United Kingdom: Multiculturalism takes another hit

I'd like some "muscular liberalism", darling. Poster for London's India Now festival
I'd like some "muscular liberalism", darling. Poster for London's India Now festival
7 February 2011 – Presseurop ()

A few months after Angela Merkel controversially argued that the multicultural society in Germany had “utterly failed”, David Cameron’s 5 February speech echoing the Chancellor’s sentiments has revived the debate about national identity in the British press.

“Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism,” argued David Cameron during the international security summit in Munich, “we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream. We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.” This, he said, has led to the "failure of some to confront the horrors of forced marriage", and is also the root cause of radicalisation which can lead to terrorism.

Cameron said that Britain must adopt a policy of "muscular liberalism" to enforce the values of equality, law and freedom of speech across all parts of society. He warned Muslim groups that if they fail to endorse women's rights or promote integration, they will lose all government funding. All immigrants to Britain must speak English and schools will be expected to teach the country's common culture.

Moral relativism is the death knell of a civilisation

The speech was immediately blasted by the opposition Labour party and Muslim groups for its “simplistic” approach, many lamenting that it occurred the same day that 3000 supporters of the Islamophobic English Defense League staged its biggest ever demonstration in Luton, near London. According to the Guardian, one supporter said, “If he [David Cameron] wants to start sticking up for us, that's great."

Hailing the speech, the Times argues that the multicultural credo of “tolerance” is no longer a sufficient response to the troubled times we live in. “It has been exploited by extremists, and from the maelstrom of confused identity and perverted religiosity have come the 7/7 bombings, jihadist rantings and the cult of terrorist martyrdom. As Burke [18th century philosopher] said and much of the country has now recognised, all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

“Multiculturalism is part of the wider European phenomenon of moral relativism,” echoes Jonathan Sacks in the London daily’s pages, “a doctrine that became influential as a response to the Holocaust. It was argued that taking a stand on moral issues was a sign of an “authoritarian personality”. Moral judgment was seen as the first step down the road to fanaticism. But moral relativism is the death knell of a civilisation.”

A million versions of consumer capitalism 24/7

“By speaking out in Munich [David Cameron] allied himself with the ghastly Angela Merkel”, fulminates Independent columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, adding that to have given a speech for domestic consumption at an international security council is “an outrage.” “I accept our citizens are unnerved by those British Muslims who make endless demands, are full of wrath and murderous plans, or choose ghettoisation. However, the widespread national unhappiness is created by policies pushed through by this Government [i.e. swingeing austerity budgets]. “Muslims and migrants are being used to distract people from the planned chaos implemented by this unpopular coalition.”

Madeleine Bunting in the Guardian pushes the concept further. “Behind Cameron's speech is a nostalgia for a strong national collective identity, and a sense of shared values. But after a generation of individualism and globalisation, all kinds of collective identities have been weakened or abandoned. Many of the institutions that expressed and inculcated a sense of nationhood are in decline, whether political parties, trade unions or Christian churches. The fabric of institutional life in which we expressed values has been discarded in favour of individual freedom. The "vision of society" that Cameron urges as necessary is in fact already in evidence – in a million versions of consumer capitalism 24/7, and it promotes acquisitiveness.”

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