THE STATE OF MULTICULTURALISM: WHO IS FAILING WHO?
“We have failed to provide a vision of society to which [different cultures] feel they want to belong” – David Cameron, Munich Security Conference (2011)
In his address to the Security Council in Munich a few weeks ago, David Cameron declared that “State Multiculturalism” had “failed to provide a vision of society to which [different cultures] feel they want to belong”. Instead, he said, it has “encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other”.
But can he blame them?
Can Cameron really blame them, when on the very day he ascribes the rise of Islamic extremism to Britain’s “hands-off tolerance” of different cultures behaving “completely counter to our values”, 1500 English Defence League supporters marched through Luton chanting “Burn a Muslim”? Are these the values that Cameron referred to as ours? Could this be the “clear sense of shared national identity” Cameron finds wanting in today’s Britain? Is this a vision of society that any Briton could ever feel they want to belong to?
…Well, perhaps for those 1,500 EDL supporters, it might be.
Despite representing only a minority of British public opinion, the EDL’s unmistakeably racist and Islamophobic message is echoed by the British National Party (BNP) for whom support has almost trebled in the last 5 years, from 0.7% of votes in 2005 to 1.9% of votes in the 2010 General Elections. Even scarier, perhaps, is the unveiled support of the EDL by national media giant the Daily Star, who covered the march in Luton with the headlines “English Defence League to become political party”. Their coverage ended by saying that “In the Daily Star phone poll yesterday, 98% of readers said they agreed with the EDL’s policies”. Let us not forget that whilst the Daily Star is often pigeonholed as a harmless, ‘no-news – all tits & sport’ paper, it has a following of about 1.55 million readers, compared to the Guardian’s 1.13 million, and represents a significant percentage of the British electorate.
By exclusively targeting the British Muslim community, Cameron’s attack on state multiculturalism alined itself with the kind of racist rhetoric the Daily Star propagates, and rightly angered those who felt his views seemed to legitimize the increasing Islamophobic sentiment amongst the EDL and other radical factions. Whilst his discourse may have earned him the support of the extreme-right both at home and abroad, there is no doubt that, unlike the EDL, Cameron was NOT suggesting we “Burn a Muslim” or say “No to Mosques”. However, by failing to acknowledge the EDL’s “homecoming” in Luton and ignoring the increasing support for this kind of extremist ideology, his speech displayed an unashamedly hostile bias towards a Muslim minority. Furthermore, the critical timing and context of Cameron’s speech highlights the one-dimensional approaches Western Governments, like our own, continue to show in the fight against terror. Such a shallow analysis of the complexities involved in Islamic radicalization and extremism, will only, as leader of the BNP Nick Griffin put it, serve “the legitimization of our message”. More significantly, the speech exposes the hypocrisy of Conservative-led policies in a Conservative-imposed age of austerity.
“…I believe it is time to turn the page on the failed policies of the past.”– David Cameron, Munich Security Conference (2011)
You see, whilst David Cameron tells the world to follow his steps in “making sure that immigrants speak the language of their new home”, back in Britain, his Party has announced massive funding cuts to the provisions of English classes for speakers of other languages (ESOL). This includes the end of funding for ESOL in the workplace, the limiting of public funding to ESOL classes for people from ‘settled communities’, the limiting of full fee remission to people claiming Job Seekers’ Allowance (JSA) or the new Employment Support Allowance (ESA), and the removal of full fee remission for people on a range of other benefits. Surely, these are the makings of the “failed policies” of the future? Surely, it is the massive sway of coalition cuts to public funding like these that threatens to weaken “our collective identity”?
After all, in the long-term, is it not more financially prudent to fund ESOL classes for those on, for instance, Job Seekers’ Allowance, whose poor English is an obvious barrier to finding employment and working a way out of benefits? Or is our government so blinded by Cameron’s big, shiny forehead to see beyond a five-term government? Or perhaps they are praying that faith schools like the ones David Cameron is so keen to see “real growth in”, will fill in the gap. Already, one third of existing schools in UK are faith schools, and under the coalition government the number is set to increase.
Of course, there is no contradiction at all in encouraging the creation of different faith schools on the one hand, and preaching for a more integrated, inclusive and collective British identity on the other, just as long as they aren’t Muslim faith schools, right Mr Cameron?
In conclusion, it seems that where the radical-right wrongly accuses immigrants of sponging off the state, under the Con-Dem coalition government, the state is set to wrongly condemn a new generation to greater state-dependency, increasing long-term unemployment and a more divided society.