In Britain, Growing Objections to Multicultural Society

By Mark Rice-Oxley Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 4, 2005 | Go to article overview

In Britain, Growing Objections to Multicultural Society


Mark Rice-Oxley Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


When terrorists bombed London twice last month, the response from authorities was unequivocal: they would not change our way of life.

Yet one aspect of British society is being pressed to change: multiculturalism. The social model that shuns assimilation and encourages ethnic groups to retain their cultural practices is under fire.

Some critics are now asking: Is Britain too laissez faire?

Those who want a more robust response to terrorism argue that multiculturalism fosters an aloofness dangerous to social cohesion that has ultimately led young men from ethnic minorities to turn on their own society.

"Britain has a proud history of tolerance towards people of different views, faiths and backgrounds," opined David Davis, the senior opposition Conservative member of Parliament (MP), Wednesday. "But we should not flinch from demanding the same tolerance and respect for the British way of life." Another MP, Gerald Howarth, said if some Muslims "don't like our way of life, there is a simple remedy: go to another country, get out."

But even as government officials Tuesday began their campaign to reach out to Britain's sizeable Muslim community, those who believe in the multicultural dream say it is already being eroded by the response to the attacks.

Race crime has soared 600 percent in London since 7/7, with more than 250 incidents. Individuals report discrimination on the basis of their appearance. The police hunt for would-be bombers has homed in on ethnic minorities.

The problems facing multiculturalism have been underscored by the arrests that followed the failed July 21 attacks in London. The suspected bombers are east Africans who settled here in the early 1990s. Some took British citizenship. But the suspicion is that none really took to the British way of life. East African communities here are known for being particularly close-knit, in part because of the huge cultural barrier they face in settling here.

"[Somalis] face a language barrier, barriers to employment, difficulties accessing mainstream services like health and education," says Adam Hassan, a former refugee from Somalia who gained British citizenship in 1994 and now helps his countrymen settle here. "As a result there is a great deal of underachievement which could have implications for the incidents we have seen recently. Children leave school without qualifications. Some loiter on the streets and become petty criminals. Others go to the mosque and become indoctrinated by radical mullahs."

All immigrants who want British citizenship must remain in the country five years and then pass a language test and a short quiz on British culture that could include questions on everything from the Magna Carta to what to do if you spill someone's drink in a pub.

About 90,000 are successful each year, and pass through a citizenship ceremony where they swear allegiance to the queen and pledge to uphold British values.

But that is the easy part. It is what happens next that is stoking debate.

Other European countries such as France expect greater assimilation from their newcomers. Britain has taken a more hands- off approach, and its ethnic communities tend to be highly segregated, as a demographic map of London shows: Indians in northwest London; Caribbeans in Brixton; Koreans in New Malden; and whites in the suburbs. …

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