British [Muslim] Values
In the UK today, there is a widely held perception of a fundamental conflict between so-called ‘British values’, and the values and practices of minority – frequently Muslim – communities. In a March 2015 survey, for instance, 55% of British voters believed there to exist ‘a fundamental clash between Islam and the values of British society’. A much-discussed July 2015 speech by the UK Prime Minister, similarly, set out the need to challenge, ‘extremist ideology by standing up and promoting our shared British values’.
This generalized perception of conflict is augmented by numerous public and political fears which further contribute to the demonization and stigmatization of British Muslims. This includes discussion around, inter alia, jihadi brides, radicalization, Sharia Law, forced marriage, honour killings, and extremism. Such discussions, importantly, shape political priorities and action. As David Cameron argued back in June 2014: ‘We need to be far more muscular in promoting British values and the institutions that uphold them’.
Our research project sets out to explore how this impression of conflict impacts upon Muslim individuals and communities living within the UK. Our research complements related literature by focusing on four locations in Eastern England which are home to significant and distinct – yet, frequently neglected – Muslim populations: Bedford, Ipswich, Luton and Norwich. Three questions animate the project:
1) How are discussions of British values, and their relationship to Islam, understood, experienced, negotiated and contested by (different) Muslim individuals and communities?
2) How important are geographical or demographic factors such as gender, age, ethnic origin, or sect in these understandings, negotiations and contestations?
3) How would Muslims in the UK recast political and public discussion around the place and role of Islam and Muslims within the UK?
To answer these questions we will be employing an innovative research methodology which incorporates focus groups and interviews, but centres on the making of video auto-ethnographies by Muslim women and men living in Bedford, Ipswich, Luton and Norwich. Here, a number of individuals will be asked to direct and produce short films on the theme of British [Muslim] Values, drawing on their own personal, everyday, lived experiences. These participant researchers will be an integral part of our research team – will be provided with relevant training and support – and will be given opportunities to screen these films to other members of their communities at the end of the project.
At this early stage, it is a little difficult to foresee all of the challenges we will encounter in our research. There are, clearly, ethical issues of which we will have to be conscious throughout the project, especially as our film-makers may choose to address sensitive issues in their auto-ethnographies. The research method itself involves – in fact, relies upon – our sacrificing some level of author-ity to participant researchers we have not even yet met. That is tremendously exciting, and even a little liberating, but it is also slightly daunting to speculate about the lack of control we will no doubt experience at certain points in the project. It will also, finally, be important to resist the temptation to generalise from our research findings. Our approach cannot seek to provide a representative account of what ‘British Muslims’ think or feel about ‘British Values’. It can, however, provide for a ‘thicker’ understanding of some of the very personal ways in which debate around ‘British Values’ is understood, experienced and articulated at the level of the everyday and quotidian. This, for us, is the value of this sort of research. Our hope is that our auto-ethnographic method provides novel ways of exploring and communicating these dynamics.
Blog originally published on the RCUK Partnership for Crime, Conflict and Security website, available here: http://www.paccsresearch.org.uk/blog/british-muslim-values/