On 24th August, BBC News 24 hosted a debate on multiculturalism. I noted with interest the absence of the customary African and Caribbean representation. This, to me, clearly defined what this debate was going to be about: it was not going to be about multiculturalism, but rather, Islam and this phoney so called “War on Terror.” Yet another attempt by the government and the media to find a fall guy for Britain’s ill-conceived and ill-fated foreign policy.
Here was the BBC hosting a debate on the future of multiculturalism and omitting to include the usual “black” suspects. Instead, the contributors were predominantly Asian with a couple of white contributors. Many blacks may now gasp a breath of fresh air that at last it’s someone else under the spotlight, but this very tactic of highlighting one particular group and blaming them for the country’s ills is something which harps back to the colonial period. “Divide and Rule” is something about which former colonised people know all too well.
Similarly, at the beginning of August, Channel 4’s Dispatches screened a programme called What Muslims Want, presented by the venerable Jon Snow. The programme did nothing to investigate what Muslims really wanted, but instead presented a whole series of flawed and inaccurate interpretations from Jon Snow, supported by several questionable polls. You would have thought that if Dispatches really wanted to present a programme purporting to represent what Muslims want, that they would at least have found a Muslim presenter to do an authored report, instead of a middle aged, white, middle class newsreader totally disconnected from Islamic values and way of life. The programme would have been more aptly titled “What Jon Snow Thinks.”
As part of the programme, Mr. Snow spoke to many Muslims, one of whom included an articulate young woman who shared with him some of her opinions as a Muslim. He then went on to question her about her views on homosexuality and seemed taken aback when she berated homosexuals for their supposed immorality. He left her home and gave a piece to camera stating how stunned he was regarding her lack of tolerance towards homosexuals; he then inferred that as a result of those views, Islam was at odds with Britain’s “liberal” values.
Like Snow, I am astounded at the levels of intolerance which still exist in the 21st century; however, perhaps Jon Snow lives in a middle-England cocoon, for I think he may be surprised to learn that in the Christian Bible, Leviticus 20:13 calls for the killing of homosexuals, and, as a result, the majority of British churches also share that young woman’s opinion. In fact, he could have entered millions of Christian households throughout the country and heard remarks not too dissimilar from those of that young woman. Are they too at odds with British values?
The programme failed on many fronts; it failed to tell us “what Muslims want,” and instead, erroneously represented Muslims who study the Koran, have a purpose in life, abstain from alcohol, smoking and sex before marriage as being in some way radical and at odds with British “liberal” values.
Growing up in this country, I vividly remember the taunts of “Nigger,” “Wog,” and “Coon.” I remember the countless racial attacks which could have claimed my life, witnessing friends being stabbed, being framed by the police. Yet still we are told we are not doing enough to integrate. As a nation, the country is in denial and fails to recognise that many within this “liberal” society have not wanted to integrate and that multiculturalism is a defacto result of British racism. We are all familiar with the term “white flight.” I have never heard of “black flight,” so let’s get real when we talk about the problems of integration.
The debate about the relevancy of multiculturalism first gathered momentum after controversial comments were made by the Blairite policy chameleon Trevor Phillips, the opportunistic head of the Commission For Racial Equality, where he called for the abandonment of multiculturalism. However, multiculturalism is not merely a term imported from Canada; it is something the minorities in Britain fought for. Multiculturalism is a bitter pill that this country has always found hard to swallow and it has become especially hard in these times when Britain is undergoing an identity crisis and confused about its subjects’ loyalties, but this is no time to abandon what is ironically one of the great pillars of Britishness.
The recent reports of two young Muslim men removed from an aircraft because passengers heard them speaking what they believed to be Arabic and suspected them of being suicide bombers, highlights what is at the heart of this debate on multiculturalism; it is the public paranoia, hysteria and schizophrenia which pervades our society. The two men only rose above public suspicion when it was discovered that they had spent their day trip to Malaga drinking alcohol at a bar. But what if they were devout Muslims? Would that justify the paranoid passengers’ response? News reports were devoid of any real analysis of the racism these two men suffered and instead reduced the shameful debacle to a misunderstanding. This is by no means an isolated incident. As a result of the media and government’s framing of this so called “War on Terror,” many non-white people and, in particular, Asians, experience this sort of prejudice daily. This is where multicultural Britain is failing; not in the fact that several young British born individuals of a particular faith chose to commit acts of terror on home soil, but that non-white second generation immigrants to Britain are still discriminated against because of their colour or creed. Why didn't we have this incongruous debate on multiculturalism when David Copeland planted bombs in Brixton, Brick Lane and Soho with the implicit aim of sparking a race war? Where were the government briefings and the media interest in intolerance and the failure of multiculturalism then?
Multiculturalism has become the latest victim of this “War On Terror.” No doubt, the government shall develop new think-tanks and commission more reports to find out why more Muslims and second generation immigrants aren’t drinking and gossiping at the Queen Vic and buying into this fictitious East Enders’ script of homogeneity.
Britain’s distinct brand of multiculturalism is one of the pillars of this country’s identity. The recent Notting Hill carnival is a testament to this, an internationally renowned festival that celebrates uniqueness and diversity as a strength and not a weakness.
Giving credit where credit is due, Britain arguably remains leagues ahead of its European neighbours when it comes to racial tolerance and acceptance, but this by no means suggests that everything is alright. As a nation we should debate the future of multiculturalism, its strengths and its weaknesses; we should attempt to understand it and implement policies that make it work better. But we should not allow this government to use multiculturalism as a scapegoat. Multiculturalism works; it is a corrupt, inept and bankrupt British foreign policy that does not.
Ishmahil Blagrove, Jr.
1st September 2006