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Race to the bottom

Integration must have the support of ethnic minorities—not be imposed on them, says Emran Mian

Race and Faith: The Deafening Silence

by Trevor Phillips (Civitas, £8)

British Airways (BA) used to forbid its cabin staff from wearing a Christian cross, though they permitted the Muslim headscarf. The national carrier hadn’t been Islamicised; nor were its Muslim employees more militant in asserting their rights. BA took a different approach to the two religious symbols because the headscarf could adopt the corporate colours whereas the cross was off-brand. The headscarf, you might say, was easier to integrate.

In 2006, BA’s policy was challenged by an employee who insisted on her right to wear the cross. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in her favour. Protecting the airline’s look, said the Court, was not sufficiently important to justify the infringement on her right to profess her faith. By contrast, in a linked case, the Court ruled that a hospital could ban the cross because the health risks—of the cross dangling down into an open wound, for example—were sufficiently important.

These judgments illustrate how much context matters in the practice of multiculturalism. Yet many see it instead as an unyielding ideology. Trevor Phillips, once Chair of the Commission on Equality and Human Rights and born in Britain to Caribbean parents, pursues that argument in his new book, Race and Faith: The Deafening Silence. It comes in the wake of a Channel 4 documentary shown in May, What British Muslims Really Think, where Phillips examined the prevalence of illiberal attitudes and extremist beliefs among some British Muslims. This book has a broader focus. Phillips has a rising concern about what he calls “super-diversity” in the UK and, in that context, argues that state-sponsored multiculturalism is both inimical to meritocracy and harmful to integration.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s August issue: Rachel Sylvester argues that the EU referendum has started a re-alignment of British politics while Roger Scruton and Jay Elwes say that it has thrown Britain into a bout of self-examination with the fundamental question of who we are as a nation at its centre. In addition, Peter Mandelson says without reform the EU could fall victim to a populist uprising. Also in this issue: Philip Ball explores quantum entanglement, George Magnus looks at the political situation in Brazil ahead of the Olympics and Adam Mars-Jones unpicks the work of Steven Spielberg. James Cusick looks at the impact of the Chilcot report and Kathy Lette explains what the world would be like if she was in charge.