Multicultural Britain: Conviviality
#ShareRamadan with Neighbours, Colleagues and Friends
The political pessimism about multiculturalism is evident in announcements of its death that keep on coming nearly a decade after Gilroy (2005:1) put forth who was to blame: “the murderous culprits responsible for its demise are institutional indifference and political resentment”. The call to solely promote ‘British’ values also smacks of promoting patriotism above diversity in the rhetoric of some politicians, whilst others would argue that British values actually incorporate diversity.
Advocates of assimilation are frequently defied by what is happening on a daily basis in modern Britain, where multiculturalism is alive, well and healthy. Mainstream media coverage of positive stories about successful integration amongst British multicultural society is so sparse that it is painful to purchase the ‘papers, or peruse online new sites. When it comes to reporting on issues concerning ethnic minority communities, there is doom and gloom.
Yet in spite of the politicians and the mainstream media falling short in highlighting examples of how British people experience multiculturalism amongst their friends, colleagues and family, there are glimpses of good that prove that difference and diversity are respected. There is much going on that contradicts this spiel that multiculturalism has failed. Here comes in social media democracy that allows the spread of stories illustrating the significance of small-scale social interaction between diverse Britons of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds. One such example of Gilroy’s concept of conviviality in action is #ShareRamadan, which shows British people engaging in social practices that are beyond the confines of giving lip-service to tolerance and civility.
Ramadan 2014 is part-way through, and an interesting project aiming to #ShareRamadan with non-Muslims has been trending on social media. Those taking part in #ShareRamadan have been providing video logs of the experience of the fasts that British Muslims are experiencing this lunar year. Non-Muslims are getting to know first-hand how it feels to not eat or drink in daylight hours, and have been waking up at Suhoor time to eat a pre-dawn meal, and then breaking their fast with Muslim friends at sunset (around 9.40pm for most some parts of Britain). Throughout the world the lengths of the fasts vary according to the time of the Fajr and Maghrib prayers, with the fasts in Brazil and Australia being relatively short compared with Iceland and Britain. The Guardian online has provided a space for user-generated content where contributors from all around the world are sharing their photos and tales about Ramadan.
This exciting project reveals positive relationships in contemporary multicultural Britain, making a refreshing change from the usual onslaught of bad press against Muslims in Britain or against the modern multiculturalism. It cannot be doubted that representation of Islam and Muslims in the tabloids is frequently in relation to terrorism and extremism (Baker et al., 2013). The #ShareRamadan project started in Oldham, a place often maligned as ghettoised and segregated, or referred to in relation to “race riots”. The Oldham pioneers of this project aim to raise awareness about the experiences of the one who is fasting in Ramadan, as well as combat negative stereotypes and pre-judgements about Muslims and Ramadan. They are hoping the project will spread internationally allowing people everywhere to learn more about Ramadan. Those non-Muslims who have fasted for a day or more of have been uploading video diaries and photos to the #ShareRamadan Facebook page or Twitter page to relate their new experiences of this obligatory Islamic practice their friends and colleagues passionately partake in year after year. They have been invited to break their fast at their Muslim friends’ homes. Some of those who have attempted these fasts have further enriched their experience by attending the supererogatory prayers (tarawih) at the local mosques. For some, this has been the first time they may have visited a mosque. The much needed democracy of social media is a vehicle to promote the small-scale significances of social interaction between diverse individuals and communities.
There has been some coverage of #ShareRamadan in local media: the Manchester Evening News shared their story, and the local British Muslim Heritage Centre’s Radio Ramadan interviewed some of those involved with the initiative. Yet aside from some local coverage and social media updates about such stories of positive multicultural interactions, there has been no mainstream coverage of this. This is just one example of multiculture in action, and yet such stories are not shared enough with the general public. Agenda-setting by the major news channels means we only mainly hear about the doom and gloom of unwanted migrants and Muslims (and Muslim migrants!), with the rhetoric spewed out that they do not integrate, and they should assimilate.
Almost a decade ago, we were being warned about the need to be wary and cautious about “ways in which debates led by politicians and the media quickly become the norm and end up fuelling racism” against Muslims who are racialised and blamed for not integrating in British society (Bhavnani et al., 2005:49). Yet this racialisation of Muslims as clashing with values of white Christian Britain are salient in the political and media discourses of 2014, as evident in Michael Gove’s vindictive mission to demonise normative Muslims for practising their faith. Simpson and Finney (2009) cite one of Ruth Levitas’ approaches to understanding social inclusion:
…a “moral underclass discourse, which emphasises moral and cultural causes of poverty and is centrally concerned with the moral hazard of ‘dependency’… [It] tends to replay recurrent themes about ‘dangerous classes’ to focus on consequences of social exclusion for social order, and on particular groups, such as unemployed and potentially criminal young men, and lone parents, especially young never-married mothers’ (Levitas, 1999, p12) in (Simpson and Finney, 2009:34).
Simpson and Finney go on to argue that if Levitas had been writing a few years later, she may have included the Muslim community in the aforementioned list of people who are experience social stigma and labelling, especially by politicians, as belonging to a “moral underclass” (2009). Nandi and Platt (2014) also discuss how the failure of multicultural policies in creating social cohesion is often cited in relation to Muslim communities, yet the perceptions and experiences of other minority groups and the White majority are rarely investigated. In their research, they found that ethnic minority communities have strong affiliations to British identity, “stronger in fact than the White majority” (Nandi and Platt, 2014:41).
Mr Turner, one of the teachers trying out fasting for a week, has found that his Muslim students have appreciated these sincere attempts to getting to know their religious practices, and are seeing him in a new light. It is well-documented that British schools are not tackling the issue of diversity effectively (Maylor, 2010). Thus, though at an institutional level, diversity is not explored in depth, there surely are more examples in modern Britain of teachers like Mr Turner who are finding novel ways to understand student identity. On Radio Ramadan, Mr Turner explained that the giving up food was not the difficult part, but he felt very thirsty throughout the day. Moreover he acquired awareness about the essence of fasting which he felt improved his self-control of behaviour and thoughts. Before experiencing the fast he had assumed it was just about abstaining from food and drink, and after he saw there was much more to the religious practice.
Some have talked about how they have reflected on their lives and what they take for granted.
Others too have discussed how they have shown solidarity with their Muslim friends and learned more about self-control and contemplation through fasting.
Aside from the #ShareRamadan initiative, others have also decided to fast to share the experiences of their Muslim friends and colleagues. After fasting a whole day, my husband’s colleague had realised how difficult it was, and stated he would no longer tease his fasting Muslim colleagues by making a cheeky gesture of drinking and eating in front of them. In another workplace, a group of colleagues have used the opportunity to #ShareRamadan to raise money for charity.
Such processes of contact, cohabitation and interaction reflect how multiculture is an ordinary feature of Britain’s urban postcolonial cities (Gilroy, 2005). Further, such interactions point towards social beings engaging in social practices with genuine desires to learn about diverse ways of living, rather than merely being tolerant or civil towards diverse neighbours and colleagues.
Watch the video diaries on the #ShareRamadan Facebook page, and judge for yourself whether multicultural Britain is ghettoised, or whether the everyday lives of diverse peoples show how people want to get along and get to know one another, and share their social worlds.
BAKER, P., GABRIELATOS, C. & MCENERY, T. 2013. Discourse Analysis and Media Attitudes: The Representation of Islam in the British Press, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
BHAVNANI, R., MIRZA, H. S., MEETOO, V. & FOUNDATION, J. R. 2005. Tackling the Roots of Racism: Lessons for Success, Bristol, The Policy Press.
GILROY, P. 2005. Postcolonial Melancholia, New York, Columbia University Press.
MAYLOR, U. 2010. Notions of diversity, British identities and citizenship belonging. Race Ethnicity and Education, 13, 233-252.
NANDI, A. & PLATT, L. 2014. Britishness and identity assimilation among the UK’sminority and majority ethnic groups [Online]. ISER Working Paper Series, No. 2014-01. Available: https://www.econstor.eu/dspace/bitstream/10419/91705/1/776496069.pdf [Accessed 08/07/2014 2014].
SIMPSON, L. & FINNEY, N. 2009. Do ethnic minorities exclude themselves? Radical Statistics.