Sunday, February 06, 2011

Cameron's failure on multiculturalism

There is the old adage that it is better to look intelligent and keep your mouth shut than to open it and remove all doubt. British prime minister David Cameron has just made that big mistake by talking, or rather trying to read a speech written for him, about issues he fails to comprehend. His focus at the Munich Security Conference focused on terrorism and extremism, and besides the folly of washing British laundry publicly abroad, it seemed evident that he was not at home with the subject he had chosen or that had been imposed on him.

After reassuring the attendants that Britain was going to continue to support the NATO mission in Afghanistan, without for a moment reflecting on its futility or redefining its objectives - if ever they were clearly defined -, the prime minister offers the platitude that "We will not defeat terrorism simply by the action we take outside our borders". Bravo! Has it ever occurred to him that it is the action Britain takes outside her borders that make her a target for terrorism? Would any group around the world bother with this wet and dark island in the North Sea if it stopped meddling in other people's affairs? What makes Britain and America prime targets of terrorism is that they continually moved to deny other people the freedom, democracy and right of self-determination they postulate as their own birth right and greatest achievement. And in Afghanistan it was them who trained and armed the very "extremists" to fight their war against the Soviet Union for them, pretending that they would were only there to help the "Mujahidin" to liberate their own country. Now that they have been made to swap one occupier for another, does that longing for liberation not burn equally strong in them? The same holds true for the people of Iraq, Somalia, Palestine etc., but Cameron wants us to believe that the world's problems are merely the result of a few Muslim youth in the UK failing to integrate into the Great British way of life.

Indeed, he goes as far as stating that multiculturalism has failed. In passing he admits that the "United Kingdom still faces threats from dissident republicans in Northern Ireland" (probably because the Irish youth wasn't too apt on integration either?), but then states that the "root of the problem" is the existence of an ideology, Islamist extremism". I so love the use of that postmodern term "Islamist" (only "Islamicist" could be worse) as a ruse to put the blame on Islam and Muslims without explicitly having to say so. Once more, Cameron pays lip-service to Islam as a "a religion observed peacefully and devoutly by over a billion people" and "Islamist extremism is a political ideology supported by a minority", but then displays his ignorance when identifying the latter with the ultimate goal of "an entire Islamist realm, governed by an interpretation of Sharia". "Sharia", of course, is another of those emotive words in the West, conjuring up images of beheadings and cutting of hands, yet it is actual the name of the complex legal code of Islam governing both private and public life and without which Islam would be reduced to a few pious prayers said quietly at home, which is, of course, what Cameron and his ilk would love to see, the separation of religion and politics. Yet, in the West too, religion and politics, or indeed religiously motivated ideologies and politics, are hardly kept apart, as evidenced in the total sell out of Western politicians to Israel and its supremacist ideology of Zionism with the ultimate goal of an entire Zionist realm permitting neither dissent nor criticism.

British prime minister Cameron, heading a country whose legacy includes the conflict in Palestine due to the infamous duplicity of Britain and the Balfour declaration, does not view Israeli piracy on international waters against a humanitarian mission, the "aid flotilla", as an act of extremism even worth mentioning. The total absence of Zionist terrorism as a constant catalyst for an "Islamist" counter-reaction tells us in whose camp his script writers belong.

Instead he beats the old mantra of Islamic "real hostility towards Western democracy and liberal values", when the fact is that Islamic movements in Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and so on are the ones asking for democracy and liberal values, freedom of speech and freedom of organisation, as well as their nations' right to their own resources and to deciding their own destiny, and it is Britain and America, and to a lesser degree France, who by their never-ending support for the dictators oppressing the people of those countries prevent democracy and liberal values from interfering with their ongoing political and economic exploitation of those regions.

Anticipating this argument Cameron spends a little time explaining that extremism is not intrinsic to Islam, nor is it the result of poverty or lack of democracy or indeed Western foreign policy, for otherwise there would be not extremism to be found in midst of the rich and democratic Western nations. A very hollow and short-sighted argument, for do not the people living in the West have the capacity to empathise with those in countries where protest is not allowed? Moreover, in its attempt to have a finger on the pulse of every political event in the world, Britain (and to a lesser degree France) has actively sought to attract dissident groups to set up home in the UK, partly to better be able to spy on them, partly to forge a relationship with them should the tide turn. When Rashid Ghannoushi, leader of the Tunisian opposition party An-Nahda, recently returned to Tunis, he did so from exile in London; when Khomenei replaced the Shah in Iran, he came straight from France.

For Cameron, however, it is easier to put the blame squarely on problems Muslims in Britain have with identity and integration, and this aspect of his speech has been the most widely quoted: "In the UK , some young men find it hard to identify with the traditional Islam practiced at home by their parents, whose customs can seem staid when transplanted to modern Western countries. But these young men also find it hard to identify with Britain too, because we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity. Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream. We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values." The media mostly reported this as "British PM says multiculturalism has failed", but the truth is that Cameron is admitting that "Britain has failed with regard to multiculturalism".

Let's be clear: For the British PM to sum up the problem as white Brits having been too tolerant and hands-off to criticise the more radical views amongst their coloured neighbours, and that this led to enforcing segregation and some Muslims feeling rootless, is laughably naive. Maybe a little history lesson on multiracial, multicultural Britain would benefit Mr. Cameron: First of all, West Indians and Muslims came to Britain because they were called and needed to build the British economy after the war. Secondly, they were never welcomed with open arms but always viewed with suspicion. Britain wanted cheap labour, semi-slaves, not people making their home in this "green and pleasant land". Nor did they segregate out of choice but partly because they were placed into ghettos by town planners and partly because they felt the need to protect themselves against racism. Over the time span of half a century and now in their third, if not fourth, generation those immigrants eventually became part and parcel of British society, providing valuable and essential services without which the British economy would collapse over night, but are still viewed by the host society as outsiders. And now that there is large-scale immigration from Eastern Europe of people who are white Christians (and who ironically can't be lectured on having to learn English and integrate, because as EU nationals they have an automatic right to stay), right-wing politicians like Cameron finally think they can turn up the heat against the darker skinned Brits, hoping they might leave. A sophisticated politician's version of the common British thug observation: "I love curry but hate Pakis".

Actually, it's not just Blacks and Asians who are looking for an exodus from Britain. Approx. 200,000 Brits leave the UK every year seeking a better life abroad, and about 1 in every 10 British citizens lives abroad. With Cameron's belt tightening measures and tax increases this number might soar. Out of the total of some 5.5 million Brits living abroad, there are about 1.3 million Brits living in Australia, some 800,000 in the USA, those being natural English-speaking alternatives, but there are as many as 800,000 Brits living in Spain where most neither bother to learn the language nor to integrate into Spanish society or politics. Talk about hypocrisy!

These are people who have permanently turned their backs on their home country and settled elsewhere, not holiday makers. Both, however, expect to be welcomed with open arms wherever they go and are happy to accept local hospitality. Yet, this hospitality is not extended by domestic Brits to visitors coming to visit or live amongst them from overseas. "There are practical things that we can do as well", says Cameron. "That includes making sure that immigrants speak the language of their new home and ensuring that people are educated in the elements of a common culture and curriculum." Wake up Mr. Cameron: Maybe it is not the children of immigrants but the children of indigenous Britons who need citizenship lessons and who need to learn to live along peacefully with everybody else, including those from different cultures or who hold different views to themselves.

And for the British prime minister himself, as an advanced programme of citizenship lessons, I highly recommend a book recently published by Pluto Press: "The Contemporary Arab Reader on Political Islam" edited by Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabi' from the University of Alberta who describes his task as researcher thus: "We, as critical theorists, need to make Western audiences aware that Islamism as a political discourse embraces far more than the dogmatic fundamentalism and terrorist violence that dominate in the Western press." The book contains translations of various contributions by Arab Islamist thinkers from the Middle East and North Africa, covering the whole spectrum from government appointed scholars to jihadist theologians. It demonstrates that far from Islam being monolithic, there is a lively political debate going on in the Muslim world, below the radar of the Western media and political establishment who, as Abu-Rabi' observes, write about the Islamic movement whilst failing "to even consult original Islamist sources", and sets out as the aim of the 312-page publication to come to grips "with the conceptual framework of the 'many varieties of Islamism'." Maybe just what Mr. Cameron needs, but seeing he had difficulty reading even the script prepared for him at Munich without constantly stumbling over his words, it might be a little above his intellectual acumen.