In the wake of the terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the days of violence that followed, global attention focused on the tensions that often occur when cultures meet in the West. Fox News commentator Steven Emerson went on-air to talk about the danger of radical Islamic sleeper cells in Western cities.
Emerson appeared Jan. 12 on the conservative network and declared Birmingham, England, a “totally Muslim city” where non-Muslims “don’t go,” and described these “no-go zones” as a country with in a country, where Sharia law is forcefully carried out without regard for or interference from governing bodies of the countries in question. Cue the Internet mockery.
While a quick glimpse of the demographics of Birmingham do paint a picture of a traditional English city with a large and growing Muslim population, they don’t describe a “caliphate” as host Jeanine Pirro suggested at the time.
For the record, in this context, describing these communities as a caliphate is to say that the laws of England are ignored in favor of Quranic laws, which are carried out by locals instead of the laws of the land. The latest census data from 2011 says that the city of Birmingham is about 22 percent Muslim, which is significantly less that the “complete” population of around 1.1 million people.
As the story went viral, people took digs at Emerson and Fox News — especially since the network continued to talk about these no-go zones throughout the day — on Twitter using the hashtag “#foxnewsfacts.” Even the British Prime Minister David Cameron took notice, “When I heard this, I choked on my porridge and I thought it must be April Fool’s Day. This guy is clearly a complete idiot,” he said.
The backlash to the story of “caliphates” in European cities was so deafening that Emerson not only apologized, but also pledged a donation to a Birmingham hospital. The mayor of Paris publicly stated her intention to explore the possibility of taking legal action against Fox News for “damaging the honor” of the city and Fox News apologized for not checking its facts before airing the story.
For a network that is regularly criticized for, and unapologetic about, making false and exaggerated claims, the reaction to the error and the networks subsequent acknowledgement was surprising, if not well overdue.
Aside from the questions of journalistic integrity, this story is really funny. I consider myself a bit of an Anglophile — I love British culture. I blame it on Harry Potter; I wanted to be prepared when I inevitably got my acceptance letter to Hogwarts. So I’m not sure what the average American knows about Birmingham, England, but I know it to be quintessentially British city.
Like many places over the past decade or two, Birmingham has experienced a large influx of immigrants, particularly from Muslim countries. The city of Birmingham, quite like Dearborn, Michigan, has a growing population of immigrants from Muslim nations.
But unlike Birmingham, which has a population of Muslim immigrants of around 22 percent Dearborn’s population is near 40 percent. Not only is Dearborn’s Muslim population large, it’s fairly old; many Middle Eastern families (including Christians) settled there in the mid-20th century during the area’s automotive manufacturing boom in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Now, the process of assimilation tends to take a few years. Sociological studies have shown that immigrants tend to hold on to their culture. The next generation, their children, can run the gamut typically, with the firstborn closer to the traditions and acting as an official go-between (and sometimes the literal translation) for the old and new and younger children more inclined to assimilate (adapt the culture of their adopted home).
With all cultural assertions, each case is different and there are a lot of variables involved. My point is that in most cases, Western countries have nothing to fear from immigrant populations.
We have to get over this idea that we are being infiltrated and corrupted by immigrants. In America we like to pride ourselves on our diversity, but it doesn’t take long for the Americans who are proud of their Scottish, British, Irish, Italian, etc. heritage to turn on recent immigrants and blame them for all of society’s ills.
So yes, the story of so called no-go-zones in Europe is laughable, but it also disguises a very real and unfounded fear, that immigrant communities are dangerous, trying to erode the culture of their new home nation. But try to describe American culture without including the influence of all the immigrant communities who have contributed to it; I hope your Cherokee is fluent, because the English language was brought here by immigrants.