Why multiculturalism should not be abandonned edit

Sept. 11, 2006

In an article published in the Observer newspaper recently, a reporter writes of his visit to a local mosque. It was not just any mosque, but one frequented by some of the British Muslims held by the police in the plot to bring down several transatlantic planes. The reporter talks of meeting two TV teams at the mosque. One, from the US, came to try to find out why the UK is a hotbed of Muslim violence; the other team, which was French, was there to report upon the collapse of the British model of integration.

-->The issues involved here are very important, because of all the countries the UK has proceeded furthest with a multicultural approach to minorities and to citizenship. If the British model of integration is disintegrating, it implies that multiculturalism is too. What is multiculturalism? It does not mean what many think. Specifically, it does not mean leaving minority groups to get on with their own lives, no matter what their cultural views or attitudes may be. It does not imply allowing ghettos or separate ethnic neighbourhoods to develop without reference to their implications for the wider society.

Multiculturalism means in fact almost the opposite of these things, as one can see from the country where it has been effectively pioneered, Canada. A successful multicultural society is one in which there is dialogue between differing cultural groups and minorities, rather than separation. It is also one where some overarching values and obligations, not a cultural free-for-all. In Canada it has long been accepted that language tests, citizenship ceremonies and oaths are axiomatic for immigrants. They are wholly uncontroversial, among the host population as well as migrants indeed, widely welcomed as a sign of mutual commitment.

The UK has a far lower proportion of immigrants 8% to Canadaís 18%. However it has moulded its approach to integration upon that of Canada (since 1997) in contrast, for instance, to France, which has insisted upon a conception of citizenship that more or less ignores ethnic and cultural differences.

Is the British model of integration, then, in a state of imminent collapse? After all, the terrorist plot to down several transatlantic airliners involves mostly British nationals, as did the terrorist episode on the London underground. Are we witnessing the failure of multiculturalism more generally (as many in fact, not just visiting TV crews, have speculated)?

My answer would be a resounding noto both questions. Many critics have simply failed to do their homework on what multiculturalism is. They identify it with a laissez faire approach to cultural diversity, whereas in fact it means almost the opposite. But they have also neglected to study what the evidence shows which is, that with all its problems and insufficiencies, the UK has done a better job of integrating minorities and migrant communities than any other of the major European states.

There are many different ethnic groups in Britain, and their fortunes vary. Those of Indian, Chinese and Japanese origin on average are now out-performing the white population. They do better at school, and their average level of income is higher. Blacks of West Indian origin, especially girls, are doing much better in terms of educational results than they were a few years ago. Some Muslim groups, like those from Malaysia, are also relatively successful. People of Pakistani background, and especially those from Bangladesh, fare less well.

Is it among these groups that the main problems lie, especially since those accused in the airlines plot are all of Pakistani background? One might think so, because Pakistani groups have also featured in the riots that happened in Oldham, Leeds and other cities in the north of England in the 1990's and early 2000's. At that time serious worries were expressed about the level of segregation between Pakistani and local white communities. It was widely suggested in the press that social policies involved with multiculturalism were to blame.

However, these accusations were made by those with scant knowledge of the communities in question. A sociologist at the University of Bradford, Ludi Simpson, did spend time studying those communities. He found that segregation was much lower than outside commentators had suggested. Many Pakistani families originally living in inner-city areas had in fact moved out of the inner-city wards to middle-class neighbourhoods or rural areas. Contrary to the idea that the Asian communities wanted to keep to themselves, the evidence showed a desire for more mixing, with most wanting independent life-styles, away from too much ethnic clustering.

The potential for radicalisation among such groups has virtually nothing to do with integration. The sentiments that drive such radicalisation do not come from general feelings of alienation or exclusion. They are driven by religiosity, combined with ideas about social justice and world politics. Individuals attracted by these ideas are more often than not likely to be quite well-educated and seemingly responsible members of their local communities. Certainly the leaders will be.

I don't believe there is anything specific about the UK that that will make it the home of jihadist violence and, no, not Labour's foreign policy either. Home-grown, or partly home-grown, jihadism is likely to be scattered among the European countries. After all, the leading 9/11 conspirator, Mohammed Atta, lived in Germany. The most lethal terrorist act yet witnessed in Europe took place in Spain, the Madrid bombings of 2004. The murder of the film-maker Theo van Gogh, happened in the Netherlands. Nor will a drive for hearts and minds eradicate it, since only tiny numbers of people are involved.

We will not solve Europe's problems with ethnic minorities by retreating from multiculturalism, but by embracing it. Multiculturalism has barely been tried in most of the EU countries. To abandon it now would mean deepening the isolation of minority groups from the wider social community.