David Cameron should have just thrown a brick through a curry house window

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.

Oh.

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.

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9 Responses to David Cameron should have just thrown a brick through a curry house window

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention David Cameron should have just thrown a brick through a curry house window « Paperback Rioter -- Topsy.com

  2. As I said of facebook yesterday, you’ve got it bang on that there’s woolly thinking going on in this speech. Unfortunately, it does almost come across in this post as if you hadn’t actually read it.

    The fact that you make out that Cameron’s “pandering” to the far-right really does you no credit because he’s doing nothing of the sort. That’s the problem with making reasonable, middle-ground intellectual arguments in public: your quotes can be taken out of context by the extremes of either side as either evidence you’re on their side or evidence you’re the enemy. And you’ve sealed the deal by quoting the Grauniad – the left-wing answer to the Daily Mail. The people at that EDL rally obviously haven’t read the speech. For one thing, it comes under TL/DR, and for another, Cameron almost explicitly tells British far-right groups they can fuck right off. What has evidently taken place here is that some Guardian journalist has taken the non-left quotes out of the context of the thrust of Cameron’s argument and read them to some EDL protesters to get some juicy quotes of far-right support for Cameron.

    To that extent, it could be argued that, while you’re against No Platform (and I’m with you whole-heartedly on that), you are also saying that one should never say anything in public that can possibly be construed (using any amount of distortion) as tacit support for their values.

    As for the implications you make about the timing, the direct audience for that speech was a security conference in Munich. As such, multiculturalism is relevant because of its perceived relationship with terrorism, and university fees aren’t. Even mentioning that he should be pandering to the “30,000” effected by the fees issue is utterly nonsensical.

    As far as Cameron’s argument goes, he takes the a more realistic view of Islamist extremism and actually clarifies the realities of Islamist and Islamic politics very well. He doesn’t pander to the far-right and accusing him of doing so is unfair and patently ill-conceived. On the other hand, he missed out several important aspects of the problem, as you did mention.

    I love your work, and usually you give good food for thought. But today you’ve made a good point very badly.

    • This deserves a longer reply than what I’m about to give, but I want to make this point, right away.

      “the direct audience for that speech was a security conference in Munich”

      I’m not sure I agree with that. The speech was OBVIOUSLY going to be reported in Britain, and was OBVIOUSLY going to be tied in with the EDL protests which were happening on the same day. The timing is very deliberate. The fact is, Cameron explicitly says that multiculturalism has failed. On the same day that a racist group saying THOSE SAME THINGS were holding their same rally. When you didn’t see him, say, extolling the virtues of a free university education, or protecting public services, on the day of a tuition fee or anti-cuts protests.

      I’ll post something longer tomorrow but that’s my initial reaction.

  3. Roger says:

    Corey,

    Firstly I must say that although I don’t always agree with you, I really enjoy the blog and the considered and thoughtful approach you bring. I feel compelled to say the following:

    I don’t believe Cameron was pandering to far right groups but seeking to reassure the enormous silent majority of people like myself who believe that ‘multi-culturalism’ (i.e. the celebration and encouraged recognition of racial or social difference) has indeed been a terrible failure.
    Yes, anti-terrorism is a priority for the government and this speech was given at a security conference. However, there are a plethora of mundane things that are more likely to kill me than terrorism. What does bother and distress me greatly is that you and I live in a highly segregated city and I’m glad that this speech has encouraged public debate about a very important issue.

    The last government did foster ‘state mulitculturalism’ by proxy at the very least by allowing mass immigration without putting a huge effort into naturalising new arrivals . Only London is close to being ‘multicultural’. Elsewhere we simply have enclaves of monoculture, creating social barriers between people in a far more obstructive way than our (abhorrent) class system does. The social upheaval caused by ghettoisation has its worst impact upon the poor and vulnerable, including my own grandparents, part of New Labour’s accidental Liberal Elite betrayal of the people the party was meant to represent.

    I absolutely agree with you that the creation of more faith schools is going to exacerbate the problem (I‘m rather afraid that Gove is a blue-sky-thinking-dangerous, Blairite, think-tank wonk in the Julius Nicholson mould).

    One of the few countries which can claim to be a real melting pot (and which even still has problems with de facto segregation) is the United States, where national identity and pride (largely without xenophobia or jingoism) is engrained in all parts of public life, including education.

    Racial and religious difference is immaterial but social integration and a shared community and identity is absolutely vital. We must prioritise integration. Although of secondary importance, intelligence on terrorism will follow.

    Tuition fees are a whole other can of worms and I think it’s ineffective to shoehorn it into this, an entirely different debate in terms of public spending and defined and developed policy.

    I found the following article reflected my own experiences, although to a more extreme degree as this woman lived full-time in one of the most segregated areas:

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/edwest/100072294/birmingham-%E2%80%93-best-place-in-europe-to-be-pure-muslim/

    • Hi Roger,

      Thanks for your comments. I do need to write some more about multiculturalism, I think, as I didn’t properly cover that in the blog originally. Though in my defence it was already 1200 words long, and nobody would want to read any article that was much longer than that!

      In terms of Cameron’s speech, and the timing in which he said it, I think Medhi Hasan put it best, as he often does:

      “I didn’t equate David Cameron with the EDL or “smear” him as Tim Montgomerie and others have claimed. I pointed out that the English Defence League and the French National Front welcomed Cameron’s remarks (and that even the BNP’s Nick Griffin, while also welcoming the comments, pointed out the “provocative” timing of the speech in Munich, given events back home in Luton). So, am I expected to ignore their comments? As a member of an ethnic minority, should I not be bothered that far-right racists who wish me and my family harm are claiming the PM’s speech – or, at the very minimum, the media spin around it – as a vindication of their views/opinions? Am I supposed to pretend that politicians never “dog-whistle”?”

      I’ll address thoughts about multiculturalism and national identity in a later blog when I’ve collected my thoughts.

      • Roger says:

        As William Hague remarked on 6 February, the speech was scheduled months in advance of the EDL march, and government should not have its timetable dictated to it by groups like the EDL, otherwise it may never get to say what it wants to as such people will always distort and claim them entirely for themselves.

        I also welcome David Cameron’s remarks and I am not a member of the far right. We mustn’t let such groups hi-jack and take exclusive ownership of the multiculturalism debate, upon which I look forward to you writing.

  4. Pingback: Why No Platform is illiberal and misconceived « Paperback Rioter

  5. Pingback: The multiculturalism debate « Paperback Rioter

  6. Pingback: The meaning of Cameron’s speech on immigration « Though Cowards Flinch

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