Why Multiculturalism Has Failed in Britain

Article excerpt

Before leaving on holiday, Tony Blair announced a series of anti- terror measures that signified a radical departure from the traditional British policy towards its Islamist community. The policy of 'Londonistan' " a place where political asylum was given to radical Islamist ideologists in return for keeping Britain a sanctuary from violence " was buried for good.

The measures, ranging from the expulsion of fanatical clerics (as in France and Spain) to the closure of religious centres where 'extremism ferments', herald a new age of conscious integration in place of a general atmosphere of laissez-faire.

All this, of course, has thrown British liberals, denouncing the plans as posing a deadly threat to traditional freedoms of their society, into turmoil.

But, if one looks beyond the controversy, it is clear that the abandonment of the Londonistan policy poses more profound and complex questions regarding the model of multicultural society.

Before the July attacks, the UK was the multicultural champion of Europe, along with the Netherlands, where it had already been dramatically called into question by the murder of the film director Theo van Gogh in autumn 2004.

Londonistan used to represent the tip of the multicultural iceberg " to the point of becoming a caricature of it. It posited the theory that, by offering refuge to extremist ideologists, these individuals would exert a positive influence on young people tempted by radical Islam and violence, and would dissuade them from rebelling against a state which had allowed Abu Hamza, Abu Qatada and numerous Omar Bakris to flourish.

And, for a decade, it did save Britain. The spread of radical discourse, regarded as lawful provided it did not lead to violence, was the cost.

It made its voice heard in the United Kingdom thanks to a total absence of identity among many young people (despite their British nationality), as well as through the burgeoning of an international Islamist identity, accentuated by the dramatic deeds of jihad throughout the world.

This global identity, made increasingly accessible by means of the internet, meant that, while the jihadi heroes carried out their attacks all over the world after 11 September 2001, the ideologists of Londonistan paled into insignificance and lost their value and influence in the most radical minorities.

The legal measures restricting them now have thus, above all, a largely symbolic and retrospective effect. The intellectual bedrock which allowed Londonistan to exist in the first place, on the other hand, retains its relevance.

It fostered a multiculturalism where what differentiates religious and ethnic communities is regarded as essential, while what unifies individuals, beyond race or faith, as citizens of the same society is seen to be of secondary importance.

In Britain, multiculturalism was the result of an implicit consensus between the establishment elite and the workers of the left. The separate development of Muslims allowed the one side to keep an eye on Pakistani immigrant labour and the other to secure their votes through religious leaders at election time. It is this consensus that the July bombings smashed to smithereens.

Multiculturalism, after all, makes sense only if it leads to a peaceful society, where community leaders keep their flocks in check and instil in their followers religious and moral values which are conducive to the maintenance of the global public order.

The British social system now finds itself divided, with entire sections primarily defining themselves through the identity of their religious community but with this identity finding itself unable to act as a shield against those emulating al-Qa'ida and fighting a war against 'impious' society. …