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Saturday, December 09, 2006 

Tolerance for some, not so much for others.

Blair's attempt at stringing together a somewhat coherent speech on multiculturalism and its benefits has predictably polarised opinion. Read in full, it's nowhere near as bad as Lenin and Tom on Blairwatch are suggesting, as some parts of it show that he's at least put some thought into the subject, and even may have been informed of the manifesto of the New Generation Network.

As you may expect however, other sections of it are designed purely to be quoted by the tabloids. It's far too long to fisk entirely (although reading this post now I've finished, it seems like I have), but here are some of its more choice moments:

The ethos of this country is completely different from thirty years ago. The courts recognise racial offences in a way that was inconceivable then. We have the most comprehensive panoply of anti-discrimination legislation in the world. We have tough laws outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, religion, race, gender and disability. The Human Rights Act provides basic protection to ethnic minorities and lays down some minimum standards. It is a matter of some pride to me that it has only been Labour governments that have introduced anti-discrimination legislation.

Ah yes, the hated Human Rights Act. Like most other Labour politicians, Blair occasionally points to the greater good they've done Britain by mentioning their enshrinement of the EU Convention on Human Rights, then within days he's blaming it for all the current ills of the Home Office. As the parliamentary committee on human rights pointed out, Blair is a hypocrite of the highest order, attacking the HRA over the ruling on the Afghan hijackers and over the failure to deport foreign criminals, when the HRA was in the right in the former and not to blame over the latter.

These murders were carried out by British-born suicide bombers who had lived and been brought up in this country, who had received all its many advantages and yet who ultimately took their own lives and the lives of the wholly innocent, in the name of an ideology alien to everything this country stands for. Everything the Olympic bid symbolised was everything they hated. Their emphasis was not on shared values but separate ones, values based on a warped distortion of the faith of Islam.

Much as this is true, it's worth pointing out here and now that nowhere in the speech does Blair mention foreign policy or its obvious impact on British society since 9/11. How could he? On Thursday he had been humiliated in front of the cameras by the utter boorishness of President Bush and his complete, wholly apparent state of denial. If there's one thing Blair isn't, he certainly isn't an idiot, nor is he stupid. He can be willfully idiotic or ignorant, yet many noticed the terror in Blair's eyes at Bush's horribly misjudged answer to the question put by Nick Robinson over the situation in Iraq. Blair may have sewn himself onto Bush's coattails ever since 9/11, for reasons known perhaps only to him, but he knows that even now in his twilight he can't let the cat out of the bag. To accept that foreign policy has played a role in the radicalisation of a tiny percentage of the Muslim community would be to acknowledge that his idolatry to American power and the righteousness of military intervention has destroyed him both ideologically and intellectually.

We like our diversity. But how do we react when that "difference" leads to separation and alienation from the values that define what we hold in common? For the first time in a generation there is an unease, an anxiety, even at points a resentment that our very openness, our willingness to welcome difference, our pride in being home to many cultures, is being used against us; abused, indeed, in order to harm us.

I always thought after 7/7 our first reaction would be very British: we stick together; but that our second reaction, in time, would also be very British: we're not going to be taken for a ride.

How odd that Blair describes accurately the reaction of both the political parties and the majority of the public to the 7/7 bombings, then takes his very own political decision as the public's second reaction. In the aftermath of 7/7, Charles Clarke, then home secretary pledged to work with his opposite numbers in the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats over any new legislation that was needed. Both David Davis and Mark Oaten praised this cross-party conversation, only for it be ripped apart by Blair's "the rules of the game are changing" speech, given once Clarke had gone away on holiday, which led inexorably to the government's defeat over the proposed 90 day detention for those arrested under the terrorism act.

But this is, in truth, not what I mean when I talk of integration. Integration, in this context, is not about culture or lifestyle. It is about values. It is about integrating at the point of shared, common unifying British values. It isn't about what defines us as people, but as citizens, the rights and duties that go with being a member of our society.

Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and other faiths have a perfect right to their own identity and religion, to practice their faith and to conform to their culture. This is what multicultural, multi-faith Britain is about. That is what is legitimately distinctive.

But when it comes to our essential values - belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all, respect for this country and its shared heritage - then that is where we come together, it is what we hold in common; it is what gives us the right to call ourselves British. At that point no distinctive culture or religion supercedes our duty to be part of an integrated United Kingdom.

These aren't "our" essential values; these are the supposed essential values of "New Labour". As we've learned over the years, New Labour itself doesn't treat them as gospel either; witness Ruth Kelly trying to water down discrimination legislation for her bigoted Christian friends and the abuse of the rule of law, when it comes to holding foreign terrorist suspects without charge and over control orders. Then there's the so far only-mooted plans to outlaw flag burning and the wear of masks on demonstrations, and even potentially criminalising certain chants. This isn't to mention the banning of protests within 1km of the houses of parliament without permission; Brian Haw once again faces prison later this week for his 24 hour/365 days a year protest. Then what about organisations such as the Communist Party, which are clearly not interested in preserving democracy, and which current ministers such as John Reid used to be part of? How do they fit into our values? Are we meant to outlaw everything that doesn't completely agree with the current belief in our democratic ideal? Blair's mooted values aren't everyone else's, and imposing them from above when holding those views doesn't hurt or affect anyone is just as tyrannical as those who claim to act in the name of Islam are.

Others warned me against putting the issue in the context of 7/7, of terrorism, of our Muslim community. After all, extremism is not confined to Muslims, as we know from Northern Ireland and fringe elements in many ethnic groups.

But actually what should give us optimism in dealing with this issue, is precisely that point. It is true there are extremists in other communities. But the reason we are having this debate is not generalised extremism. It is a new and virulent form of ideology associated with a minority of our Muslim community. It is not a problem with Britons of Hindu, Afro-Caribbean, Chinese or Polish origin. Nor is it a problem with the majority of the Muslim community. Most Muslims are proud to be British and Muslim and are thoroughly decent law-abiding citizens. But it is a problem with a minority of that community, particularly originating from certain countries. The reason I say that this is grounds for optimism, is that what the above proves, is that integrating people whilst preserving their distinctive cultures, is not impossible. It is the norm. The failure of one part of one community to do so, is not a function of a flawed theory of a multicultural society. It is a function of a particular ideology that arises within one religion at this one time.

I'm sure Blair isn't trying to be patronising and condescending when he says "our Muslim community", but that's what it comes across as. Blair mentions that extremism isn't confined to Muslims, and uses the example of Northern Ireland, yet he doesn't apply the Lord Stevens test, developed after his notorious hateful sectarian rant earlier in the year in the News of the Screws. If you replace Muslim with Irish or Catholic throughout the text, does the paragraph now comes across as simplistic, ignorant and offensive? If so, then it means that you're talking bollocks, and Blair here is certainly talking bollocks. Despite trying his hardest not to blame Muslims as a whole, it's exactly what he's doing. No one else is the problem, nothing we've done has made it worse, it's entirely your fault. Blair does at least feather the nest here by making clear that he still believes in multiculturalism, yet he still continues to apportion blame as if they're the only ones who can do anything about it.

Yet, because this challenge has arisen in this way, it is necessary to go back to what a multi-cultural Britain is all about. The whole point is that multicultural Britain was never supposed to be a celebration of division; but of diversity. The purpose was to allow people to live harmoniously together, despite their difference; not to make their difference an encouragement to discord. The values that nurtured it were those of solidarity, of coming together, of peaceful co-existence. The right to be in a multicultural society was always, always implicitly balanced by a duty to integrate, to be part of Britain, to be British and Asian, British and black, British and white.

And where is the evidence that this is not what is still happening now? In Blair's own words, this problem is apparently caused by a tiny percentage of an already small community. The press and government have decided to make a mountain out of a molehill. The notion that Islamic extremists somehow threaten the very fabric of our nation is farcical; it's only through overreacting to this threat, considerable as it is, that our values will become corrupted and that multiculturalism may fail. This is exactly what has been going on. Terrorism has been turned into a party political issue, entirely through the Blair governments attempts to paint the opposition as soft, egged on as they are by parts of the media. We're in danger of doing the damage to ourselves through our own inadequacies and general panic, rather than "they" are to "us".

So it is not that we need to dispense with multicultural Britain. On the contrary we should continue celebrating it. But we need - in the face of the challenge to our values - to re-assert also the duty to integrate, to stress what we hold in common and to say: these are the shared boundaries within which we all are obliged to live, precisely in order to preserve our right to our own different faiths, races and creeds.

We must respect both our right to differ and the duty to express any difference in a way fully consistent with the values that bind us together.

This is mostly stuff that deserves applauding. Blair is brave to come out and say that the naysayers which includes his own racial equality supremo, are wrong about multiculturalism not working. His argument however faces an inherent contradiction: Blair says we have to respect the right to differ, yet what if our differences collide with Blair's stated values? This is a conflict to which Blair's answer is the following:

Partly the answer lies in precisely defining our common values and making it clear that we expect all our citizens to conform to them. Obedience to the rule of law, to democratic decision-making about who governs us, to freedom from violence and discrimination are not optional for British citizens. They are what being British is about. Being British carries rights. It also carries duties. And those duties take clear precedence over any cultural or religious practice.

Conform. You must conform to our values. Perish the thought then that Britain might ever at some horrible point in the future vote in a fascist or similarly extreme government; to then object to that "democratic decision-making", if even the government itself subsequently breaks the rule of law will mean that you're breaking our common values and therefore you aren't British. If then the only way to overthrow that government was through armed insurrection, that would also mean you're not British. Blair's ideas about conforming seem to be a lot like patriotism. If you're not proud to be British, or consider yourself European rather than British, then you're not living up to our values. Consider yourself Asian-British, rather than British Asian? You're not conforming.

Conforming has ugly connotations. It's a demand, an insidious belief that you must be like us, otherwise you either aren't good enough or you're "different". Liking this country, enjoying its freedom, paying taxes and obeying the law is no longer enough; you have to love it and conform to its values as well to be truly integrated. Rather than wondering why some are alienated from British society, Blair only wants to talk of those who are in such a state of mind moving instantly from being disaffected to actively conforming, not how such a task is going to be achieved.

This talk of conforming has been lapped up by the Sun, for whom it was obviously targeted towards. For everyone else, it just comes across as posturing with nothing behind it. Blair does have six further elements of policy that he intends to implement alongside this order to conform:

First, we need to use the grants we give to community racial and religious groups to promote integration as well as help distinctive cultural identity. In a sense, very good intentions got the better of us. We wanted to be hospitable to new groups. We wanted, rightly, to extend a welcome and did so by offering public money to entrench their cultural presence. Money was too often freely awarded to groups that were tightly bonded around religious, racial or ethnic identities.

In the future, we will assess bids from groups of any ethnicity or any religious denomination, also against a test, where appropriate, of promoting community cohesion and integration.

This does to an extent tie in with the New Generation Network's plea for an end to communal politics. In practice, it instead comes across rather as disregarding the views of those who aren't compatible with New Labour's. Both major Muslim representative groups, the Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Association of Britain link the rise of extremism to foreign policy. Will both be punished for doing so? It's also worth wondering whether this will affect Christian groups as much as it possibly will those representing the other religions. Would Blair consider the teaching of creationism in academy schools run by Sir Peter Vardy as promoting "cohesion and integration", as well as their strident views on minor indiscipline? It seems highly unlikely.

One of the most common concerns that has been raised with me, when meeting women from the Muslim communities, is their frustration at being debarred even from entering certain mosques.

Those that exclude the voice of women need to look again at their practices. I am not suggesting altering the law. But we have asked the Equal Opportunities Commission to produce a report by the spring of next year on how these concerns could be practically addressed, whilst of course recognising that in many religions the treatment of women differs from that of men.

A worthy response, but will they actually listen and implement the reports' conclusions? Past evidence doesn't inspire confidence.

Fourth, there has been a lot of concern about a minority of visiting preachers. It would be preferable for British preachers to come out of the community rather than come in from abroad. Where they are recruited internationally, we will require entrants to have a proper command of English and meet the pre-entry qualification requirements.

The concern about "extremist" preachers is again out of all proportion. Much of the evidence from those who have become radicalised suggests that their beliefs have emerged not from being tutored by imams, but from individual research and the wealth of information available on the internet and in books. These ideas are still a decent response, however.

Fifth, we have a very established set of rights that constitute our citizenship. We should not be shy to teach them. That is why citizenship became part of the statutory national curriculum in secondary schools in 2002.

The national curriculum needs to stress integration rather than separation. The 1988 Education Reform Act states that religious education in all community schools should be broadly Christian in character but that it should include study of the other major religions. There is currently a voluntary agreement with faith schools on this basis. Faith schools also naturally give religious instruction in their own faith. It is important that in doing so, they teach tolerance and respect for other faiths and the Education Department will discuss with the faith groups how this is achieved and implemented, according to new national guidelines.

There is some merit to doing this, but the proposals earlier in the year from Alan Johnson would have done much more to promote inclusion rather than religious segregation in schools. Within days, the backlash, especially from "our Catholic community" had meant that the plans were dropped.

Sixth, we should share a common language. Equal opportunity for all groups requires that they be conversant in that common language. It is a matter both of cohesion and of justice that we should set the use of English as a condition of citizenship. In addition, for those who wish to take up residence permanently in the UK, we will include a requirement to pass an English test before such permanent residency is granted.

This would be great if there were actually full opportunities for those who want to learn English to get free courses to be able to do so.Instead, English as a second language courses are being cut back, and more and more are having to pay to learn.

Most of the rest of the speech is given over to talk of deprivation and religious similarities rather than differences. Blair can't resist squeezing in a bit of veil bashing, though:

But perhaps less well-known is the strength of the debate in Muslim countries. In Turkey, there has recently been a fierce controversy over the Muslim headdress of women. In Tunisia and Malaysia, the veil is barred in certain public places. I know it is not sensible to conduct this debate as if the only issue is the very hot and sensitive one of the veil. For one thing, the extremism we face is usually from men not women. But it is interesting to note that when Jack Straw made his comments, no less a person than the Mufti of the Arab Republic of Egypt made a strong approving statement; and it really is a matter of plain common sense that when it is an essential part of someone's work to communicate directly with people, being able to see their face is important. However, my point is this: we are not on our own in trying to find the right balance between integration and diversity.

It comes across as if Blair's been reading the Express's demands to "BAN IT!", which in their article mentioned Tunisia's ban on the veil in government buildings. While it was hard to agree with Aishah Azmi's case for discrimination, it's unlikely to be repeated now in a school-type setting. The case for banning the veil in government buildings entirely is much less compelling. It ought to be decided on a case-by-case basis. There was also this phenomenal piece of bollocks:

"I think it is great that in British politics today no mainstream party plays the race card. It is not conceivable, in my view, that this leader of the Conservative party would ... misuse the debate on immigration and that is both a tribute to him and to the common culture of tolerance we have established in this country today," Mr Blair said.

Err.... Almost the whole debate around the veil in the aftermath of Jack Straw's comments was playing the race card, except nearly everyone joined in. David Davis accused Muslims of voluntary apartheid. Phil Woolas, who had previous, as described by Peter Oborne, commented on Aishah Azmi's case when he had no business to. If he had done the same thing during a criminal case, the trial may well have collapsed and he would have been held in contempt of court.The Sun accused Muslims of vandalising a house which soldiers had considered moving into, and has not corrected the story or apologised for being proved wrong. The Express demanded that the veil be banned. Jonathan Freedland commented that if the hysteria had been directed against Jews rather than Muslims he would have been reaching for his passport. Blair finishes his speech with:

Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain, Britain. So conform to it; or don't come here.

That's right. If you don't want to be bashed endlessly and used as a political football, you'd be best staying where you are.

Worth noting for their tolerance are readers of the Sun, who reacted thusly to the news that Blair in an exclusive interview with the Scum's token Muslim, Anila Baig, said that a Muslim may one day be Prime Minister:

If that happens then Britain will become a nation of Islam. Glad now i left.

If this happens then there goes England as we know it, Churchill would roll over in his grave if he saw the state that England is in right now, and if a muslim became PM of England.

Enoch Powell would turn in his grave. His comments have turned out to be prophecies more true than anything Nostradamus ever said. The day we get a Muslim PM is the day me and my family leave this mess of a Country.

This country is already being run by those not from it. The current government as always only gives a dam about themselves. So why not throw the country to the non-English and the muslims who already control this once (but no longer) great country via the back door by scaring the people of this country by means of the pathetic Brussels brigade and the non-common scence ruling of the human rights act.

Lets put the Great back in to Britain and give England back to the British.

might as well change the name of britain now to "BhunaLand" in readyness for the pc brigade and this idiot of a PM we have now, my grand dad will be churning the ground in which hes buried if he could see the sorry state of affairs this country (once great) has become. we bend over backwards for them, cant say a wrong word to them. no wonder they are talking over this world. pc has got us all by the conkers, and we are afraid to admit it.

“They said there would never be a woman Prime Minister, but there was."
that's because the population of England is around 50/50 male female.
but soon England will be 50/50 again with the immigration laws.
so many people leaving because the way England is and more people coming to get England ready for Muslim prime minister

Related posts:
Not Saussure - Blair on multi-culturalism
Sunny Hurndal - First define the problem

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