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.


Yesterday Cameron spoke to the Conservative Party Conference wrapping up what seems like an interminable conference season. I can’t say that there was anything ‘different’ in the speech nor anything earth-shattering.

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The speech started by talking about ‘new politics’ – gone is the tribalism of the old party system but then, rather bafflingly or perhaps obviously, he went on to a full scale attack on the Labour government.

He played on a rhetoric of ‘fairness’ that he seems to want to overshadow the cuts that will be forthcoming. I have no problem with child benefit being cut, by the way, but there is a very strong hint of a return to the dichotomy of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor and coming from a descendent of King William IV married to the daughter of a baronet, he is moving into increasingly dangerous ground.

He said

Fairness means giving people what they deserve – and what people deserve depends on how they behave.

If you really cannot work, we’ll look after you.

But if you can work, but refuse to work, we will not let you live off the hard work of others.

What people deserve depends on how they behave? Really? And who is the arbiter of this behaviour? My concern is that this judgement will be made by the readers of the Daily Mail as that is the true constituency that Cameron is playing to.

If you can work, but refuse to work – yes, we can see the inherent ‘unfairness’ of that but what about the not having work because THERE IS NO WORK? And what exactly does ‘refuse to work’ mean? Who will decide what refusal is? Is refusal not taking a job in the next town? Is refusal not taking a job that doesn’t  use one’s qualifications?

There are a lot of questions to be answered.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no time for people who might be wilfully deceptive on their applications for state benefits but I continue to believe that that is a very tiny minority. As for those who are claiming what they are entitled to, sure the methods of entitlement may be and possibly are wrong but these people ARE NOT CRIMINALS and they are repeatedly targeted as being the most evil influence  on our society.

We, in our comfortable and safe ‘employed’ status can chortle merrily at ‘chavs’ but it doesn’t take much to redraw the lines of the haves and have-nots and for those ‘safe and comfortable’ jobs to melt away.

Of course, the further removed you are from the baseline, the more likely it is that you will laugh harder at the weak jokes made by the government.

One of the things I am grateful for in my job (while I still have it!) is that I work with people from a wide range of backgrounds. Mental illness strikes across lines of race, class, culture and language. Age also affects all groups of all types of people equally.

I see fairness and unfairness up very close on a day to day basis. Mostly I see unfairness. I see nothing, absolutely nothing in this government’s agenda that will tackle this unfairness. The last government didn’t do much better though.

But the one thing I am most sceptical about is Cameron’s promise to protect the NHS. The White Paper is more likely to destroy it and whoever buys into his guff about services in the NHS not being cut clearly has no experience of working within it.

Yesterday we had another meeting in our office about cuts. I can’t go into the details. We are already a few staff down and can’t recruit but other cuts are being made on the services we can directly provide. Money is being pulled from directly provided services and pushed into personal budgets. This will have a horrendous impact on some of the most needy people I work with because personal budgets work best for the people who shout the loudest.

I grew increasingly angry during the meeting about the direct services that were being cut because I know the people who use them and benefit from them. People who don’t want to access personal budgets that they would be entirely entitled to because they ‘don’t want to make a fuss’ or they ‘don’t want to scrounge from the state’.

Mr Cameron, members of the Conservative Party – by stigmatising people who claim, by talking about deserving and undeserving poor, you are putting off elderly, vulnerable people who are ABSOLUTELY ENTITLED to support from claiming precisely what they have worked hard for and are able to claim.

The damage of the rhetoric is not that it will ‘guilt’ people who are mis-claiming, it won’t. It will draw applause from us hard-working ‘entitled’ middle classes who don’t want anyone to have anything they ‘don’t work for’ – entirely forgetting about the structural discrimination which exists in our society and it will also shame those who need our help into not asking for it.

I have spent so much time over the last ten years begging people to accept services and benefits they are wholly entitled to to apply for them than I ever have come across anyone getting things they are not entitled to.

That is the effect of this talk. That is what I’d like the government to have an appreciation of.

This is pretty rhetoric. But it is also very very damaging to the social fabric of a country and a society that I care very deeply about.

Five a day

We are advised to eat five portions of fruit and/or vegetables a day to keep healthy. Good sound advice.

image mjorge at Flickr

The Times reports today on a different kind of five-a-day target that relates more specifically to mental health.

The advised steps to happiness are:

Developing relationships with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours will enrich your life and bring you support

Be active
Sports, hobbies such as gardening or dancing, or just a daily stroll will make you feel good and maintain mobility and fitness

Be curious
Noting the beauty of everyday moments as well as the unusual and reflecting on them helps you to appreciate what matters to you

Fixing a bike, learning an instrument, cooking – the challenge and satisfaction brings fun and confidence

Helping friends and strangers links your happiness to a wider community and is very rewarding

So there you go, some thoughts for an early new years resolution or two perhaps. They all seem fairly sensible to me as long as we can count virtual as well as ‘real’ connections!

One other pertinent fact came out of this research and is quoted in the article – namely

Half of people in Britain who are in debt have a mental disorder, compared with just 16 per cent of the general population.

That’s an enormous amount of people. It might be a thought for another day to consider the ways and means that these two factors influence each other, but that’s possibly too much for me to take on on a Saturday morning.

But a salutary thought as we move towards a recession.

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