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The difference between “multiculturalism” and “state multiculturalism”


10 April 2011

Few people have made a serious effort to understand David Cameron’s speech on 5 February 2011 at the Munich Security Conference. Instead, one encounters many complaints about him attacking multiculturalism. Even the normally accurate BBC used the headline “PM: 'Multiculturalism has failed’” when reporting the original speech, and appears to have stuck with the line.

One of the few organisations to understand the speech properly was the Conservative Muslim Forum, who have put out a short but helpful summary on their website.

When I was interviewed by the BBC News Channel on the day of the speech, I stressed that Mr Cameron had not attacked multiculturalism. He had chosen his words carefully and, just once in his speech, had referred to “state multiculturalism.” “Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.” To fully appreciate Mr Cameron’s thinking, one needs to read a speech he gave on 26 February 2008 “Extremism, individual rights and the rule of law in Britain” which is reviewed on my website in the piece "Better words mean better thinking."

What Mr Cameron is against is the state behaving in a way that fosters and reinforces division, instead of treating all persons as equal citizens before the law. In his 2008 speech he gave some examples:

In my view, the logical end point of state multiculturalism is a political system like that of Lebanon, where the president must be a Maronite Christian; the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim while the speaker of the Lebanese parliament must be a Shia Muslim. That means that citizens are no longer treated as autonomous individuals, but as captive members of the communities the state allocates them to, whether they themselves regard that community identification as significant or not.

Below I have given some examples to bring out the distinction.


State multiculturalism

Two individuals are free to voluntarily enter into a contract based on Shariah, subject to the ultimate jurisdiction of the English courts.

They can agree to have any disputes about that contract arbitrated by a Shariah tribunal acting under the framework of English law as set out in the Arbitration Act 2006.

The state decides that, because I practice Islam (or in the extreme case merely because my parents happened to practice Islam) I must be subject to the Shariah law of contracts, instead of being given the same rights to contract under English law as any other British citizen.

Subject to making adequate provision for my dependants, if I feel so inclined I can make a will that devolves my estate in accordance with Shariah, where my sons receive twice as much as daughters.

Because I am a Muslim, in the case of my dying without a will, the state would devolve my estate to my children in accordance with Shariah. This would deprive my daughters of the equal shares that they would get under English law, just because their father was a Muslim.

As an individual citizen, I am free to adopt whatever culture or beliefs I want, as long as they do not infringe upon others.

The state sees the country as comprised of distinct groups, based on ethnic or religious divisions, instead of one British people.

The fundamental point is that we are one British people, who simply happen to have different ethnic backgrounds and differing religious beliefs. Such individual differences have always existed, between people of Celtic, Anglo Saxon, Norman, Huguenot etc ethnic origins, and between practitioners of religions such as Anglicanism, Catholicism and Judaism. However our people are not divided up into ethnic or religious block with “block rights.” That is a danger we must all jointly fight against. That is what I believe. I also feel sure that is the point that David Cameron has been trying to get over for three years, but with a deaf intelligentsia that is not listening.

A friend recently asked me how I think of myself. I replied that I think of myself as a Briton whose ethnic origin is Punjabi and whose religion is Islam. Neither of those divides me from my fellow citizens, irrespective of their ethnicity or religious views.

The essence of my objection to state multiculturalism is that I demand that the state treats me as an individual citizen with individual rights, and does not assign me to an ethnic or religious group which must be dealt with as a block.

This piece was originally written for the website Conservative Home. On that site as well as the piece itself you can various comments the piece received.


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