Is Cameron’s Attack on Muticulturalism the Real Threat?

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Not content with being this generation’s Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron gave a speech to the Munich Security Conference which had unmistakable echoes of Enoch Powell.

Powell, in his infamous rivers of blood speech, created a terrifying image of Britain where the white person was victimised and threatened by other races, and all this was tolerated in the name of multiculturalism. But the fears he talked of turned out to be nothing more than xenophobic paranoia. Rather than rivers of blood, multicultural Britain saw a generation of different racial backgrounds grow up together, and for the most part, get along.

Like Powell, Cameron’s words were motivated more by fear and less by reason. He was talking about ‘Islamist extremism.’ This is the new threat of the age. As with Powell’s speech, the line between the reality of the threat, and imaginary fears fed by xenophobia and paranoia is not explored by those who talk about it. All fear is considered legitimate. What is important is the idea that it’s always present, always imminent.

Cameron talked exclusively, and without explanation, of the threat arising from “young men.” Apparently, in Cameron’s eyes, extremism is not a lure for young women or old men. This seems illogical; there are women who have been attracted to radical Islam and old men who preach it. What Cameron is doing is creating an image of the young British Muslim man, the outsider, the threat, uncomfortable in our society. In classifying the problem in this way, he is trying to make it more simple and more digestable than it actually is. He also gives himself licence to define the cause.

And the cause, he feels, is state multiculturalism. Or, to put it another way, too much tolerance of extreme views along with an erosion of British national identity. The perfect blend of factors to be seized upon by the national press. The tabloid media will pick up the baton of the poor white British person, victimised in their own country and the broadsheets will write yards of comment about the non-democratic elements of certain Islamic groups and the threat they pose to our freedom.

But why, when you think about it, would multiculturalism be the cause? Multiculturalism means nothing more than people from different social groups living together while maintaining distinct identities. Of itself, it in no way implies that British identity should be eroded. It is a live and let live philosophy, the logical way for a liberal, tolerant and diverse society to organise itself.

Cameron, however disagrees. The ‘passive tolerance’ of multiculturalism, he states, ‘says to its citizens as long as you obey the law, we will just leave you alone, it stands neutral between values.’ And this is a problem. Liberal freedom of speech, he feels, if left unfettered, allows extremism to develop. In true Orwellian New Speak, he invented a term, ‘muscular liberalism’, to deal with the problem.

Muscular liberalism, which implies the state banning undesirable groups, is a contradiction in terms. It is not liberalism. It could not be further from it.

Cameron also told the conference that when a white person says something racist they are condemned, but we are afraid to confront unacceptable views from other racial groups. This does not seem to match the facts.

Islam4UK, a political group advocating Shariah law, were banned last year under anti-terrorism legislation. Now being a member is considered a terrorist offence worthy of a prison sentence. On the other hand, the EDL marched through Luton on the same day as Cameron gave his speech with the full support of the law. The BNP continues to be treated as a legitimate political party, invited to Question Time and contesting seats in elections.

Whether it is desirable for any of these groups to be banned is a contentious point. But the fact remains that if our law is more tolerant of one than the other, it doesn’t seem to be white racists who are coming off worse. Cameron’s statement is knowingly false, nothing more than a legitimisation of the world against us attitude felt and preached by the far-right

The question must also be raised, would banning these groups really stop them? Would illegalising even the discussion of Islamic fundamentalism make it disappear? Would an increase in draconian anti-terror laws, an increase in fear and the victimisation of often innocent young Muslim men mean they felt a greater connection and loyalty to Britain?

The factors that cause the threat of terrorism, among them the foreign policy persued by this government and its predecessor, would not go away. What we would be left with is an even more intrusive state which uses the excuse of the threat of terror to criminalise opinions.

Cameron summed up his speech by saying “at stake are not just lives, but our way of life.” This seems an extremely extravagant claim to make about a group who, as he conceded earlier in his speech, represent a tiny minority of the Islamic community. That kind of fear mongering and hyperbole should only have been found yesterday on the streets of Luton.

The effect of Cameron’s words remains to be seen. But he has turned to exagerated fear of threats to security and appeals to national pride, both as a defence against his own unpopularity and as a justification for a more draconian, less tolerant state. The implications of his words, when they stop being simple rhetoric and start being government policies, are the things that I’m really scared of.

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Discussion13 Comments

  1. avatar

    Surely a university paper whould not be so politically affiliated. Typical armchair socialists

    Dhanesh Patel
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    about as constructive as calling you an armchair racist. way more complex than either.

    Peter Apps
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    Armchair libertarian maybe. This isn’t really meant to be socialist.

    All the writers come with their own affiliations, and this is obviously going to come out quite clearly in political comment. But the wessex scene doesn’t have any overarching affiliation.

    Chloe
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    This has nothing to do with socialism, but about decency, tolerance and acceptance. For goodness sake, get over the whole ‘socialist’ thing – by mentioning it you are merely showing yourself to be bigoted, rather than actively engaging in what is a really interesting and rather pivotal topic of discussion.

    Tim
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    So many university students despise cameron. And the supposed insult of calling him this generations thatcher I would take as a compliment. Thatcher sorted a hugely damaged economy, and led us into an economically golden age. I believe her to be one of the greatest politicians in modern history, and no I’m no racist before you jump on that.

  2. avatar

    I think the debate should be which cultural differences we wish to accommodate, no matter how you see it (i come fro and immigrant background myself) some segments immigrant cultures or religions go completely against our Judeo-Christian value, for example the number of female circumcisions in our country is outrageous and has no place in our apparently liberal society. The lack of debate around such practices is only due to the fact that we are scared of ruffling a few feathers and being called racists. Also the fact that there is home grown terrorism from the Muslim youth of our country says something..We having been doing something wrong… where has the assimilation been?. the Indian, Chinese and Jewish community have no problem assimilating into our culture without loosing theirs. Why has the Muslim community not done so?

    Pete
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    We can criminalise actions (such as female circumcision), but it isn’t the place of any government to pick and choose the values which are acceptable. Thoughts and speech should be met with debate not the full force of the law. Also, I’m not sure that people are really that scared of criticising shariah law or female circumcision because they would be called racists.
    I think there are a lot of members of the muslim community who would react pretty strongly to being told they hadn’t assimilated. You’re making the mistake of taking a potential terror threat from a very limited part of the community, and generalising across the board. Would you say, for example, because there was an IRA bombing in 1997, the entire Irish community is incapable of assimilating into British culture? Terrorism is used to propogate myths and racial generalisations that have no basis in fact, and that’s really my main problem with Cameron’s speech.
    I wouldn’t agree that our country is judeo-christian. It’s secular, which means the government doesn’t get to choose between values, the citizens do.

    Chloe
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    bang on the money, as ever Peter Apps.

    This is the trouble – people cannot seem to differentiate between ‘Islam’ and ‘Islamic extremist’. The Muslim community is not just a Muslim community, but a British community. For these people, the two communities are inextricably linked, they become one and the same. Why is Cameron forgetting that?

    Our culture is enriched when we accept multiculturalism; as long as people are willing to live and love and be gracious to their fellow citizens, no discrimination that pinpoints whole subcultures can be valid. There are many students here who are of the Muslim faith, I’m sure they’d be horrified to hear that the Prime Minister of their country has stated that Muslims struggle to ‘assimilate’ with British culture. How patronising and how utterly ignorant.

    If Cameron is the poster-boy for representing ‘British culture’ then quite frankly, I am struggling to ‘assimilate’ with it myself.

    Luke Goodger
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    Funnily i get a lot of this ‘you cannot distinguish, between Muslims and their extremist counterparts,’ and of course i am not generalising, as maybe i was rushing when i typed my answer out i should have explained myself, I live in West London and went to a West London school. Throughout this time my family has been one of two white families on the entire road, whilst at school I had Muslim friends. These friends were of course quite assimilated, however the ‘cultural,’ assimilation stopped at language and a following of the laws set by the school and country, After that, some had Islamic teaching ruling their lives, becoming more overt as they progressed into upper school. Sexism, Homophobia, racism and anti- western (coupled with anti-Semitism) was endemic among Muslim pupils who increasingly only mixed with only with their co-religionists. This streak of apparent extremism amongst the majority of Muslim students was not apparent in another other practising religious groups. The Sikhs, Hindus and Christians did not have this wall going up between them. Of course tell me I am wrong, but, please tell, am i blind? Perhaps am I a rascist.. my Aunt is Vietnamese and i love her like a nephew should, what about my Indian friends? I dont think they would say I was mistaken about local Islamic extremists in Hounslow, because they feel this same segregation.

    Peter Apps
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    Since we’re now diving into personal experience, I suppose its relevant to say I grew up in East London, which is a multicultural area with a very large muslim population.
    Its because of my experience living and going to school there, that I know the prejudices simply aren’t true. The Islamic community is often tight nit, and this is sometimes confused with an unwillingness to integrate. This clouds the perception of a lot of minority groups, and has led to similair things being said about Irish, Eastern European or Jewish communities. In no case do I think its accurate. In truth, a lot of the Muslim people I know are warm, friendly and welcoming. Some aren’t, but no more so than any other racial group. Most of them are just people getting on with their lives.
    The problem with anecdotal evidence is it always comes clouded by your own prejudices and interpretations, and is also limited to the tiny handful of people you have met, which is not a good sample of an entire community, let alone a religion with over a billion followers worldwide. This applies to what I’ve said as much as you.
    I’m going to put the Vietnamese aunt comment down as an unusual twist on the “i’ve got a black friend” argument, and therefore irrelevant. I’m sure you know enough about the history of India and Pakistan to know that being Indian doesn’t necessarily free you from a prejudiced view of Muslims, and that is also potentially irrelevant.

    I suppose there is another point worth making. If the Muslim community is as unintegrated and segregated from the mainstream, as you and Cameron suggest, why would increased persecution make it better? Surely what we need is an increase in tolerance and understanding instead of constantly rebuilding mutual fear and distrust (to the extent that it exists).

    Dhanesh Patel
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    You asked your Indian friends about Muslim integration? Did you also ask the Jews on the West Bank?

    Luke Goodger
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    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00y8yjv

    And the west Bank is a whole other matter.

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