Framing the Debate on Cameron's Multiculturalism speech
During a speech in Munich last week, David Cameron initiated a strident attack on what he described as “state multiculturalism”. The Prime Minister linked existing policy to an increased risk of terrorism, signalling an apparent change in policy towards ethnic minority integration.
Much of the media followed Cameron’s lead, focussing on the familiar subject of Islamic extremism while failing to challenge its most basic assumptions. The message across the media (the Prime Minister’s view that multiculturalism has failed) was doubtless intended by Downing Street. The speech indicates a significant policy shift rather than a development of the current framework. As the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg highlighted, moves have previously been made under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to promote integration. However, the overall tone of the BBC’s reporting followed Cameron’s lead in characterising the new government’s approach as a major departure from the policies of the past.
Only a fraction of the national coverage – in particular on the BBC’s Today Programme - referred to Mr Cameron’s rejection of all forms of extremism, with most focusing instead on the perceived problem of Islamic fundamentalism and reaction in the Muslim community. Most news organisations, including BBC News 24, juxtaposed their reports with scenes from the English Defence League’s march in Luton on Saturday, while the close proximity in time of the two events drew criticism that Cameron had delivered a propaganda coup for the EDL. The timing of the speech, took up a large part of the BBC’s subsequent reporting, showing the BBC’s complicity in such a 'propaganda coup'.
The connection made in the speech between high levels of integration and good community relations not widely queried. A number of groups in the UK have, despite low levels of integration, live in peaceful co-existence with other surrounding communities. An example is the Hasidic Jewish community in North East London, which has existed there for over 100 years.
The headline of the Daily Telegraph’s report on the speech proclaimed that “Muslims must embrace British values”, despite the reality that large numbers of Muslims are strongly integrated into British life. The article went on to repeat Cameron’s view that all schools should teach “elements of a common culture and curriculum”, without so much as referring to the government’s policy on diversification of school provision which suggests otherwise.
Most importantly however, very few in the media queried the Prime Minister’s decision to make a speech about British values and social cohesion in such an inappropriate context – at a conference on international security. The speech effectively linked the alleged lack of such social cohesion to issues of state security and terrorism. Cameron’s rejection of the idea that the underlying causes of extremism are rooted in global phenomena rather than in national policies towards integration did not receive particular scrutiny despite the large body of evidence disproving his view. It is well known that nationals from many countries with widely varying local conditions have become involved in terrorism.
The most relevant case in UK recent history is of course the London bombings on the 7th July 2005. Mohammad Siddique Khan, the ringleader of the bombers, did not have issues with social cohesion in the UK, but rather opposed the actions of the UK abroad which included “the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture” of civilians, as he stated in his video released shortly after the bombings. The BBC’s report about Mohammad Siddique Khan at the time described him as someone “recalled by his friends as a highly Westernized young man who insisted on being called Sid”. Reporting on Cameron’s speech, this very relevant information was not discussed by the BBC.
The focus by the media on the well-worn theme of Islamic extremism echoed the Prime Minister’s own approach rather than challenging the assumptions that underpinned it, serving to confine rather than broaden the debate. The media concentrated pointedly on reactions from representatives from the Muslim community rather than from experts who could place the integration of ethnic minorities into its proper historical perspective. The subsequent discussion was a missed opportunity for a constructive contribution to the social cohesion that this “more active, muscular liberalism” is supposed to herald in multicultural Britain.
|Categories in which this article appears: David Cameron | Politics | Multiculturalism | BBC News ||
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|1. Lois||10 September 2011 18:01|
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