On Tuesday February 26th 2008, David Cameron, Leader of the Conservative Party, gave an impassioned speech on the above topic at an Equalities & Human Rights Commission event, in which he lambasted what he called the ‘doctrine of state multiculturalism’ and Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent views on ‘Sharia Law’. We publish the full speech below to which we would be responding in due course.
In the above speech, David Cameron said that state multiculturalism – the idea that we should respect different cultures to the point of encouraging them to live separate lives – has weakened not strengthened our collective identity.
Speaking for the first time following the Archbishop of Canterbury's remarks, he argued strongly against the introduction of Sharia law, saying that it could only act to undermine society, particularly at a time when more not less integration is needed. He said that the big questions facing the country today are: how do we end state multiculturalism, enhance cohesion, promote opportunity and build a stronger society?
Speaking alongside Trevor Phillips at a debate hosted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, David Cameron said:
“It's a great pleasure to be here. The ideas we're discussing today – 'extremism, individual rights and the rule of law in Britain' – may be complex ideas, but the central question they represent can be articulated in a much more straightforward way: how do we all live together? How can people, from different backgrounds and who live by different cultural and religious codes, come together and live side by side?
In this country, there have been times when this question has been dominant. Conflict between Catholics and Protestant in Britain was often bloody. The Glorious Revolution and the two Jacobite rebellions were periods of crisis for our coherence. Catholic emancipation was a long and slow process. And in our more recent history, we have welcomed immigrants from all over the world – from Eastern European Jews one hundred years ago to Ugandan Asians in the 1970s. Each time, Britain has been able to rise to the challenge and sustain our coherence and unity. We have done so through a combination of a steadfast faith in our institutions and values, such as freedom under the rule of law, pluralism and tolerance- and because society – not only the majority community but the minority community too – were prepared to stand together as one.
One again we face that challenge. In its starkest terms, it comes from the direct security threat posed by a small minority who use terrorism to achieve their political aims. It also comes from the fact that there exists in our communities people – often children – who have been born and raised here though feel completely divorced and alienated from life in Britain.
But more generally, we need to ensure that delicate balance between church and state, faith and politics, religious identity and political identity that has developed in our country over centuries is maintained. Our generation must now answer these challenges with the confidence of our ancestors.
It is this context that I've been saying for a long time that we've been handing a victory to our enemies – to those who want to divide and those who oppose liberal values – through the doctrine we have applied to community relations.
It's the doctrine I call state multiculturalism.
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.
Of course we should respect different cultures. But we shouldn't encourage them to live apart. As the Chief Rabbi has put it, state multiculturalism is best represented in the idea of Britain as a hotel…
…with separate private spaces so separate cultures can live behind locked doors and be merely 'serviced' by the hotel management – in this case, the state.
I believe that state multiculturalism is a wrong-headed doctrine that has had disastrous results. It has fostered difference between communities. And it has stopped us from strengthening our collective identity. Indeed, it has deliberately weakened it.
By concentrating on defining the various cultures that have come to call Britain home, we have forgotten to define the most important one: our own. So we now have a situation where the children of first-generation immigrants – children, let us remember, who have been born and raised here – feel more divorced from life in Britain than their parents. In America, 47 percent of Muslims think of themselves of Muslim first, American second. In Britain, it's nearly twice that – with 81 percent of Muslims thinking of themselves as Muslim first and British second.
I believe we can move away from state multiculturalism – indeed we must – in a way that is sensitive to everyone who calls Britain home. This generation doesn't have the hang-ups of the past. People today don't worry that criticising multiculturalism is coded racism.
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