Not Saussure

December 9, 2006

Blair on multi-culturalism

Filed under: Blair, Islam, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 2:30 pm

Just taken a quick look at Blair’s speech — reproduced in full in the Telegraph. Doubtless I’ll return to it later, but a few first impressions.

Well, one very literally a first impression, since in the first sentences he holds up our winning the Olympic bid as something to celebrate, which lost me immediately, I’m afraid. His following observation,

This was not the stuffy old Britain that used to be sent up in the comedy sketches of the 1970s but a nation proud, willing and able to go out and compete on its merits,

with its blithe dismissal of the ‘stuffy old Britain’ of the past — not even the real thing, mark you, but the version he recalls from the TV sketches of his teenage and undergraduate years — in favour, again, not of the real thing but of the ‘compelling, modern vision of Britain’ we (that is, Sex [oops. Sodding blogdesk spellchecker] Seb Coe and his team) ‘presented’ ‘when we won the Olympic bid’ — didn’t really fill me with confidence about what was going to follow, either.

Probably the first — possibly the only — thing that needs to be said is that only the Dear Leader or one of his cabinet could possibly deliver a speech about

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

and propose various ways of dealing with this problem without once mentioning certain aspects of the government’s policies with regards to foreign affairs or domestic security. He seems to have given up even trying to explain why, contrary to what just about everyone from Chatham House to the Foreign Office to the Joint Intelligence Committee to The Joseph Reiter Reform Trust to the government’s own Working Groups on Preventing Extremism Together … oh, I give up, everyone outside his cabinet, just about, has been telling him, it’s really nothing to do with foreign or domestic security policy, guv. And quite how he manage deliver a lengthy speech about the views of Muslims in Britain, explaining, among other things that

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

without also mention the concerts that must have also have been raised with him about Iraq or Forest Gate is beyond me. Too busy asking for his assistance with entering certain mosques, I suppose. He managed, after all, to find the times quote the views of ‘no less a person than the Mufti of the Arab Republic of Egypt’ about Jack Straw’s views on veils, after all, though what the views of the Mufti of the Arab Republic of Egypt necessarily have to do with what a British woman, of whatever religious or ethnic background, should be doing, I do not know. But I’m sure Mr Straw is grateful for the Mufti’s generous endorsement, anyway.

Indeed, he seems to have canvassed international opinion on veils quite widely. We learn, for example, that ‘in Tunisia and Malaysia, the veil is barred in certain public places’. Well, that’s interesting to know. It’s not clear if he thinks either of those countries are examples to be emulated, though the bit in Wikipedia about Tunisia’s ‘strong presidential system dominated by a single political party’ would probably bring back happy memories for Blair.

But nary a word in this survey of international opinion, of ‘global agonising on the subject’ of the veil, about international opinion or global agonising about Mr Blair and Mr Bush’s war on terror.

Hamlet without the prince, I think. But enough of what he doesn’t say; what does he have to say? Typical Blair, really; he’s in favour of good things — and he’s got plenty of figures about how these have been advanced by ZaNu Labour; for example,

Jobcentre Plus have specifically targeted wards with high ethnic minority populations. Ethnic Minority Outreach was introduced in 2002 to offer help from people from ethnic minorities who were struggling to get back into work. 9,000 people have been helped

and I think we’ve exceeded the five year plan for tractor production, too, though I may have imagined that bit. But, he’s also against bad things;

There have been concerns about some Madrassahs. The DfES is working to bring together a host of voluntary groups to form a National Centre for supplementary schools. It will recommend best practice to try to encourage tolerance and respect for other faiths by, for example, establishing links with other schools.

There can be no excuse for Madrassahs not meeting their legal requirements and they will be enforced vigorously.

No excuse for anyone not meeting their legal requirements, of course; but quite what the legal requirements of madrassas may be, other than those they share any other voluntary organisation in the UK, I do not know.

As a more overarching theme, he’s in favour of our essential values;

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 supersedes our duty to be part of an integrated United Kingdom.

This ‘shared heritage’, we must assume, is something distinct from ‘the stuffy old Britain that used to be sent up in the comedy sketches of the 1970s’. Furthermore,it’s a bit rich, one might think, hearing about ‘the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all’ from someone whose Home Secretary complains that the judiciary’s attempts to uphold the rule of law despite the inconvenience this not infrequently causes him is evidence that they just don’t get it and who is himself of the opinion that, as to one rather important part of our shared heritage,

traditional civil liberty arguments are not so much wrong, as just made for another age

and that

the challenges faced by the criminal justice and immigration systems have grown exponentially, not in a small way but in a way that, frankly, mocks a system built not for another decade but another age. So we end up fighting 21st century problems with 19th century solutions.

But, anyway, he’s got a series of proposals to make sure that what he rather toe-curlingly describes as ‘our Muslim community’ all sign up to this. Or rather, that the minority among Muslims sign up who haven’t already so done:

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.

Interesting use of ‘community’ there, please note, particularly since he’s introduced different countries into the story — it’s debatable, to say the least, whether a Nigerian living in West London and someone living in Bradford whose parents came from Pakistan can really be said to be part of the same ‘community’ in any sense of the word as it’s normally understood. But be that as it may, Mr Blair says,

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. Those whites who support the BNP’s policy of separate races and those Muslims who shun integration into British society both contradict the fundamental values that define Britain today: tolerance, solidarity across the racial and religious divide, equality for all and between all.

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

This point, I think, defies all rational analysis. What one earth ‘our right to our own … races’ might be, and how someone might go about enforcing his ‘right to his own race’ is utterly beyond me. The only way it would make sense is were Blair advocating some form of apartheid, but that’s clearly not what he means.

The bit about ‘our right to our own different faiths … and creeds’ I do understand, but what I don’t understand is from whom these are supposed to be under any realisable threat in the UK. To anyone other than crackpots who whitter on about Eurabia (Blair’s speech seems to have gone down quite well with DhimmiWatch, btw, to whom I’m not linking) it should be obvious that, were anyone’s faith or creed under threat in the UK, it wouldn’t be Christianity. Other crackpots like Anjem Choudary might look forward to the day when ‘the black flag of Islam will be flying over Downing Street’ but that looks about as real a threat as does the red flag of the Socialist Workers Party occupying the same spot.

But in either event, his reference to the BNP ought to have told him (or his speech writers) the fatuity of his line of argument. Since its existence demonstrates that ‘the white community’ can’t, despite having all the resources of government at its disposal, completely do away with such unpleasant political groupuscles, how on earth is ‘the Muslim community’ supposed to do the same with its own home-grown headbangers?

Seems to me that Blair thinks he lives in a world that would be just fine if only unreasonable people were to start behaving reasonably, and that they can be enticed or coerced into so doing. HMG does its bit so, if that fails, clearly that’s because others can’t be doing their bit to make others see reason, so they need enticing or coercing to play their part, too. I don’t think it works that way.

To my mind, most people, whatever their background, are perfectly willing to knock along together as best they can, getting on with their lives and leaving others alone to get on with theirs, not out of any conscious adherence a set of fundamental or core values — the sort of thing you have in the company’s mission statement — about ‘tolerance, solidarity across the racial and religious divide, equality for all and between all’ or anything else, but because, pragmatically, that’s what makes life easiest if you live in a community (in the physical sense of people living alongside each other) of any size or complexity. When people don’t want to associate with others, for whatever reason, then most of us are perfectly happy to let them carry not thus associating; if someone wants to have to do only with other members of his religion or race, then fine — I’m sure not many people from outside his group particularly want much to do with him, either. Probably not that may people from inside his group want a great deal to do with him either, but they’re probably prepared to humour him when necessary.

The role of the state, it seems to me, isn’t to lecture us to be better people but to deal, impartially, with the problems that inevitably arise when people doing their own thing find their so doing brings them into conflict with others, who’re also trying to do their own thing, and they can’t amicably resolve their problems between themselves. Yes, obviously there are people who hold very alarming and objectionable political views, but I don’t see that there’s a great deal anyone can do about his next-door-neighbour’s politics, character or anything else. And so long as the chap’s objectionable politics, character and so forth don’t manifest themselves in objectionable actions, then there’s no need for anyone to intervene. There’s certainly no need for the government to intervene beforehand by lecturing all his neighbours about how they should try to get him to sort his ideas out.

‘Aha,’ I hear someone object, ‘but this chap next door might be intending to launch acts of terrorism’. A very real worry; and let us deal with him as we would anyone else we think is engaged in a criminal conspiracy, be it motivated by religion, politics or the desire to make lots of money by importing large quantities of narcotics and recruiting others to sell them. There will always now and again be violent nihilists, just as there will always be criminals with more comprehensible motives. The Italians managed to deal with the Red Brigades, as did the Germans with the Bader Meinhoff people and the Japanese with the Japanese Red Army. You deal with criminal conspiracies by going after the criminals, not by lecturing at or blaming whole groups of people; that’s counterproductive, since it just gets the backs up of the very people whose cooperation you need to deal with the criminals.

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  1. Britblog Roundup #95

    Welcome once again to out little listing of those posts you think we all should see. You can send nominations for next week’s simply by emailing the URL to britblog AT gmail DOT com. One small adminstrative note. Next week’s

    Trackback by Tim Worstall — December 10, 2006 @ 12:58 pm

  2. Does Tim’s comment have something to do with Tony and Bader Meinhoff?

    Comment by jameshigham — December 10, 2006 @ 2:42 pm

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