Is truly liberal multiculturalism possible?

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In my weakened state over having to do back to work on Monday I managed to get myself into a ridiculous argument about the Bishop of Rochester’s comments about Muslim “no-go areas” over at Lib Dem Voice. Apologies to all concerned who are already banging their heads in weariness of the debate. I just thought I’d make a few points in (slightly) less inflammatory terms.

I’ve lived and campaigned in a variety of multi-cultural parts of England for much of the past 15 years. Originally as a student (and penniless graduate) in Rusholme, Manchester; in Beeston, Leeds (just around the corner from home of the famous suicide bomber no less); in Leamington Spa (don’t laugh – it has a sizeable Sikh population in the old part of town where I lived) and now in Jewish North London. All those areas have their issues, but overall my conclusion is that we do multiculturalism quite well in this country.

Based on my ideal of a liberal society which upholds personal dignity and ultimately maximises not merely tolerance but mutual respect, I’m open to the argument that so-called silo-isation has gone too far and that the practice of having separate Muslim, Sikh or Jewish cultural centres, etc. ultimately does more harm than good. I do in fact accept the argument that language is an important factor for integration and generally support the drive for greater emphasis on teaching English while spending less on language translation services. I have little time for self-appointed martyrs like Shabina Begum who take a school dress code which is already sensitive to her faith and attempts to push the envelope several stages too far (if she was a white Christian she would simply have been dismissed as an emo brat who needs to get over herself). And I believe that as a society which places an emphasis on equal rights and individual liberties, while the state can’t expect individuals to like people with different values and beliefs it, it can insist upon tolerance and insist that people living in this country obey our laws.

The latter point is most significant. Many of the loudest critics of “multiculturalism” insist that immigrants and ethnic minorities conform to “our way of life” while insisting that we should never, ever write down those values we hold dear in any meaningful sense. It is for this reason that I am less cynical than some about Gordon Brown’s push for a British “statement of values” – it’s fraught with problems but might, just might, lead us down the road towards an entrenched Bill of Rights and codified constitution. The often lazy form of multiculturalism that has taken hold in the UK (particularly northern cities) is very much a product of our hollow so-called “flexible” constitution however much the ranting Little Englanders might like to think otherwise.

What annoys me the most about people like Angus Huck is that they take a perfectly reasonable position such as zero-tolerance of female genital mutilation, honour killings, and so on, and then leap to the conclusion that opposing such things must by necessity mean insisting that anyone living in this country must conform to a British way of life (whatever that is). How you can make the leap from objecting to the stoning of women to the banning of prayers being broadcast from the top of minarets is beyond me.

In the Sky News interview with Nick Clegg which has caused all the controversy, Clegg likens Muslim prayers to church bells. Both assault the senses; in what way is one benign while the other is menacing (and Angus, the argument that church bells have been rung for hundreds of years simply won’t do – we have neither the demographics nor the level of church attendance that we had hundreds of years ago, nor do we tolerate the religious intolerance of hundreds of years ago – at what point do you want society to have been ossified. It’s for Disney to come up with twee portrayals of the past, not policy makers)? Similarly, how can we single out Muslim men for being “aggressive and macho” and “intimidating” any more than we can any other group of young men? In any case, one person’s “intimidating” is another person’s “laughable posturing”.

We could be having the same debate about Jews in the 1930s, or Quakers 200 years before. These things go in cycles. If the price we pay for expecting Muslim immigrant communities to respect human rights and obey our laws is the odd mosque making a racket on a Friday morning, then it is a price well worth paying. I can’t understand how any liberal would draw the line any other way (although lets by all means listen to the debate).

Clegg’s words were exactly right here; Nazir-Ali’s claims were indeed “extraordinarily inflammatory”. The debate we’re having now only proves his point. They were all-but calculated to generate heat rather than light. If he had a specific area in mind, then why not name it? 70 years on from the Rothermere Press I think we are entitled to expose innuendo where we see it. The biggest throat laugh his article generated from me was when he tutted about Shariah-compliant finance being legislated for in the UK. Outrageous! The very idea that people might not want to practice usury – how very un-Christian! And surely just the thin end of the wedge towards legalised stonings for rape victims!

Sadly, Nazir-Ali seems to be essaying his colleague the Archbishop of York when it comes to making outlandish statements about other groups – remember the guff about “illiberal atheists and aggressive secularists” banning Christmas? This sort of lazy denunciation from the pulpit has become all too common from our so-called national church. Yet criticise them and you can usually rely on someone to attack you for not daring to criticise Muslims in the same way and of course of the old staple “political correctness gone mad”. Here’s a deal: I won’t call that trying to shut down debate if you don’t call my disagreement with you the same thing, mmm’kay?

3 thoughts on “Is truly liberal multiculturalism possible?

  1. Cramner is very good on this, and makes the case that there is no equivalence between a peel of bells and the Muslim call to prayer.

    Frankly it’s hard to make a liberal argument that Muslims should be prevented from broadcasting calls to prayer, but I know that if I lived within earshot I would move. We may not have no go areas for non-Muslims but I rather think the effect may be the creation of ‘no live’ places for non-Muslims.

    I live about 20 yeards from a church that rings its bells at night. I’m not a Christian but far from finding this intrusive I actually quite like it, because it’s part of my heritage and because I like the sound of the bells. Personally I’m not a big fan of the call to prayer and I’ll be damned if I’m going to be preached to in Arabic in my own country. I imagine most people will feel the same way. If they do then we could be on the dawn of a new ‘white flight’ from or cities, or more accurately a non-Muslim flight.

  2. James, I don’t think you got yourself into a ridiculous argument, rather you were responding rightly to the Bishop’s divise, unhelpful, and yes, inflammatory remarks. They were indeed the ‘dog whistle’ to Mail and Sun.
    Other Anglican bishops, and even William Hague, for God’s sake have beeen critical
    Trouble is whenever we try and have a sensible debate about multiculturalism as I tried to do on LDV, you get a less than liberal response, and yes, I think a very reactionary one from people like Messrs Huck and Land, to name a few. I now know what its like to be stalked!

  3. Well…. I live in a predominantly muslim area. I live near a purpose built mosque also. I also have a house that has devalued by 30 per cent because of the muslim increased population. Houses are not being sold to anyone other than muslims who take advantage of the price slumps and buy near their mosques! This only needs to be done in as many areas as there are mosques and you dont need a degree to see the pattern as the ghettos increase and christians are forced out by “peaceful” means.

    The last outrage to my religious beliefs would be to hear their blasphemy being called over my ears three times a day.

    I say “Blasphemy~” because the call is the “ADHAN” The adhan is a prayer that says ” Allah is the greatest. I bear witness that noone is worthy of worship except allah. I bear witness that mohammed is the messenger of allah. Hasten to prayer, to real success.There is noone worthy except allah.” and In front of christain people!!

    They blaspheme the name of our God (Who the bible tells us in YAHWEH as every christian knows). and they blaspheme the name of Jesus who alone is worthy according to our faith. I dont care what political representative argues their case… our FAITH calls that blasphemy.

    Shall we go to Saudi and peal our bells there as we call the lords prayer over a loudspeaker? It would be an “Offence to Islam” and we would be carted off for execution!

    How dare these politicians allow this outrageous act to take place at the offence of thousands of christians living in these areas? They (the politicians) should be protecting our faith like the saudis do theirs!

    Do you know that in Bradford (UK) muslims are ignoring the no smoking laws and smoking through hubble bubble pipes in public places because it is right according to the Sharia!

    Does he know that muslims are actually murdering women as “honour killings” AS A MATTER OF COURSE… in the uk…snubbing our laws.

    Does he know that beating females is still acceptable to most families!

    Does he know that in Amsterdam they have a major problem with muslims waiting near gay bars and following then murdering them in dark alleys!

    Does he know that muslims are fighting in more than 27 countries for dominance!

    Does he know that both the quoran and the sharia DEMAND that islam may not live peacefully alongside other religions…it HAS to be dominant!It is the muslims duty to make it so on pain of hell fire!

    Do you know that they are refusing to wash with alcohol preparation hand wash when entering our hospital wards for it is againt the Sharia! This is spreading the superbug!

    Does the first writer not understand the hundreds of things muslims do against our laws and traditions are an offence to our people, as they “Peacefully” plant their “way “upon the british culture….does the writer not see the folly of his words “A bit of a racket on friday morning”
    as this is one more step to the initialisation of islam in this fair land.

    He needs to read the quoran and hadith and compare it to our bible and british culture. I am not racist either… I have amny different culture friends…. I am DEMANDING that he (the writer) and his political chronies take the wishes of christian people into account when making decisions on their behalf.

    I will leave him with a thought… the bible tells us that “Every knee will bend and every tongue will confess thast Jesus Christ is Lord”….. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man cometh to the father except by me”… “there is no other name under heaven by which we may be saved except the name of Jesus”

    WHY do our politicians ignore these truths and encourage blasphemy in our christian land? They will give account of themselves to God one day.

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