Multiculturalism is under fire yet again


Over the weekend The Observer journalist Anushka Asthana attempted to have a reasoned discussion about the much maligned term Multiculturalism.

Many of you will be aware of the argument that periodically does the rounds: Multiculturalism causes separatism and thus is the root cause of home grown Islamic terrorism. Trevor Phillips infamously opened the floodgates when attempting to rationalise why a small group of Muslims were burning the Union flag. Anyone there after who wanted a simplistic solution not to engage in race inequality - or had an axe to grind against anyone that wasn’t white British - could beat Black communities up with the stick of Multiculturalism.

And so it was twice this week that commentators beat up those that have supported the idea that BME communities need empowerment in order to achieve greater equality. Guardian writer Sarfraz Manzoor, who seems to psychologically gravitate away from anything Black for fear it shows he is not quite British, pounced upon Multiculturalism to explain home grown terrorism. In a bid to find a simplistic reason to the Swedish suicide bomber who studied in Luton and those 7/7 bombers that also came from the same town, he claims that his town, ‘has come to embody the failure of Multiculturalism and community relations’.

His evidence for such hyperbole is the fact that some schools in the area are 95% Asian. One glaring fact that Manzoor cares not to explore is that any school ratio of 95% Black or Asian, has little or nothing to do Multiculturalism or community relations and more to do with ‘white flight’, and the self fulfilling prophecy of community enclaves. They call them ‘ghettos’.

The second trouncing of Multiculturalism came from the Minister for Security, Pauline Neville Jones who was on Radio 4 to talk about government efforts to tackle home-grown extremism. She stated, “We do think that the previous policy... of Multiculturalism, which on the whole emphasized the differences between people, was a mistaken route,"

In the case of Manzoor, he like others such as advisor to Boris Johnson, Munira Mirza pander to an audience to which they appear desperate to be belong. The uncontested remarks, however, of the Security Minister are much more worrying. Why? Well, primarily because of her position of power, but also in regards to what she would have been told by those who are the experts in the area of ‘home-grown extremism’. For example, the former head of MI5, Lady Eliza Manningham-Buller never mentioned Multiculturalism once when asked by the Chilcot inquiry about ‘home grown terrorism’. Her frank assessment about the radicalisation of some Muslims was British foreign policy, particularly the war in Iraq: "Our involvement in Iraq radicalised, for want of a better word, a whole generation of young people – not a whole generation, a few among a generation – who saw our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as being an attack upon Islam.".

So why did the Minister choose to blame Multiculturalism? Because it’s easy. It articulates a simplistic explanation that puts the blame not on British foreign policy but local authorities; ‘Nothing to do with us’, they can cry, ‘Once they get in a group on their own they just seem hell bent on attacking us. That’s what Multiculturalism does.’ The other win they get by demonising Multiculturalism is by telling us that if we want to get on we must abandon our own cultures and ‘be more British’. The former Minister Norman Tebbit, described it as the ‘cricket test’. Finally, abandoning the focus on empowering marginalised communities the state could withdraw resources and claim, ‘we are all in this together’.

One sad but pertinent point missed in the debate that Anushka attempted was the fact that she lived in a county which made her often feel ashamed of her colour, and her race. Multiculturalism - different but equal - gave her back some pride. In one way or another most of us who are not white wrestle with what Anushka felt, in no small measure because we all want to belong. Fortunately for Anushka, she is now confident enough to admit how she felt and recognise those elements that empowered her and others. Sadly looking at the deluge of replies to her article on the Guardian site, the vast majority have no idea that a dominate global culture of ‘white is superiority’, has profound effects on people that don’t look the same. Furthermore, that a small and fairly innocuous idea, Multiculturalism, has attempted to change that for the benefit of everyone.

And long may it live.

Simon Woolley