Not a failure of multiculturalism, a failure of Conservative vision

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by Jolene Cargill

David Cameron had a responsibility to denounce the English Defence League (EDL) as they marched in Luton on Saturday.  Instead, he might as well have donned a mask and stood shoulder to shoulder with the most significant far right movement in Britain since the National Front.

Muslim leaders attacked the speech and its timing and both the British National Party and EDL have endorsed it.  Can you hear that?  It’s the sound of loud alarm bells ringing.

Police forces across the UK have acknowledged that blatant displays by groups such as the EDL actually fuel terrorism.  But instead of singularly rejecting far right peddlers of hate and aggression, the PM as good as got into bed with them.

Cameron said in the speech at a security conference the state must ‘confront’ the non-violent Muslim groups that are ambiguous about British values of equality between sexes, democracy and integration.

This posturing about asserting a uniform British culture doesn’t just slam the door in the face of integration, it sends a far more insidious message; we don’t need to understand, accept or interact with different Muslim cultures in our communities or learn from them, but they need to conform to ours.

And who would have thought it was possible, but the master plan to challenge terrorism with the ‘War on Terror’, sorry, the overseas contingency operation, just got even more ridiculous.  Muslim groups are to be ‘questioned’ on their record of what he termed ‘liberal values’.  This witch hunt style warning will undoubtedly open the gates to persecution of Muslim communities.  And of course, it misses the point.  Islam will never embrace Western secularization.

Within Islam there are traditional, modern and radical schools of thought all with different interpretations of the Quran; the strains of Islam which are dominant amongst British Muslims do not slot absolutely into European models of equality and democracy, particularly when it comes to the interaction of men and women

“We haven’t given them a vision they want to belong to.”  Make no mistake, this is despotism dressed up as patriotism.  If Muslim communities are ‘part of the problem’ then that assertion must extend to the rest of society; integration can’t work if it’s left to the minorities to assimilate.

The argument that many young men have been drawn to extremism due to a “rootlessness created by the weakening of a clear collective British cultural identity” is back to front, a gross over-simplification and totally misleading.  Impressionable young Muslims are drawn to extremist groups not because of a politically imposed, top-down cultural notion of what it means to be British.

Those who feel they don’t fit in are more susceptible to extremist organisations but that is not about the weakening of British identity; surely it’s about confusion or resentment over their Muslim identity and how that dual identity of British Muslim fits together.  And again, we have to come back to integration.

It’s a grave pity that Cameron has so blatantly undermined multiculturalism – and all that grassroots communities have achieved – by calling for a move away from “passive tolerance” to a “more active muscular liberalism.”  For the sake of accuracy, let’s call it veiled intolerance.

In Scotland we are multicultural; there is no getting away from that.  We live next door to and come face to face on the buses with people from different cultures, races and faiths.  And it’s celebrated at events like the Mela festival or cultural centres like the International Women’s Centre in Dundee.

Sectarianism and racism are part of Scotland’s history too, but it tends to be related to social circumstances such as when migrants have been perceived by the resident population to represent some form of economic threat.

The tensions over housing and public services run highest in communities like Glasgow where there are high concentrations of mixed race and faith cultures living on top of one another; poverty, poor housing and unemployment are all bound up in the problem.  And it’s not that different in Luton, where the EDL held their march at the weekend.

But you know multiculturalism when you see it.  I have seen it in many schools where Muslim families bring in Christmas cards and gifts for teachers and children; simply because they want to respect the occasion and despite the differences of the faiths, they share a commitment to the values of giving.

The ethos of multiculturalism will always have a place in Scotland.  The EDL and BNP still struggle to get any foothold here because we stand up to them and for hospitality, generosity and tolerance.  Like any of Cameron’s so called British values these can only work if we live them.  It’s up to us, as neighbors, employees, parents, friends, consumers and of course, as voters.  And it’s going to take more than seriously ill judged political muscle flexing to get in the way.

Meanwhile, it’s a pity that the Government doesn’t have the good sense to see that it’s the ‘War on Terror’ that is failing and develop more informed anti-terrorist policies, based on tackling the origins of terrorism and better supporting integration within our communities.

And of course, it wouldn’t hurt to overhaul our foreign policies to truly learn lessons from the past, both at home and in the Middle East.  Al Qaeda’s modern origins go back to a revivalist movement that called for a return to a pure and ‘unadulterated’ form of Islam.  Radical sects reduced Islam to a scriptural literalism and later groups like Al Qaeda blended the theology with fascism.

Fascism and all extremist ideologies thrive on fear and ignorance which can be endemic to families, generations and extremist organisations; you can’t ‘defeat’ that with tanks and bullets against an invisible enemy, or with yet more ignorance and fear as pedaled by this latest example of flawed neo-Conservative thinking from Cameron et al.