David Cameron has thrown an unnecessary and quite frankly perplexing incendiary into Britain's multicultural conundrum. It is difficult to fathom why he's done it... unless of course he can't wait til the royal wedding for a much needed distraction
Critics of multiculturalism inevitably charge that it is merely a front for political correctness, and now David Cameron has added his name to that list of critics.
Trouble is the PC charge is just too easy to make and smacks of an inability to see that wading in to the multiculturalism debate – from a descriptive or a normative viewpoint – without context, fuels the fires that make it so difficult for multiculturalism to eschew charges of instability and conflict. In short it is a very colonial way of doing things.
It is an irreversible fact that with the forces of globalization, most countries in the world consist of many colours, creeds, classes and cultures, and it is hardly rocket science that people from poorer nations wish to migrate to countries which may offer a better future.
In the 21st century such people should not be forced to drop their backgrounds and beliefs at the customs desk.
It is not good enough to welcome in and essentially use immigrants for their ‘exotic’ cuisine and cheap labour, all the while branding them as deliberately isolationist minorities who don’t fit in.
David Cameron’s announcement that multiculturalism has failed in Britain played right into the hands of Britain’s ugly English Defence League, which just happened to be holding one of its menacing marches on the same day as the PM spoke.
Delicious group that the EDL is, chose as its chant that day “Allah, Allah, who the fuck is Allah?”
Accusations from British MP Sadiq Khan that Cameron was now a propagandist for the EDL went too far, but illustrate the danger of speeches such of Cameron’s, and that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel last year.
They deal with such volatile material they require considerable context, and as the Guardian editorialized on Cameron’s effort, the PM had the opportunity to say something relevant on such an important issue, and he “flunked” it by offering “… clichés, tired thinking and some downright offensive terminology”.
Just what does Cameron really mean: that Britain will adopt a policy of “muscular liberalism” towards immigrants? Sounds very macho indeed. Also, how does he propose to test groups receiving public funds for their beliefs in universal human rights and equality before the law?
Valid points when the British government itself has been complicit in the breach of human rights in terms of its support for the war in Iraq, the behaviour of some of its troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, its association with the imprisonment and torture of inmates at Guantanamo, and the overwhelming statistics that show if you are a young, black, poor male you are considerably more likely to go to prison for a crime than if you are white, wealthy, and educated. You are also more likely to be harassed by police and/or beaten up for your physical traits and the mere ‘fact’ you don’t look ‘British’.
Cameron says he knows right wing groups such as the EDL thrive on Islamophobia, yet there is no doubt it was of Islam that he was speaking, and thereby fed the phobic beast.
He does not stand alone on that charge, but he is the Prime Minister and should know better.
A quick glance across the Atlantic shows how perhaps initially sensible discourse can be twisted to suit a nasty agenda as the irrational, ill-informed and racist outburst over building of an Islamic Culture Centre near New York’s Ground Zero proved last year.
If that’s too long ago, look at the current unhinged rantings of right-wing Fox ‘News’ host Glenn Beck, who sees the call for democracy in Egypt as the cunning plan of the Muslim Brotherhood to establish an Islamic Caliphate over the entire world.
You see Mr. Cameron, unfortunately people listen to the likes of Pastor Terry Jones and Beck – albeit and thankfully in diminishing numbers in terms of Beck, but listen they do. The last thing Beck needs is oxygen supplied by a responsible, authentic and relatively mainstream politician.
It seems reasonable then to suggest that Cameron may be acting in this matter to distract from his rather unpalatable domestic financial policies.
More preferable would have been a speech that focused on the failure of past governments to realise and then act on the fact that immigrants don’t live in ghettos because they like to. They live in ghettos because they are poor and the only people who will support them when they initially arrive are their fellow immigrants. Proof of that pudding is seen in the lifestyle of the wealthy Muslims who swan around Mayfair in their chauffer-driven luxury vehicles, ferrying them from their mansions to Harrods and Harvey Nic’s. They share the same Allah as their poorer fellow immigrants but avoid the ghettos or the council estates because they can afford to do so.
Now Canada’s right wing paper the National Post is calling for the Conservative government of Canada, which has already toughened up on its immigration test, to mimic Cameron’s “principled stand”.
The Post’s Editorial Board agrees with Cameron and Merkel – and by association Sarkozy, Thatcher, Enoch Powell and others, that multiculturalism has failed because it has allowed newcomers to Canada to “nurture religious and ethnic grudges inherited from their homeland” and doesn’t let ‘Canadians’ vent their distaste for practices such as wearing of a burka which the paper conveniently points out is “widely regarded as inherently retrograde”.
Hmmm. Regarded as such by whom?
The well known pollster of Arab opinion, American Arab James Zogby in his latest book Arab Voices, makes extremely valid points about how Muslim attitudes to issues such as women’s rights can be perceived in the West.
When confronted by Dick Cheney’s lawyer daughter Liz on the issue of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, Zogby was able to refer to a legitimate poll (of 800 individuals) which showed that Saudi men were slightly more liberal in their social views than Saudi women, and more likely than their female counterparts to support expanding women’s rights.
Cheney Junior flat out dismissed the poll, preferring to rely instead on views expressed by four Saudi women who had visited her office the week before.
As Zogby noted, he was not surprised by Cheney who, like other hard-liners in the Bush administration frequently displayed a tendency to reject empirical data about the Middle East in favour of a convenient anecdote – or to twist the data when a useful example didn’t present itself.
Essentially stereotypes when it comes to Islam are very easy political fodder, and to heck with how damaging or dangerous they have often proven to be.
David Cameron and others are correct in insisting people who live in their countries – no matter from where they hail – must obey the laws of the country in which they reside, including respecting equal rights amongst the sexes and refraining from practices such as the euphemistically labeled ‘honour killings’ of daughters, wives and sisters of female genital mutilation.
Enforcing such laws is as much the job of the government for 5th, 6th or 100th generation citizens as it is for 1st or 2nd generations. Part of that responsibility must also be to slap down right-wing nutters who want to pass legislation outlawing Shari’a law, when the practice of such law never existed in their communities in the first place, nor will it ever.
That is blatant fear mongering and should not be mistaken for a failure of multiculturalism.
Tighten up your government departments and regulations to ensure transparency for all, not just organizations that work with immigrant groups.
Support for toleration of difference, personal freedoms, respect for the dignity of others and a grown up acknowledgement that disagreement is part of human nature are surely preferable to intolerance and prejudice. Such values tend to be reciprocated when practiced.
The likes of the EDL should be of much more concern to Cameron, who now risks not only furthering division within Britain, but also within his own shaky coalition.