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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2006, Vol, 6 No. 1 .

Muslim Britain: Communities Under Pressure
Tahir Abbas

London: Zed Books, 2005, 288 pp. 17.95, ISBN 1-84277-449-2

Muslim Britain: Communities Under Pressure is set in the context of post 9/11 Britain and highlights what this has meant for members of the South Asian community, especially Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. It is a very timely book as it provides thought provoking material on a variety of issues relevant to Muslims living in Britain today and Islam at large, issues that are used and misused by the media, some political parties and thinkers. Confusion about these issues can lead to Islamophobia, misconceptions and fear of the other, and thus can be invoked to give implausible ground to Huntington?s ?Clash of Civilisations? thesis.

The book brings together 16 contributions from a variety of authors, disciplines and contexts and is organised under the four following sections: From Islam to British Muslims?, ?Islamophobia?; Identity Politics and Multiculturalism; Media Representation; and Gender and Racial Islam and Temporal and Spatial Ethnic and Religious Identities.

In the first Chapter, Modood gives a general yet useful presentation of the foundation and history of Islam and the context in which the book is set. This allows readers who are unfamiliar with Islam to better understand Islamic principles and the challenges faced by ?multicultural Britain? in a post 9/11 context. The other chapters of this first part illustrate the socio-economic situation of Muslims in Britain today.

Part II reaches to the heart of the realities of Muslim Britain by discussing issues of race, discrimination and identity. Allen in particular offers an interesting discussion of the blur of the distinction between religion and race in anti-discrimination laws, which offer Jews and Sikhs protection under the Race Relation Acts, while it excludes Muslims. He goes on to explain how this loophole can potentially be exploited resulting in the discrimination and victimisation of Muslims. Part II also offers a presentation of the emergence of the notion of Islamophobia and discusses it in the context of post 9/11, with reference to current British National Party (BNP) and other political parties? politics.

Part III takes on some of the debates that have been more commonly offered since 9/11 on the foundations and principles of Islam and the way they have been used by the media and interpreted in a broad variety of ways by Muslims themselves. Throughout the four chapters of this part, readers are introduced to the various understandings of gender in Islam, terrorism or Jihad and in doing so, sensitised to the complexity of any debate on the values and content of Islamic faith as it is lived in today?s Britain. It touches upon the influence that the ?war on terror? and the Satanic Verses have had on shaping the face of Islam as it is lived by some and perceived by others.

In Part IV, the book offers case studies of the situation of Muslims in London?s East End, the north of England and Northern Ireland. Bagguley and Hussain?s reference to popular, cross cultural and religious support for the English team at the last football World cup illustrates in a very straight forward manner the way identities can be complex, pulled in opposite directions and used in various ways.

Published in 2005, Muslim Britain reaches to the heart of current debates on Islam, multiculturalism and racism in today?s Britain, with all the changes that 9/11, the Madrid bombings and the war in Iraq have brought. Interestingly, the book was published before the London bombings and consequently does not integrate the consequences that they most certainly have had on all the elements and patterns analysed in the book.

By offering a variety of contributions, substantial testimonies, political as well as socio-economic analysis, this book is useful for researchers and individuals at large seeking a better understanding of the challenges faced by British politics on diversity and multiculturalism and the difficulties faced by Muslims living in Britain today. The book also offers an analysis that has relevance that reaches beyond Britain. For example, Bagguley and Hussain?s conclusions on the Bradford riots of 2001 could be transposed to the French banlieues riots of 2005 and this, despite the fact that the two regimes are commonly described as ideologically opposed. This leads us to conclude that general lessons have to be learnt on the situation of Muslims in today?s Europe, both from within and outside their community.

However, one could perhaps have wished for a more in-depth theoretical analysis of the meaning, consequences, and origins of ?British multiculturalism?, since it is referred to throughout the book and put forward and idealised as a governance model in itself, by many researchers and policy makers.

Audrey Guichon, University of Ulster, INCORE grant-writer,

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