David Cameron travelled to Munich, of all places, at the start of last month to make a speech attacking our multicultural society and the more than one million Muslims living in it.
Why was this speech of such significance? It could be argued that Cameron was only travelling further down a road mapped out by Tony Blair. The deafening silence from New Labour, apart from frontbenchers distancing themselves from MP Sadiq Khan’s condemnation of Cameron, was indeed wretched.
We know that the Tories like nothing more than a spoonful or two of bigotry with their politics, but Cameron’s speech marked a step change in state racism. The occasion and place of Cameron’s speech signalled the premeditated nature of his attack. He delivered the speech at an international security conference populated by spooks, military types, politicians and the official media.
His speech was certainly music to the ears of host Angela Merkel, who announced late last year that multiculturalism had “failed totally” in Germany and was to blame for Muslims’ supposed failure to integrate into the German way of life. The speech was also applauded by French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who went on television to state, “If you come to France, you accept to melt into a single community, which is the national community, and if you do not want to accept that, you cannot be welcome in France.”
The speech also made Cameron new admirers from the cesspool that is Europe’s far right. Marine Le Pen, the new leader of France’s fascist Front National, was overjoyed: “It is exactly this type of statement that has barred us from public life [in France] for 30 years… I can only congratulate him.”
In the face of this, the recent speech by Tory chair Baroness Warsi that Islamophobia was the last “respectable” racism, applauded by British Muslim organisations, fades into irrelevance.
The new “enemy within”
Cameron has definitively lined Britain up with the European right wing consensus that Muslims are the agency of the West’s decline – they are the “enemy within” to be viewed essentially as a security threat, and advocates of multiculturalism are to blame for it all. It was the section in Cameron’s speech that broadened the scope of Muslim individuals and groups that are now to be opposed that marked the change. Cameron argued that from now on even Muslims who reject violence can be viewed as “extremist”.
This was interpreted partly as an attack on the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) – an entirely legitimate religious organisation whose views can be accurately described as mainstream. It follows that if the MCB are under suspicion then there are no Muslim organisations or leaders in Britain immune from the accusation that they are recruiting sergeants for terrorism, even as they oppose it. The only Muslim groups free from scrutiny will be those fostered by the state as client organisations – a handful of which were set up by the New Labour government as pretend spokespeople for “moderate Islam”.
A recent event illuminates the climate of intimidation and fear Cameron now wants to foster. When Birmingham Respect councillor Salma Yaqoob remained seated instead of rising for a standing ovation as a decorated soldier entered the council chamber, a Lib Dem councillor rounded on her saying she would have got on her feet for a suicide bomber and accusing her of wanting to see Britain become an Islamic republic. The story was then splashed in the Daily Mail and the Sun. The thrust of the attack was to smear Yaqoob’s reputation and deny her right as a Muslim to peaceful dissent and an anti-war stance.
Cameron’s message in Munich was bulked out by the usual lies that surround this worldview. He cited the example of “Islamic fundamentalists” taking over British prisons. There is no evidence whatsoever that this has happened in any British prison. He also resurrected the myth that Muslim communities have failed to confront forced marriages – despite the fact that you would be hardpressed to find an individual Muslim advocating these.
Cameron’s attack on “failed multiculturalism” also rested on a bed of falsehoods. The notion that multiculturalism was ever an official state policy is simply not true. Where local councils have funded a few facilities for minority ethnic groups, the overall thrust has been to give them “a leg up” and the confidence to engage with society on the basis of equality.
Study after study shows that Britain’s Muslims are integrated – as much as they are allowed – into wider society. Opinion polls show that they agree with, or even feel more strongly about, so-called Western values. And Muslims are anti-war – with all the fundamentally decent values that implies – alongside the great majority of British society.
Given that most Muslims are working class, they are patently more integrated into society than the upper classes who take pride in their separation from “the unwashed masses”. How many of us have a community-minded millionaire City banker living next door? Demographic studies have shown that it is overwhelmingly the fear of racist hostility that has acted to discourage black and Asian people from moving into majority white areas. The coalition’s attack on the poor and the stamping on working class aspirations for a university education will do more to isolate communities than any other force in British life. Cameron claimed that multiculturalism had left young Muslims “feeling rootless”. The truth is that if some young Muslims feel shut out of society it is the result of poverty, unemployment and racism compounded by hostility to Islam.
When communities have been divided, the root cause has rarely been people’s religious beliefs. It was racist local council policies that led to segregated housing, for example. In the north of England it was employers, notoriously the mill owners, who deliberately segregated their workforce as a profitable ploy to divide and rule. And it has been the established political parties who have traditionally sought to treat minority ethnic voters as homogeneous electoral blocs and “community leaders” as the agency to deliver that backing, even if it meant playing one group off against another.
If you blow away the smokescreen, at the root of Cameron’s attack is a profound hostility to our multicultural society and the desire to undermine the unity that is its strength. His “muscular liberalism” represents an urge to drive a wedge between us at the very point when we need to stand together against the coalition’s attacks.
Progress towards a multicultural society has always advanced through anti-racist struggles large and small, everyday and historic: the defence of black and Asian immigrants against race riots; the battles of black youth against the “sus” laws and racist policing of the Notting Hill Carnival; the fight to turn the trade unions into bastions of anti-racism; the struggle of school teachers and students to enjoy anti-racist teaching; the multiracial riots that erupted in our inner cities under Margaret Thatcher; the growth of a multicultural youth culture; and stubborn defence of our communities from attack by Mosley’s fascists, the National Front, the British National Party and the English Defence League.
The fight of Asian workers at the Grunwick factory in the late 1970s led by the recently deceased Jayaben Desai would have been less but for the support of the Yorkshire miners on the west London picket line, and the 1984-5 fight of the miners would have been less but for the solidarity delivered by miners’ support groups, including from the black communities in areas such as Brixton.
It is this tradition that Cameron and those urging him on wish to roll back and destroy. It’s up to us all to defend it.
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