David Cameron spoke for just under half an hour at the Islam and Muslims in the World Today conference this lunchtime, hosted in the grand Lancaster House by Cambridge University. 

He wasn’t the only politician to grace the event – Tony Blair gave a speech at the same venue yesterday in which he announced a funding boost for Islamic Studies in universities. Labour MPs Shahid Malik and Ruth Kelly were both there today to watch Cameron’s speech with scornful expressions. Flying the Conservative flag for the duration of the conference were Dominic Grieve MP and Sayeeda Warsi.

The underlying theme of the speech was the same as numerous others on different subjects:

"It’s a question of social responsibility: the attitudes, decisions and
daily actions of every single person and every single organisation in
society. After all, it will be the many millions of individual
acts between human beings that will determine the success of community
cohesion. And more people will assume their social
responsibility and feel part of their community if they feel real
control over its future."

In an unfortunate part of the speech Cameron quoted the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Gomaa. The Mufti had spoken at the conference yesterday and was said to be meeting both Blair and Cameron. He has gone on record saying:

"When Allah permitted wife-beating, He permitted it to the other side of
culture, which considers it as one of the means to preserve the family,
and as one of the means to preserve stability."

Cameron rightly and unapologetically pointed across the Atlantic for
lessons on how to assimilate immigrants and make them feel like

"History revolves around institutions, buildings,
symbols; a sense of where you have come from and where you are going
to. Think of America. Of course America is not perfect. But
it does succeed in creating, to an extent far more evident that we have
achieved here, a real sense of common identity – about what it means to
be an American."

There’s an interesting op-ed in the Wall Street Journal
today about America "the great assimilation machine". Cameron went on
to say that a big problem with Britain, in general not just with
minorities, is that it was one of the most centralised states in the
world and the channels by which people shape their own destiny have
been eroded. Unlike America:

"It is one of the most decentralised countries in the world. As a
result, there exists a real sense of civic responsibility and
engagement, as people look to their own community, not to central
government, for solutions to the problems they face. Just as
importantly, they have a belief that no matter who they are or where
they come from, if they work hard enough they can achieve their goals."

Reiterating what he said in his community cohesion speech
at the end of January, he said that "we should be bold, and not hide
behind the screen of cultural
sensitivities" when it comes to some Muslim women not getting the
rights normally expected in this country. Sayeeda Warsi later told me
that this approach had won Cameron significant support from the female
delegates, as Labour had tended to be afraid of rocking the boat on
this issue.

We filmed the speech and will upload a clip of it soon.

Deputy Editor

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