Thursday, 10 February 2011

Why I won't be signing UAF's petition on multiculturalism

David Cameron caused quite a stir over the weekend that with his comments on multiculturalism. He has been accused of boosting the English Defence League's cause, and Unite Against Fascism are asking people to sign a letter of condemnation. Here, I want to explain why I will not be a signatory.

Before anything else, it is worth looking at Cameron's exact words;
Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream. We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.

We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values. 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.

Europe needs to wake up to what is happening in our own countries. 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.
From this, I certainly wouldn't doubt that he would be happy "to deflect the anger against his government’s cuts from the bankers and onto the Muslim community." After all, fascism thrives by dividing the working class against itself and leading class anger up the blind alley of nationalism.

However it doesn't follow, as UAF assert, that "he has branded Britain’s Muslims as the new “enemy within” in the same way as Thatcher attacked the miners and trade unions." Because, although I wouldn't trust his motives, he is not wrong in what he says and the approach of condemning all criticism of multiculturalism is far too simplistic.

As I have argued before, there are two kinds of multiculturalism: descriptive and normative. Whilst the word can describe ethnic and cultural diversity, it more often refers to the social policies aimed at achieving or promoting diversity. By talking about the "doctrine of state multiculturalism," it is clear that (even if he doesn't use such a distinction) Cameron is talking about normative multiculturalism. To call out the folly of "encourag[ing] different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream" is not the same as saying that Muslims are the "enemy within."

UAF ignore this point, and instead declare that "we believe that our multicultural society and the respect and solidarity it is built on is a cause for pride, and reject any moves by this government to undermine and destroy it." This is a mistake. Not least because it equates the two forms of multiculturalism, and offers licence to attack ethnic diversity on the basis of policies that encourage separatism.

It also does exactly what Cameron claims, and gives shelter to groups whose views are as abhorrent as the EDL or BNP's under the umbrella of "tolerance." I refuse to put my name to anything also signed by organisations such as the Islamic Forum of Europe. As was pointed out when the EDL were planning to protest at Tower Hamlets, IFE "represent a virulent form of political Islam that is fascistic in nature ... and verges on the anti-Semitic and is very exclusivist and undemocratic."

This is glossed over by UAF's black-and-white, almost deliberately apolitical worldview. The same approach that led them to completely blot out class in order to get people like Cameron to sign their founding statement to begin with.

The solution to social tensions like this isn't to side with anybody who stands against the far-right, regardless of their politics, or to defend a status quo in which the working class are under attack from every angle. It is to promote working class unity against all of our enemies - whatever direction they are coming from. That is why I won't sign UAF's statement.