors in the development of the British Muslim
29. Conclusions (c)
Problems of identity crises of Muslim groups
who are most vulnerable in society.
Loss of a British identity; shift towards
radicalised political Islamic identities for
For others, a move towards secular politics
and development of broad alliances with
centre-left anti-globalisation politics
For others still, greater attempts at
integration (the ‘two-way street’ variety)…
30. Conclusions (d)
Problems of leadership:
political, cultural, intellectual and theological
State dismiss any links between ‘war on terror’ and
Meanwhile, inequalities widen and
cultural, economic, social and political alienation
Eventual subsidence of millennial radical political
Islam in favour secular politics.
Greater integration an inevitable results of inter-
generational social mobility and economic
3.1 The way forward
Politicians will be looking at initiatives in response to 7/7.
Policy might seek to achieve five things.
Ensure that Muslim communities become more culturally
and politically included than they have been;
Provide genuine educational and labour market
opportunities for the young;
Make certain that community leadership is reflective and
Certify religious instructors in mainstream mosques, ensuring
they are properly connected with local and national
Help ensure that international issues at the international
level that impact on British South Asian Muslims, namely
Iraq Palestine, and Kashmir, are resolved bringing peace
and hope to the affected regions.
The Rushdie Affair
Northern Disturbances in 2001
11 September 2001
2m protest in London
7 July 2005
7 July 2005
Relevant texts and work in progress
Abbas, T. (ed) (2005) Muslim Britain: Communities under Pressure
(London and New York: Zed).
Abbas, T. (2005) ‘Recent Developments to British Multicultural
Theory, Policy and Practice: The Case of British Muslims’, Citizenship
Studies 9(2): 153-166.
Abbas, T. (ed) (2006) Islamic Political Radicalism: A European
Comparative Perspective, forthcoming (Edinburgh, University Press).
Abbas, T. (2007) British Islam, forthcoming (Cambridge, University Press).
Abbas, T. (2007) Islam in Britain, forthcoming (with Salma Yaqoob and
Tariq Ramadan, London: Pluto).