Far-right activists and racists have jumped on Tory prime minister David Cameron’s speech about multiculturalism in Munich on 5 February to boost their cause.
But the knee-jerk “Cameron-is-a-racist” of some supposedly left-wing responses is as false as would be taking Cameron’s speech as secularist and liberal good coin. [But truth doesn’t matter in far-left or Trotskyist circles. If accusations of ‘racism’ or ‘fascism’ work for the Revolution, or help Radicalise, then the SWP, UAF and the UAF/SWP will use these 'knee-jerk' accusations. They have always done so and do so all the time. There’s not much more to them than that.]
The English Defence League and Marine Le Pen, new leader of France’s fascist and virulently anti-Arab National Front, claimed Cameron’s speech as backing for their views. [Perhaps the Arabs in France are disliked because of the numerous riots they have taken part in, tens just in Paris alone, but also in Marseille, etc. The French may not like the self-segregated Arab-Muslim ghettoes that are about as multicultural as the Nazi Party of Germany in the 1930s.]
We know what is happening there: racists are keen to pick up on anything that can be recycled as saying that there is a “problem with” Muslims, or immigrants. Cameron may well have calculated on it, hoping that his speech would pull EDL types towards the Tories. [If the EDL is simply racist, and using anti-Islamism as an excuse for racism, then why has the EDL nothing bad to say about other ethnically-based religious groups such as Hindus and Sikhs? Indeed there are Sikhs in the EDL. But, of course, they’re Uncle Toms who are the victims of large doses of False Consciousness - or so the Marxists and the Guardian tell us.]
In his actual text, Cameron (or his speechwriter) said something very different from the EDL’s interpretation. [The EDL ‘interpretation’ of Cameron’s speech? I didn’t really know there was an official one.] Cameron (or the speechwriter) had taken note of the 20 January speech by Tory party chair Sayeeda Warsi denouncing Islamophobia. Yet Socialist Worker (12 February) made its front page headline “Don’t let the Tories play the race card”, and started its lead article by screeching: “David Cameron... launch[ed] a vicious attack on Muslims... a tirade against Muslims”. [I love it when these far-left groups attack each other, which is all the time. Workers’ Liberty is always having a go at the SWP – and good on them! The SWP doesn’t often return the compliments because it already has large chunks of far-leftist ‘student vote’. Communist parties, of various descriptions, also spend a lot of their time slagging off the SWP. But this isn't really about doctrinal differences - it is because the SWP has a higher membership than all the other far-leftist parties. Of course all this in-house bitching will masquerade as true adult politics.]
Socialist Worker’s demagogy amounts to shouting down reasoned discussion of political Islam [here! here!] — the political doctrine that pretends to deal with social problems by constructing an “Islamic state”, perhaps better called “Islamic clerical fascism” — by equating any attack on that political doctrine with a “racist” attack on all Muslims. [The EDL itself couldn’t put this better!]
Far from making Socialist Worker the best and most militant opponent of Cameron, the demagogy serves as cover for Socialist Worker to concur with Cameron on many of his substantive policies, such as the promotion of “faith schools”.
Socialist Worker supported New Labour’s Religious Hatred Act of 2006 [shame on them!, as Trots put it], and official backing for such bodies as the Muslim Council of Britain. As the LSE academic Chetan Bhatt points out, “The overwhelming number of [Muslim] organisations that the [British] government talks to are influenced by [or] dominated by... Jamaat e-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood”. [Again, there are no Islamic organisation that are truly moderate, though there are moderate individual Muslims. Even the Ahmadiyya sect is not truly moderate if you read between the lines. However, this group has found – or created! – a niche for itself, of moderate Islam, which they have quite successfully exploited.]
Old-fashioned chauvinist and racist criticism of “multiculturalism” would assert that there should be one “culture” in Britain, “traditional British values”, and everyone should defer to it. [Very few ‘anti-multiculturalists’ would actually demand a ‘single culture’ – what would that even mean?] Democratic and secularist criticism objects to classifying people (especially children) into different “cultures” (usually, moreover, identified with different religions) and instead seeks an evolving universalist “culture”. [Secularism and democracy need not be aligned with a ‘universalist culture’, which is hinted at here. Such things can run smoothly along with patriotism and even nationalism, at least in theory.] Socialist Worker endorses “multiculturalism” — the orthodox bourgeois policy in Britain of recent decades [again, the EDL couldn’t have put this better!] — by way of ignoring the democratic and secularist criticism of it and pretending that the old-fashioned chauvinist and racist criticism is the only one around.
Muslims in Britain, mostly of Bangladeshi or Pakistani background, suffer from the racism which hurts all non-white people in this country. [The EDL can easily agree with this statement, at least in its bare form here.] They suffer also when papers like the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, and groups like the EDL and the BNP, seek to “rationalise” their racism as opposition to Muslim bigotry, in much the same way past anti-Irish discrimination in Britain was once “rationalised” in terms of protest against Catholic bigotry. [Yes, that might well have been true in certain or many cases.]
At the same time, successive governments have sought to accommodate and link up with socially-conservative Muslim “community leaders”, because that seems a cheaper way of keeping social problems under control than measures that would really improve things for badly-off people tempted by radical ultra-Islamism on one side or the EDL and BNP on the other. The New Labour government told the British press to shut up when Islamists and the Saudi government launched a campaign against a Danish newspaper publishing cartoons which included depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, and the Tories did not dissent.
What did Cameron say in his speech? He criticised those who “talk about moderate Muslims [as the only acceptable one] as if all devout Muslims must be [politically] extremist. This is profoundly wrong”. [Again and again and again we must distinguish between moderate Islam and moderate Muslims. The EDL basically believes that a moderate Islam is highly unlikely or a very difficult - or an almost impossible - enterprise.]
He insisted on the difference between Muslim people in general, as people, and the political ideology of Islamism. Despite waffle in his speech about “British values” or “Western values”, as if democracy and so on are specially “British”, he explicitly rejected the American right-wing thesis of a “clash of civilisations”. [Why was it ‘waffle’? And why is a belief in ‘the clash of civilisations’ necessarily a ‘American right-wing thesis’? That’s a very specific reading and very wrong.] He even recognised that political Islamism can be generated by an alienation from Muslim religion rather than an immersion in it. “Some young men find it hard to identify with the traditional Islam practised... by their parents, whose customs can seem staid”. In short, he did not attack Muslims in general.
He did not distance himself explicitly from the New Labour record, but he criticised government policies under which “some organisations that seek to present themselves as a gateway to the Muslim community are showered with public money despite doing little to combat extremism”.
The choice of the word “extremism” reflects the conservative, servile mindset according to which any political view close to the status quo is respectable and reasonable, and anything seriously different is bad (“extremist”). But replace the word “extremism” by “political Islamism” and secular-minded or secularising Muslims who have seen Jamaat e-Islami or Brotherhood types accredited by government as the “gatekeepers” to their “communities” would have good reason to agree with Cameron. [That old New Labour policy – get extremist Muslims to sort out extremist Muslims. That was like getting Workers’ Liberty to sort out the Socialist Workers Party!)
Anti-Tory demagogy is not helpful here — and least of all from Socialist Worker, which combines it with accepting David Cameron as a sponsor for the “Unite Against Fascism” campaign which it promotes! [Trots are allowed to be pure hypocrites if that hypocrisy furthers the Revolution or increases Radicalism. It’s called ‘lying for Justice’.]
Most of the actual words of Cameron’s speech were not objectionable. The problem is the context (Cameron’s social policies and his probable courting of EDL) which can make an ostensibly democratic critique of multiculturalism feed into its reactionary opposite.
One word yelled out from Cameron’s speech by its absence: secularism. And a government which slams through big social cuts, axes half the funding for the teaching of English for speakers of other languages, tightens immigration controls (for all but the ultra-rich), promotes “faith schools” and increases their scope for sectarian admission criteria, is not helping social integration and the creation of an inclusive culture. [I personally think that the EDL should be just as a much a secular group as a Christian one. You can be a secularist, or even an atheist, and still recognise the basic fact that Christianity has moulded European and British culture over many centuries - many times for the good, but sometimes for the bad. But, of course, we can’t easily quantify over these things.]