On tolerance, diversity and respect (2) – David Cameron, multiculturalism and immigration.

(Transcripts both courtesy of the New Statesman www.newstatesman.com at end).

David Cameron's Speech on radicalisation and Islamic extremism in Munich, 5 February 2011, was heralded or condemned as the UK Conservative Prime Minister attacking the failure of multiculturalism. The speech was, as I suspected, much more reasonable than it was presented. Much of it I agreed with – the Prime Minister is right (as were Labour politicians) to condemn intolerance and bigotry and extremism in the name of religion or some claim of 'culture'. He is right to condemn

"young men who follow a completely perverse and warped interpretation of Islam and who are prepared to blow themselves up and kill their fellow citizens."

He is right to make quite clear: "Islamist extremism and Islam are not the same thing."

"Islam is a religion, observed peacefully and devoutly by over a billion people. Islamist extremism is a political ideology, supported by a minority."

He is wrong to downplay (while carefully not dismissing) the link between terrorism and unfair Western foreign policy and support for the Israeli Apartheid state apparatus, poverty in the Middle East and Britain, America and France propping up despotic regimes in the Gulf. He was right to condemn failures of 'multiculturalism' when Britain has tolerated oppressive and cruel practices by minorities for fear of being accused of racism or due to lack of understanding of the need for British law giving rights for all, and protection to the weak in all communities, to be enforced.

The Prime Minister is right to censure those "encouraging Muslims to define themselves solely in terms of their religion." But he is incredibly simplistic when stating "We must also proscribe organisations that incite terrorism – against people at home and abroad." Presumably that month it would have included those who wanted democratic revolution in Libya (a month later supported by Britain), or those who would use the violent tactics the Israeli State uses against that State that was itself founded on acts of terrorism against British soldiers. Presumably he would support exonerating the Israeli scientist Mordechai Vanunu who exposed a nuclear weapons programme to make the World safer, just as Tony Blair and David Cameron condemn the despots of Iran and North Korea for wanting to develop them. The ludicrous results of British definitions of terrorism and policy towards Libyan exiles has been exposed by leading civil rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC writing in the Independent (23 February 2011).

I often write about the themes of tolerance and the benefits of diversity. I also often point out on this site and other posts the contradiction of people who have worked abroad or come from past immigrant families complaining about immigrants or migrants coming to Britain to work. Those same people never see the irony of the Brits who spend much of the year in a foreign country like Spain and make no effort to learn the language! I have much more sympathy for the recent immigrants – first generation – who would themselves be tough on restrictions not because they want to deny the opportunity they have had to others but because they do not want the hospitality and goodwill to be abused.

David Cameron's speech on immigration (14 April 2011) has been identified as blatant electioneering, although maybe not as blatant as Labour politicians Phil Woolas, Jack Straw and Frank Field. Like the latter two Cameron also has an aim to encourage genuine debate. Pandering to the tabloids when he knows what their response will be is not a way to have genuine debate. It is the way of scapegoating 'others'. That an intelligent man does this to grub for votes in an election shows a lack of belief in a positive vision that he can convince others of. Of course reading David Cameron's speech in full it is more nuanced, in places well argued and reasonable, and more subtle than some soundbites would suggest. The playing to the racist gallery with vignettes and sweeping rhetoric undermines his claim to be doing the opposite. Yes, mainstream politicians neglected genuine concern and unnecessary anxiety for too long. Yes, mainstream politicians needed to heed why support for the far right was growing. Cameron is wrong to scapegoat others to get votes like a Magician's rabbit out of a hat. A complex problem cannot be solved by populist soundbites for the vultures of the tabloid press. Whipping up the Roman mob like Mark Anthony may have some justification in exposing flaws and hypocrisy in your enemies and the achievements of your friends but it is not a way to achieve a better society or country or civilised World. And yet if you ignore the headlines – and his speech played for those headlines – and read the text in full the Prime Minister's speech content is quite reasonable, if obviously riddled with party political electioneering. Some quotes do expose failed general social policies of past decades:

"The real issue is this: migrants are filling gaps in the labour market left wide open by a welfare system that for years has paid British people not to work. That's where the blame lies – at the door of our woeful welfare system, and the last government who comprehensively failed to reform it."

"this government is undertaking the biggest shake-up of the welfare system for generations . . . making sure that work will always pay . . . and ending the option of living a life on the dole when a life in work is possible."

It is a shame that the Coalition in the UK and Obama in the United States are pursuing many of the failed military industrial led policies of the last decades that fan the flames of conflict around the world rather than concentrating that energy and ambition full square on the job of building a better society at home and helping end poverty and conflict abroad. Both leaders have made important steps to achieve the latter goals – Cameron playing against the xenophobes and misers opposing spending on foreign aid; Obama taking a more reformist policy in the Middle East – but if they stuck to their professed vision and principles then this would remove one allegation of hypocrisy that extremists abroad can throw at 'the West'.


Full transcript | David Cameron | Speech on radicalisation and Islamic extremism | Munich | 5 February 2011


Full transcript | David Cameron | Speech on immigration to party members | Hampshire | 14 April 2011