Where does the myth of Muslim ‘no-go areas’ come from?
Stories about areas in the UK that are a ‘no-go’ for non-Muslims often circulate online. But are these valid concerns, or a moral panic grounded in a fear of difference?
One of the most bizarre and unfounded claims about the British Muslim community in recent years is a moral panic that is popular amongst politicians and media outlets: that there are British towns and city boroughs which are ‘no-go areas’ for White non-Muslims. These are places where non-Muslims are either barred from entering, don’t dare entering out of fear of attack, or simply aren’t accessible because of a lack of anything relating to “mainstream White Britain”.
Where does this narrative of the ‘no-go area’ come from? The notion of a ‘no-go area’ comes from a partial basis in factual observation that has become exaggerated into hyperbolic myth — combined, in some cases, with a sprinkling of conspiracy theory.
A number of different factors are often raised as ‘evidence’ of no-go areas, ranging from (often unproven or inflated) allegations of White people being attacked for being White and exaggerated concerns over vigilante ‘Sharia squads’, to simple observations of women in full-face veils and the building of new mosques — amusingly, a mosque that the Daily Mail condemned as having ‘taken over’ a Christian church was actually established in 1967 to rescue the building from being demolished and turned into a Tesco.
In other words, much of the ‘evidence’ of no-go areas is simply signs of growing multiculturalism. Even factors that non-Muslims may find strange, or even alarming — a recent Daily Mail article expressed shock at Muslim parents not allowing their children to take dance or music lessons — are not evidence of an area that is often limits to non-Muslims. They are simply a sign of cultural and religious difference.
At its core, fear of the ‘no-go area’ is a fear of multiculturalism, and a kneejerk reaction to the increased visibility of cultural, religious, and ethnic difference.
Most of the Islamophobic narratives that float about in British politics are rooted in this kind of fear. The prevalent but hugely inaccurate anxiety that Islam and Muslims represent everything that is opposed to British values and culture — such as violence, female oppression, or the rejection of modernity — provides the grounding for many far-right groups, and has unfortunately been absorbed into some more mainstream arguments about issues like Brexit and immigration.
Shockingly, a 2019 study found that 35% of Britons believe that Islam is “generally a threat to the British way of life”. A similar survey in 2018 found that nearly a third of pro-Brexit voters believe that Muslim immigration is “part of a plot to Islamicise Britain”. And, of course, 32% of respondents in another 2018 survey believed that there are “no-go areas in Britain where Sharia law dominates and non-Muslims cannot enter”.
Feelings of threat are a common response to change, especially when they relate to issues like national identity. It’s surprisingly easy to leap from observations of increasing cultural diversity to the conclusion that such change represents a sinister takeover of the UK and the collapse of British identity altogether, especially if one associates ‘Britishness’ with being White.
It’s this kind of thinking that undergirds a belief in the narrative of the ‘no-go area’. Everyday parts of Muslim life — mosques, Sharia councils, headscarves, halal meat — have taken on a reputation as something hostile, as symbols of the “Islamification” of the UK. Increasing cultural diversity is catastrophised and blown out of proportion, transforming areas with a thriving — yet still minority — Muslim population into something “like a different country and century”. Rather than a sign of multiculturalism, of different communities living in harmony, it becomes a sign of White Britain being pushed out.
Ultimately, the narrative of no-go areas reflects a fear over how well immigrants are integrating — or, more accurately, assimilating. This isn’t so much a genuine and important concern over Muslims being able to integrate into British life, thriving as individuals and contributing to British society, but a question of Muslims discarding their difference to fit a particular idea of ‘Britishness’.
There are, of course, minorities in every community who are hostile to British values and culture — however they are defined. But the idea that there are enclaves of hostile Muslims scattered about the UK is an overblown myth, widely dismissed by the people that supposedly live in them and those who have hilariously documented themselves ‘surviving’ trips there.
At JAN Trust, we empower Muslim women to help them integrate into British society, equipping with the knowledge and skills to become active citizens and thrive in the UK. However, we recognise that integration and assimilation are not the same thing, and that diversity is a strength, rather than something to be feared.