After Merkel, Cameron too says multiculturalism has failed

Cameron Oct 2010 Picnik.jpg

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has identified segregation and separatism as key issues behind the threat of Islamic extremism and called for a "shared national identity"  to replace "the doctrine of state multiculturalism".

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on 5 February, Cameron said that Western countries needed to confront extremism rather than pursue a "hands-off tolerance".

The UK prime minister said "the doctrine of state multiculturalism" had encouraged segregation and failed to supply "a vision of society" to which people want to belong.

He was keen to stress, however, the difference between Islam as a religion and Islamic extremism as a political ideology.

"Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream. We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values," Cameron said.

The UK prime minister was critical of British society's tradition of "passive tolerance", whereby immigrants are left alone as long as they respect the law.

As an example, he cited the practice of forced marriage in some communities, which he called a "horror" to which British society had not reacted adequately.

Terrorism and radical Islam

Cameron admitted that the biggest threat facing his country is terrorist attacks, "some of which are, sadly, carried out by our own citizens".

London was hit by terrorist bombings on 7 July 2005, when fifty-six people, including four bombers, were killed and about 700 injured. It appears that the perpetrators were UK citizens of Muslim faith who had been under the influence of radical imams. Successive UK governments have been accused of leniency towards radical Islam.

To put an end to past "liberal" practice, Cameron said the state must make sure that immigrants speak the language of their new home and ensure that they are educated "in the elements of a common culture and curriculum". 

He also said that the UK authorities would introduce a National Citizen Service, which he described as a two-month programme to show sixteen-year-olds from different backgrounds how to live and work together. 

"That way, common purpose can be formed as people come together and work together in their neighbourhoods. It will also help build stronger pride in local identity, so people feel free to say, 'Yes, I am a Muslim, I am a Hindu, I am Christian, but I am also a Londoner or a Berliner too'. It's that identity, that feeling of belonging in our countries, that I believe is the key to achieving true cohesion," Cameron said.

Cameron's speech was blasted by the opposition Labour Party, who accused him of "inflaming" racial tensions. It also noted that the extreme right British National Party had hailed the speech by claiming that the government had endorsed its long-standing policies.

Muslim groups said Cameron's approach was "simplistic" and would not succeed in tackling extremism, the Independent reported.

"Communities are not static entities and there are those who see being British as their identity and there are those who do not feel that it is an overriding part of their identity," said Fiyaz Mughal, founder of interfaith group Faith Matters.

"Finger-pointing at communities and then cutting social investment into projects is a sure-fire way of causing greater resentment. It blames some communities while his government slashes social investment,"  Mughal said.

Inayat Bunglawala, chairman of Muslims4UK, described the speech as "deeply patronising". He said: "The overwhelming majority of UK Muslims are proud to be British and are appalled by the antics of a tiny group of extremists."

Dr. Faisal Hanjra, assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, described Cameron's speech as "disappointing".

"Again, it seems very much that the Muslim community is in the spotlight and being treated as part of the problem rather than part of the solution," he said.

The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) expressed serious concern about the tone of Cameron's speech and is worried that there is a growing trend in expressions of populist sentiments by mainstream political parties across Europe.

"ENAR is very concerned about increasing instances of stigmatisation of ethnic and religious minorities across Europe, not least the extremely worrying trends in relation to Islamophobia," said ENAR Chair Chibo Onyeji.

"Mr. Cameron's simplistic remarks fuel racial tensions and ignore the fact that we live in a globalised world where respect for religious and cultural values should be paramount in maintaining harmonious intercultural relations," he added.

Recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that her country's attempts to create a multicultural society had "utterly failed". Her statement added fuel to a debate over immigration and Islam that is polarising her conservative camp.

Merkel said allowing people of different cultural backgrounds to live side by side without integrating had not worked in a country that is home to some four million Muslims.

The debate over foreigners in Germany has shifted since former central banker Thilo Sarrazin published a book accusing Muslim immigrants of lowering the intelligence of German society.

Subscribe to our newsletters