David Cameron’s speech delivered on 5 February 2011 in Munich has caused considerable outcry among certain left-of-centre academics and commentators.
At an event designed to discuss terrorism and security issues, the Prime Minister took the opportunity to make his first public statement on the question of radical Islamism and its dangers for secular liberal nations such as Britain. The essential argument being made is that the problem is one of radical Islamism and that Britain can no longer tolerate the intolerable – that is, apparently divisive communitarian ethno-political interests.
He is quick to forget that it was Michael Howard, the last Conservative home secretary of the Major era, who formalised the establishment of a Muslim Council of Britain. This began a process that New Labour invigorated with zeal, and in the hope of positive electoral returns in Muslim-specific constituencies, which duly came. What Cameron has done is to return to ring a well-known post-war bell – that is, to bring in a values-based assimilation is to have the problems of diversity in society resolved. This did not work in the 1950s, and it will certainly not work today.
Ultimately, Cameron’s speech is a disaster on so many fronts. After the tragic events of 7/7, genuine efforts made by civil servants and community groups to capacity-build and develop resilience on the ground, in particular in relation to young people and women, will be seen as projects not worth pursing any further. Although New Labour provided the likes of Blears, Blunket, Brown and Blair making rather similar odd speeches about minorities, identity, values and Britishness, the Equalities Act is streets ahead of the rest of Europe.
Categorising the range of Islamisms as a function of Islam ignores everything in the making of Islamism which is a political project. Islamism ought to include progressive civil society ideals, goals and achievements, as it is here in Turkey, but it is rarely understood in these terms as the concept has been ‘hijacked’ in the West.
Finally, the firm link between assimilationst goals and the determination of a security state is a dangerous move in relation to unity with diversity, civil liberties and, potentially, human rights, for all. Britain is what it is because it is a multi-ethnic society and it has been for quite some quite (although far from a perfect one).
The likes of Michael Gove and others at High Command who are briefing Cameron about an intensely complex subject only results in the firm realisation that they are a group of self-selecting elites in powerful positions making self-interested half-cocked political statements and decisions which are completely out of touch with the greater people of the country – again!
Tahir Abbas FRSA is Associate Professor of Sociology at Fatih University in Istanbul