The distinction between multicultural society and multiculturalism " between the daily reality of life in many British towns and cities and ideas about that life " seems to be getting lost.
When will politicians such as David Davis and commentators on the right realise that the old carping about ethnic diversity and multiculturalism has long been overtaken by a changed reality? Calling multiculturalism a 'failed experiment' in the wake of the London bombings, or wondering if cultural diversity should be continued is well beside the point.
Cultural difference, even of an extreme kind, is no novelty in English life. Indeed, we have been expert in creating and sustaining social class distinctions in speech, dress and eating habits for several hundred years, perfecting it to the extent that we implicitly believe that if we hear a person speak we can describe what they probably had for breakfast. We have thrived on social difference.
Difficult, then, for us to declare at this late stage that our culture needs to be one. How irrelevant is David Davis's latest demand that British Muslims give up their culture and 'join the mainstream'? That mainstream is already far wider than he seems to imagine and, for better or worse, we are all part of its flow. The global economy has changed the terms of the argument away from whether or not migrant communities should be welcome, towards which migrant skills we most need.
Culture itself is not the issue. We can be as culturally different as chalk and cheese " and often are " but as long as we live under the same framework of rights and obligations to one another there is nothing stopping us living, as we have been, cheek by jowl or merely side by side.
This is not to deny that some aspects of the culture of other groups may be a problem for 'us', whichever 'us' we belong to. However, we know now, after 30 or more years of change, that there is no connection between cultural incongruities and criminal acts of violence. A difference of opinion over the legal status of a garment, the veil or a turban, can be real but is not the window on to a murderous act.
Yet there is said to be a 'backlash' " to some extent nominated as such by a press eager for such handles. There has been a deep and unified reaction across all British communities and beyond. Just …