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Transnational practices in local settings

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#1in5Muslims by Victoria Redclift

By k.anand.14, on 24 August 2020

#1in5Muslims…pray that when they open a margarine tub, there will be margarine in there and not curry

#1in5Muslims….look like Zayn Malik, to their mums.

The Sun’s controversial headline last week, claiming that one in five British Muslims had sympathy with Jihadis, set social media alight. Twitter users took up the #1 in 5 Muslims hashtag to mock the Sun and itsdodgy survey data. Meanwhile IPSO, the newspaper regulator, receiveda record number of complaints. The Sun’s polling company Survation had asked a sample of 1000 people with Muslim-sounding names how much sympathy they had with young Muslimswho leave the UK to join fighters in Syria. Quite apart from any concerns we might have with the poll’s sampling methods, there are various factions fighting in Syria, including forces dedicated to resisting Isis. Which means the poll tells us nothing about the number of people who have “sympathy for jihadis”. But the Sun isn’t interested in such details. As it happens, Survation’s March poll asked identical questions of a ‘non-Muslim sample’.The resulting data, says Patrick Brione of Survation, suggest that “attitudes held by the Muslim and non-Muslim populations are not that different.”But, again, the Sun isn’t interested. It is much more interested in cherry-picking data for the story it wants to tell. This story, alongside a picture of a balaclava-clad, knife-wielding ‘Jihadi John’, is just one part of the newspaper’s campaign to convince its readership that Muslims are on the fence about terrorism. A week earlier (17thNovember) the paper’s leading article began by suggesting that Muslims had “done too little in public to express solidarity with the victims in Paris and the civilised, tolerant democracies in which they live.”

All of this is part of a much wider discourse in which the loyalty of British Muslims is in question. And, in the wake of the Paris attacks, and the recent San Bernadino shooting, it has particularly potent effect. But is it justified to demand that Muslims condemn terrorism?As Dalia Mogahed, research director at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in Washington, cogently explained on MSNBClast week “condoning the killing of civilians is, to me, about the most monstrous thing you can to do. And to be suspected of doing something so monstrous, simply because of your faith, seems very unfair”. She noted that, according to FBI data, the majority of domestic terror attacks in the United States are actually committed by white, male Christians. “Now that’s just the facts. When those things occur, we don’t suspect other people who share their faith and ethnicity of condoning them. We assume that these things outrage them just as much as they do anyone else. And we have to afford this same assumption of innocence to Muslims”. But, it seems, this is not always the case.

n the aftermath of the horrendous 13th November attacks, and alongside the predictable securitisation response which calls for air strikes and ramped up border control, the equally predictable retaliatory targeting of Muslims began almost immediately. In Marseilles a Muslim woman was punched in the face and attached with the box cutter. In Givors a woman was kicked over and crushed by a shopping trolly. In Pontivy a man was beaten into a coma and in the north of France a man was shot.

Across the pond, in the Republican battle for the presidential primary, political capital is being made out this spike in anti-Muslim sentiment. Donald Trump has suggested that all Muslims should register in a US database, and called for the families of terrorists to be killed, while Ben Carson has likened Syrian refugees to rabid dogs who might turn terrorist at any time. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington issued a statement saying it “has received more reports about acts of Islamophobic discrimination, intimidation, threats, and violence targeting American Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslim) and Islamic institutions in the past week and a half than during any other limited period of time since the 9/11 terror attacks”.

In theUK too Muslims are once again at the front line. According to TellMAMA, a project recording and measuring anti-Muslim incidents in the UK, hate crime had gone up 300% in the week after the Paris attacks. Instead of an assumption of innocence, the presumption of guilt by association is evidence of a structural racism which sustains and is sustained by the ‘War on Terror’.

How does this affect the political identities of Muslim populations in Europe and the US? How does it affect experiences of citizenship which are local, national and transnational? With support from the Phillip Leverhulme Prize I recently began a research project which develops the concept of ‘transnational political space’ to consider the relationship between local and transnational citizenship experiences among Bangladesh-origin Muslims in London and Los Angeles. In social science debate ‘transnational citizenship’ (Baubock, 1994; Fox, 2005) has been conceptualised to reflect the processes through which political identity transcends the nation-state (Basch et al, 1994). However, the ways in which a political identity that crosses borders informs a political identity within borders has received little attention. How are processes of transnational political engagement mediated by the national context of settlement? How do they inform political engagement in that national context? Does transnational political subjectivity mitigate/aggravate political exclusion at the national level? Does it inhibit/enhance the creation of local ‘political space’? Popular discourse frequently suggests that transnational ties represent an impediment to the formation of local identifications; a danger to citizenship and integration in countries of settlement. But there is little research to support this claim. Similarly interest in Muslim transnational relations in particular too often focuses on the characteristics of the population, or the characteristics of Islamic culture,  in a way that overlooks  “the role of social and political circumstances in shaping how people make sense of the world and then act upon it” (Kundnani, 2014, p.10).

This project recognises that transnational practices take place in local settings; shaped by the particular opportunities and constraints present in different localities (Guarnizo and Smith, 1998; Mahler, 1998). It considers how different histories of settlement, different population profiles (in terms of ethnic concentration, age, gender, socio-economic background, length of residence and naturalization status), and different local conditions/constraints, affect the political identities possible in London and L.A. It will examine how these local political identities influence processes of transnational engagement, and consider how transnational identities and relationships in turn inform local political subjectivity. In the context of the on-going ‘War on Terror’, and an increasing political and media focus on a security threat that is ‘home grown’, the transnational practices of British Muslims have gained attention. This has fed into a range of recent policy proposals which bring the constitutionally protected activities of a large number of people under increasing surveillance (Kundnani, 2014). In popular debate and the practice of public policy, then, transnational ties may affect local experiences of citizenship but more research is needed to understand how transnational activity is situated in local social, cultural and political milieu. The 1 in 5 Muslims hashtag had a serious message:

#1in5Muslims…get through airport security without being selected for a search

#1in5Muslims….are French, if they score. Otherwise they’re Arab.

#1in5Muslims…have experienced Islamaphobia. I know I did a poll. Trust me.

Islamophobia and Britain’s major political parties by Liam Carroll

By k.anand.14, on 24 August 2020

Since the beginning of March, both the Conservatives and Labour have suspended members over allegations of Islamophobia. The suspensions from the Conservative party came after Hope Not Hate provided the party with evidence of anti-Muslim comments made online by 20 individuals linked to the party, including 6 current councillors. The posts expressed sentiments justifying the denial of human rights to Muslims on the grounds that they couldn’t understand them because of their animal-like behaviour, and that it was “not a bad thing” if Muslims left the UK. Around the same time, Labour suspended Trevor Phillips, the anti-racism campaigner and founding chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, on grounds that comments made by him dating back over 4 years, including stating that Muslims constituted “a nation within a nation” and that the social norms of Muslim Pakistani men were permissive of child grooming, were Islamophobic. Phillips, now the chair of Index on Censorship, a freedom of speech campaign group, subsequently went on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 and defended his previous comments, reasserting that he thought Muslims were “different”.

Both sets of comments clearly share the idea that Muslims are not a part of mainstream British society. Additionally, the comments, aside from one made by Trevor Phillips, refer to Muslims collectively. By doing this, they ignore the heterogeneity of the practice of Islam and the social and political attitudes of Muslims in Britain; instead referring to some single conception of Islam that they attribute to all Muslims, at least in Britain. This is something we see within our research, for example one participant called Faatina recounts how Muslims “have to answer every step of our lives, everything that we do”, that Muslims such as herself have to justify or explain why they don’t fit within the conception of Muslim behaviour that is promoted in wider society. Faatina goes on to contrast the Muslim experience with other religions in asking “Whereas how come, you know, like Sikhs, Hindus, Christian, they don’t answer for anything”. Faatina also suggests that the media play a significant role in generating and reinforcing this misguided conception of Muslims, and this opinion is reflected by other participants in the research.

The differences between the Labour and Conservative comments echo the differences between the old and new forms of discrimination against Muslims that we see in our research. The comparison of Muslims to animals made by individuals linked to the Conservative party are an example of the older forms of discrimination, which respondents indicated were more common in the 1970’s and 80’s and were associated with interactions with skinheads or National Front activity. The participants in our research identified similar experiences in their own lives, such as the term ‘Paki’ being used towards all people of South Asian descent. A narrative which emerged from interviews was that this older form of discrimination had declined over time as areas became more diverse and more people interacted with people outside their ethnic or religious group. Respondents also noticed that instances of this type of racism have re-emerged at different times, but that in general ever since the 1990s and more particularly 9/11 a newer form of discrimination, focused more on Islam, had emerged and become more prominent.

The newer form of discrimination, as seen in Phillips’ comments, takes the form of an overarching suspicion of Islam. Phillips assertion that Muslims represent a ‘nation within a nation’ infers that Muslims in Britain may have conflicting loyalties, and it is both emblematic and enabling of this type of discrimination. Our research suggests that now, as a result of modern social norms, discrimination is often unspoken. This passage during one of the interviews depicts this sentiment particularly clearly:

Anisa: Sometimes you feel like on the inside people are thinking that … they’ll never say it but on the inside.

Shamea: So, we’ll never be comfortable but…

Interviewer: Thinking what?

Anisa: Feeling kind of wary of you…‘Cause obviously you look different…and no one will say it to you…but people who do feel uncomfortable by you won’t ever go to you and …

Additionally, many respondents recalled how when in public, upon noticing their beard, hijab or other identifying dress, non-Muslims had diverted their course away from them or avoided sitting next to them on public transport, even when it was the only seat left.

These Conservative suspensions quickly follow the December launch of an inquiry into Islamophobia and other prejudices in the party. You would imagine that these suspensions will serve to put greater pressure on the inquiry to find out why the party is failing to make it clear to their members, prospective and current elected representatives that these views are unacceptable and what processes would need to be put forward to assure the British Muslim population of Conservative credibility on this issue. On the other hand, it will be interesting to see how the Labour party and its new leadership approach Phillips’ case, given Phillips’ high-profile and the well-documented accusations of anti-Semitism within the party ranks. Expelling Phillips would send a message that the party does not stand behind or legitimise the sentiments about Islam that he promotes, but what our research shows is that to challenge the Islamophobia experienced everyday by British Muslims the parties need to do more than simply cast out the worst perpetrators. What is needed is a frank, public discussion about the illegitimacy of people’s suspicions of Islam and for that to be backed up by the policies of the parties of government in this country.

Note: The Labour Party’s Letter notifying Trevor Phillips and his reply have now been published by the Policy Exchange. This is available to download at: https://policyexchange.org.uk/publication/the-trial-the-strange-case-of-trevor-phillips/ . Phillips and his supporters have since contended that the timing of the suspension pending investigation, some four years after some of the comments were first made, suggests maliciousness on the part of party officials.

When transnational means local and local means transnational: The need for sociality in anti-social times by Katarina Zajacova

By k.anand.14, on 24 August 2020

Within policy circles, transnational practices amongst migrants have sometimes been criticised for acting as a barrier to processes of effective ‘integration’ in a local community of settlement. The continuation of an active engagement, the maintenance of social networks and regular interactions with communities in countries of origin has sometimes been viewed with suspicion by Western states (Snel, Engberson and Leerkes, 2006).In the context of the current COVID-19 crisis, these transnational practices of social engagement – through Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, Facetime, Viber or a phone call – have become as much a way of connecting to your friend at the bottom of the road, or your mum in a neighbouring town, as your relatives overseas. Suddenly, the physical distance of thousands of miles away has become the same as the distance across the town and it is used by everyone.

Despite the sharp increase of virtual communication, isolation has recently become the word of the day.Whether referring to the physical self-isolation, or the impact of isolation from the imposed social distancing and the lock-downs on many peoples’ mental health across all communities.As with all crises, these extraordinary circumstances are no exception, they shine the light on the existing societal structures and they impact every social group in a different way, usually hitting those already vulnerable groups the hardest.

Our recent project on British Bengali communities in London and Birmingham investigated the value and purpose of transnational practices and their relationship to experiences of citizenship, and many of the findings speak directly to the ‘new normal’ that we find ourselves in. One of the issues raised by the project was the isolation of older people within the Bengali community. Community organisations have traditionally played a fundamental role in people’s lives to combat isolation that first generation migrants might face, and we found that they played multiple roles in connecting people, providing advice and, for many, functioned as an important site of sociality. As one of our research participant’s (Shabed) explains, the examples of such support and sociality varied from community organisations offering working men an opportunity to socialise after work and to gain additional qualifications, to supporting women who often did not work, to overcome the language barrier and to enable them to meet other people. Shabed first talks about the men: ‘everyone would finish school…., go to work in restaurants and, you know, they thought there needed to be something done for them to socialise. So they set up a club called the Bangladeshi Working Men’s Club in Newtown. So they did this food hygiene course, they were giving out certificates’. He then gives an example of support community organisations provided for women: ‘We do a lot of work with Bangladeshi women and I’m sure you’ve seen it, maybe small things, but it makes a huge difference to their quality of life.’ When asked to explain how it makes difference to women’s quality of life, he offers an interesting insight: ‘…you know, like they come here, make friends, you know, if there’s some elderly ladies who… you know, if they weren’t here they wouldn’t be exercising, they wouldn’t be socialising, they’d just be in their family unit.’

A lack of funding and gradual closures of physical centres has been happening for some time and the opposition towards such closures received little to no attention from the Government. But it wasn’t just the older generation that was affected. We also found a range of concerns emanating from the closure of youth clubs, particularly in East London. It is well known that closures of local community centres fragment social groups and isolates already vulnerable individuals and as this virus crisis is showing us, this kind of local physical support is absolutely essential for a healthy and functional society to develop a network of resources that individuals can lean on during difficult times such as these. The COVID-19 crisis will make it even more difficult for these organisations to continue to exist or to recover and re-establish themselves after the lockdown is over, when they may be needed most. As for many vulnerable individuals, organisations and communities, COVID -19 has exacerbated a funding crisis that post-2010 austerity introduced.

Equally, in relation to our project, the transnational practices that our participants engage in, have become a common way of dealing with the absence of the kind of physical sociality that the local community centres would have offered. What this crisis highlighted is that migrant’s active engagement in transnational /virtual communication has not only made these communities resilient, robust and resourceful but also, it is a way of creating local community in ones living room, an important coping strategy during these unprecedented times. As expressed by our research participants, such as Chamela, the ability to regularly communicate with family back in Bangladesh has been incredibly important and clearly has a positive impact on people’s mental health and general wellbeing:‘I miss my family, I miss my country. So, connecting with them via Viber, telephone, Skype, we feel like we are connected. We are not missing them, somewhere it is mental satisfaction.’ The local and transnational communities are completely intertwined. As one of our other participants, Mehmuda, says: ‘[in Viber, WhatsApp, FaceTime] I see them and I talk to them, so it is not me being there, but it’s a lot like that, so that helps, definitely.’

Transnational practices, far from preventing people from ‘integrating’ locally, instead enable both local and transnational communities to support each other. In fact, our research shows that transnational practices can function as means through which local integration occurs. But, importantly, we know that ethnic minority communities have been much harder hit by Covid-19 than the rest of the population. And not only do resources need to be directed towards better understanding the structural inequality that has produced this uneven effect. But also investment will still need to be found for the community centres and youth clubs in East London and Birmingham that were already so neglected, if those vulnerable sections of the British Bengali community are to receive the help and support they need in the difficult post-lockdown recovery.

Home Office discretion, ‘culture of cruelty’ and the English Language Test by Kusha Anand

By k.anand.14, on 24 August 2020

Since 2011, large numbers of immigrants have had to pass English language tests to renew their visas in the UK. The Home Office says that between 2011 and 2014, tens of thousands of immigrants — particularly students but also business people outside the EU — unlawfully paid proxies to take the Toeic (Test of English for International Communication) test for them. More than 30,000 foreign students, including Bangladeshis, accused of cheating on their English language tests, had their visas revoked between 2014 and 2016. They were targeted after an investigation by the BBC’s Panorama 2014 exposed systematic cheating at some colleges where candidates sat the Toeic. The Home Office asked the US company providing the test, Educational Testing Services (ETS), to re-examine all 58,458 tests that had been taken in the UK between 2011 and 2014. They relied on the evidence from the ETS when it accused almost 34,000 students of cheating in English language tests in 2015. The evidence provided by ETS to the Home Office is questionable, and it contains ‘fundamental flaws and frailties’ that according to court should make it impossible to take decisions based on this evidence alone. The Home Office has disregarded huge numbers of anomalies and the lack of proof that links each recording to the person who sat the test. In fact, they rushed to penalise students without establishing whether ETS was involved in fraud or if it had reliable evidence of people cheating. As with the Windrush scandal, the Home Office has not done enough to identify the innocent and vulnerable people who have been affected. Some were detained in removal centres, lost their jobs and were left homeless as a result, even though they were in the country legally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image Source: Unsplash

Hostile environment and Toeic ‘Fiasco’: The Home Office’s flawed reaction to a systemic failure by a private company has had a detrimental impact on the lives of over 50,000 overseas students the Home Office accused of cheating. Thousands of Bangladeshi students have been removed from the UK as a result of the accusation and hundreds have spent long stretches in detention, large numbers of whom say they were wrongly accused with more than 300 cases pending in the court of appeal as hundreds attempt to clear their names. Others continued and worked anxiously to clear their names, knowing that going home with such a disgrace hanging over them would have destroyed their reputations and barred them from jobs – and in some cases, derailed their familial relationships.

Detention, dignity and justice awaited: Some students were indicted of cheating at the test in a city or place they have never visited, or of taking the test on a date on which they did not take it. There are also students accused of deception who have never taken the test. The Bangladeshi students (and many others) were served with a section 10 Removal Notice (Home Office instruction to leave the UK immediately) and were told that they had no right to appeal or that they could appeal only if they left the UK. They were also forced to spend large amounts of money on legal procedures to defend themselves from the false allegation or to manage all the legal procedures by themselves if they could not afford to pay a lawyer. Despite all the money spent and the difficulties encountered in trying to prove their innocence, Most of the students and other victims are still waiting for justice and fairness. In some court cases, the Home Office has also failed to give any evidence of its allegations.

Psycho-social impact: Many of those fighting immigration appeals are stripped not only of the right to study but also to work, to rent accommodation, to drive, have a bank account or use the National Health Service (NHS). The approach has also blocked the most direct avenues for students to challenge Home Office rulings. Legal aid has been withdrawn from nearly all immigration cases. Stress impacts on health in a variety of ways and a number of the students have started suffering from heart troubles, hyperthyroidism, and other diseases. Some even have suicidal thoughts. A deep issue today for immigrants is that they experience epistemic injustice as well as bear a deep imprint of British domination and hegemony.

A National Audit Office investigation into the Home Office response to reports of cheating in English language tests concluded in 2019 that some people may have been wrongly accused and unfairly removed from the UK. To date, the Home Office has not taken any further steps to support individuals who are affected by its actions. Students who have won their cases are however still being denied access to UK education institutions, with their immigration records seen as a threat to the institution’s licence. The ‘knock-on effect’ has derailed careers and long-term aspirations. It has pushed people out of work and into poverty and debt.

The Home Office is aware of the fact that they have acted against innocent people however it has not established a clear mechanism for them to raise concerns outside of the appeals process. This is due to ‘both punitive public policy and divisive public debate’ in the UK and, as a result, immigrants have once again become the scapegoats.

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24 August 2020

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