I am disappointed that so few people have made a serious effort to understand David Cameron’s speech at the Munich Security Conference in February. Instead, I have spent over a month hearing complaints about him attacking multiculturalism. The BBC, for example, used the headline “PM: 'Multiculturalism has failed’” when reporting the original speech, and appears to have stuck with the line.
One of the few organisations to understand the speech properly was the Conservative Muslim Forum, which has put out a short but helpful summary on its website.
When I was interviewed by the BBC News Channel on the day of the speech, I stressed that Mr Cameron had not attacked multiculturalism. He had chosen his words carefully and, just once in his speech, had referred to “state multiculturalism.” “Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.” To fully appreciate Mr Cameron’s thinking, one needs to read a speech he gave on 26th February 2008, “Extremism, individual rights and the rule of law in Britain”, which was reviewed on my website here.
What Mr Cameron is against is the state behaving in a way that fosters and reinforces division, instead of treating all persons as equal citizens before the law. In his 2008 speech he gave some examples:
- “It’s the idea that we should respect different cultures within Britain to the point of allowing them – indeed encouraging them – to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.
- In the voluntary sector it means granting financial aid for artistic and other projects purely on account of ethnic background – with various groups, purporting to represent various minorities, competing for money against each other.
- In public services it means not just essential information, but all information endlessly translated into numerous languages, to cater for numerous people, who can then continue to go about their daily lives without ever having to learn English.
- More generally, it means treating groups of people as monolithic blocks rather than individual citizens.”
In my view, the logical end point of state multiculturalism is a political system like that of Lebanon, where the president must be a Maronite Christian; the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim; while the speaker of the Lebanese parliament must be a Shia Muslim. That means that citizens are no longer treated as autonomous individuals, but as captive members of the communities the state allocates them to, whether they themselves regard that community identification as significant or not.
Below I have given some examples to bring out the distinction.
The fundamental point is that we are one British people, who simply happen to have different ethnic backgrounds and differing religious beliefs. Such individual differences have always existed, between people of Celtic, Anglo Saxon, Norman, Huguenot etc ethnic origins, and between practitioners of religions such as Anglicanism, Catholicism and Judaism. However our people are not divided up into ethnic or religious block with “block rights.” That is a danger we must all jointly fight against. That is what I believe. I also feel sure that is the point that David Cameron has been trying to get over for three years, but with a deaf intelligentsia that is not listening.
A friend recently asked me how I think of myself. I replied that I think of myself as a Briton whose ethnic origin is Punjabi and whose religion is Islam. Neither of those divides me from my fellow citizens, irrespective of their ethnicity or religious views.
The essence of my objection to state multiculturalism is that I demand that the state treats me as an individual citizen with individual rights, and does not assign me to an ethnic or religious group which must be dealt with as a block.