The speech made by Prime Minister David Cameron at the weekend raised a number of issues that should not be immediately dismissed. In fact he made some interesting points that are worthy of further consideration. For example, Cameron said:
“…terrorism is not linked exclusively to any one religion or ethnic group..”
Having said that, he quickly added that terrorism was undertaken:
“…overwhelmingly from young men who follow a completely perverse, warped interpretation of Islam, and who are prepared to blow themselves up and kill their fellow citizens”
He went on:
“…We have got to get to the root of the problem…the existence of an ideology, Islamist extremism”.
Cameron also clearly stated that ‘Islamist extremism’ must be distinguished from Islam:
“Islam is a religion observed peacefully and devoutly by over a billion people. Islamist extremism is a political ideology supported by a minority…It is vital that we make this distinction between religion on the one hand, and political ideology on the other”
He went on:
“Time and again, people equate the two. They think whether someone is an extremist is dependent on how much they observe their religion. So, they talk about moderate Muslims as if all devout Muslims must be extremist. This is profoundly wrong. Someone can be a devout Muslim and not be an extremist. We need to be clear: Islamist extremism and Islam are not the same thing…”
Quite rightly he states that there is too “…much muddled thinking about this whole issue”.
Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more:
“The point is this: the ideology of extremism is the problem; Islam emphatically is not”
Cameron again reiterates his argument, “…I believe the root lies in the existence of this extremist ideology”.
If so, how might “state multiculturalism” be implicated in the debate?
Well Cameron’s attack on “state multiculturalism” is merely the regurgitation of ‘Old Tory, New Story’ spin.
Back in 2002, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Norman Lamont suggested much the same – albeit without the specifics of ‘Islamist extremism’ – in an article he penned for the Daily Telegraph. Entitled “Down with multiculturalism, book-burning and fatwas” it was obvious what, and by association whom, the article was about.
That Lamont chose to associate the events of the Satanic Verses affair and the ensuing debates about ‘freedom of speech’ and the limits attached to this with the concept of ‘multiculturalism’ in the 21st century is exactly the same as Cameron linking multiculturalism with the existence of ‘Islamist extremism’ today. As with Cameron’s speech, so Lamont used is arguments to reinforce how Muslims – and Islam in the wider context – were being contextualised and positioned as oppositional to and intolerant of ‘our’ democratic and liberal ideals and values. For Lamont, his issues with with multiculturalism in 2002 were lilttle more than a juncture in a Conservative timeline that began in 1989.
Nine years on and Cameron again voices this Conservative legacy.
For Lamont, multiculturalism had failed because certain elements or communities (Muslims) that were a part of today’s Britain were going against that ideal: whether through a lack of assimilation, a lack of obedience to the law, a lack of respect of ‘our’ values or a lack of allegiance to the monarchy.
For Cameron, the similarities are clear. Multiculturalism had failed because of an overwhelming “passive tolerance” of those communities (Muslims) who fail to obey the law and hold different values: whether through a failure to uphold and respect “freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law, equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality”.
Whilst multiculturalism elevates difference and therefore enhances segregation – or so critics such as Cameron and Lamont suggest – what underpins and clearly informs these arguments amd duly provides legitimisation is the insistence and inference upon the ‘problems’ – perceived or otherwise – of Britain’s Muslim communities. Consequently, Britain’s Muslims become established as something of a Trojan horse where much of the discourse infers anti-Muslim and anti-Islam justifications.
For those who argue against multiculturalism, if Muslims themselves fail to integrate and ultimately assimilate, then the problems are not to do with anti-Muslim or anti-Islamic discrimination, prejudice or hatred – overt racism in another contextual place and time – but instead, the support for and prospect of further ‘Islamist extremism’.
Consequently, Muslims become seen to be both the problem and the cause.
Quite different to Cameron’s observation on Saturday when he unequivocally stated:
“…the ideology of extremism is the problem; Islam emphatically is not”
The attack on multiculturalism can be seen to be little more than a deliberate ploy: a pre-meditated act which forms part of an ongoing Conservative agenda that stretches back to 1989. As such, it is nothing new.
What is new however is that this same agenda is being obfuscated behind a cloak of ‘Islamist extremism’.
What is most worrying about this is that Cameron decided to give his speech on the same day that the English Defence League (EDL) were in Luton celebrating two years of unprecedented growth on the back of campaigns that disproportionately focus on ‘Islamist extremism’. Drawing upon Cameron’s words, the EDL used the speech to support its view that ‘Muslims’ and ‘Islam’ – sorry, Islamist extremism – is against ‘our’ culture, values, way of life and so on.
Whether conscious or otherwise, on the day that Cameron sought to make the distinction that “the ideology of extremism” was the issue, he also allowed ‘Old Tory’ thinking to lazily reinforce the ideology of another extremism: the extremism of the EDL.
Now what was that about there being “…much muddled thinking about this whole issue”…?
My paper entitled,”The death of multiculturalism: blaming and shaming British Muslims” was published in the Durham Anthropology Journal in the Summer of 2007. A copy can be downloaded for free by clicking here.