Among the collateral damage from the 7/7 blasts seems to have been the policy of multiculturalism. Suddenly, no one wants to celebrate diversity anymore. Not if it means teenage suicide bombers being bred in Leeds comprehensives.
Last week, Trevor Philips, the black chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality admitted that multiculturalism had increased “separateness” between communities which had aggravated community tensions. The Asian writer, Kenan Malik, says multiculturalism is “logically flawed and politically dangerous”. Many white politicians agree, though they haven't spoken out because they fear being accused of racism.
The idea of encouraging ethnic diversity, treating all cultures as equal and celebrating differences in schools, has, it seems, run its course. However, no one has yet looked at whether the alternative - monoculturalism - would be any better. Imposing Western, “white” values, dismantling the race relations industry, and enforcing immigrants to submit to ‘cricket’ tests would be distinctly unpalatable to liberal intellectuals like Mr Phillips. In the present febrile climate, such a move might even provoke further of racial explosions.
Monoculturalism hasn’t been debated seriously in Britain since the 1960s and the days of Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood”. (a speech which some English Conservatives are saying, privately, was all too prophetic). The whole issue of culture became hijacked by racists and their opponents, even though Powell himself wasn’t so much a racist as a romantic imperialist. When Norman Tebbit, the former Tory chairman, launched his assault on multiculturalism in the 1990’s, he was attacked for speaking the language of the British National Party.
This was unfortunate, because, as is now widely accepted, you don’t have to be a racist to have reservations about multiculturalism. There are limits to diversity. The understandable desire to reassure immigrant communities that they are welcome and respected should not be allowed to lead to the appeasement of values and practices which are inimical to the British way of life.
But what exactly is the ‘British way of life’? Re-establishing the hegemony of our common values isn’t as easy as it sounds. We would have to define them for a start. Where do you begin? Warm beer, village cricket and spinsters on bicycles, as Orwell envisaged? Might not be so attractive in Scotland. The English language and history - of course; Shakespeare, parliamentary democracy, rule of law - certainly. But I’m sure these were all taught in the multiracial Leeds comprehensive schools where the bombers were educated. It didn’t seem to do much good. A few weeks in a Pakistani madrass seems to have undone all that.
We have all become such cultural relativists over the half century that the very idea of trying to integrate ethnic minorities by requiring them to accept certain cultural norms and values itself seems illiberal and alien to, well, that British way of life. Moreover, any such cultural assertiveness would be exploited by the jihadists as a sure sign that white Britain had no time for Islam and intended to destroy it.
Of course, the bombers aren’t representative of the broader Asian community, any more than the IRA was representative of Catholics in Northern Ireland. They were brainwashed extremists. Nevertheless, like the Republicans, they are the product of an embattled and introverted minority community, effectively divorced from mainstream Britain.
Such communities are now emerging on the British mainland. According to the CRE, black and Asians are becoming more separate not less. An ICM poll recently indicated that 25% of British Muslims don’t feel British in any way. This is dangerous at a time when British foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan is seen as an attack on the entire Muslim world.
It's not easy to see how this can be reversed. When the former Home Secretary, David Blunkett called in 2001 for immigrants to swear oaths of allegiance and accept compulsory English language he was accused of being a racist by some ethnic leaders. Blunkett was responding to the recommendations of the Cantle Report into the riots in Burnley and Bradford in 2001 which had blamed “community separateness” - black and Asian communities which were leading “parallel lives"
Changing this, according to Cantle, would involve a very great deal more than modern studies classes in schools. It would mean reversing a policy for which there was never any legislation in parliament, but which has been implemented by practically every council, education authority and police force in Britain.
“Multiculturalism” isn’t British at all, but an importation from North America. In legislative form, it first emerged in Canada in 1971 in the Multiculturalism Act which stated that: “all Canadian citizens should keep their identities, take pride in their ancestry and have a sense of belonging.” Everyone, from the aboriginal to the Quebecois, would be treated as equal. In place of the “melting pot”, in which every race was expected to merge, there was instead the “salad bowl” where everyone retained their uniqueness and respected each others’ differences.
This philosophy of inclusive citizenship made sense in countries like Canada where, in a sense, everyone was an immigrant. But in old world countries like Britain, which only began mass immigration in the 1950s to provide cheap workers for northern textile factories, the situation was rather different.
Until 1980, the watchword here was “integration”. Immigrants were regarded as members of the working class, and particularly exploited ones according to Labour, rather than harbingers of a new concept of Britishness. They were expected to become British citizens, not remain outsiders. But outside is where they remained.
In the 1980s, following the Brixton riots and the street violence, councils in Britain like the GLC and Bradford, started importing multiculturalist ideas. They set up race relations units, funded black community organisations and mosques and began promoting ethnic diversity in schools. Religious festivals were encouraged, halal meat introduced to school meals along with lessons in Urdu. Community “representatives” were welcomed into the council chamber.
The hope was that mutual understanding and respect would promote integration. To some extent this worked. After the London bombings, there were no reprisals and no attempts to scapegoat or victimise Asian groups. Ken Livingstone was right to claim that, in many ways, London is a model multicultural community.
However, this doesn’t alter the uncomfortable reality that ethnic communities in Britain are fracturing and fragmenting. The insidious glamour of global jihad has collided with the Balkanisation of Britain’s ethnic groups. In some northern towns, there is serious strife between Asian youths and blacks, as the black writer, Darcus Howe, recently discovered, with Muslims dismissing Afro-Carribbeans as lazy and dumb.
Responding to this represents the greatest ever challenge to the liberal social order. Instead of cultural laissez faire, are we are going to have to start laying down the law? Are we going to have to learn to condemn a little more and understand a little less, as John Major once put it?
Perhaps. It will certainly mean challenging those who try to close down theatres on religious grounds, who issue fatwas against writers and regard women as second class citizens. It will also mean confronting fundamentalist groups who can no longer be permitted foment, beneath the guise of multiculturalism, passions that destroy what is decent in every culture: tolerance, understanding and respect for human life.
Come to think of it, maybe that’s what the British way of life really means. Pity we don’t always practice it abroad.