Sunday, July 17, 2005

Cricket Tests

Niall Ferguson wrote a typically provocative argument in today's Sunday Telegraph. His conclusions are in the main very sensible - whilst we continue to harbour and tolerate radicals, we encourage a hotbed of extremism to grow up in our communities. And he addresses one of the key points of the whole debate, which is that whilst there shouldn't be an Islamophobic or racist backlash (the two are very different) as a result of the bombings, the Muslim community needs to address the problems in its own communities.

However, when he writes that: Nor, I suspect, would he have failed the "cricket test" famously devised by Lord Tebbit as a test of cultural assimilation. An uncle says he was "proud to be British", he is on much shakier ground. As much as I personally dislike Norman Tebbit's personal politics, the basis of the "cricket test" was sound - if our immigrant communities take to supporting England ahead of India and Pakistan, then we are well on the way to a happily integrated society. One of the most pleasing things, in many ways, about the success of Amir Khan in last year's Olympics was that he came from a Muslim family who were very clearly proud to be British.

Where cricket is concerned, and especially in areas like Beeston and Bradford, however, the "cricket test" is being failed. Not dreadfully; most people will support England after the team of their ancestry. So, when England play Pakistan, the Muslims will bring Pakistan flags and the Hindus will bring England flags (please forgive the crude stereotyping by religion here). When England play India, the Muslims bring the England flags and the Hindus bring Indian ones. And when we're playing Australia, everyone is behind England. If they're barracking the Aussies, they're well on the way to being English!

Yet in 2001, cricket was undoubtedly one of the major factors in the violence of the race riots which spread right across the north of England. Sure, ahead of the election the BNP had been stirring a lot of shit which caused high tension. That's an undoubted background factor, but they stirred shit up in 2005, and in many places got a higher share of the vote, and as yet there haven't been eruptions of violence. Instead, the presence of the Pakistan cricket team, on their tour of England, helped draw strong dividing lines between the two communities. Antagonism over the support of the Pakistan team, I am sure, helped spark the violence - and indeed, crowd invasions and security problems dogged the entireity of the tour; England even conceding one of the matches in the light of crowd trouble.

There were problems on both sides, of that there is no doubt. Whites may have complained about Asian youths creating "no-go areas", but National Front demonstrations do little to help. The point here, however, is that we are far from winning the cricket test. Muslims in many areas (and not just deprived areas) still feel an allegiance to Pakistan ahead of their home country. Interest in your roots is natural; but I think it says something for the state of integration when the ties of loyalty still exist more strongly to a country many "fans" have never even visited. Whilst I may still believe the Muslim community needs to do more to sort out extremism in its midst, that's not the only thing that needs to be done. And, as strange as it may seem, it's trying to win the Tebbit test that's going to be the proof of the pudding.