Sunday, 6 February 2011

A vision of true multiculturalism.

Speaking in Berlin yesterday David Cameron launched his most scathing attack yet on multiculturalism in Britain, saying that we should use 'muscular liberalism' to enforce equality, law, and freedom across society. Whilst the message about enforcing equality and freedom is one I think we can all sign up to, I do question the manner, the tone, and indeed the timing of this speech, and wonder if it wasn't a little reckless.

Multiculuralism isn't an experiment, it's a way of life.

The reason I question the speech is that whilst the aims are noble, he has targeted the rhetoric towards a minority in an unfair and lazy way, which could fuel ignorance and hatred of other cultures. When an EDL leader welcomes your speech, you should pause for thought.

An example of this is his insistence that no Muslim group should recieve state funding unless they endorse women's rights and promote integration. Now, neither of these are bad things, but again the targetting is the part I have an issue with. Why Muslim groups in particular? Will he put the same onus on the Catholic church as it refuses to acknowledge women priests, or as it condemns homosexuals? If you're going to enforce equality, then do it across all groups, you cannot single out one bad apple from a rotten orchard.

I fear that all this speech will do, rather than setting out any new solutions to the problem of integration, will fuel the ignorance of far-right groups who like to pretend that Islam is the problem, the sole problem, and being rid of it will solve all our nations problems. Assigning blame to Muslims for not integrating whilst completely ignoring those factions within British society who are generally far more violent (such as the EDL, who had a major rally on the day of the speech) is reckless, and will do nothing to benefit anyone.

Multiculturalism is not something that can fail or succeed, it is not an experiment, it is simply a description of the current state of affairs of our nation, where we have a range of cultures living side by side. Cameron himself said in 2007 that, 'We wouldn't be half the country we are without immigration.' The answer is not to bully people into adopting one culture and one culture only, it is to allow a state of affairs where we have different cultures, but not distinct social identities, where cultures overlap and you are free to move between them.

Paul Vallely in the Independent gives a simple example of this from a school in Moss Side, Manchester. Children there are encouraged to embrace other cultures as well as their own with the result that 37 nationalities can learn harmoniously, and you have 'black children there doing irish dancing, and white kids play in a jamaican steel band'.

This is the kind of multiculturalism I'd like to see, where you have the best of all cultures, living not only side by side but interspersed with one another. Where you break down barriers and stereotypes at the very youngest age. And I don't think David Cameron's ill-judged attempt to appease the right wing of his party, by suggesting we churn out clones who all share the same culture, is the right way to build a society, or indeed to solve any problems currently present.

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