The tendency among ethnic minority Muslim immigrant communities in Europe towards identification with Islam as a marker of identity is discussed in an array of studies, but seldom have they explained sufficiently how the change took place. Islam and Identity Politics among British-Bangladeshis: A Leap of Faith probes the causes of and conditions for the preference of the members of the British-Bangladeshi community for a religion-based identity vis-à-vis ethnicity-based identity, and the influence of Islamists in shaping the discourse. It also examines whether this salience of Muslim identity is a precursor to a new variant of diasporic Islam. Islam and Identity Politics delves into the micro-level dynamics, the internal and external factors and the role of the state and locates these within the broad framework of Muslim identity and Islamism, citizenship and the future of multiculturalism in Europe.
The introduction provides the background of the study, discussion of the conceptual building blocks and an outline of the book. Three events are referred to as examples of the growing appeal of political Islam to a section of British-Bangladeshis and the contestations within the community. This chapter also critically discusses the existing theoretical frameworks on diaspora and diasporic identity, and challenges the extant formulations of these concepts. It argues that they are limited and limiting, because they see diaspora as an end product instead of an ongoing experience, and diasporic identity as a fixed state instead of a dynamic process.
This chapter provides a profile of the British Bangladeshi community. Drawing on various sources of data, particularly Censuses and Labour Force Surveys, the chapter locates the British-Bangladeshi community within British society and shows that a combination of poverty, deprivation, lack of opportunity and spatial segregation has made the community socially excluded and encapsulated. It compares the state of the community with the White majority population and other minority communities using a range of critical indices such as education, housing, and composition of households. The statistical profile is supplemented with historical narratives and information as to how the community evolved. The chapter maps the process of how the community responded to the challenges it has faced in previous decades.
This chapter describes three events in the summers of 2005 and 2006 that riveted the Bengali community. They are: the election of George Galloway, the controversy over the filming of Brick Lane and the visit of a prominent Bangladeshi Islamist to England. The significant commonalities in these three events are highlighted: all reflect how religious identity is being brought to the forefront and how much strength the Islamists have gained both discursively and organizationally.
Four internal contributory factors, the impact of Bangladeshi politics, the rise of Islamist youth groups in the 1980s and the 1990s, the failures of the secular leadership, and the sources of funding to Islamic organizations in Britain are discussed in this chapter. The chapter shows that the salience of the Muslim identity among the British-Bangladeshis took place incrementally. The examinations of these factors also show that they shaped not only the identity of the individual at the social level but also at the community level, especially within the political realm. These factors were not mutually exclusive; in fact, the discussion shows that different circumstances offered different choices and some have made greater impacts than others.
This chapter examines the role of the British state in facilitating the salience of Islamic identity among the community, especially enabling Islamists to gain prominence within the community. The empirical data are organized around two topics: race and immigration policy, and foreign policy. The chapter demonstrates that among four phases of immigration policies: the era of hostility, the era of assimilationism, the era of multiculturalism, and the era of faith and social cohesion, the most recent has facilitated the rise of Islamists within the Bangladeshi community. The chapter argues that British foreign policy is not only about the ongoing wars in the Middle East and South Asia, but about a wide array of policies pursued over a long period, most importantly the government’s approach to issues perceived as important by the Muslim community.
The final chapter argues that two sets of questions/challenges have emerged and will have to be confronted by the British-Bangladeshi community on the one hand and the British state, on the other. The first set of questions involves the choice of the community; do the majority members of the community favor a fusion of religion and political activism? Should religion be the marker of their identity? The second set of questions is about the broader issues related to the policies of the state: does the British state continue to pursue policies that weaken secular forces? What is the future of multiculturalism in Britain? How will the issue of citizenship and the multiple identities of the minority communities be addressed?