The past week has seen the public release of the Commission of Race and Ethnic Disparities report, a long awaited investigation on the state of race relations and ethnic disparities in the United Kingdom. Entrusted by Boris Johnson to a group of eleven commissioners from a diverse spectrum of ethnic backgrounds and career paths – African, Asian, Caribbean; business people, social workers, teachers, assembled to answer a question that has become widespread and controversial in recent years: is Britain a racist place to live in? A question that has become mainstream due to the global problem of racism in places such as the US, Europe and China and especially since the establishment of Black Lives Matter (BLM).
The conclusions reached were that the Britain of today has changed much since the era of Windrush, Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech, the rambling tirades of Alf Garnett and the white skinhead gangs that plagued the streets of many inner-city areas in the 1980s. The Britain of today has progressed into a ‘successful multi-ethnic and multicultural community’ which is a ‘beacon to the rest of Europe and the world’, a nod to its success as a model for other white-majority countries. The report even described the institutionalised racism in the UK as an over exaggeration.
Unsurprisingly, the report has unleashed a tsunami of opposition. The dividing lines have been set in the sands between the left and the right of the political spectrum. The former sees race as the dominant and institutional factor of influence for why people are disadvantaged, with the report being merely a whitewash of all that it entails. The opposite side sees it merely as something present but continually being improved upon, with statistical data to back up its claims of improving wealth and increased opportunities. The left thinks that reforming capitalism would address these inequalities and socioeconomic problems; whilst the right thinks it is an individual’s personal decisions that influences their predicament.
What is clear from the fallout of the report is that the government has jumped on the bandwagon and lauded the role successive governments have played in eradicating this problem, with the core message that there is no racism in the UK and that we are headed to becoming the first ‘post-racial’ society on Earth.
Selective quantitative data appears to show a closing gap in wealth between second generation migrants and the indigenous white population, that Scottish Asians have a greater life expectancy than the host white population, and that 21% of lawyers are from ethnic minority backgrounds.
However, the qualitative data, of people questioned on their opinions, feelings and their experiences, show a society that still has racist sentiments, with many barriers and hindrances to anyone of colour or ethnicity who wants to just get along in life. When particular racial groups are consistently disadvantaged in terms of opportunities, one cannot simply blame their economic situation, which itself is a result of racial inequality that previous generations were subjected to. Such structural racism cannot simply be ignored to declare that racism no longer exists today. Moreover, as every Muslim in Britain is painfully aware, prejudicial reporting against minorities, particularly ethnic minorities, is very much alive in the mainstream media.
A study into racial harassment of students and staff in British universities found a large under-reporting of incidents due to a lack of faith in the complaints process, which was vindicated by the experiences of those who had made a complaint into a process that did not value the plaintiffs nor the seriousness of the issues at hand. In terms of employment, a 2019 Trade Union Congress (TUC) report into racism at work surveyed 5000 people and found over 70% saying that they have experienced racial harassment at work in the last five years, and around 60% saying that they have been subjected to unfair treatment by their employer because of their race. Almost half have been subject to ‘verbal abuse and racist jokes’, all this after the 50-year anniversary of the Race Relations Amendment Act 1968 that supposedly outlawed such behaviours and practices.
Sixteen of the twenty four recommendations made in the report – “to build trust, promote fairness, create agency and achieve inclusivity” – have been found to be old proposals rehashed from fourteen previous reviews into racial discrimination and inequality since 1999, such as the Macpherson Report into the death of Stephen Lawrence at the hands of white racists or the final report of the Riots Communities and Victims Panel in the aftermath of the notorious country wide riots of 2011. These proposals, some of which have merit, were either shelved or partially enacted by the administration of the day.
The Britain of today is a much different place compared to the overt racism of fifty years ago. However, this is not due to the core tenets of racial supremacy being dealt with, rather it is the capitalistic tendency that shined through and made companies, corporations and the government realise that diversity is good for business, that it brings skilled people into the country, which in turn increases prosperity. The underlying fissures of race have remained, waiting to erupt above ground as it did so spectacularly in the run up to Brexit.
The report links regional factors of deprivation and disparity as being far more important than racism, but when we look at why for example there is a north-south divide; a mutual dislike between the Scots and the English; or the lack of public investment in deprived areas, it is clear that aspects similar in vain to racism, of hierarchical ranking of people – entitlement, privilege and supremacism – are deeply rooted and prevent even working class white Britons from achieving their dreams and aspirations.
This report was published in a world that has long institutionalised tribalism by adopting the Westphalian model of nation states. This has made national origin and thus race, synonymous with first class citizenship. It has created a world where people migrate so much, and this means that anyone of ‘immigrant stock’ will automatically be considered second class. The liberal view of a globalised world, and ‘global citizenship’ has failed to reach a critical mass and the Brexit backlash is just one proof of this.
When Boris Johnson proclaimed that Britain was headed to become the first ‘post-racial’ society on Earth, Muslims look at this comment with incredulity; not only for its obvious contradiction to the reality, but if any civilisation had answered the race question that has plagued man for millennia, it was from the first Islamic State established by Muhammad ﷺ in al-Madinah al-Munawwarah.
It was RasulAllah ﷺ, who proclaimed in his Farewell Sermon that “All humans are descended from Adam and Eve. There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, or of a non-Arab over an Arab, and no superiority of a white person over a black person or of a black person over a white person, except on the basis of personal piety and righteousness.” It is the words of Allah ﷻ in the Noble Quran, which declares that:
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَـٰكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍۢ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَـٰكُمْ شُعُوبًۭا وَقَبَآئِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوٓا۟ ۚ
“O humanity, We created you… into peoples and tribes so that you may get to know one another.” [Surah Al-Hujurat 49:13]
Islam does not view citizenship from the perspective of race or nationality. It looks upon citizenship from the perspective of residency. Therefore, within the Islamic territories the rule of law is not selective and as a result accountability is not based upon any ethnic or racial considerations. Leadership in Islam is also not based on any ethnic consideration, something the nation state model perpetuates causing institutional racism.
It is the faith in truth (in haqq), that the deen breathed into Bilal ibn Rabah (رضي الله عنه), who repeatedly proclaimed the oneness of Allah ﷻ when an immense rock was placed on his chest, that it moved Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (رضي الله عنه) to spend his wealth in a spontaneous fashion to free him, regardless of the cost. A rich Arab man from a prestigious tribe, helping a poor black slave of no standing in pre-Islamic Makkah. Even aside from the excellent example of the sahabah on Makkah, tribal and racial prejudice were actively eliminated by the policies and judgements of the Messenger of Allah in the Islamic State in Madinah, then by the khulafaa (caliphs) who followed that excellent example.
No matter what solutions and recommendations are proposed by the report or implemented by the government of the day, the scourge of racism will always be present in this society and others, precisely because it has not been addressed at a credal level. Any attempt to stamp out racism in a capitalist society lacks the credibility necessary for the over privileged group to give some of it up for the sake of the others. Some Muslims living in a world dominated by secular capitalist ideas have unfortunately been affected by colonial ideas of race and can be prone to racism. It’s the Islamic creed that cures racism, despite the behaviour of some Muslims. The Islamic creed answers the key questions about life and only differentiates between people based upon their belief in the creator and their consciousness of the creator in their everyday actions. Race and colour play no role in this. This is why the only true solution, that leads to a just society dreamed by many, is one led by the Quran and Sunnah of Muhammad ﷺ.