Leicester, an industrial city in central England, is home to the most conservative Islamic population anywhere in Europe, according to American diplomatic cables that were obtained and recently released by the website, Wikileaks. Leicester is also on track to become the first majority non-white city in British history.
The politically incorrect observation was made by a senior US State Department official who visited the city as part of an effort to engage Muslim communities in Europe. It reflects how Leicester's long-ballyhooed experiment with multiculturalism is being challenged by Muslim separatism and assertiveness.
A leaked diplomatic cable recounts the October 2007 visit of Farah Pandith, the US State Department's Senior Advisor for Muslim Engagement, to Leicester, a mid-sized city some 70 minutes north of London. The stated purpose of the visit was for the US government to find ways to help Britain "update and improve" its approach to stopping "home-grown" Islamic extremists. The document says Pandith found the lack of integration of the Muslim community in Leicester to be "striking."
The cable says, among other observations, Pandith was shocked to find "girls as young as four years old were completely covered." The document continues: "At a local book store, texts… seemed designed to segregate Muslims from their wider community, urging women to cover themselves and remain in their homes, playing up the differences between Islam and other religions, seeking to isolate Muslims from community, and feeding hate of Jews to the young."
The cable also recounts a discussion Pandith had with religious and community leaders at an Ahmadiyya [an Asian Islamic sect] mosque: "Yaqub Khan, General Secretary of a local organization called the Pakistan Association, insisted that he had to teach young people in Urdu. When Pandith challenged him as to why he would use Urdu with children who were growing up with English as their first language, Khan insisted that there were no good books on the Koran in English."
After World War II, the British government encouraged immigration to the country to alleviate an economic crisis, and that trend accelerated dramatically in recent years due to left-wing immigration policies seeking to foster multiculturalism. A new study by the think-tank Migration Watch UK shows that during the thirteen years that the last Labour government was in power (1997-2010), immigrants arrived in Britain at a rate of almost one a minute.
A fair number of those immigrants settled in Leicester -- once known as a center for manufacturing shoes and textiles -- where immigrant groups now make up nearly half that city's total population of 280,000. Many of the immigrants are of South Asian origin; the city is now known for its many Hindu, Sikh and Muslim places of worship.
The sharp rise in Muslim immigration, however, is upsetting Leicester's ethnic balance, and casting doubt upon the city's multicultural future. After Christians and Hindus, Muslims are the third-largest faith group in Leicester. The city's Muslim population is estimated at between 11% and 14% (or somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 Muslims), which is well above the percentage (4.6) of Muslims in Britain as a whole. The Muslim population in Leicester is made up mainly of Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, as well as Turks, Somalis, Kenyans and Ugandans. According to the Ummah Forum, "you'd really like Leicester if you want to be around a large population of Muslims."
Muslim immigration has led to the proliferation of mosques in Leicester, which now has more than 200 mosques and madrassas [Islamic religious schools]. The city is also home to several mega-mosques. The Leicester Central Mosque complex has a capacity for nearly 3,000 worshippers. It also has a school, a community hall, a residence hall for imams, a mortuary and a guest house. The huge Masjid Umar mosque has four towering minarets and a grand dome that displays Arabic calligraphy from the Koran.
The most influential Muslim in Leicester is Shaykh Abu Yusuf Riyadh-ul-Haq, a hard-line Muslim cleric who runs the Al Kawthar Academy, an Islamic school in the city. Ul-Haq, 40, is also the leader of a new generation of "home-grown" British Islamists who loathe Western values, support armed jihad and preach contempt for Christians, Jews and Hindus.
Ul-Haq, who preaches in mosques across Britain, outlaws television and music, and says football is "a cancer that has infected our youth." He is appalled by young women who want to get educated and go to university. He regularly praises the work of the Taliban and their attacks against British troops in Afghanistan.
In a typical sermon entitled "Imitating the Disbelievers," ul-Haq warns British Muslims of the danger of being corrupted by the "evil influence" of Western culture. He also heaps scorn on Muslims who say they are "proud to be British," and argues that friendship with a Christian or a Jew makes "a mockery of Allah's religion." Ul-Haq sermons are broadcast on Radio Ramadhan Leicester in Urdu, Gujarati, Punjabi, Bengali, Somali, Arabic and English.
Other Islamic separatists have been linked to the University of Leicester, according to the recent report, "Radical Islam on UK Campuses."
In 2002, British police initiated a crackdown on supporters of Osama bin Laden's terror network in Leicester. A police swoop on predominantly Muslim areas of the city led to the arrest of eight Islamic jihadists, who were accused of belonging to al-Qaeda and conspiring to raise money to fund terrorism.
Meanwhile, Leicester has the fourth-highest rate of unemployment in Britain. The city also has very high rates of illiteracy, and ranks as one of the worst five municipalities in England for education.
An April 2010 survey titled "Muslims in Leicester" says that Muslims in the city are especially prone to underachievement and unemployment. The report says the inner city Spinney Hills neighbourhood, which has the highest percentage of Muslims in the city, is also the ward with the lowest rate of full-time employment, the highest rate of unemployment, the highest level of economic inactivity, the highest percentage of "no qualifications" for work and the highest level of social housing.
Muslims are now demanding political power within the Leicester city council, as well as the freedom to wear their religious dress at work and to have halal food in the city hospitals. They are also seeking their own faith-based schools.
One such school, the Leicester Islamic Academy -- where female students wear the full-length dress and head-covering and the boys wear black robes and skullcaps -- has been accused by the British government of promoting Islamic separatism. Another state-run Islamic school in Leicester, the Madani High School, has run afoul of government regulators for reneging on its promise that 10% of its pupils would be non-Muslim. A government official has warned that Britain is "sleepwalking to segregation." He said: "Segregation is now so extreme in some schools that there is not much farther it can go. It does not help to prepare children in these schools for the real world."
The British government has tried -- unsuccessfully -- to reverse the tide of Islamic separatism in Leicester. In June 2008, for example, the city hosted the first in a series of road shows designed to tackle the problem of honour-based violence. Leicester has been plagued by forced marriages, kidnappings, physical and mental abuse of women, and other honour-based violence crimes against those who have not, according to family and local community members, conformed to religious or cultural expectations.
Muslim assertiveness is also turning Leicester into a lightening rod for those who oppose radical Islam. In October 2010, for example, Leicester was the site of a demonstration organized by the English Defense League, a far-right group which emerged after Muslim extremists disrupted a homecoming parade in Luton in March 2009 for British soldiers returning from Iraq. EDL protesters in Leicester carried banners with slogans such as, "Sharia laws will destroy Britain and all our British values."
Alluding to the transformation of cities like Leicester, Michael Nazir-Ali, a bishop of the Church of England, has lamented that Islamic extremists have turned parts of Britain into no-go areas for non-Muslims. Lashing out at the spread of religious separatism and the damage caused by the doctrine of multiculturalism, Nazir-Ali warned against the acceptance of Islamic Sharia law in Britain, and added that amplified calls to prayer from mosques are imposing an Islamic character on many British towns and cities.
It is a rather strange irony that Leicester's motto is Semper Eadem: "Always the Same."