Earlier this morning I placed the copy of the Saturday paper on the counter without glancing at the headline before I did. Splashed across the top was the headline “Cameron tells Muslim Britain: stop tolerating extremists.” I felt embarrassed if I’m honest. My local newsagent is a nice guy, gave me a bottle of wine on new year’s eve, we share banter. He is Muslim but that doesn’t seem to be his primary preoccupation- he spends almost all his time watching football when he’s in the shop. And yet, here he was apparently being lectured by the Prime Minister for ‘tolerating extremists.’
At the same time, in Luton racist thugs are gathering to ‘claim back’ England, threatening and scaring the living daylights out of the city’s Muslim population in the process. As Searchlight’s Director, Nick Lowles has articulated in the day’s must read piece, this process serves the purposes of both nationalist extremism and political Islamic extremism. They lighten and darken the grey area, forcing people into the arms of each other in the process.
A speech in Munich and a terrifying and threatening march in Luton: how does it feel to be a British Muslim today? Their Prime Minister is lecturing them; racist thugs are threatening them. And all they really want is to serve customers, banter about life, and watch the football.
If people actually read David Cameron’s speech they will find much of it reasonable. He is at pains to distinguish Islamic political extremism from Islam. He even makes the important point that the moderate vs. extremist language is lazy as it divides the religion in a false way. So far so good – Baroness Warsi has had a word and she’s been half listened too. Only half listened to unfortunately.
Though Cameron’s speech is aimed at political Islamic groups who do not stand up to extremism rather than ‘Muslim Britain’ as a whole (as the Guardian’s headline suggested) the effect is pretty much the same. The pivot is the phrase ‘state multiculturalism.’ I have no idea what the ‘doctrine of state multiculturalism’ is or whether it exists. Does he mean faith schools? That would seem to be an example of ‘state multiculturalism’, no?
Cash sent in the direction of organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain were part of the Governments counter-terrorism strategy; nothing to do with an alleged ‘state multiculturalism’ at all. If it hasn’t worked then it has failed as a counter-terrorism strategy not as a deliberate policy of cultural segregation.
Actually, there is no need for ‘state multiculturalism’ any more than there is a need for state policy for living and breathing. We are a multicultural nation. We always have been. We always will be. The state may wish – in a sinister fashion – to assimilate us and homogenise us but there is absolutely no need for it to promote diversity as that is what we are.
It is important as David Cameron suggests that our common values are inalienable: “Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality.” I would actually argue that there is greater commonality than that and yet there is absolutely nothing there which ‘multiculturalism’ seeks to challenge or even that it tolerates being challenged.
In fact, multiculturalism relies on all of those things. Has there been some silly Winterval-esque stuff done in the name of a weird politically correct version of ‘multiculturalism’? Yes and it’s weird and silly but hardly a threat to our civilisation. Should we lament the cultural segregation of some groups in our inner cities? Yes, but that’s not ‘state’ policy; that’s a natural process of migrant community congregation. A similar thing happens in a school in Windsor that Mr Cameron is more than familiar with. Are we really suggesting that the state should intervene and initiate a forced de-concentration? Whatever that is, it’s not ‘muscular liberalism.’
Essentially, the focus on ‘state multiculturalism’ was tipping a wink to Islamaphobic Britain. Whether it was intentional or unintentional, the impact is the same. Rather than building cultural bridges it burns them instead; so actually it has the opposite impact to creating a more unified nation.
These speeches where politicians say ‘it’s about time that we were stopped being so passive in face of extremism’ are ten a penny. Each one serves to charge the racial, cultural, and religious atmosphere a little more. The EDL licks its lips. Al-Muhajiroun rubs its hands. Loose language costs lives.
And that means the word ‘multiculturalism’ has to die a death. It has been battered and bruised to the point that it is on its last legs. Perhaps cultural pluralism – which has common values and cultural divergence in its very nature – should replace it. Those who speak of ‘multiculturalism’ now only do so to conjure straw men to attack whether they follow through on that or not.
Strangely, much of what was in David Cameron’s speech is careful, nuanced, and important. But it was sold to the press as a lecture on Muslim Britain and that is how it will be received. It played with proxy language in a clumsy way so protests of innocence will be unconvincing. It was given on a day when Muslim families in Luton are threatened through hatred and violence. In other words, it just wasn’t Prime Ministerial. Our unity as a nation requires rather stronger leadership than this Prime Minister seems able to offer.