Despite the perception of westernised, professional British Asians moving further away from the culture of their parents and the sub-continent, a surprising new cultural trend has emerged. Even though the UK has one of the world’s highest numbers of inter-racial marriages, a new study has found that an increasing number of integrated and successful young British Asians in their late 20s and 30s are making the decision not to settle down with white partners.
Such findings were the subject of a television documentary—Called I Won’t Marry White—shown earlier this week on Channel 4. The half-hour documentary examined this recent phenomenon and its implications for the next generation.
Ninder Billing, the executive producer of Class Films, the film-making company behind the documentary, told The Indian Express: “What made this trend stand out was the fact that this was not merely looking at the Asian stereotypes of certain communities, for instance in Bradford where an Asian guy has lived all his life but would only marry a girl of his own community there or from back home in India and Pakistan. Instead, this trend was looking at the integrated professional Asians who have achieved a fair level of success and were socially more at home in a white British environment. But while they may be socially integrated, there is a growing trend for them to decide against continuing relationships with white partners and start to find Asian ones instead.” Over 50 British Asians were interviewed for the programme and all of them were selected on the basis that they had not dated Asians previously but were now rethinking the situation.
While the documentary focussed on three case studies in detail, plus an additional 20 mini-interviews, they were embodying a wider cross-section of the community. One was Lena Shah in her late 20s, who works in retail management, and lives alone in London, the other two young men were both living at home with their families. Peter Loht, of Punjabi descent, was raised in Glasgow where he was the only Asian face in the area while Jass Patel’s less conventional career of a musician for a rock band appeared to make it harder for him to interest Asian women.
The trend has also identified the commercial impact. For instance, bars and clubs have sprung up for young British Asians. Even dating agencies are now wanting to tap into the sector that targets Asians.
Said producer and director Bindu Mathur: “Although we could see the desire from their families for them to marry Asians, it became clear that the preference for an Asian partner was coming from the people themselves.”
Mathur, who grew up in Vancouver, Canada, before moving to Britain 10 years ago, added: “Where I was raised in Vancouver, we were the only Asian family on the block and I was the only Asian child at school. So we always looked to British Asians for cultural integration as they seemed to be au fait with both cultures. Even now there is a tension between reconciling what they want from this society alongside their cultural background. It is as though the 20s are the time to rebel when they fit into the society that they see, whereas in their 30s they want to settle down and retain the values that they were raised with.”
Alan Travis and Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian (London), Nov. 30
Muslims in Britain want greater recognition of their faith with the introduction of Islamic law for civil cases and time off for prayers during the working day, but are equally committed to greater participation in British life.
A special Guardian/ICM poll based on a survey of 500 British Muslims found that a clear majority want Islamic law introduced into this country in civil cases relating to their own community. Some 61% wanted Islamic courts—operating on sharia principles—“so long as the penalties did not contravene British law”.
Many civil cases in this country deal with family disputes such as divorce, custody and inheritance.
The poll also found a high level of religious observance with just over half saying they pray five times a day, every day—although women are shown to be more devout than men. The poll reveals that 88% want to see schools and workplaces in Britain accommodating Muslim prayer times as part of their normal working day.
Alongside these signs of a desire for more recognition of their religion, however, the poll suggests that the Muslim community is perhaps more integrated than many might imagine, with 62% saying they number “a lot or quite a few” non-Muslim people among their closest friends and 35% saying they would consider marrying someone who was not a Muslim.
There is also a strong appetite within the Muslim community to become a closer part of British life, with 40% saying they need to do more to integrate into mainstream British culture.
The ICM poll was commissioned as part of a groundbreaking Guardian exercise to gauge the mood of Britain’s younger Muslim generation. In addition to the poll, 103 young Muslims were brought together to discuss the most important issues facing their future, from identity and integration to the war on terror.
The Guardian/ICM poll confirms that political support for Labour has halved since the 2001 general election and the Liberal Democrats have emerged as the leading political party within the Muslim community.
The role of Britain in the Iraq war and Tony Blair’s strong support for the war on terror which is widely seen by the Muslim community to be an attack on Islam, has undoubtedly played a part in eroding Labour’s support among British Muslims. In the 2001 general election it is believed that 75% of those who voted backed Labour.
The voting intention figures in this poll show that support in the Muslim community for the government is slipping away fast. In March, ICM recorded Labour support at 38% and it has now fallen a further six points to 32% of Muslim voters.
This is nine points behind the Liberal Democrats who now enjoy the support of 41% of Muslim voters. Conservative support has also fallen in the last six months from 25% to 16%.
Other parties enjoy the support of 10% of British Muslim voters with 4% going to the Greens and 4% to George Galloway’s Respect party.
The problem for the Liberal Democrats is that the poll shows turnout among the Muslim community is likely to be far lower than the general electorate with only 47% saying they “always or nearly always vote” compared with 68% of all voters.
ICM interviewed a random sample of 500 Muslim people by telephone between November 15-21 2004. The data has not been weighted because there is no authoritative source of demographic information on the Muslim population. ICM abides by the rules of the British Polling Council.