I read David Cameron’s speech on multiculturalism last Saturday. At least, I assume it was the speech he gave. It sounded like the Cabinet Office had lost the full transcript of Cameron’s speech, and had replaced it on their website with a speech that Tony Blair made between 2004 and 2006.
What Cameron said was only marginally more important than when he said it. There’s a few lines in which he covers his back by stressing that not all Muslims are complete scum:
So they talk about ‘moderate’ Muslims as if all devout Muslims must be extremist. This is wrong.
Someone can be a devout Muslim and not be an extremist.
We need to be clear: Islamist extremism and Islam are not the same thing.
However, there was enough content in there to pander to far-right groups such as the EDL. For instance:
Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream.
We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values.
So when a white person holds objectionable views – racism, for example – we rightly condemn them.
But when equally unacceptable views or practices have come from someone who isn’t white, we’ve been too cautious, frankly even fearful, to stand up to them.
Now, a UK politician pandering to far-right sentiment is hardly anything new. However, although it has been stressed that the date of the speech was coincidental, Cameron said this on the day 3000 members of the English Defence League marched through Luton.
If you were Prime Minister and confronted by two different demonstrations, one of which consisted of 30,000 students protesting for the right to enter Higher Education without being burdened by debt, and another consisting of anti-Muslim racists, which protest would you pander to in a speech?
The fact that Cameron chose to pander to the racists tells you all that you need to know about his priorities.
And make no mistake, the message got through to the far-right. Nick Griffin, of all people, called the speech provocative. The BNP are certainly painting it as a victory, describing it as part of the Griffinisation of UK Politics. I can’t decide if that’s more humourous or appalling. Whereas some people on the EDL rally were delighted:
Some of crowd [sic – bloody Grauniad!] were jubilant, saying that Cameron “had come round to our way of thinking”. Paul Bradburn, 35, from Stockport, said Cameron was “coming out against extremism”.
He added: “The timing of his speech is quite weird as it comes on the day of one of the biggest EDL demos we’ve ever seen. If he wants to start sticking up for us, that’s great.”
Matt, 16, a school pupil in Birmingham who was at the march said: “He believes what we believe to some extent.”
Le Pen Jnr has praised Cameron’s speech from across the Channel, too.
It’s not even as if this sort of tactic works. I think Mark Steel put it best in Reasons to be Cheerful (p47) when writing about the fall of the National Front in the 1970s:
One explanation for their decline was that Margaret Thatcher stole their support, with her speech about people being swamped by an alien culture. But why were fascists capable of launching violent attacks in 1978 but not five years later? Were the British Movement supporters who attacked the Lurkers gig thinking, “I would have kicked that bloke’s head in but not that Mrs Thatcher has promised to introduce tough legislation I’ll let him go and grow my hair.” In France, the National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen increased its support every time conservative politicians made racist speeches in an attempt to attract its supporters.
The argument that Thatcher ruined the NF is classically British, in that it imagines that no political action has an impact outside of parliament. Are they saying that the millions of leaflets, badges, stickers and placards, the gigs, carnivals and demonstrations had no effect at all? That disillusioned people considering a vote for someone appearing to offer something new weren’t influenced by the constant reminders that these people were brutal, violent and fascist? But one speech from Margaret Thatcher and they all changed their mind? What a depressing thought then, if fascist parties return. Because the only way to stop them will be to persuade the leader of the Conservative Party to make a racist speech. Maybe he should chuck a brick through a curry house window. Then the fascists wouldn’t stand a chance.
So, on to the substance – of sorts – of Cameron’s speech. Like all modern political phrases, it has meaningless neologisms in it. One of them is “state multiculturalism”, which doesn’t really mean anything. Cameron just seems to have stuck the word “state” on the front to make it sound bad. My favourite is “Muscular Liberalism”, which was actually the name of a blog I used to read in my decent-left days.
I’m not really sure what muscular liberalism is. On the one hand:
It believes in certain values and actively promotes them.
Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality.
So how do we safeguard freedom of speech, Dave?
We must ban preachers of hate from coming to our countries.
I’m staunchly against No Platform, and that’s the topic of another blog post, but for now I should point out that the best way to defeat hateful messages is to defeat them in open debate. Also, it’s not very liberal to stop someone from speaking just because you disagree with their views.
Cameron also said he wanted an end to multiculturalism and a greater national identity, with schools teaching pupils about Britishness. I’m not sure where faith schools fit into his idea that multiculturalism has failed. But the message seems inherently contradictary to say that multiculturalism has failed, whilst at the same time ghettoising pupils by faith. After all, at least half of the new free schools will be run by some sort of faith-based organisation.
Cameron also suggests that it’s lack of integration that’s the problem. However, Medhi Hasan nicely explodes this myth:
Some of the most high-profile terrorists in recent years have been “integrated” Muslims. Take Mohammad Sidique Khan, the ringleader of the London bombings in July 2005. He was a teaching assistant who impressed parents, colleagues and pupils at the school where he worked. As a teenager, he called himself “Sid” and spent most of his time playing football with white kids. Then there are the white, British-born people who convert to Islam and become terrorists, like Nicky Reilly or Oliver Savant – are they unaware of, or unfamiliar with, British values? Would teaching them to speak English help secure our airports or railway stations?
Generation Jihad was a very interesting BBC programme from about a year ago that highlighted why young British Muslims are being radicalised, some to the extent that they blow themselves up. It’s now on Youtube if you want to watch it.
It gave two main reasons for this radicalisation. The first is they were being radicalised over the internet, which is something Cameron touched on in his speech (to be fair to him, though this is not something that teaching imams to speak English or banning “preachers of hate” will stop.
The second is anger at foreign affairs: not just Britain’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also Bosnia and Chechnya. This does seem a key part of the July 7th bombers – it’s painfully obvious when you read the transcript of Mohammad Siddique Khan’s martyrdom video:
And until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight.
We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation.
This aspect was, however, completely ignored by Cameron in his speech.
I don’t know what was more depressing about Cameron’s speech: the sentiments it panders to, the muddled thinking it expresses, or its lack of any intellectual and moral courage whatsoever.