There’s been an awful lot of comment on the net about Cameron’s slightly muddled speech at the Munich Security Conference over the weekend. For those of you who haven’t read the whole thing, it basically regurgitates one of those theories that’s been kicking around for a while.
The above theory goes like this; there’s effectively a group of disconnected second generation immigrant descendents who struggle with their identity. They can’t relate to the ways of their parents nor in fact mainstream British society. Egged on by the state, though the doctrine of multiculturalism these individuals have been led down the dangerous path to radicalisation.
Cameron describes the problem thus:
In the UK, some young men find it hard to identify with the traditional Islam practiced at home by their parents, whose customs can seem staid when transplanted to modern Western countries. But these young men also find it hard to identify with Britain too, because we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity. Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream. We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.
His solution to a large extent replicates that of his predecessors – the banning of proscribed organisations, and preachers of hate together with the ‘strengthening of national identity.’
So far as new proposals for strengthening national identity go, the emphasis is on altogether abandoning multiculturalism, and shifting the ‘balance of power away from the state and towards the people.’
Disentangling terrorism and multiculturalism
There are several problems with Cameron’s analysis. Firstly his starting point – the idea that contemporary terrorism by some who adhere to radical Islam is the result of a particular psychological profile, which has been permitted to flourish through multiculturalism is entirely misconceived.
Just like war, or guerilla warfare, terrorism is simply a technique in political violence. The use of indiscriminate violence for political ends and is in no way novel. The IRA, Baader Meinhoff, the Red Army Faction and the Angry Brigade are all examples of actors throughout history who have chosen to deploy terror in the pursuit of their political ends. Why should today’s terrorism by those who adhere to radical versions of Islam be seen any differently?
But even if one accepts the proposition that contemporary terrorism of this variety somehow differs from that before it, and is the result of some kind of identity crises, Cameron’s new prescriptions for tackling terrorism – dispensing with multiculturalism and cutting down the size of the state just don’t add up.
In fact the USA to a large extent embodied the kind of vision that Cameron seems to have in mind for British society, yet it of course witnessed the largest terrorist attack in American history- far larger than anything we saw in the UK.
An extension of multiculturalism?
As the case of Irish terrorism shows, there aren’t necessarily quick fixes to dealing with it. What is evident however is that engagement with the underlying political issues, effective policing within a criminal framework (rather than outside of it), and intelligence gathering gained through joint working with communities certainly helps.
If on the other hand, Cameron wants as he claims, to build stronger societies, and engender a greater sense of national identity, multiculturalism through its recognition not only of cultural diversity, but the need for equal participation by all in all societal institutions, surely offers a useful way forward, and one – given the emerging evidence of the effects of inequality, we can scarcely afford to dispense with.