Socialist Worker

Why we’re proud of multicultural Britain

Activists explain why they are supporting an anti-racist statement after David Cameron's comments on multiculturalism

Issue No. 2239

Shemiza Rashid

Luton-based founder of the Creative Muslim Network, teacher, radio presenter and inter-faith art consultant

I was shocked and confused when I heard the prime minister’s comments. The day after the EDL march should have been primarily a joyful occasion: we overcame a big hurdle.

It was a slap in the face for the efforts of Luton’s community who came together against the extremism of the EDL.

The day showed multiculturalism and integration at its best.

But Cameron’s statement made it feel as if the town was being catapulted back to Thatcher’s Britain—and the real face of Conservatism was exposed.

Cameron’s understanding of multiculturalism, like his formula for the failure of the economy, is to blame someone else. In this instance, it is Muslims.

I feel nervous that the real essence of multiculturalism may be lost to a bygone age and replaced by a new breed of colonialism.

Multiculturalism has not failed and we should not let Cameron denounce 60 years of rich multicultural British heritage.

I hope multicultural values will be strengthened but I cannot be naïve—we may need to work twice as hard now to keep the torch burning.

Integration should not be a forced process.

This hostility towards multiculturalism will breed a new form of racism under the guise of political correctness.

I am opposed to extremism, but it comes in many forms, including the far right such as the EDL and the British National Party.

Now David Cameron has legitimised Islamophobia in the eyes of the far right.

My family has lived in Britain for five generations. I’m proud to live here. But now I feel very conscious about my children’s future—growing up Muslims in Britain.

Jeremy Corbyn

Islington North, Labour MP

David Cameron chose the day of an EDL march to speak at a conference on security and

discuss his perception of the alleged failures of multiculturalism. He made allegations of extremism in the Islamic community, but failed to criticise any extreme right wing racist groups or recognise the problems of Islamophobia or any other forms of racial intolerance.

I have the honour to represent a very multicultural constituency. There are mosques, churches, synagogues and people from dozens of countries. People work together as an inclusive and cohesive community.

This is achieved by recognising cultural, linguistic and religious identity, as well as the common good of the entire community.

If Cameron wants a lesson in how modern Britain works he should visit my constituency, or indeed dozens of others around the country. The deference and racism of the 1950s are long behind us. It’s time David Cameron, as our prime minister, understood 21st century Britain.

Martin Smith

Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR)

I first heard David Cameron’s speech while I was travelling to Luton to demonstrate against the racist EDL.

It is a fundamental change in Tory policy and a stepping up of attacks on the Muslim community.

The EDL welcomed it. Four homes in Luton’s Bury Park area have had their windows smashed and “EDL” painted on their doors since the protest.

Muslim families live in three of the four houses attacked.

We felt something had to be done so we launched the statement. The response has been magnificent. But this has to be just the beginning.

Unite Against Fascism and LMHR are prepared to help launch the campaign, but it needs to involve broader forces.

We believe that we need to start with a series of rallies around the country in defence of multiculturalism and condemning Cameron’s comments.

We want to raise funds to produce packs for teachers to use in schools and campaign materials.

It means that all of us—the majority who believe in a multicultural Britain where there is no place for racism—will have to redouble our efforts to stop Islamophobia gaining an even stronger foothold.

Kanja Ibrahim Sesay

NUS Black Students’ Officer

Cameron’s flawed concept of the big society is that it appears to include everyone but the Muslim community.

Multiculturalism is part of British life. It leads to a more integrated society that promotes social cohesion based on being informed and respectful. We must continue to celebrate it and do all we can to promote it.

We can create a more inclusive society, which will defeat extremism and fascism.

Dr Rob Berkeley

Director of the Runnymede Trust

David Cameron has argued that “state multiculturalism” has encouraged “different cultures to live separate lives” and that Britain needs a stronger national identity to prevent people from turning to extremism.

Some believe that multiculturalism actively promotes separate religious and ethnic identities at the expense of common values.

But we believe that it simply means the existence and recognition of different identities in a shared political space within a framework of human rights. Every day people in this country accept that different identities exist, and this is not seen as controversial.

Cameron’s policies—like removing the poor from housing in affluent areas and deterring students from poorer backgrounds from going to university—will not help in creating positive relationships between people from different backgrounds.

Evidence shows that ethnic residential segregation is a result of “white flight” and fear of discrimination, not self-segregation.

And why is there a problem with a positive choice to live with people you identify with? Do we ask this of the LGBT communities of Brighton—no, and why should we?

True multiculturalism can act as a bulwark against extremism.

Cameron talks about our “collective identity” and common values. But this needs to be determined by all people, whatever their ethnicity or religion. Sounds a lot like multiculturalism to me.

Dr Jonathan Githens-Mazer

Co-director of the European Muslim Research Centre

Discussions about tolerance in our society are worth having, but they should not be attached to a counter-terrorism agenda or become a politically convenient way for defining who our friends or our foes are.

That is irresponsible. It runs the risk of increasing the divisions which may exist in our communities—divisions which many people from all backgrounds are constantly working to overcome.

Billy Hayes

General secretary, CWU union

My immediate thoughts on hearing Cameron’s comments were that he is taking the same Islamophobic turn as German chancellor Angela Merkel.

There is a real danger that it will give every racist a licence to intimidate Muslims.

I welcome the response of Unite Against Fascism, Love Music Hate Racism, and One Society Many Cultures, to challenge him.

In the unions we must ensure our members and activists are alert to the increased potential for attacks upon Muslims, inside the workplace and the community.

Mark Serwotka

General secretary, PCS union

We didn’t have to wait long for Cameron’s words to be seized on by the far right.

The English Defence League crowed that it was now part of the mainstream political dialogue.

Cameron wants to return us to a time before anti-racism—when other cultures were regarded as second class.

This is just the latest despicable attack on Muslim people. But this is also an attack on us all.

His words were deliberately chosen to cause division, at exactly the time when people in our communities the length and breadth of the country are uniting.

Instead of addressing the genuine concerns of working class people of all cultures, faiths and skin colours, Cameron is seeking to scapegoat minorities.

I, and my union, stand for solidarity. We support multiculturalism for the same reasons that we oppose the government’s devastating plans to slash public services and spending.

These are the things that bind us together and we must not let Cameron, the far right or anyone else drive us apart.

Sign this statement

‘We believe David Cameron’s statement that multiculturalism has failed was a dangerous declaration of intent. David Cameron’s speech was reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s infamous 1978 statement that Britain was “being swamped by alien cultures”.

He has branded Britain’s Muslims as the new “enemy within” in the same way as Thatcher attacked the miners and trade unions.

David Cameron is attempting to drive a wedge between different communities by linking Britain’s multicultural society with terrorism and national security.

David Cameron’s speech was made on the same day as the English Defence League (EDL) brought its bigotry and violence to the streets of Luton.

Mr Cameron’s aim is simple as it is crude – to deflect the anger against his government’s cuts from the bankers and onto the Muslim community.

The prime minister is aping attacks by other European leaders like France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, who passed legislation banning the veil, and Angela Merkel, who has also made statements denouncing multiculturalism in Germany.

We believe that our multicultural society and the respect and solidarity it is built on is a cause for pride, and reject any moves by this government to undermine and destroy it.

We must not allow this coalition government to turn the tide back to the days when it was acceptable, through ignorance and fear, for people with a different religion, culture or skin colour to be scapegoated and treated as inferior or outsiders.’

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