So, has multiculturalism failed?

Mr Cameron has used a speech in Munich to attack what he describes as “state multiculturalism”. There will be howls of predictable protest. Connections will be drawn between the country in which he has chosen to deliver his message, and the message itself. His use of the adjective “state” will be seen to provide continuity with his right-wing attack on the “big state”, and with his government’s savage cuts in public expenditure. The presence of Angela Merkel on the same platform will doubtless be interpreted as symbolising Mr Cameron’s desire to get close to EU leaders on this issue, to provide cover for the anti-European rhetoric that he is obliged by the right-wing of his party to endorse at home. And that today should as well be the occasion of a rally by the English Defence League will, I’m sure, also be seized upon as proof of his giving comfort to extremism and xenophobia on British streets.

I don’t doubt that some of the sentiments in these multifarious critiques will have some justification, and I have no wish to be seen as an uncritical supporter of the Prime Minister’s approach to race and culture. But I’ve previously written about the ultimately doomed nature of the multicultural project. Insofar as Mr Cameron has touched on these same points, then obviously I support him. It’s just that I don’t think he has touched on these same points. His points are different and largely, I think, mistaken. In particular, he is approaching this whole subject not from what one might term the principles that should guide how ethnic minorities and their host communities ought to interact, both in the short and the long term, but rather from a narrow instrumentalism. His question is not about how difference should be managed, but about how difference might be exacerbating the issue of public safety. The Munich speech was after all not at a conference on human relations, but indeed at one on security. And, since by security we really mean the problem of Muslim antagonism to Western interests, this inevitably leads to concentration on this one specific issue amongst the entire and much more wide-ranging canvas of how all minority groups might best live in Britain, and how the host community can most quickly work towards removing the relevance of ideas such as a “host community” in contradistinction to a “minority community”.

But these more general, almost philosophical ideas, are not Mr Cameron’s real concern. They only serve as a backdrop to his worries about extremists and terrorists. And that, at this moment, exclusively means Islamic extremists and terrorists. It is not, therefore, very surprising that those whom I’ve heard speaking thus far from the Muslim community have been less than enthusiastic.

It is to put it mildly an optimistic prospectus that sees the solution to the real and serious threats of terrorist outrage in the minutiae of “community relations”, and in the reward of moderate sermons and the punishment of extreme ones – when all the while the real source of anger is the attitude of the West to Muslim nations and Muslim interests across the world. The attitudes formed by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, by oppression in the Middle East, by diplomacy based more on Western access to fossil fuel than access by the poor to a fairer share of the world’s wealth: these cannot be sorted out by a change in which kinds of Islamic charities get money from the government.

As is so often the case, this Prime Minister has got cause and effect arse over tit. Cultural separation is an effect, not a cause. We need to address it, because enclaves are in truth not healthy for their insiders, nor for the wider societies in which they are set. Until the causes are dealt with, the effects will continue, whatever Mr Cameron may choose to say in Munich, or anywhere else come to that.


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