For decades Britain has defined itself as a nation open and welcoming to cultures from all over the world. Statistics show that the number of people who are living in the UK but were born in a foreign country has risen by 50 per cent since 2001 which indeed evokes the feeling that Britain is embracing a sense of plurality within society. This multiculturalism, however, has been increasingly questioned in the aftermath of the recent terrorist attack in Woolwich which saw two Muslim converts violently murder a passing soldier. The attack clearly highlights that there is a deep-rooted issue of radical Islam amongst some in society but also that there too is the further issue in this country of deep-rooted racial hatred – emphasised by the backlash of groups such as the English Defence League. Such divisions lead one to challenge the concept of British multiculturalism and ask whether rather than being a multicultural nation, is it simply a multiracial one?
During the murder in Woolwich on the 22nd May, one of the perpetrators alluded to British foreign policy being the reasoning behind his actions – that it was a revenge attack for the deaths of Muslims in the Middle East carried out by British soldiers. Indeed, this relates to the idea that many Muslims are becoming disaffected with the government which some, including the Muslim Council of Britain, sight as the cause of alienation, particularly amongst young followers of the faith. Such alienation from the political process seems to be one of the main under
lying causes of this turn to ‘political Islam’ – the separatist strand of Islam which is linked to extremism. Isolation from and a lack of integration into mainstream British life evokes a vulnerability to the influence of the voice of extremist preachers, building up the proportion of fundamentalist sympathisers and more worryingly of fundamentalists activists. W
hilst the problem remains within a small minority of the British Muslim population, a fact which must be repeatedly reiterated, it is still nonetheless a threat to the nation and further to Britain’s multicultural society. This internal extremism has led some to question if it is possible to assimilate differing cultures to create a stable and integrated society. Or are the differences too contradictory to exist side by side harmoniously?
Yet whist there is this very real threat within Britain of Islamic extremism, the government also has the task of tackling extremism from the other end of the spectrum – Islamaphobia – a concept which has been rife in Britain since the bombings of 9/11 in 2001 and 7/7 in 2005. The aforementioned actions of the EDL following the murder of soldier Lee Rigby saw attacks on mosques and protest marches, with an attendance of 1500 to 2000 at the demonstration in Newcastle. The EDL describes itself as a movement which is “not racist and not violent” and is “dedicated to peacefully protesting against Islamic extremism”. The chants heard at their marches, however, of “Allah is a paedo” and “Muslim killers off our streets” would suggest that the statements of their objectives render untrue and that there are indeed underlying racial motivations behind some involved in the league. This entrenched discrimination is another key issue which, although is not representative of the beliefs of the majority, is highly destructive to the concept of multiculturalism. If people are not welcomed and accepted into our nation, how can we expect them to integrate into society? Thus it is these two key issues that can result in the conclusion that this notion of Britain as a multicultural country is false and in fact we are instead living in a multiracial society.
This conclusion, however, is not accurate. We are living in a multicultural society which embraces and welcomes cultures from afar. The problem is that British multiculturalism is not effective and thus the government needs to take the steps to improve integration and acceptance in order for it to work in our nation. Better communication is the key to developing relationships between communities to help prevent fundamentalist thought from both sides. Whilst the process towards a mutual respect and understanding is likely to be long and arduous, it is vital in order to attempt to expel domestic unrest and reaffirm Britain as an enlightened society with diversity and plurality.