The End of Multiculturalism? Immigration and Integration in Germany and the United Kingdom

By Laura Muchowiecka
2013, Vol. 5 No. 06 | pg. 11/12 |

Multiculturalism after 7/7

Probably nothing else has influenced the multiculturalism debate recently more than the so called London bombings of 7 July 2005, often referred to as 7/7. On that day four Islamic suicide terrorists detonated three bombs in subway trains and one in a bus, leaving 52 people dead and over 700 injured. The attacks which struck Britain were different from the terrorist attack of 9/11 in America in that way that 9/11 has been officially interpreted as an attack of a foreign terrorist group, whereas London bombers were British citizens brought up in the UK.

This fact has led many commentators to blame multiculturalism for it and made politicians revise the policy of multiculturalism. The critique came immediately after the event. William Pfaff, the Observer columnist, was not alone in his standpoint when he concluded that “these British bombers are a consequence of a misguided and catastrophic pursuit of multiculturalism.”133 The report of an independent think-tank Civitas criticised afterwards “hard” multiculturalists who insist that no culture is better than other – in this context a most vital value would be tolerance which does not set any well-balanced boundaries. The report entitled The Poverty of Multiculturalism suggested that multiculturalism fostered segregation and as such contributed to 7/7 attacks:

“The fruits of 30 years of state-endorsed multiculturalism have increased inter-racial tension . . . Different ethnicities in the United Kingdom have grown more antagonistic towards each other, each fearing that another camp is getting a bigger slice of the financial pie than they are .. . The fact that the London suicide bombers of 7 July and the would-be bombers of 21 July 2005 were born and bred in Britain – and encouraged by the state to be different – illustrates that Hard Multiculturalism has the capacity to be not only divisive, but decidedly lethal.”134

Indeed, there is evidence that British state multiculturalism relied upon the concept of cultural relativity at least in the past. Many critics claim that multicultural policies have been guilty of accepting some unacceptable practises in the name of diversity, for example such as forced marriages. In 1969 the court judgment revoked a care order of a 13-year-old Nigerian girl although she was married to a 26-year-old man on the grounds that this type of marriage was ‘entirely natural’ in Nigeria.135

Moreover, critics state that cultural relativity contributed to radicalisation of Islamic circles. Muslims have suffered from racism and discrimination throughout the decades but governmental responses did not help them enough to build British identity. By regarding them as accepted but still different they rather indirectly encouraged Muslim communities to turn to their more radical leaders. The result has been nurturing an exaggerated sense of victimhood and anger toward ‘the corrupt West’. That has created space for religious extremism which as a consequence has helped transform some young men into terrorists.136

The event has significantly rebound on Muslim minorities, firstly, in the increase in public anti-Muslim sentiments. It is strongly reflected in opinion polls that the bombings contributed to the common picture of Islam as a threatening religion and Muslims as incapable of integration. Secondly, several counter-terrorism measures have been introduced and the so called ‘war on terrorism’ launched after 9/11 has been tightened in Great Britain. A report commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission suggests that anti-terrorist legislation had concentrated especially on Muslims as they were treated as a ‘suspect group’. The results of this study reveal that Muslims in turn had strong perceptions of the impact of counter-terrorism laws and policies on their lives. For example, Muslims experience far more frequent stops at airports during which they are asked private questions concerning, for example “the number of times a day they pray, the names of mosques they attend, their understanding of the term jihad.”137 Other measures related to safety in the streets. In several places across Britain additional nets of surveillance cameras around areas with large Muslim population have been installed. This measure has been criticized for stigmatising people on the basis of on religion. Consequently, a great number of Muslims feel alienated and isolated as being an unjust target of many anti-terrorism measures.

In the opinion of a British journalist and author, Melanie Phillips, “multiculturalism plus radical Islam is an explosive cocktail.”138 What should be emphasised is the word ‘radical’. The tragedy of 7/7 has increased segregation by intensifying a common misconception of radical Islamist as a representative group of Muslim communities in general and the notion of Islam as a radical religion. As Sami Zubaida has pointed out it is misleading to talk about ‘Muslim society’, while there are actually many different communities of Muslims. They exist in a variety of ethnicities and contain a huge spectrum of secularism and religious practices.139 It is also worth noting that there are debates going on in Muslim communities on how to rearrange their identity so that it does not interfere with western liberal cultures and their norms such as gender equality, religious pluralism and tolerance as well as secular democracy.140 It could help then prevent the growth of radical tendencies and Muslim opposition toward the mainstream Western culture, which contributes to terrorist attacks such as London bombings.

Reorientation of the national identity?

The changes of British multi-national population have been reflected in the concept of national identities expressed both by the ethnic minorities and ethnic majority. On the one hand there are ethnic minorities speaking their mother tongues and cultivating their own traditions and customs and cherishing their own culture. Some of them assimilated so well to the natives that they are no longer perceived as “different” but a part of (mostly urban) Britain; and their self-identification is dual. Statistical data show that a vast majority of British Muslims are proud of their British identity and feel British and Muslim at the same time.141 However, some politicians and commentators question it, perhaps on the basis of the traditional concept of the nation which does not include Muslims.142 On the other hand, there are native Britons, some of whom feel uneasy about the pluralisation of their society and attempts of some elites to re-think their identity in order to make it more inclusive. This issue raises different questions which do not have one answer but instead raise strong emotions. As Tariq Modood and John Salt put it:

“[These] emotions can be constructive and inclusive: they can be harnessed to support a shared citizenship and respect for cultural difference in the understanding that just as one can be Scottish and British, so one can be Indian and British or Muslim and British. Yet these emotions can also be sources of intolerance and boundary-drawing . . . They can also be a source of grievance and confusion.”143

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