Cameron and Multiculturalism


DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 29JAN10 - David Cameron, Le...

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Firstly, apologies that I’m a little late to this but I wasn’t around at the weekend to comment.

Cameron made a speech on Saturday in Munich was an attempt to echo Merkel’s speech in October where

She said the so-called “multikulti” concept – where people would “live side-by-side” happily – did not work, and immigrants needed to do more to integrate – including learning German.

The full text of Cameron’s speech is on the New Statesman site.

It’s useful to actually read the text as opposed to the commentary to get the ideas behind what Cameron was trying to say. There seems to have been a lot of interpretation of what he might have meant.

This was a speech in the context of fighting terrorism (thats fairly uncontroversially  ‘a good thing’).

Cameron, for example, said

It’s important to stress that terrorism is not linked exclusively to any one religion or ethnic group.

The UK still faces threats from dissident republicans.

But with the rest of the speech he wholly refers to Islam and Muslim extremists. He isn’t really broadening the debate very much apart from that one sentence.  Yes, he makes the right noises about not equating the religion of Islam with terrorism but he does seem to relate increasing extremism to a loss of identity that may be caused by more disparate communities existing side by side.

Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream.We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values.

So when a white person holds objectionable views – racism, for example – we rightly condemn them.But when equally unacceptable views or practices have come from someone who isn’t white, we’ve been too cautious, frankly even fearful, to stand up to them.The failure of some to confront the horrors of forced marriage the practice where some young girls are bullied and sometimes taken abroad to marry someone they don’t want to is a case in point.

This hands-off tolerance has only served to reinforce the sense that not enough is shared.All this leaves some young Muslims feeling rootless.And the search for something to belong to and believe in can lead them to this extremist ideology.

For sure, they don’t turn into terrorists overnight.

What we see is a process of radicalisation.

I know it’s a long quotation from his speech but I think it is the crucial argument that he is making.

He claims that it is the lack of an over-arching ‘British’ identity that has led to alienation and in turn, the radicalisation of a group of ‘young Muslims’.

I have a lot of problems with this assertion to be honest. I am a Londoner and I have lived for almost all my life in London– I have also lived in a country which is arguably more monocultural than the UK  (Italy) which immediately puts me in a different sphere of existence than David Cameron (Berkshire, Eton, Oxford).

Consensus is the way to create community rather than ostracisation.

Tackling inequity, racism and religious intolerance is a way to create community.

Making immigrants, no, scratch that, making EVERYONE feel that they have a stake in the community and the environment in which they live is the way to create community.

Targeting ‘a doctrine of state multiculturalism’ (the language is very negative for a start) and blaming that for ‘home-grown’ terrorists seems to be a facile argument designed to play into the increasingly dangerous ‘Daily Mail leader writer’ school of populism at the expense of any understanding of what might be happening or trying to analyse any of the issues below the surface.

Maybe it is the alienation in the mainstream communities that needs to be tackled.

I know it’s been commented on frequently but the fact that the English Defence League, an odious and divisive group set on castigating and demonstrating against Islam (no, it isn’t just ‘extremists’ as they claim) had a rally on the same day as Cameron’s speech led some of them to feel vindicated which is both sickening and irresponsible on the part of Cameron. Maybe he had no control over the timing but he could have explicitly condemned the EDL. He didn’t.

Thanks to Wikipedia, I was led to an article in the Guardian,  last year about the EDL – worth reading and reflecting on in the light of Mr Cameron’s speech.

A strangely relevant part jumped out at me

For Matthew Goodwin, an academic who specialises in far-right politics at Manchester University, this is a crucial difference between the EDL and previous far-right street movements.

“The reason why the EDL’s adoption of Islamophobia is particularly significant is that unlike the 1970s, when the National Front was embracing antisemitism, there are now sections of the media and the British establishment that are relatively sympathetic towards Islamophobia,” says Goodwin. “It is not difficult to look through the media and find quite hostile views towards Islam and Muslims. That is fundamentally different to the 1970s, when very few newspapers or politicians were endorsing the NF’s antisemitic message.”

“The point for your average voter is that if they see the EDL marching through their streets shouting about how the neighbourhood is about to be swamped by Muslims or how the UK is going to be Islamified by 2040, they are also receiving these cues from other sections of British society … the message of the EDL may well be legitimised if that continues.”

And this is Cameron’s message from his speech.

It seems odd that he is so happy to back faith schools in the context of his speech.

He can’t get away from the fact that he has targeted Islam specifically. The headlines will be filling in the gaps.

This was not a brave speech. It was a cowardly one that pandered to far more dangerous societal views. Far braver it would have been to take actions to improve the living environments of those who feel cut off from society through racism – open and institutional and by tackling poverty in the inner cities where a lot of immigrant communities live.

Far braver to openly confront and condemn the EDL. And the right-wing press that has created a dangerously high level of ‘us and them’ politics.

Maybe it is the attitudes of our society that creates the alienation rather than the embracing of different cultures, religions and backgrounds.

I notice that Cameron also said

So they (apologists for ‘multiculturalism) point to the poverty that so many Muslims live in and say: get rid of this injustice and the terrorism will end.

But this ignores that fact that many of those found guilty of terrorist offences in the UK have been graduates, and often middle class.

I think Cameron has completely forgotten that sometimes, ok, not in his sphere of existence, middle class people want to demonstrate and act against perceived and real injustices happening not just to themselves but to others less fortunate who have not had the same opportunities. And hard though it might be for Cameron to understand – you can actually grow up in poverty and be a graduate. The two things aren’t (yet) mutually exclusive.

When I lived in Italy in a society that very much promotes the mono-culture, there was far more explicit racism present than I have noticed in the UK. ‘Other’, ‘difference’ was not a positive.

It was not a better society.  People from other religious, cultural and ethnic groups were openly scorned. Look at the mainstreaming of the ‘Lega Nord’ if you want to see the dangers of moving away from open multiculturalism.

I doubt Cameron understands multiculturalism because he, his class, and the people around him have only gained their information and advice from ‘people like them’.

He castigates intolerance within Islam but does nothing to even mention or acknowledge the invidious nature of the march in Luton happening on the same day. He could easily have criticised it. He didn’t.

The richness that diversity brings to our cities and our country is not something that has a dark responsibility for terrorism.

Alienation of diverse groups may lead to extremism – I’m not a sociologist and haven’t read any significant research for a while – but increasing marginalisation by highlighting one religious group as responsible for ‘home-grown’ terrorism – while ignoring the issues such as faith schools – which he could easily challenge –  seems to be exacerbating the problem.

I love my city. I wrote previously about why I loved London. I love living and working around different communities that are able to live side by side, just as my ancestors, immigrants themselves, were accepted when they arrived.

This speech has just given a whole swathe of ‘middle England’ a chance to step on the EDL’s agenda.

It has to be challenged. Challenged hard and challenged frequently.

It is anti-racism, anti-discrimination, anti-oppression and equality of opportunity that will eradicate ‘home grown’ terrorism.

Not the elimination of multiculturalism.

16 thoughts on “Cameron and Multiculturalism

  1. Pingback: Cameron and Multiculturalism - Fighting Monsters - Member blogs - Social Work Blog - Carespace from Community Care

  2. Cameron sees the sick and disabled in much the same light as Islam, a class to be eradicated.

    Lets hope Cam Clegg and Co are eradicated themselves and pretty soon!

  3. Pingback: Cameron’s Carelesness « Craig Considine

  4. I have been uneasy for quite some time at the way Muslims are being portrayed in the media and this speech from Cameron crystallised what I have had at the back of my mind – we are being prepared for another war. I don’t by any means agree with everything that Muslims believe and I think there’s things they need to tackle in their culture, but the chief reason for our differences lie with oil in the Middle East and the people we have been prepared to deal with to obtain a ready supply of it. I hope I’m wrong.

  5. I agree with you that living in a country like Italy makes you realise how successfully multicultural Britain is,most of the time. I think that the problem with this speech is how it will be used.

  6. typical doublespeak from Cam the faith schools free schools fee paying schools massive inequalitys in wealth lack of social mobility all lead to the divisive society and he’s in favour of them

  7. It’s remarkable how easily this speech could have been made in the US, with really minimal changes. I grew up in New York City, which is very diverse, and then went to a university that really lacked diversity. I think it made me appreciate what I have, upon moving back here, a great deal more. I like getting on the train and hearing five different languages. I like sharing office space with people born in six different countries. I see how it has benefitted me as a person, and how it benefits my work.

    So it drives me crazy when people talk about the lack of an “American identity” or how modern immigrants are not interested in becoming a part of “our country.” (In the US, talking about “immigration reform” tends to be code for “Mexicans frighten me” and talking about terrorism seems to be universal code for “Muslims are scary too.”) Especially since most of the people I hear making those statements make an effort to only be around “people like them” and therefore miss out on what multiculturalism has to offer.

  8. Thanks all for the comments. As you are all broadly in agreement there isn’t much for me to ‘argue’. It worries me how quickly our agenda follows some of the more ‘right wing’ US thinking.
    I was seriously thinking about going to Arizona (Grand Canyon etc) on holiday and the politics have begun to put me off.
    Mostly I think it is about ‘fear of the unknown’. This talk does not help 😦

  9. Does Cameron not realize that you can be educated and live in poverty. Particularly if you are an immigrant and were educated in a different country. In Canada, where you cannot immigrate unless you have a certain level of schooling, there are thousands of very well educated immigrants working as janitors, taxi drivers, drive-through attendents, etc. because they are unable to “Canadianize” their educational qualifications.

  10. Just a tip–I have family out in the Southwest and I’ve spent a ton of time out there. The politics are really scary but it’s definitely worth the trip. I was in the area last month and had a lovely time. I mean, Arizona has definitely replaced Florida as the number one hotbed of crazy in the US, but like most places, when you’re actually there you really can avoid it.

    • I’d still like to go to the Grand Canyon! I just felt a bit uncomfortable when holiday planning last year…. but one day..

  11. But I guess that’s not as interesting as fantasizing about a new government program that will stick it to Muslims and magically make them fall in line, or whatever. Cameron’s plan just seems so obviously, pathetically designed to give older conservatives a way to vote their disapproval of the Muslim kids down the block, while hoping no one notices that his cut-and-prosper economic plan has been a failure.

      • Yes, my thought was “ah, yet another smokescreen” like the one the other day raking up the Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi argument yet again (get used to it, Scottish law has dominion with that one!). But, political interference in legal matters and abuse of process have become watch words for what is now a Tory government.

  12. Pingback: David Cameron, multiculturalism, authoritarianism | Aethelread the Unread

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