Fresh off my trip to Liverpool, feeling excited about the potential for a new partnership with a wonderful university that welcomes students from many different cultures and experiences, I was stopped cold yesterday — mid-Super-Bowl, seeking refuge from too much American pop culture (tasteless Pepsi Max commercials and Christina Aguilera forgetting the words to the national anthem) — I turned to the Sunday New York Times to get some brain food and ran smack into this headline: “Cameron Criticizes ‘Multiculturalism’ in Britain.”
Wow. Suddenly dogs, Doritos and Ben whats-his-name seemed irrelevant.
What’s going on with the British Prime Minister’s rant against multiculturalism?
The article stated, “Speaking at a security conference in Munich on Saturday, Mr. Cameron condemned what he called the “hands-off tolerance” in Britain and other European nations that had encouraged Muslims and other immigrant groups “to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream.” “
As students and teachers engaged with our world, concerned for peace, justice, security, freedom and human rights, we need to read and consider the impact of this statement. Cameron’s main target is terrorism, and specifically the terrorism committed by Islamic extremists. He goes on to differentiate the religion of Islam from the political ideology of Islamic extremism, saying;
“We have got to get to the root of the problem, and we need to be absolutely clear on where the origins of where these terrorist attacks lie. That is the existence of an ideology, Islamist extremism. We should be equally clear what we mean by this term, and we must distinguish it 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. At the furthest end are those who back terrorism to promote their ultimate goal: an entire Islamist realm, governed by an interpretation of Sharia. Move along the spectrum, and you find people who may reject violence, but who accept various parts of the extremist worldview, including real hostility towards Western democracy and liberal values. It is vital that we make this distinction between religion on the one hand, and political ideology on the other. 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.”
At the same time, while being careful to distinguish religion from terrorism, the prime minister also excoriates the policy of great Britain to welcome and “tolerate” multiculturalism, including segregated communities. He calls this longstanding official policy a source of the problem, since it allows cultural communities to grow up with no respect for the culture and values of their host nation. He also targets universities as being places where terrorists might be recruited because of openness and tolerance.
There’s much in Cameron’s speech to provoke careful thought and reflection. There’s also much to debate, and certainly, some of it must be viewed through the lens of a responsible leader grappling with the terrible threat of terrorism, which has plagued Europe for years.
At the same time, there’s also much in his speech that sounds like a wholesale refutation of human progress toward developing communities of respect and human dignity amid the world’s large diversity, communities where people who are very different can live in harmony and peace.
Such xenophobia is familiar to American ears of the early 21st century, where a “nation of immigrants” is fast becoming a nation of closed borders and pervasive surveillance and suspicion of “the other.”
“Multiculturalism” is surely not the problem. Surely, the best interests of our global village require us to learn to live together, exploring and sharing our many differences while also learning to be one community.
Yes, segregation by culture or belief or race or ethnicity can be hugely dysfunctional, reinforcing stereotypes and robbing people of the full enjoyment of human society. For that very reason, state-mandate racial segregation became unconstitutional in the United States. At the same time, however, decrying the pride of individuals in their cultural heritage, language and customs — and demanding that they conform to one singular culture, that of the power elite — diminishes the human community of the diversity that surely is part of the divine plan for creation.
To say that a nation should no longer embrace multiculturalism in order to stop terrorism seems like capitulation to exactly the aims of the terrorists, which is to destroy the existing social order.
Remember, the terrorists, too, have no tolerance for others who are different — the whole point is to impose one belief, one way of life. In fact, multiculturalism may be the best statement a free people have to refute the lies and evil intentions of terror.
This topic deserves attention, debate and much more exploration than this brief blog. What do you think about what David Cameron said? I welcome the opinions of readers — please read his entire speech first, and let me know your thoughts by offering comments below, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org