Is Britishness under threat?

Huda Jawad
13 December 2006

In terms of multiculturalism, one has to find a happy medium that reflects reality. There's this hysteria currently gripping Europe and the UK about multiculturalism, that we have been too "nice" to immigrants in the past, or that maybe we're going back on our leftist values by being stricter now.

I think it's part of a greater debate in the 21st century about who people are in a globalised world where there are no barriers, where there is no geographical location essentially made up of the same people. It's about the interweaving of cultures and values and moralities.

That's where the panic creeps in; people feel insecure about themselves in a globalised society.

It's so important not too get bogged down with multiculturalism and what makes one British or Muslim, because in the end we need to forge ways of living together. Who defines Britishness or Europeanness or multiculturalism?

You can't go into a society and live in a virtual bubble where you interact with people but not enough to change. We're not boxes that stand by each other but don't infect each other. The point of human interaction is to mingle and mix. Many of the migrants who have come to this country have changed profoundly through their interaction with British society. Likewise, so have white Anglo-Saxons, but that's not a bad thing. It's a strength, it fosters an outlook on the world based on reality. Having such an outlook helps us deal with threats from whomever it may be.

Shouldn't a society that claims to be civilised and represents humanist morality, where everyone is equal before the law, shouldn't we care about minority rights and equality?

This idea that good citizens don't make demands on the state is rubbish. Good citizens must make demands on the state, because they are the state; the state reflects all its citizens. The point of citizenship is to improve life for the common good. What's been said to many Muslims in the UK is disturbing: "you're a nice little community in Bradford, we'll give you a mosque, just keep quiet and don't make any trouble for us." I think that's a very subtle form of discrimination and racism.

Forward Thinking challenges the mindset that does not understand why for some people religion is part of the public sphere. There are people in the UK who call themselves British and Muslim, but in their way stands this almost "fundamentalist" secularism. What makes me proud about being British is the shared belief diversity and acceptance. I can be a person of faith and participate fully in public life. I don't have any confusion on what Britishness means: diversity, inclusiveness, a shared idea about values of respect, justice, equality. But the narrow delimitations of Britishness are wrong, those that say you can't be British if you're one thing and not the other. It's in our strength to be inclusive.

Huda Jawad is responding to Melanie Phillips, who argues for the dismantlement of British multiculturalism:

The radicalisation of British Muslims went on again completely below the official radar. These were people, communities that came in the1980s from the Indian subcontinent and, unbeknownst to the British authorities, were being radicalised because their home communities, particularly in Pakistan, had been radicalised by Saudi Arabian wahhabism.

Consequently, when British Muslims immigrants set up religious institutions in the 1980s, these were run by and financed by wahhabi and other extremist jihadi ideologies, and consequently radicalised large numbers of British Muslims without anyone realising this process was going on.

The British establishment understands that it's facing a terrible terrorist threat. It has to intercept and thwart terrorist plots and break up terrorist cells. What it is failing to do is understand that terror is merely the product of something bigger that has to be fought.

The thing that has to be fought is the political ideology which is driving these people to do these terrible things. The British establishment refuses to acknowledge this. It is taking refuge in all these excuses to do with foreign policy or Islamophobia or discrimination. It is refusing to get to grips with the fact that unless it starts to take on the ideas that are driving the jihad, it is not going to get very far.

In my view, they should take it on in a number of different ways. At a rhetorical level, to say that the ideas that are driving this terrible jihad against the west are shared by a large number of Muslims who would not lend themselves at all to terror or violence but who, nevertheless, share these ideas; the idea, for example, that the west hopes to destroy Islam, that the Jews are the puppet masters of the west; that the Arab and Muslim world is the historic victim of the west; the idea that Israel is an illegitimate incursion into Arab and Muslim historic territory. These are false. These ideas should be faced down in public. The people should be told that these ideas are simply wrong.

I think the doctrine of multiculturalism is a very important part of our problem because it basically has hollowed out British national identity and we can’t fight the threat from outside if we are busy undermining our own culture and indeed no longer know or wish to defend what it is.

While the state believes that they are welcome to set up communities of faith without interference by the state, the quid pro quo is that the minority faith makes no demands upon the state and on western society. That is the basis on which all minority faiths are accommodated in this country. Consequently, there can be no accommodation by the state to the demands made upon it by any minority faith. There can be no exceptions made to any minority faith. Those are the kind of ground rules that have to be laid down and administered.


Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData