The grains of truth, the beer of confusion
David Cameron’s speech on multiculturalism today has roused the twittersphere into much feeling, often lacking nuance. I have seen tweets today comparing him to Hitler (a prime example of Godwin’s Law in action) and tweets saying it’s the most sensible thing he’s ever said. When I actually managed to read the full text of the speech myself, I was, as per usual, in not just two minds, but multiple minds. The speech contains grains of truth, but they have been fermented into the beer of muddled thinking and fallacious conclusions. Rather as I did with my Alarm Clock Britain post a few weeks ago, I want to go through Cameron’s speech line by line, giving my thoughts. Of which there will be a lot. Oh, and there may be anger.
The speech starts off with Cameron rambling a bit about military expenditure; all fairly mild stuff. He gets going properly with:
The biggest threat to our security comes from terrorist attacks – some of which are sadly carried out by our own citizens.
I think this is relatively uncontroversial, although there probably are debates over whether terrorism really is the biggest threat to our security in the UK. But let’s take this for granted, as the speech continues. (I’m not sure if it’s sadder that they’re sometimes carried out by our own citizens, though. Are British people meant to be too superior to carry out terrorist attacks?)
It’s important to stress that terrorism is not linked exclusively to any one religion or ethnic group.
Jolly good, Cameron. Keep up in this vein, and it’ll be <3’s all round.
Nevertheless, we should acknowledge that this threat comes overwhelmingly from young men who follow a completely perverse and warped interpretation of Islam and who are prepared to blow themselves up and kill their fellow citizens.
Well, there are female suicide bombers, but yes, mostly young men. And Cameron is certainly being a bit more sensible here than many right-wing commentators who insist that Islam will naturally lead to terrorist thinking. I’d be willing to bet that there are somewhere on the net blogs decrying how soft and liberal Cameron is in this speech…
Of course, that means strengthening the security aspects of our response – on tracing plots and stopping them, counter-surveillance and intelligence gathering.
I don’t mind admitting that this kind of statement always gets my hackles up. Call me a lefty-Marxist conspiracy theorist, but governments of all brands seem keen to use the threat of terrorism to increase their intelligence gathering/anti-liberal measures.
We need to be absolutely clear on where the origins of these terrorist attacks lie – and that is the existence of an ideology, ‘Islamist extremism’.
And we should be equally clear what we mean by this term, distinguishing it from Islam.
Could it not be that the ideology has sprung up in response to people’s anger and hatred and feelings? Also, this is the beginning of Cameron using “ideology” in an extremely negative sense, which always annoys me. There’s always the sense that other people are ideological, not us. It’s nonsense. He’s espousing a muscular-liberal ideology in this article. In fact, liberalism as an ideology is predominant in our society. I identify as a liberal-socialist. It’s not the fact that “Islamist extremism” is an ideology that’s where problems lie.
Islam is a religion, observed peacefully and devoutly by over a billion people. Islamist extremism is a political ideology, supported by a minority.
Relatively uncontroversial, but interesting implication where he points out that extremism is supported by a minority. Does he mean that if Islamist extremism was the majority opinion it’d be acceptable? Back to your Alexis de Tocqueville, Dave. Beware of the tyranny of the majority.
At the furthest end are those who back terrorism to promote their ultimate goal: an entire Islamist realm, governed by an interpretation of sharia.
A Bad Thing. I can’t see many readers of Cameron’s speech denying that backing terrorism for any goal is generally a good idea.
Move along the spectrum, and you find people who may reject violence, but who accept various parts of the extremist world-view including real hostility towards western democracy and liberal values.
Okay, I’d like to point something out here. If people in Britain have a hostility to western democracy and liberal values, but oppose violence or coercion to bring about their world view, I have no problem with that. I might have a problem with their views, and argue vehemently with them, but it is not the state’s place as far as I’m concerned to intervene.
Time and again, people equate the two. They think whether someone is an extremist is dependent on how much they observe their religion.
So they talk about ‘moderate’ Muslims as if all devout Muslims must be extremist. This is wrong.
Someone can be a devout Muslim and not be an extremist.
We need to be clear: Islamist extremism and Islam are not the same thing.
I think Cameron makes an excellent point here. Yay for the seeds of sense.
This highlights a significant problem when discussing the terrorist threat we face: there is so much muddled thinking about this whole issue.
Oh, how true!
On the one hand, those on the hard right ignore this distinction between Islam and Islamist extremism and just say:
Islam and the West are in irreconcilable. This is a clash of civilisations.
So it follows: we should cut ourselves off from this religion – whether that’s through the forced repatriation favoured by some fascists or the banning of new mosques as suggested in some parts of Europe.
These people fuel Islamaphobia. And I completely reject their argument.
If they want an example of how Western values and Islam can be entirely compatible, they should look at what’s happened in the past few weeks on the streets of Tunis and Cairo.
Hundreds of thousands people demanding the universal right to free elections and democracy.
God, Cameron, carry on talking sense like this and I’ll end up turning Tory. (Note: this is a joke. Repeat – this is a joke. Not turning blue.)
On the other hand, there are those on the soft left who also ignore this distinction.
They lump all Muslims together, compiling a list of grievances and arguing if only governments addressed them, this terrorism would stop.
I think you might be simplifying the “soft left”‘s argument here, Cameron, but still. I get your point.
So they point to the poverty that so many Muslims live in and say: get rid of this injustice and the terrorism will end.
But this ignores that fact that many of those found guilty of terrorist offences in the UK have been graduates, and often middle class.
Middle class students have been campaigning against tuition fee rises and EMA cutting. The rise in tuition fees won’t directly affect me, but I still marched against it. Obviously I wouldn’t commit a terrorist act, or condone those who do, but historically revolutionaries and protesters have been middle class. It may well be the case that there are genuine injustices which middle-class terrorists believe it’s worth blowing themselves up over. It may be that if injustice was ended the terrorism would end. I don’t know, because I don’t know enough about the issues involved, but Cameron’s definitely showing some very shoddy logic here.
But there are many people – Muslim and non-Muslim alike – who are angry about western foreign policy and don’t resort to acts of terrorism.
So people show degrees of anger about things. Not entirely sure what Cameron’s argument is here.
They also point to the profusion of unelected leaders across the Middle East and say: stop propping them up and creating the conditions for extremism to flourish.
But this raises the question: if a lack of democracy is the problem, why are there extremists in free and open societies?
Once again, I don’t know enough about the issues here. But I can hypothesise several answers.
a) extremists don’t believe that the UK is a genuine democracy
b) the UK isn’t a bubble (I nearly wrote “isn’t an island” before realising how ridiculous that was…) so unelected leaders in the Middle East can still affect people here
c) saying lack of democracy is a problem isn’t saying it’s the problem. Lots of different influences…
Now, I am not saying these issues aren’t important.
Yes, we must tackle poverty.
Yes, we must resolve sources of tension – not least in Palestine.
And yes, we should be on the side of openness and political reform in the Middle East.
But let’s not fool ourselves, these are just contributory factors. Even if we sorted out all these problems, there would still be this terrorism.
Once again – I don’t know if this is a true statement or not. However, Cameron still hasn’t offered any actual evidence for it.
The root lies in the existence of this extremist ideology.
And why does that ideology exist? That’s the correct question to be asking.
In the UK, some young men find it hard to identify with the traditional Islam practised at home by their parents whose customs can seem staid when transplanted to modern Western countries.
But they also find it hard to identify with Britain too, because we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity.
a) Did we ever have a collective identity? Britain is made up of Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, all of which have different identities and cultural traditions.
b) who’s “we” who have allowed the weakening?
Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream.
Allowed, maybe. Permitted, maybe. Is it correct to say we’ve encouraged it?
We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values.
Provocative use of the word segregated. And who’s “our”? I’d appreciate it if Cameron stopped trying to speak for the British people.
So when a white person holds objectionable views – racism, for example – we rightly condemn them.
But when equally unacceptable views or practices have come from someone who isn’t white, we’ve been too cautious, frankly even fearful, to stand up to them.
The failure of some to confront the horrors of forced marriage the practice where some young girls are bullied and sometimes taken abroad to marry someone they don’t want to is a case in point.
This hands-off tolerance has only served to reinforce the sense that not enough is shared.
Firstly, I feel that Cameron could do with reading a bit about privilege in our society, and why bigoted views from the dominant group who are in power are more dangerous than views from minority groups. (I know this is contentious, and I’m not going to go into this whole issue deeply right now…)
Secondly – if things are happening like this, it should clearly be illegal. If it’s illegal already, then there should be an obvious distinction between tolerance (something I believe is mostly good) and ignoring the law (bad).
All this leaves some young Muslims feeling rootless.
And the search for something to belong to and believe in can lead them to this extremist ideology.
Some of this sounds a bit hypothetical. There’s no evidence for the argument that Cameron’s putting forward.
What we see is a process of radicalisation.
Internet chatrooms are virtual meeting places where attitudes are shared, strengthened and validated.
Oh noes, the internet chatrooms.
In our communities, groups and organisations led by young, dynamic leaders promote separatism by encouraging Muslims to define themselves solely in terms of their religion.
All these interactions engender a sense of community, a substitute for what the wider society has failed to supply.
You might say: as long as they’re not hurting anyone, what’s the problem with all this?
That is what I say. I’m a Liberal – in the ideological sense, not the political-party sense, and not the economic sense. But socially I will always be a liberal.
As evidence emerges about the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were initially influenced by what some have called ‘non-violent extremists’ and then took those radical beliefs to the next level by embracing violence.
I’d like to use Cameron’s argument from earlier on in his speech and point to the number of Muslims who have associated with non-violent extremists and then not gone on to embrace violence.
So first, instead of ignoring this extremist ideology, we – as governments and societies – have got to confront it, in all its forms.
And second, instead of encouraging people to live apart, we need a clear sense of shared national identity, open to everyone.
I thought Cameron was against state intervention, and for the big society? Also, interesting to see him talking in terms of One Nation Toryism.
First, confronting and undermining this ideology.
Whether they are violent in their means or not, we must make it impossible for the extremists to succeed.
It’s the “violent or not” bit that is making me uneasy here…
We must ban preachers of hate from coming to our countries.
We must also proscribe organisations that incite terrorism – against people at home and abroad.
If an organisation is genuinely inciting terrorism, then yes. But this sounds like something which could easily be misused by a government to shut up groups it doesn’t like.
Some organisations that seek to present themselves as a gateway to the Muslim community are showered with public money despite doing little to combat extremism.
This may well be true.
As others have observed, this is like turning to a right-wing fascist party to fight a violent white supremacist movement.
Whoa, that’s a bit of a leap!
So let’s properly judge these organisations:
Do they believe in universal human rights – including for women and people of other faiths?
Do they believe in equality of all before the law?
Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government?
Do they encourage integration or separatism?
These are the sorts of questions we need to ask.
Fail these tests and the presumption should be not to engage with organisations.
No public money. No sharing of platforms with Ministers at home.
I’m a tiny bit iffy about this, but okay.
At the same time, we must stop these groups from reaching people in publicly funded institutions – like universities and prisons.
Some say: this is incompatible with free speech and intellectual inquiry.
I say: would you take the same view if right-wing extremists were recruiting on campuses?
…whoa. And yes, I would say that.
Would you allow the far right groups a share of public funds if they promise to lure young white men away from fascist terrorism?
No. But there’s a difference between allocating public funds and allowing such groups to go into publicly funded institutions, isn’t there? I have a problem when the state starts judging which kind of legal groups are acceptable and which aren’t. What about anarcho-capitalist groups? What about radical ecologists? Animal Rights activists?
But, at root, challenging this ideology means exposing its ideas for what they are -completely unjustifiable.
But should the state be doing that, in your Big Society, Cameron?
We need to argue that terrorism is wrong – in all circumstances.
Going off on a bit of a tangent here, but did you know that the Suffragettes had a bombing campaign? I just found that out, and was very interested. They can definitely be defined as terrorists, and yet a huge number of people are still on their side.
The extremism we face is a distortion of Islam so these arguments, in part, must be made by those within Islam.
That’s like saying that moderate Christians should be the ones arguing against creationism being taught in schools. And maybe Christians should be doing that, but surely it’s not their responsibility in particular how people distort religious beliefs?
Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism.
A passively tolerant society says to its citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.
I like the sound of this passively tolerant society.
A genuinely liberal country does much more.
It believes in certain values and actively promotes them.
Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality.
It says to its citizens: this is what defines us as a society.
To belong here is to believe in these things.
Each of us in our own countries must be unambiguous and hard-nosed about this defence of our liberty.
Whoa whoa whoa WHAT?
I don’t know where to begin with this. Okay.
I’m not an anarchist. But hypothetically, imagine that I am an anarcho-communist, who believes in a stateless society full of self-governing communes, where democracy is not relevant. Because I hold such beliefs, do I no longer belong in Britain?
Imagine that I meet up quietly every week with a group of anarcho-communists, then go home again. Sometimes we distribute leaflets. We are not violent. Does that stop us being British?
I’ll go further. Imagine that I fully support the revolutionary overthrow of Capitalism to be replaced by a Soviet style dictatorship. Am I no longer British?
Or is what Cameron is saying that I, as a white woman, am allowed to hold these beliefs, but a Muslim who holds beliefs like this not British? What actually does he mean?
Freedom of Speech. No one supports unlimited freedom of speech. Cameron does not espouse the freedom to go to a synagogue and shout anti-semitic abuse, or to go to a gay pride march and hand out virulently homophobic leaflets. And that’s good. But this is also a limiting of free speech. Does Cameron no longer belong to this country? We all agree that there are limits to free speech, but very few people agree exactly where they fall. Who decides whether people belong to this country or not? Is it Cameron?
I believe passionately in all of those values which Cameron listed. But they are not what makes me British. You can’t reduce nationality to a set of values, because you will never get people who agree on all of them.
That’s about it from me, and I hope I’ve managed to get most of my ideas down. I’d really love some comments on this one, because there is a real debate to be had here, and I don’t think Cameron’s going about it well. Also, as has already been said – making the speech on the same day as the English Defence League protest in Luton? Bad idea. So…yeah. Thoughts?