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Contest and cohesion

Eric Randolph specialises in insurgency and is an editor at a defence analysis firm and London Editor at Complex Terrain Lab.The government released its updated counter-terrorism strategy, Contest Two, on 24 March. Last week, its continued relevance was demonstrated by the arrests of 12 people in Manchester, Liverpool and Lancashire, apparently on suspicion of involvement in a terrorist plot against major civilian targets. The news that 11 were Pakistani nationals who entered the UK on student visas has led the media to argue that the terrorist profile has changed once again – that the age of homegrown terrorism is being replaced by foreign cells entering the UK to carry out attacks orchestrated from abroad. The government no doubt enjoys the argument that the effectiveness of its counter-terrorism policy has forced a change of tactics on the part of global jihadists. However, the UK remains at such high risk precisely because of its involvement in overseas counter-terrorism operations, and because of the continued existence of jihadist sympathisers in the UK who provide an environment in which foreign terrorist cells are able to blend.

Changing the agenda on faith schools

Simon Barrow (London, Ekklesia): For a number of years now the media has both witnessed and rehearsed a ‘debate’ about publicly funded faith schools in which two narratives pass each other in the night and important issues get lost in the shadows.

On the one hand, some say that religious schools are divisive, sectarian and biased, hijacking what should be the secular enterprise of education to perpetuate religion at the taxpayer’s expense. Others retort that faith schools are part of a rich diversity of provision, support community cohesion, give affirmation to minority communities and promote tolerance.

Ware v Kingsnorth II

This is Vron Ware's reply to Paul Kingsnorth. We will be publishing the entire exchange in one document on oD over the weekend.

Vron Ware (London, author): For those who may be reading this, who perhaps haven't come across my work before, I will say this, simply and clearly, without any accusations of who is racist, race-obsessed, stuck in the past and guilt-ridden:

My book on Britishness begins with an exploration of what makes people feel at home in this country. It starts with a scene of ordinary life, in a café in Leytonstone, drinking tea with two young-ish British community workers with family origins in Somalia and India. We talk about shops, bars, housing, school and other mundane topics, including their experiences of growing up in the neighbourhood. Although it is debatable whether London fits into this discussion, since it is a world city with about one in three born outside the country, I wanted the conversation to illustrate the complex mixture of ingredients that allow individuals to feel a sense of belonging and connection to any particular place. I was intrigued by what Leytonstone had to offer as it was a part of London with which I was unfamiliar. When someone says they take being British for granted, but are proud to be from Leytonstone, it makes you curious.

Later in the same chapter I describe how I asked a young woman whose parents were from Pakistan whether she preferred Oxford, where she had been born, to Banbury, where she moved as a child. I listened to her talking about her experiences of growing up in Banbury, a very English place to which she was very attached partly because her parents still lived there. The fact that we had this conversation in Pakistan, where she was visiting relatives (including a cousin who had grown up in the UK and gone back to live in Rawalpindi) was largely incidental. I included it in my book as I thought it reflected a confident, transnational identification with two countries, strongly rooted in a particular place, but strengthened by an awareness of the family history outside it that had taken her there.

Thoughts on multiculturalism

Vron Ware (London, author): It has become fashionable now to deride multiculturalism as 'over', disastrous, etc, but I still think it is important to try to write a more complex and faithful history of how things have developed in this country, with all the mistakes, successes, and other consequences. I don't see how we can have a constructive, political discussion about where we want to go in the future without this - and that applies to all the component parts of the UK, not just England.

For those paying attention throughout the 70s 80s and 90s, it was clear that that successive governments were avoiding taking a principled position on questions of racism and exclusion, whether in relation to housing, education, equal opportunities, national identity and so on. What has happened since the 2001 riots in mill towns, and particularly since the London bombings, is that 'multiculturalism' appears, with hindsight, to have been a coherent ideology sowing the seeds for the conflicts and crises we have now. This both obscures the rich ways that people have muddled along together in particular places, and gives the adjective 'multicultural' a bad name (although it still functions as a default for 'mixed', diverse, etc). It also masks the endemic racism that allowed certain places to practice segregation either by default or by bad planning.

A great change has happened over the last fifty years that has created a country that will never again be homogenous in the way it once was. Maybe it's better to stop talking about 'multiculturalism' altogether and find some different ways (and words) to make that recent and contested past useful in our current debates.

Enoch Powell's slow rehabilitation

Jon Bright (London, OK): Paul Gilroy writing in the Guardian today:

Today a chorus of racial realists, neo-patriots, clash of civilisation-ists and practitioners of joined-up thinking thrill at being able to use expurgated Enoch as a sock puppet with which to enact their own anxieties about swamping, security, failed multiculture, social cohesion and home-grown terrorism. A new-found love of Powell's works and statesmanship is even deployed to facilitate the return of New Labour's no-longer-lefty prodigals to the bosom of a conservative nation they thought they had lost. Their electoral tactics now require them to argue that honest Enoch's concern with the corrosive effects of immigration was prescient.

Race, Identity and Belonging - fresh perspectives from Soundings

Guy Aitchison on Race, Identity and Belonging introduced by George Shire (with contributions from Bilkis Malek, Ejos Ubiribo, Paul Gilroy, Patrick Wright, Roshi Naidoo, Tariq Modood, Zygmunt Bauman, Nira Yuval-Davis, Amir Saee and Farhad Dalal).

(Soundings 2008, Race, Identity and Belonging, 138pp)

This collection of recent essays challenges dominant assumptions on race and identity in modern Britain.

More gain than brain drain

Alasdair Murray (London, CentreForum): Are the educated deserting Britain? New OECD figures show the UK has the highest number of its graduates living abroad of anywhere in the developed world. There are now over 3 million British-born people living abroad, of whom more than 1 million are university graduates. Doomsayers argue this movement reflects growing dissatisfaction with Brown's Britain: high taxes, too much red tape and unsustainable immigration.

Can we create a new national belonging? by Ben Rogers and Rick Muir, ippr

Jon Bright reviews: The Power of Belonging: Identity, citizenship and community cohesion by Ben Rogers and Rick Muir of ippr.

Ben Rogers and Rick Muir examine our nation's collective identities - what might be lost as they change or thin out, and what could be done to stregthen them.

Can Barack Obama save the world from Thatcherism?

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): I went on a family party to see I Am Legend. It turned out that sitting in the darkness of Holloway Odeon watching rabies/vampires trying to eradicate the last man in New York (wonderful scenes of the city returning to 'nature') was an auspicious way of understanding what was taking place at that very moment in the caucuses in Iowa. The basic plot line of the film is that a slightly mad, Oxford type, English woman scientist Dr Alice Krippen (played in a perfect cameo by Emma Thompson) destroys the human race by trying to eradicate our bad side (cancer). But after billions of deaths said human race is saved at the last minute by lithe African-American Dr Robert Neville (played by Will Smith), who combines love of normal family life with skillful determination, iMacs and even better medical science. In short, the world is saved from Mrs Thatcher by Barack Obama.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali and coherent disagreement

Tony Curzon Price (London, openDemocracy): Who you are determines what you mean. What you say can make who you are.

This dance of talking and being makes listening quite hard, and nowhere more so today than in the questions about Islam and the West.

But listening well allows us to find hopeful pluralism in positions that seem opposed. Compare these two moments in the London culture-sphere: the Guardian's argument around Martin Amis' Islamo-criticism, (the best of it here in Ian McEwan's letter) compared to Ayaan Hirsi Ali's tour of the city. (Ed Hussain and Douglas Murray on Tuesday, followed by Timothy Garton Ash yesterday)

Faith schools survey

Jon Bright (London, OK): The Runnymede Trust are running a survey on Faith Schools for both parents and teachers, which you can take part in here. Simon Barrow of Ekklesia argued here last week that antipathy towards faith schools might be much more widespread than many people believe: it will be interesting to see if he's proved right!

Paul Gilroy and Black Britz

David Hayes (London, openDemocracy): Paul Gilroy is, along with Stuart Hall, the foremost black intellectual in Britain of the past two generations. Stuart, pioneer of contemporary cultural studies as an academic subject in Britain, has overseen the impressive new arts initiative Rivington Place, designed by the architect David Adjaye. He has also collaborated with Paul on a new book, Black Britain: A Photographic History, published by Saqi Books.

Future sense of the national can't be based on nostalgia

Jon Bright (London, OK): In the first contribution to what will become a new OurKingdom articles section, Michael Keith, Professor at the Centre for Urban and Community Research and one of the authors of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion report, outlines the CIC's vision of a progressive British multiculturalism. Responding to some of the criticisms levelled at the CIC, he argues that the 19th century nation state cannot be put back together, and that any current appeals to Britishness must recognise the way new forms of identification are becoming stronger, both at the local and the transnational level. Read the article in full here.

Poll opinions

Jon Bright (London, OK): As the Economist dryly noted at the beginning of the month, Britain's Asians must spend a lot of time responding to surveys. The opinion poll is a mainstay of journalism at the moment, and almost all of them are asking about Asians - and Islam in particular - in the hope of generating a headline about how inclusive/intolerant we all are. Today's FT has a classic example. "UK more suspicious of Muslims than America and rest of EU" we are told. The article then reports that only 59% of Britons "thought it possible to be both a Muslim and a citizen of their country", adding that "this is a smaller proportion than in France, Germany, Spain, Italy or the US".

Multiculturalism is not culture

Phillip Blond (Lancaster, University of Cumbria) & Adrian Pabst (Nottingham, University of Nottingham): Our post on the breakdown of British society and the consequent cultural crisis enveloping our country has elicited responses that range from the mildly confused to the perniciously ill-informed. Our first response will be to Sunny Hundal. He accuses us of defining a monolithic and essentially white notion of British identity against a multicultural recognition of genuine diversity. Hundal disputes the idea of a common organic culture that can bind all races and creeds into one shared British identity. Bizarrely for cricket-loving British asians and black Caribbeans he cites playing cricket as an example of a white sectarian social habit, when he claims that there is no common content to British social life and therefore no shared experiences upon which we can build a mutual future.

Multiculturalism and Britishness in Northern Ireland

Robin Wilson (Belfast): As a number of contributors to the ‘Britishness’ debate in OK have made clear, the other term at play here is ‘multiculturalism’. This is being debated in Gordon Brown’s own homelands north of the border. How does it look in Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK to have seen sustained armed conflict between its communities in modern times?

Qualified success for British Multiculturalism

Jon Bright (London, OK): Sunny over at Pickled Politics flagged up an interesting poll today on Britishness run by ICM. Standout result is that fact that 59% of British Asians report they 'feel British' (completely or a lot), only 14% less than the figure for Whites (73%).

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