In defence of multiculturalism

“The debates on community cohesion and national security (in the wake of September 11) found common cause in the spectre of ‘the enemy within’ – the Muslim community. Over the last five years a virulent and all pervasive form of racism, directed against Arabs and Muslims, has come to permeate British life. The demonisation of Muslims in the media is being reinforced by the application of anti-terror and policing measures which specifically target that community. And a popular racism, with increased attacks on Muslim institutions and people perceived to be Muslim, has ensued.

“In many areas of Britain, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities and newly arrived refugees who happen to be Muslim, are amongst the poorest in the country. In such areas educational provision from pre-school to further studies is lacking, employment opportunities for the young are absent. Note the areas in which the 2001 ‘riots’ took place were those with industries, usually textiles, for which Asian immigrant labour was recruited in the 1950s. Now those industries have died (and/or been exported to the Third World) and with no new investment in the area, the job opportunities for the children and grandchildren of those original immigrants have gone.

“But instead of recognising how the economic decline in such areas, coupled with a long and unbridled racial discrimination over things like housing allocation, has led to exclusion from mainstream society, the excluded communities themselves are being blamed for their isolation. Instead of examining the impact of white flight out of mixed neighbourhoods, Muslims are blamed for self-segregating.

“What is unusual and worrying about the new anti-Muslim racism is that erstwhile liberal-thinking people who would normally eschew any form of personal racism, now find it possible to join in the clamour against Islam and Muslims. And they do so because the idea of a fundamental clash of civilisations – between enlightened, western Christendom on the one hand and benighted, barbaric Islam on the other – has become commonplace and accepted.

“Muslim people as a whole are now being stereotyped not just as terrorists but also as backward, sexist, homophobic bigots whose intolerance and values threaten all our freedoms – of artistic expression, freedom of speech etc and values of equality and fair-play. Such values are now being passed off as something intrinsically British, when they are, in fact, universal. And the challenge to such values, which is carried out all the time, by all different sectors of society, is now being racialised in order to stereotype one set of people – Muslims.”

From In Defence of Multiculturalism, IRR briefing paper by Jenny Bourne