Prime Minister's speech


Last Sunday, Londoners like myself alongside many thousands of visitors to the capital immersed ourselves in multiculturalism. The event was the Chinese New Year celebration - the year of the  rabbit. London’s Chinatown and its surrounding streets were heaving with revellers fantastically enjoying this  part publically funded event.

For the Chinese community it is a showcase of what they do best: culture, business, great food and entertainment. Equally we Londoners take pride in this too as part of what makes our metropolis a great city.

But in many ways the Chinese community would not survive the criteria that the Prime Minister David Cameron seems to be imposing on Muslims communities.

In what can only be described as an astonishing somewhat unhelpful speech he argued in his Munich address that it is not enough for minority ethnic organisations to operate within the law. To be accepted they must be doing much more, and that the Government must undertake what he describes as a ‘muscular liberalism’ approach to ensure they do.

The Chinese community in the UK, like a number of other racial and religious communities live generally mono-cultural lives. Hasidic Jews, and some Sikh communities choose to live separate but equal lives; other than in the work place they rarely interact with other communities.

Many of these religions and cultures, along with various denominations could do more for the rights of women, gays and lesbians. The question is therefore, should they or would they too be subject to Cameron’s ‘muscular liberalism’? Or might he and others say that none of the above have individuals amongst them who will resort to violent extremism?

The latter point - they don’t resort to violent extremism - is important which is precisely why Cameron should not confuse and conflate multiculturalism with terrorism.

Multiculturalism, the Prime Minster should be reminded, is what sets this country apart from almost any other country in the world - perhaps with exception of Canada. And I am sure that those who have travelled widely will conclude, without any prompting, that the UK and particularly London is teeming with harmonious diversity that is practically unrivalled.

Sadly, Cameron’s attack feels like a kick in the teeth to the generations of migrants and the white Britons who have bucked the global trend and blended new and old cultures in a fantastic way. Nobody said it was perfect but it is a world leader.

Now, Cameron’s real issue was to confront ‘home grown’ terrorism, which is necessary and legitimate. But he didn’t need to demonise a whole community, particularly those within it that receive public money for example, a youth centre, meals on wheels or after school club, that might only cater for Muslims because of its locality.

Of course a more honest debate about the causes of the radicalisation of some young Muslims is a bit more uncomfortable for this and previous Governments and our so called free media.

An honest debate would conclude that there are a number of accumulative elements in regards to the radicalisation of some Muslims that include:

  • The arrival of radical clerics often from Saudi Arabia with a brand of teaching – Wahhabi - that many argue nurtures extremist views.
  • A former head the UK’s security service MI5 Eliza Manningham-Butler told Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war that, ‘Our involvement in Iraq radicalised a whole generation of young people-who saw our involvement as being an attack on Islam’.
  • Islamophobia - just three weeks ago the Conservative Chair, Sayeeda Warsi spoke about the issue that ‘anti Muslim hatred was now widespread and growing’.
  • The media’s portrayal of Muslims is overwhelming negative, often portraying men as either would be terrorists or sexual predators.
  • Lack of opportunity: poor housing, health, high unemployment, etc.

None of the above are in any way an excuse for terrorism, but if we take away the oxygen that fuels extremism then surely we begin to effectively tackle home grown terrorism.

For many Muslims David Cameron’s speech on the day the English Defence League, along with their rabid European partners marched in Luton, felt like they were being attacked both by thugs and the Government that represents them.

I hope that our Prime Minister is big enough to rethink his articulation on multiculturalism and the reasons behind the radicalisation of some Muslims so that we can be proud about what we have achieved and focus on what we need to do.

Come on Prime Minister, let’s have that conversation.

Simon Woolley

Archived Comments

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Prime Minister:

I am in agreement that the speech should have focussed more on how and what the government was going to do to break the cycle of radicalization of young people in Britain. i detected some frustration in his trying to lay blame on multiculturalism that is alive and well in this country and that has served this nation well. Indeed, even amongst the mainstream white community there are differences in culture between southerners and northerners and between people of different classes. It is not the multiculturalism that has radicalized the young people, it is in my view a foreign policy that is at times unprincipled and at times allows notions of superiority to dictate what western advanced countries must do to react to alienation of young people.
the fault does not lie with first generation immigrants who have done their best to imbibe a British culture as our own way of advancement. indeed most first generation immigrants have dealt with disadvantage in very novel and refreshing ways. In so doing we have sometimes condoned the discrimination that rears its ugly face all the times, we know that things have gotten better. the second and third generation of migrants perhaps see the glass as being half empty and though the feel more British than we are, are more challenging of the lapses of the state.
Multiculturalism has worked in America, where we have Irish Americans, Chinese Americans, African Americans, polish Americans all very proud of their heritage but all very american.
Perhaps that fault lies with OBV! My challenge is that we must talk to the coalition more often and hope that we write an open letter to the Prime Minister telling him ways in which we can better help him to express his frustration and better ways in which we can help him to confront the radicalization and terrorism that we all rightly condemn. I will be happy to attend such a meeting and willing to help draft a response.