reviewed by Sadia Habib
Muslims, Schooling & The Question of Self-Segregation by Dr Shamim Miah (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
Muslims and education are frequently ‘hot topics’ in media and political discourses. Academics have highlighted how pessimistic media and political rhetoric about segregated ghettoes and cultural clashes lack empirical evidence; when statistics and claims, even those presented by academics and well-intentioned government organisations, are properly scrutinised it is found that selective evidence is being utilised to set a sensationalist agenda (Finney and Simpson, 2009). Similarly Muslims, Schooling & The Question of Self-Segregation by Shamim Miah deconstructs simplistic narratives regarding the ‘self-segregation’ of Muslims by illustrating the complexities of contemporary multicultural belongings from the perspectives of engaged and active Muslim parents and students. It is particularly helpful and fair that the author has sought to (re)present the voices of parents and students who are often marginalised and neglected in media, political and policy discourses. I would argue that Muslim parents and students are usually ‘constructed’, and simultaneously judged, by public discourses as holding certain beliefs and as indulging in certain practices; this book addresses the imbalance and lack of representation/voices of marginalised British citizens by giving us empirical evidences about Muslim communities and their views and practices regarding integration and schooling.
Part One of the book examines key historical events, such as the 7/7 bombings, that influenced policy discourses. These are clearly and succinctly outlined for us to understand how these led to 1) current socio-political themes promoting assimilation through the Fundamental British Values agenda, 2) proposed policies of Counter Terrorism and Security. The highly accessible and engaging book offers a valuable critique of contemporary political and policy discourses of British identity, particularly the impact upon British Muslims who are constructed as the terrifying Other. The author also examines how debates on housing and spatial segregation influenced ‘community cohesion’ narratives, and resulted in coercing schools to merge with other local schools to unsuccessfully enforce ‘integration’. Thus Part One of the book introduces key policies and practices relevant to contemporary thinking on multicultural British society.
Part Two of the book draws focus on empirical research conducted in cities containing large Muslim communities. We learn about Muslim students’ perspectives on integration, segregation and belonging to Britain, as well as about the parental choices on residence and neighbourhood. Muslim students from faith schools, as well as their parents, are presented as integrating and integrated through their faith. The connections between social class, integration and belonging show how Muslim parents experience poverty and inequalities, and the consequences of their lived experiences on school choices for their children. The author places emphasis on the importance of taking into account how intersectionalities work when it comes to understanding Muslim students and schooling experiences and options.
The book significantly shows that ‘Britishness’, ‘integration’ and ‘segregation’ are complex and contested notions frequently misunderstood or distorted in public discourses. The timely book supports ideas prevalent in the literature on multicultural Britishness. Firstly, that Britishness is interconnected with broad concepts of citizenship, national identity and multiculturalism, just as the notions of borders and diaspora cannot be discussed without reference to one another (Brah, 1996). The book supports arguments that terms like multiculturalism, Britishness and citizenship are contested and contingent on context for meaning, requiring regular critical analysis that deconstructs taken for granted descriptions and assumptions (Ward, 2004, Faulks, 2006, McGhee, 2008, Haste, 2010). Following Edward Said’s Orientalism (Said, 2003), the author interrogates master narratives that construct the frequently demonised and pathologised Muslim Other and provides the reader with much needed counter-narratives. Muslims, Schooling & The Question of Self-Segregation is very useful research that deconstructs taken for granted societal assumptions, labels and notions by providing up-to-date critical analysis of policies and practices regarding community cohesion and modern multicultural society. This is an important core text for academics and policymakers working on topics of multiculturalism, integration, British Muslim identity and social justice/equality. The author’s academic arguments and grassroots insights provide robust and detailed explanations of British Muslim perspectives on education and British identity.
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