The Success or Otherwise of Multiculturalism – What Really Matters

Surveys and polls concerning Islam and Muslims usually attract considerable press coverage but one we came across recently [1] was mentioned in only the Guardian [2] with the headline “Muslims are well-integrated in Britain – but no one seems to believe it”. It might contain the most significant findings of all the surveys over the last few years.

This survey was carried out by Essex University and the results published in a report entitled “Britishness and Identity Assimilation among the UK’s Minority and Majority ethnic groups”. [3] The sample details are impressive. It used data from a nationally representative sample of approximately 28,000 UK households with an additional ethnic minority boost sample of around 4000 households.

The report’s summary says:

There has been extensive recent debate on the success or otherwise of ‘multiculturalism’. One key claim has been that multiculturalism has undermined minority groups’ willingness or ability to sign up to the national identity of the country in which they live.

National identification is widely regarded in the literature as an important indicator of the social cohesion within societies and to have implications for the incorporation or alienation of minorities.

…. We find first that minorities express strong British identities – stronger in fact than the White majority, and that these increase across generations.

Second we show that minority identification does not necessarily imply a loss of majority identity. Indeed the most common pattern in our sample of minorities was to hold strong majority and minority identities at the same time.

By contrast we show that among the White majority there is not only substantial variation in identification, but that with the exception of those born in Northern Ireland, individual country identities (Wales, Scotland, England) tends to be prioritised over British identities”.

So, multiculturalism is a success. We are told.

The main question asked of all respondents was: “Most people who live in the UK may think of themselves as being British in some way. On a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 means ‘not at all important’ and 10 means ‘extremely important’, how important is being British to you?” . Respondents were shown a 10-point-scale and asked to identify their position on it.

Non-White respondents were also asked to report the strength of identification with their father’s ethnic group and also that of their mother’s ethnic group if that was different from their father’s, using a similar question format: “On a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 means ‘not at all important’ and 10 means ‘extremely important’, how important is being [your father’s ethnic group] to you?”

The answers were used to put minority ethnic respondents into one of four categories.

“Integrated” – high degrees of both own cultural maintenance and majority society engagement. “Assimilated” – loss of minority culture with the adoption of majority culture. “Separated” – exclusive maintenance of minority culture; and “Marginalized” – loss of minority culture but with no compensating gain or investment in majority culture.

The results obtained are illustrated in this Table:

Cultural Maintenance
Maximum of strength of identification
with parent’s ethnic groups
High Low
Contact Participation
Strength of identification
with being British
High Integrated
Low Separated

Nearly half (44%) of British ethnic minorities identify as strongly with their ethnic identity as they do with being British. That is, nearly half, can be said to have in some degree a dual identity.

Of the remaining half, 22% are “separated” (they exclusively maintain their minority culture), and 21% are “marginalised” (they have lost their minority culture but taken nothing from the majority culture).

13% – just over one in 10 – are unambiguously British.

The Essex researchers take a positive, optimistic, view of these results. They also note, “By signing up to majority identity, minorities are …. providing evidence of acceptance of shared national values, and an implicit rejection of ethnic or cultural distinctiveness that may challenge that national consensus.”

There is another line of thought. What happens if critical or too many “values” of the ethnic identity clash with the majority identity?

For example, the great majority of British people would probably agree that each person can decide his or her religion, or not to have a religion. You are not born into a religion. It is a choice you make. Apostasy is not a crime. We have struggled hard over the years to achieve the religious freedom and tolerance we have in Britain today.

In contrast to this British “value” see this BBC article “Ex-Muslim: My parents don’t want me ‘to burn in hell”. [4] It describes the family rejection suffered by a young British Muslim girl because she no longer wanted to be a Muslim. At least, she didn’t live in a Muslim country where apostates are threatened with death.

Unfortunately, the weaknesses of this Essex University study are also seen in the limited public debate that we have on this important subject. A sad example of how the relevant questions are avoided was given by a Muslim spokesperson recently interviewed about Islamic values versus British values on Sky News [5].

Yes, of course, Muslims are law abiding British citizens, he says, but don’t expect Muslims to go out boozing on Saturday night. If that is the expectation there will be trouble! And, we are not going to eat pork!! British foreign policy gets dragged into the conversation too.

The Sky News interviewer failed to direct the interview. She let the Muslim interviewee pose the questions he wanted to answer not the questions that matter, that expose the clash of fundamental cultural values, though she might be excused as our senior politicians set a poor example. They steer clear of anything specific, anything that might be construed as a direct criticism of Islam, and labour generalities such as “…. freedom …. accepting personal and social responsibility, respecting and upholding the rule of law”.

Agreement or otherwise on these points is what really matters.

# Men and woman are equal. All jobs and professions are open to women. Men and women have equal legal rights in all matters.

# Each person can decide his or her religion, or not to have a religion. You are not born into a religion. It is a choice you make.

# A person can leave their religion without fear of reprisal or punishment.

# Stoning, amputation, and flogging, are barbaric punishments with no place in the modern world.

# You can marry a person from another religion. They do not have to convert to yours.

# You can say, write, or draw, what you like as long as it does not call for violence against any person(s) or their property.

# Church/religion and state are separate.

# You have only one wife. Polygamy is illegal.

# Religious texts are subject to scientific and historical scrutiny.

# It is impolite, even rude, to cover your face in public, and it hinders communication.

# Rules and regulations should apply to everyone. Animals are stunned prior to slaughter.

Not all British people would vote strongly in favour of these values but it would be a reasonable bet that the median (the middle point of the results) for the white majority British population would lie much closer to the agreement end of the scale than the median for Muslims. Herein lies the clash of values.

The Essex study does not tell us if multiculturalism has been a success. All it does is give us a worrying measure of the scale of the challenge we face. Up to 87% (100% – 13%) of Muslims are potentially a source of social conflict. 13% is the dismally low proportion who so far have truly become British.


[1] Survey of Surveys – Concerning Islam & Muslims

[2] Muslims are well-integrated in Britain – but no one seems to believe it

[3] Britishness and Identity Assimilation among the UK’s Minority and Majority ethnic groups

See also: Just who does feel British?

[4] Ex-Muslim: My parents don’t want me ‘to burn in hell’

[5] Muhbeen Hussain and Dilly Hussain Discuss If British and Islamic Views Are Compatible?