Does Cameron have multiculturalist ambitions?

The nature of what David Cameron was arguing in his speech in Munich is problematic. He claims some young Muslim men ‘find it hard to identify with Britain… because we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity’. The doctrine of ‘state of multiculturalism’ is blamed for encouraging culturally different people to live ‘apart from one another and apart from the mainstream’. It is also said to have prevented a vision of society to which these young men can feel attached. Part of the cure is thus said to be ‘a clear sense of national identity that is open to everyone’.

108839757 246x300 Does Cameron have multiculturalist ambitions?These claims seem curious for four reasons. First, whilst some young Muslim men may find it hard to identify with Britain, overwhelmingly Muslims do not. Using citizenship survey data (the governments own data set) Anthony Heath and Jane Roberts showed in 2008 that 43 % of Muslims say that they belong ‘very strongly’ to Britain and 42% say that they belong to Britain ‘fairly strongly’. When focusing on those aged 16-24, 38% of Muslim respondents say that they belong ‘very strongly’ to Britain and 45% of Muslims in the same age group say that they belong ‘fairly strongly’. This last figure is higher for Muslim respondents than it is for Christian ones and those of ‘no religion’. Such data is not only re-enforced by earlier data, but also by a later survey which suggests British Muslims identify with Britain more strongly than the British public at large. If then there is a problem with some young Muslim men not identifying with Britain, it is not at all clear that it is widespread or more pronounced among them than other groups. This is especially as there is both quantitative and qualitative data that shows national identity is increasingly less important among the young more generally. With such evidence in mind, the question thus becomes should such claims about young Muslim men not identifying with Britain be made by the Prime Minister?

Second, ‘State multiculturalism’ is said to have encouraged the culturally different to live separate lives. Residential segregation is usually used as an example here, but it is notable that the person most known for saying that Britain is ‘sleepwalking to segregation’ is Trevor Phillips. Criticised by leading scholars like Professors Ludi Simpson, Ceri Peach and Danny Dorling, Phillips apologised for ‘mangling’ the figures that helped him to make such a claim. To the best of my knowledge, he no longer does so but leading government politicians do. As with claims about Muslims identifying with Britain, a claim is being made that is at odds with available evidence and generates unnecessary fear, which then raises the question of whether it should made?

Third, there is the suggestion that multiculturalism has ‘weakened our collective identity’ and prevented a vision of society emerging to which all can belong. Here it is not clear whether the collective identity Cameron is referring to is Britain’s identity or people’s British identities or how to interpret such weakening. After all, when more sophisticated survey questions are asked we can see some weakening, but we do not know the point a national identity has to weaken to for a society to fracture. Indeed, it is reasonable to assume that national identities have always risen and fallen in salience. For example, people’s British identities are likely to have been highly important relative to their English ones during the Second World War but perhaps less so after England won the world cup in 1966. We don’t know whether the current decline in salience is just part of the natural ebb and flow of what is now often called ‘Britishness’, but there is also an assumption of cause and effect. State multiculturalism has allegedly weakened collective identity, but why couldn’t minority nationalism, supra national institutions or globalisation have done so instead? Indeed as debates about  Britishness appeared as familiar traits of Britain like Empire and Protestantism were disappearing and relatively unfamiliar traits like minority nationalism and mass immigration were appearing, weakening collective identity seems to predate when critics claim ‘state multiculturalism’ began.

Finally, despite criticising ‘state multiculturalism’, Cameron is advocating a multiculturalist idea, namely that there needs to be a ‘clear sense of identity open to everyone’. This is not a new claim for leading Conservatives; in 2007 the then Shadow, but now Security Minister, Pauline Neville Jones, said in a report, ‘we need to rebuild Britishness in ways which do not breed shallow nationalism but do allow us to understand the contributions that all traditions, whether primarily ethnic or national have made and are making to our collective and shared identity’. Rebuilding Britishness in a way that includes all British citizens not just the cultural majority, is an idea that needs further clarification but it has a strong multiculturalist lineage. It was first advocated in the Swann Report into the education of ethnic minority children in 1985 and later by the Commission for Multi-Ethnic Britain in 2000. The latter said that ‘political leaders should…lead the country in re-imagining Britain…and in ensuring the national story is inclusive of everyone’. Whilst such ideas were condemned in the media at the time, it is interesting to see leading Conservatives advocating them now. It may be inconvenient for those who caricature ‘state multiculturalism’ to attack it, but creating inclusive national identities is not only something that multiculturalists in Britain have advocated. It is also something that my research on Canadian multiculturalism shows has been pursued in those countries with far more developed policies of multiculturalism. If this is something Cameron and his colleagues are serious about he might do well not only to learn from these foreign attempts to nation-build through multiculturalism, but also to recognise his own multiculturalist ambitions.

Dr Varun Uberoi is Lecturer in the Department of Politics and History at Brunel University and is also author of ‘Nationbuilding through multiculturalism’, forthcoming from Palgrave Macmillan.

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  • popupsncockups

    Its not a problem with your religion, its the extreme end, they make no bones about it the vile attitude to any but themselves is sickening, to allow that attitude here is downright stupidity, no matter what country,culture they themselves dont accept, taliban wont accept anything else, and its what they will do, so arrogant they are even saying that, stone age disturbing attitude to women for 1 rest of us, not good. its the worst in humans, to own a woman and do whatever he wants to her, she has no value to him, used abused sometimes killed, here becuse his arrogant disgusting attitude toward his wife for 1, is let alone kill her but in the most vile way he wants to. that is inhuman walking my streets dragging his slave with him makes me sick, and it should you, that is vile human, that is being encouraged by middle class pc liberals, who basically are the racists, i am not, mixes of colour in mine family, as well as religious, and i gay. call me whatever thats going, all others have fitted in, only those you may be shockingly stupid and give up freedom, i wont, pc has gone mad. time for its end, europe stands on the edge of this extremism and has to force the issue, your middle class attitude is lunacy, thats why its been denounced, cameron and other leaders know that this is where its sorted, its do it or the people are ready to move, we are organised and committed, egypt has been taken by its people, europe is under that threat, muscular liberalism is coming the west knows and governments fear it, we are global, even our militarys are ready, patriotic, do you think our army will let it happen, governments either denounce it or they know we can overthrow it all, from the lowest to the highest left to right all colours, attitudes, this makes me cry, you have forced action, you have brought us to this not happening i gay, no problem, i have close friendships with em even what you call right wing, you lot are done for europe is ours and will remain free, political correctness is mad, soon be dead, internet has been a blessing, its ours not yours or governments, we are global, meltdown you lot, make the decision or we will, we have the power. canada will be declaring multiculteralism is dead, domino is going on, everyone is accepted, not that though. the free world is going to be saved force if must, were ready. why why why. did you force.

  • popupsncockups

    The fact you debate, you allowed to speak freely, yet betray your country, its stupidity really, we protect ours, british all colours creeds. political correctness is stupidity we have freedoms that most of rest of the world can only dream about, we are unique. i am ready to protect it, even your stupididity because thats the point. use your head. political stupidity.

  • Nelli Ferenczi

    Before you go spouting such misconceptions (though eloquently worded), please ensure you have an actual definition of multiculturalism at hand. Numerous definitions have been provided and discussed by cultural psychologists, theorists, and researchers. They are easy to locate should you choose to. Prior research is crucial or else you run the risk of making such broad and empirically unsupported statements as you aptly demonstrated here.

    Multiculturalism could not be farther from what you define as ’separation’, and is most certainly not a refusal of assimilation. As a matter of fact, assimilation is a rather unhealthy and unhelpful tactic to enforce on immigrant populations as it prevents the formation of an integrated and whole identity which encapsulates the immigrants’ ethnic and new national identities.

    Integration is the strategy that immigrants tend to employ when the host country encourages multiculturalism. It is also the healthiest strategy to employ, in terms of success in academics, employment, and contribution to the host society. For more information I would kindly direct you to John W. Berry’s work on acculturation and multiculturalism.

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