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David Yaxley-Griffin

Half listening to Radio 5live on Saturday, while going about my business, in a haze of sleep deprivation, and the first 6 Nations hangover of the year. I caught the tail end of David Cameron’s speech in Munich. To my surprise he seemed to be making refreshingly balanced and even complimentary statements about Muslims and Islam. As I was going to be spending the majority of the afternoon keeping tabs on the EDL demo taking part in Luton that day, it gave my spirits a little boost.

A little while later, a news item on the PM’s speech reported him as having claimed that multiculturalism had failed, while also making criminally inaccurate and ignorant comments regarding what seemed to be the British Muslim community in isolation. I checked my Twitter feed as soon as I could, and the more I read, the more stunned and dismayed I became. It was as if he, and his writers, had used Daily Express back issues and BNP propaganda as research material. As a result he inadvertently gave a speech that, while not going as far as endorsing the EDL, legitimized their cause and their reasoning. The timing couldn’t have been worse. It was a kick in the teeth to every person working hard to combat the bigotry of the EDL, and an insult to the Muslim communities of the UK.

How could the Prime Minister of one of the most tolerant and compassionate countries in the World (in my opinion), get it so spectacularly wrong? He would surely have access to information that documents the work done within the Muslim community to counter extremism? Is he genuinely ignorant to the complex and varied reasons why segregation and division occur? In a way I hope he is. Because if his speech is an indication of what will be put into practice as part of the Governments anti-terrorism strategy, he will only alienate the very people best positioned to co-operate. If he is oblivious to this, at least there’s a possibility of him revising his position. But if this is actually another ideological policy, hidden behind disingenuous misinformation, designed to cut public funding, it worries me even more.

This thinly veiled attempt at justifying withdrawal of funds for Muslim organisations, andstirring of Nationalist pride will act as a rubber stamp for the EDL. Stephen Lennon has already welcomed Cameron’s words, and accepted them as approval for the EDL stance. Whilst Nick Griffin has also claimed that they echo the BNP’s sentiments. You’d think that this would be cause for concern for the Coalition, but instead they’ve issued an unapologetic defence of the speech. There will undoubtedly be numerous blogs and articles that will dissect Cameron’s words, policies and hypocrisy far more articulately and knowledgeably than myself, so I’ll leave that to them. What I will address though, is the concept of multiculturalism. What does he actually mean by ‘state multiculturalism’, and what does multiculturalism mean to me?

I’m assuming that when he’s talking of ‘state multiculturalism’, he’s referring to the popular right-wing cliché that New Labours immigration policy was an attempt at social engineering, whereby immigrants would keep them in power in a display of eternal gratitude, whilst also encouraging a dilution of British ‘identity’ and ‘values’ so precious to the Tories. This has been reported as fact, denied, and debated over and over, so I’ll leave it at that. It seems to me that when Cameron talks of this supposed doctrine, he’s referring to the acceptance and tolerance of diversity. But doesn’t see it as being compassionate, and aiding in a transitional process. His view is that it’s divisive and detrimental to society. This is what he said in February 2008.

“State multiculturalism is a wrong-headed doctrine that has had disastrous results. It has fostered difference between communities,”

“And it has stopped us from strengthening our collective identity. Indeed, it has deliberately weakened it.”

Cameron defined “state multiculturalism” as “the idea that we should respect different cultures within Britain to the point of allowing them – indeed encouraging them – to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.”

it meant “not just essential information, but all information, endlessly translated into numerous languages, to cater for numerous people, who can then continue to go about their daily lives without ever having to learn English.

“Multiculturalism was manipulated to entrench the right to difference – which is a divisive concept. What we need is the right to equal treatment despite difference.”

On Sharia law:

If Williams meant that different communities should have different laws, then that would be “dangerous and illiberal”, the Tory leader said.

The introduction of sharia law for Muslims would be “the logical endpoint of the now discredited doctrine of state multiculturalism”, he said.

He went on: “It would alienate other communities who would resent this preferential treatment. It would provide succour to the separatists who want to isolate and divide communities from the mainstream.

“And it would – crucially – weaken, destabilise and demoralise those Muslims who embrace liberal values and desperately want to integrate fully in British society.”

Cameron said that “state multiculturalism” led to people accepting different cultural behaviour, even if it contravened human rights.

This not only shows his ignorance of Sharia law and its role, but is full of contradictions and huge assumptions. He seems to be inferring that segregation in our towns and cities is based on race and religion, without factoring in economic and social issues. It appears he’s putting the onus on the minority to integrate with the ‘mainstream’, but doesn’t seem to be aware of, or sympathetic to any challenges or obstacles they may face.

Is he actually proposing assimilation rather than integration? Does he expect immigrants, and children or grandchildren of immigrants to abandon all trace of their cultural heritage and identity? What exactly is he suggesting?

Something that really confuses and annoys me is the idea of a British culture, with British values and British identity. Am I alone in wondering what on earth this concept looks or feels like? I mean, I accept that there are character and personality traits that what the BNP would call indigenous British people have in common. The stereotypical stiff upper lip, don’t cause a scene, carry on regardless attitude. The inability to express emotion overtly. The permanently apologetic, awkward person. But even this is a rather outdated and romantic cliché, which fails to acknowledge individual differences.

Are my culture, values and identity identical to those of every other British person? Of course not. How could a married father of two, living in a predominantly white, but ethnically mixed, working class suburb of Cardiff have anything in common with a single, Oxbridge educated man, living in Chelsea? My lifestyle and experiences are worlds apart from many people living on my street. All I could reliably guess I share common ground with most male neighbours on are an interest in football and possibly similar musical tastes. Does a farmer in rural Scotland have an identical culture to an unemployed single mother living on a council estate high-rise in inner city London? Then how can an immigrant adopt a certain culture and a set of values that are supposedly uniquely British, when the ‘indigenous’ British people already have varying cultures, identities, values and moral codes? That’s before you start taking into account British Italians, Greeks, Jamaicans etc that have been part of our society for generations. Is there something I’m missing? Is my definition of culture different to David Cameron’s?  Here’s the Wikipedia definition.

  • An integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning
  • The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group

The word multicultural suggests that there are several sets of the above criteria in existence in Britain. But how can that be as a result of race, nationality, faith or ethnicity, when people of the same race will naturally have different goals, attitudes, values, behaviours and practices already? What if we narrow down and simplify the criteria to positive values that the majority of us have in common, and the rights we hold dear? Regard for the law, free speech, democracy, tolerance and equality? That’s enough to be getting along with. Is Cameron suggesting that immigrants and Muslims already living here don’t share these values? Is he implying that all ‘indigenous’ Britons do exhibit these values? To suggest either is not only inaccurate, but extremely insulting. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt on this one for now. Let’s assume that what he means by multiculturalism is, a variety of people from different ethnic backgrounds, maintaining their cultural identity, within a society that accepts their difference. As Wikipedia puts it:

The appreciation, acceptance or promotion of multiple cultures, applied to the demographic make-up of a specific place, usually at the organizational level, e.g. schools, businesses, neighbourhoods, cities or nations. In this sense multiculturalism approximates to respect for diversity.

The term may also describe people who have more than one culture in them (people who grew up with more than one cultural identity, also sometimes called bicultural).

If he’s claiming that this concept has failed in Britain, he must also accept that there cannot be true multiculturalism without the acceptance and respect of the host nation’s population. If that’s the case, Britain has failed multiculturalism. I don’t buy that for one second. Britain has welcomed immigrants from former colonies and beyond for decades, and they have played their part in transforming this country into a diverse and vibrant society, that has produced unique cultural phenomena. Multiculturalism in Britain has given us 2 Tone, Drum n Bass, Grime, Dubstep, M.I.A, Balti and Chicken Tikka Masala, as a direct result of the melting pot of cultures, styles and tastes.

No ones claiming Britain to be a utopian cross between a Benetton advert and The Truman Show. There are tensions, and some may indeed manifest themselves along ethnic or racial lines. There may well be issues within certain communities that are particular to a certain faith or nationality. But to present these issues with inaccurate information, and use them to justify unnecessary criticism of the Muslim community, and quite possibly introduce policies that target them unfairly, is disgraceful. Would assimilation eradicate social problems? No. The people who have issues with cultures and customs they see as alien to our society, would simply find another reason to discriminate, be it colour, religion, nationality or anything else that sets people apart from the ‘indigenous’.

In a poll conducted for the BBC in 2009, people were asked to agree or disagree with the statement “Our laws should respect and be influenced by UK religious values”. The proportion of Muslims who agreed (79 per cent) was higher than for Christians themselves (70 per cent). In a survey by the Centre for Social Cohesion, and ironically used selectively by the Daily Mail to portray British Muslims as condoning killing in the name of Islam, found that 89% of those surveyed said women should be treated equally, with only 5% disagreeing, only 25% had an issue with homosexuality, nearly 80% said it was possibly to be equally Muslim and British, 92% had a range of friends across cultural boundaries, and nearly 80% had respect for Jews (with only 7% expressing disrespect), while a similar number respected Atheists. More than 70% said they were more liberal than their parents. Is this an indication that as Cameron states;

“We have failed to provide a vision of society [to young Muslims] to which they feel they want to belong,” and “We have even tolerated segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values. All this leaves some young Muslims feeling rootless. And the search for something to belong to and believe in can lead them to extremist ideology.”?

It wouldn’t appear so. Is he really this out of touch and badly informed? Or is it the start of something altogether more sinister?

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