This seems to be the political season of breakups. Scotland could be leaving Britain; a referendum failed but another could follow. Britain could be leaving Europe should the Conservative promise of a referendum go in that direction, a decision that may ultimately have negative consequences for us all, including British Muslims.
With all the talk of ‘British Values’, Scottish independence and whether we consider ourselves to be proud Europeans, it seems as if we are going through a stage in history where identity in Britain is undergoing a process of recalibration. Such questions on identity have been catalysed through increasing inequality, which has formed fault lines between communities within British society. The top 1% owns as much wealth as the poorest 55% in society, who continue to struggle on low wages and insecure job contracts. Paying extortionate utility bills and rents is driving an increasing turnout at food banks. Moreover, the housing crisis is not subsiding either; graduates continue to face the prospect of huge debts following their studies, with little hope of owning their own homes.
How has this led to an EU referendum? Certain sections of the media and political class have allowed a myth to develop that the free movement of Europeans into Britain is putting a huge strain on housing demand, the NHS and our welfare system, and thus the only possible solution to alleviate this strain comes in a parting of ways with Europe. It’s almost as if people have forgotten the real reason why our public services and the public purse continue to be strained; what of the unregulated bankers who crashed the economy through sheer irresponsibility? Bank bailouts cost us over £1tn, leaving a massive hole in the state treasury. Moreover, tax avoidance is costing the country £25bn a year, while Britain pays £11bn on tax credits because workers are not paid a living wage. Yet instead of pointing these significant statistics out, the grievances of the British public have been channelled away from these facts, and towards EU immigrants.
On the subject of the economy, the reality is that EU immigrants have actually added £20bn to our economy over a 10-year period, so castigating them for draining the system is largely unfair. In fact, for many British Muslims, the xenophobic abuse, misrepresentations and generalisations greeting the Europeans is one with which many of us can identify with. Let us not forget that the vast majority of EU immigrants come to the UK to earn a living. They pay their taxes that go on to fund many of our public services, which incidentally many Muslims are heavily reliant upon. If we were to suddenly lose the £20bn worth of contributions we receive from Europeans, the effects on our welfare system would most certainly compound the effects of continued austerity. In turn, lessening the chances British Muslims and others on the lower rungs of the societal ladder have on achieving some sort of positive social mobility.
Of course, the debate isn’t just about the impact of immigrants. The EU is a massive open trading market which is attractive to many big businesses and with the added bonus of free movement of workers, the EU as a whole becomes a lucrative option in the international marketplace. We mustn’t forget that British society and public services benefit from big businesses operating within the country, and should companies like Nestle and Airbus leave, as they have threatened to if Britain withdraws from Europe, then Britain will most certainly suffer. Britain as a market force will diminish in its appeal, attracting less of the world’s best talents and thus generating less revenue. Again, this will have an profound impact on some of our key public services such as our hospitals, schools and libraries.
Aside from the economic arguments, we must also look at the positive effects we can have in curbing the rising xenophobia that seems to be increasing within our neighbouring countries, and thus decrease the possibility of xenophobic movements infecting our shores. We know of alliances within the far-right of the European parliament and between groups such as the EDL and other far-right groups in mainland Europe. Movements like Pegida rode the crest of the far-right wave across Europe, spreading their fears about the supposed “Islamisation” of Europe. For British Muslims in particular, it is important that we are able to establish relationships with our fellow European Muslims, so that we, as a collective, can counter these groups, who in the current climate see Muslims as their primary target. If Britain remains part of the EU, we can ensure that such poisonous ideology is countered effectively. The persecution of Jews in the Second World War and more recently, the persecution of Bosnian Muslims, all occurred as a result of rising far-right sentiments. Had they been robustly tackled in their early stages, the tragic and unnecessary loss of innocent lives might have averted.
If Britain leaves Europe, the consequences will be significant. In particular, the inequality within society that has catalysed the EU debate will only grow, worsening the difficulties afflicting the poor and the most vulnerable within our society, and furthering the rise of far-right movements. For Muslims in Britain, we will be far safer within Europe than outside it.