This week, a doctor from north London spoke to me about one of his patients, a young man of 20 years who has lived in the district of Hackney all his life. He was born here and grew up here. And he is a brilliant child, yet he speaks only very few rudimentary words of English. The language they speak at home and at school, Yiddish. Some may be appalled by the insularity of the community in which this young man was raised. But I admire him. In particular, I admire the resilience of a community that seeks to maintain its distinctive character, and acknowledges, rightly, that assimilation into the general culture would be the progressive dilution, and possible extinction, of his own mode of life. It is not a surprise to me that the ultra-orthodox are thriving, with high birth rates, and predictions that they will constitute the majority of the Jewish population in a period of 20 years. They refused assimilation.
It adds greatly to the richness and diversity of the ways in which life is apprehended that not everyone sees the world the same way. It is mind expanding to be challenged by those who engage in a different lifestyle. What a miserably gray-dimensions place it would be if the dominant model of middle-of-the-road liberal secular capitalism has become the only acceptable way of life.
Louise Casey published her report on the community this week. “As a nation, we have lost sight of our expectations on the integration and the lack of trust in him, to encourage him,” she said. We must do more to meet the challenge, “regressive, divisive and harmful cultural and religious practices”. As you can imagine, Nigel Farage has loved it. “Excellent report by Dame Louise Casey. A lot of what I’ve said for years,” he tweeted.
But why the integration of this self-evidently a good thing? Casey doesn’t say. She thinks that it is obvious that a community which keeps to itself and doesn’t want to mix with others is a scandal. Yet, the very nature of the community is that there’s a boundary between those who are for and those who are not. To speak of community without any sense of the difference between being in and out of evacuates the term of any possible meaning. Yes, these limits may allow, to various degrees, of the permeability, but the entire community is necessarily, and rightly, exclusive to some. That absolutely does not mean that the “us” and “them” must be antagonistically related.
The communities secretary, Sajid Javid, takes the same line as Casey. “For too long, far too many people in this country have lived parallel lives, refusing to integrate and not to embrace the common values that make Britain.” Javid is not the secretary of state for communities, it is the anti-secretary of state for communities. His approach reminds me of one of the great Star Trek villains: “We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.” The Borg have a hive mind, scouring the galaxy for people who think and live differently, to incorporate in their own way to be. This is the essence of the Casey/Javid point of view.
For them, the good of the community is a little more than a cultural trait of the color to homeopathic levels: a calendar of the exotic festivals, and some religious fancy dress, a Christmas tree here, a few candles of Hanukkah. It is all harmless fun, as long as its adherents don’t take it too seriously or deviate too much from the dominant cultural consciousness now dubbed the “shared values”. That is actually another way of saying that everything must be held to pay tribute to the true god: the economy. And those of us who refuse to bend the knee are labeled extremists.
Of course, the barely concealed target of Casey’s report is of Muslims. They are serial offenders in their resistance to the hegemony of the integration. They do not allow the Borg-like values of secular liberalism to corrode their distinctive character. They seek to maintain their religious beliefs and their way of life. They refuse all this non-sense about religion being a private matter. They have a firm position against the elimination of the diversity. And we are all infinitely richer for their resistance.