Community Cohesion – Beyond Grievance by Rakib Ehsan

Rakib Ehsan’s book Beyond Grievance highlights the growing tensions between liberal cosmopolitanism and patriotic faith-based conservatism in Britain’s ethnic-minority communities. It argues that the liberal-left is disregarding the traditional attachments to faith, family, and flag in these communities, and advocates for a robust civic patriotism rooted in family, security, and equality of opportunity. The book presents a case for an inclusive ‘social-justice traditionalism’ and criticises the toxic mixture of tribal identity politics and radical cultural liberalism on the modern British Left. Ehsan emphasises the importance of a stable family unit and the vital role of faith across diverse communities. The book also discusses the impact of American-style racial identity politics in the UK and the implications of this for minority communities. Published in June 2023, it provides a much-needed corrective to what the author sees as the negative effects of certain political and cultural trends on ethnic-minority communities in Britain.

Rakib Ehsan is a British political scientist and commentator with expertise in social cohesion, integration, and identity politics. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and International Relations from Royal Holloway, University of London. Ehsan is known for his research on ethnic-minority communities in Britain, particularly focusing on the role of culture, faith, and patriotism. His background knowledge and expertise are reflected in his book, which delves into the dynamics of liberal cosmopolitanism and patriotic faith-based conservatism within these communities.

The main themes of Beyond Grievance include:

  • Tensions between Liberal Cosmopolitanism and Patriotic Faith-Based Conservatism: The book surveys the growing tensions between these two ideologies within Britain’s ethnic-minority communities, offering a nuanced analysis of their impact on social cohesion and integration.
  • Civic Patriotism and Social-Justice Traditionalism: Rakib advocates for a robust civic patriotism rooted in family, security, and equality of opportunity, presenting a case for an inclusive ‘social-justice traditionalism’ as a way to address the challenges faced by these communities.
  • Impact of American-Style Racial Identity Politics: The book discusses the implications of American-style racial identity politics in the UK and its effects on minority communities, providing a critical examination of its influence.

Ehsan’s focus is on the complex interplay between political ideologies, cultural dynamics, and community relations within the context of Britain’s ethnic-minority communities. Ehsan’s work calls for a comprehensive approach to improve community cohesion in the UK, focusing on better integration policies, addressing the challenges posed by immigration and asylum systems, and fostering a sense of shared identity and purpose among diverse communities.

For example, in his report, Our Society: Integrating Britain’s Communities, Ehsan highlights the crucial role of family and faith in promoting a cohesive society in the UK. While the report specifically does not detail the individual roles of family and faith, it implies their significance through the discussion on the importance of social cohesion, integration, and shared values, which are often a blind spot for politicians and policymakers on both the Left and the Right of the political spectrum:

Weakening of Traditional Faith-Based Authority: Ehsan notes that one of the factors contributing to social disorders in Leicester was the weakening of traditional faith-based authority. This observation suggests that strong faith-based institutions and leaders, who have traditionally played a vital role in promoting social cohesion, by fostering a sense of community, shared values, and mutual respect among different ethnic and religious groups, may no longer be well positioned to play this role given the shift in generational attitudes and expectations that are now reaching maturity.

Value of Intercultural Knowledge Exchange and Interfaith Dialogue: Ehsan advocates for a ‘liberal-conservative compromise’ on social cohesion, which values both intercultural knowledge exchange and interfaith dialogue. This approach underscores the importance of understanding and respecting different cultures and religious beliefs, suggesting that faith communities can act as bridges in a diverse society, promoting understanding and reducing tensions.

Shared Liberal Democratic Values: Ehsan emphasises that diversity can only be a strength if it is united by shared liberal democratic values, bonds of mutual understanding, and common attachments to civic institutions. While not explicitly mentioning family, this principle implies that families—along with faith communities—play a critical role in instilling these values, fostering mutual understanding, and encouraging attachments to wider community and civic institutions.

Integration into a Common Set of Classically British Values: Ehsan calls for the integration of diverse communities into a common set of classically British values, such as equality of opportunity, respect for the rule of law, appreciation of democratic choice, and acceptance of personal responsibility. Families and faith communities are fundamental in teaching and reinforcing these values, Rakib argues, and are the primary forms by which a cohesive and integrated society can be manifested.

While the report focuses broadly on social cohesion and integration strategies, the underlying themes suggest that family and faith are integral to nurturing a cohesive society. They do so by supporting the transmission of shared values, facilitating intercultural and interfaith understanding, and strengthening community bonds.

There are a couple of gaps in Ehsan’s discussion that need to be taken forward in future work, if this hypothesis is to be fully developed and crafted into a working set of policy principles. These include:

  • A stronger critique of the Conservative government’s policies since 2010, with a focus on the Austerity policies that limited support for families, such as the two-child limit and the decimation of the Sure Start programme.
  • A stronger critique of the antagonistic rhetoric of immigration control by the Conservative government, which was focussed on creating a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants, while simultaneously loosening controls over economic migration, for which the consequences of such rapid social change on public planning and infrastructure support was never discussed.
  • A stronger critique of successive governments since the 1980s who have adopted a laissez-faire approach to housing, employment, education and the regulation of many other social and public services. This has exacerbated social inequality and embedded high levels of social insecurity that primality undermines the security of families who lack social assets.
  • A lack of detailed analysis of the changing role of media, and the manner in which the narrowing of media ownership, the globalisation of media platforms, and the deregulation of content providers, such as newspapers and radio stations, are undermining the social and democratic legitimacy of local and minority media.

Ehsan indirectly touches upon the role of media in relation to the breakdown of community cohesion in the UK, particularly through the lens of the Leicester disorders. The key points related to media include:

Inflammatory Disinformation on Social Media: Ehsan notes that the spread of inflammatory disinformation across social media platforms was one of the contributing factors to the Leicester disorders. This suggests that Ehsan views the unchecked dissemination of misleading or false information on social media as a significant threat to community cohesion, potentially exacerbating tensions between different ethnic and religious communities.

Media’s Role in the Importation of Communalistic Ideologies: Although not explicitly mentioned, the discussion around the importation of communalistic ideologies, sectarian divides, and territorial disputes from other parts of the world implies a critique of how media—both social and possibly traditional—can play a role in bringing international disputes into the local context, undermining community cohesion in more diverse parts of Britain.

Exacerbation by Local and National Politicians: Ehsan notes that the problem of declining community cohesion has been exacerbated by local and national politicians who pander to narrow group-based interests. While not directly about media, this point suggests that media coverage of political actions and statements could further inflame tensions, especially when politicians use media platforms to exploit or highlight divisive issues for political gain.

Need for Shared Liberal Democratic Values: Ehsan concludes that diversity is only a strength if it is tied together by shared liberal democratic values, bonds of mutual understanding, and common attachments to civic institutions. This implies a role for the media in promoting these values, suggesting that responsible media coverage and dialogue could help bridge divides and foster mutual understanding.

Ehsan’s insights highlight the complex role of media in fostering community cohesion, pointing to the need for responsible reporting and the mitigation of disinformation to maintain and strengthen social bonds among diverse communities in the UK. The question, going forward and building on this discussion, is, what changes do we need to bring about to ensure that media regulation is prioritised towards the more purposeful development of a pluralistic media economy that supports families and communities in an open, liberal and socially democratic society?

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