David Cameron’s speech on radicalisation and Islamic terror delivered at the Munich Security Conference outlined the Coalition Government’s standpoint regarding multiculturalism and counter-terrorism strategy. Significantly, only weeks after the Conservative co-chairman Baroness Warsi announced that Islamophobia had become socially acceptable in Britain, Cameron’s attack on multiculturalism appeared to align the Government with the ideology of the far-right, as well as relinquishing it of responsibility to tackle discrimination faced by minority communities. Cameron’s intention to robustly promote a shared set of British values as an alternative to multiculturalism is therefore short sighted and counter-productive in that it will result in an increasingly exclusive society that is ill equipped to tackle the problems posed by terrorism through alienating minority communities and engendering difference.
The timing of Cameron’s speech was interpreted by many as legitimising the politics of the far right. Cameron controversially delivered his speech on the same day that 3000 supporters of the far-right organisation the English Defence League (EDL) marched through Luton, protesting against the recognition and inclusion of Islam in British culture. Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party (BNP) commented that it marked “a further huge leap for our ideas into the political mainstream.” Marine Le Pen, vice-president of the far-right National Front Party in France also endorsed Cameron’s view of multiculturalism, claiming it supported that of her own party. Surely endorsements any mainstream British political party would wish to hastily disassociate themselves from. Indeed, Cameron’s attempts to blur issues of terrorism with a critique of Islamic culture echoed the rhetoric of the EDL in assimilating the Islamic faith with inherent human rights abuses and threats against western democracy.
Perhaps more troubling still is the fact that Cameron’s appeasement of the far-right and downplaying of the dangerous divisions and tensions it both relies upon and creates echoes the previous Government’s position. Following the 2001 Bradford riots in which predominantly British Muslims participated, then Home Secretary David Blunkett denied that the BNP, who had campaigned on an anti-Muslim platform throughout the North of England that year, played any role in triggering clashes. Rather, he described these acts, which were in reality as much evidence of British national identity as they were provocation from the far-right, as “‘sheer, mindless violence”. Subsequent interviews with those involved revealed the frustrations of British Muslims with the lack of support they received in response to the intimidating presence of far-right supporters leading up to the clashes. Episodes such as those in 2001, and the attitude of the previous Government serve as a warning to the Coalition Government to distance itself from the rhetoric of far-right politics to prevent marginalisation of minority communities in Britain. The divisive effect of such rhetoric fundamentally prohibits the establishment of a set of shared British values accessible to all, which Cameron envisages as essential in tackling terrorism in the UK.
Cameron’s also advocated cutting funding to Islamic organisations, initially supported by the Government to prevent Muslim youth from drifting into terrorist networks, in order to counter-terrorism. The Coalition Government will be cutting hundreds of thousands of pounds to groups deemed too “soft” on tackling terrorism. This measure serves to place the Muslim community in a comprising position in which they are unable to levy criticism at the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy without being constructed as the enemy within. Reducing funding to Muslim organisations, as opposed to other secular and non-secular organisations, for not actively tackling terrorism, presupposes that Muslims have a fundamentally weaker sense of national identity. This further propagates the separation that Cameron warns against in his speech and that he wishes to eradicate. Ultimately, the Coalition Government’s plans serve to silence the position of the Muslim community, preventing them from engaging in a critical dialogue of counter terrorism and undermining their participation in constructing a set of shared British values.
Furthermore, Government cuts to these organisations highlight more broadly the lack of commitment to tackling forms of discrimination suffered by particular groups; a fundamental tenet of multiculturalism. The Government has recently announced a 60% cut in funding to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), an independent statutory body established to help eliminate discrimination, reduce inequality, and protect human rights. The commission has produced crucial reports on gender, sexuality and racial discrimination. Only last week, Denise Marshall, head of leading women’s refuge handed back her OBE in protest at the effect that Government cuts are having on groups experiencing discrimination; women suffering domestic violence and sex trafficking.
Ultimately, Cameron’s abandonment of multiculturalism in favour of a shared set of British values as a means to tackling terrorism is fundamentally undermined by the Coalition Government’s exclusionary attitude towards the British Muslim community and redundancy in tackling inequality. This further emphasises the vacuous nature of the Coalition Government’s attempts to tackle the causes of terrorism in the UK and an inability to contribute anything new to the previous Government’s flawed discourse.
Author: Hannah Gousy
Hannah graduated from the University of Cambridge with a BA in History. She is currently studying MSc Gender, Development and Globalisation at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences.
Hannah has work experience at the NGO, MASUM, in Pune, India, undertaking projects researching women and violence, as well as working as a public servant for the UK Government. She is currently undertaking an LSE parliamentary internship alongside her studies.