Letter To The Foreign Secretary: The Response

A few weeks ago, I sent a letter to William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, raising concerns over the Russian anti-LGBTQ laws, and how they would affect those traveling to the Olympics, among others. The text of that letter can be found here. I also forwarded my letter to my MP, Tessa Jowell, who promised to raise the issue with the appropriate people, and pass any responses on to me.

This morning I got a letter from Dame Tessa Jowell which included a letter sent to her by the Minister for Europe, Rt Hon. David Lidington MP. I’ve written up the text below:

Dear Tessa,

Thank you for your letter of 9 August, to the Foreign Secretary, on behalf of your constituent [me, but I’m not posting my address] about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in Russia. I am replying as Minister responsible for Russia.

The new Russian law which prohibits the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations” could in effect prevent LGBT people from fully enjoying the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

We have repeatedly raised our concerns about the growing restrictions on LGBTQ freedoms in Russia, including at the 2013 UK-Russia Human Rights dialogue in May. We also raise concerns with the Russian government at political level. The Prime Minister most recently outlined our human rights concerns with President Putin in June, and I regularly raise cases of concern in my dialogue with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister.

We want to see an open and inclusive games at the Sochi Winter Olympics 2014 but do not support a boycott. We have a better chance of influencing Russia by speaking to them and challenging prejudices as we attend, rather than through a boycott.

Our government is working with the International Olympic Committee and the British Olympic Association to ensure that the games take place in the spirit of the Olympic Charter and remain free of discrimination.

We have updated our travel advice on Russia to inform British nationals of the new law. We review this advice regularly and will update further as necessary.

It would be a crime in Russian law if any unlawful activities were carried out on an individual and we would expect the Russian authorities to fully investigate any such incidents.

Human rights form an important part of the UK-Russia relationship and we will continue to pay close attention to developments in this area, and take further opportunities to urge Russian to demonstrate that it is governed by the rule of law and respects human rights.

The Rt Hon David Lidington MP

Pretty much the response I was expecting. But it is at least a start. I’m considering sending Mr Lidington a further response, but we’ll have to wait and see.

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Russian Anti-LGBTQ Laws: Letter Sent to Foreign Secretary

Dear Mr Hague,
In your role as Foreign Secretary, I am sure that you are aware of the current human rights violations that are going on in Russia, and the brutal and systematic assault on the rights of LGBTQ individuals, purely because of their sexuality or gender identity. In case you have somehow missed it, here are a couple of reminders of what has been going on: first from Business Insider, from Buzzfeed and finally from the New York Times (I’ve put the full length links at the bottom of this letter in case there is an issue with linking through the FCO email system).

I would like to know why the UK government has drawn little attention to what is happening, and how come there has not been international condemnation of the actions of the Russian government, and calls for President Putin to revoke laws which will not only criminalise being a gay Russian, but will also make it possible for the Russian police to arrest anyone, of any nationality, they suspect of being LGBTQ. Why has the UK government said nothing? Would you keep similarly silent were this a law making it illegal to be Jewish or Black, or is it just because the victims of these hateful, bigoted, narrow-minded laws are LGBTQ that it is less of a hate crime?

Or, as I suspect, is it that the UK, as much of Europe does, relies on gas and oil from Russia, and the government will give the Russian government carte-blanche to abuse the human rights of their citizens, just as long as they don’t turn off the taps?

Furthermore, what is the government’s advice with regards to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi?Is advice being given that LGBTQ people ought not to travel, so that the consular section in Moscow doesn’t have to deal with people being arrested purely because of their sexuality? Again, if these laws had a different focus, would you be advising black people not to attend, “for their own safety”?

Finally, I am appalled at the “joint UK-Russia Year of Culture in 2014.” How is it that this government can be comfortable saying that we wish to celebrate our joint culture with a country that has begun such a brutal crackdown on the rights and safety of LGBTQ people? This is an embarrassment to the UK, and I strongly urge you to reconsider this partnership.

The double standard that is being expressed simply by your silence on the matter is chilling, and it is disturbing to think that the UK would stand by while people are beaten, brutalised and murdered because of their sexuality.

Given that the UK recently legalised same-sex marriages (despite the efforts of some of your own back benchers to portray gay people as child molesters and on a par with people who have sex with animals) I would have expected you, as Foreign Secretary, to represent this country properly in terms of standing up for LGBTQ people both in the UK and abroad.

I hope to hear back from you on this issue, and I hope that the government will take proper and appropriate action against human rights abuses against LGBTQ people in Russia.

Yours sincerely,

Adam Sheppard.

 

Links as mentioned above:

1. Business Insider Article: http://www.businessinsider.com/horrific-russia-gay-bullying-video-goes-viral-2013-7

2. Buzzfeed Article: http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/this-is-what-happens-when-you-write-about-homophobia-in-russ

3. NY Times Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/22/opinion/russias-anti-gay-crackdown.html

Riot Reaction

This is an opinion I wrote for this month’s edition of Kensington & Chelsea Today – it was originally written about a week after the riots had taken place.

“Tougher sentencing, curfews, social media blackouts and increased police powers. These are some of the proposed responses to the recent unrest across the country.  These short-term ‘knee-jerk’ reactions may be popular in certain circles for a few weeks, but they will not help to address the social problems that have helped to create this situation. Not every area affected, or every person involved, was as a result of these social issues, but if we do not do something about them, then other areas could be affected as well.

Consumerism is a driving force behind so many peoples’ lives. It has almost become an ideology for too many, ignoring the reality of their situation. Like the American dream of the early 20th century, everyone looked forward to the day when they would be rich. For a generation we have been told that we can be famous, we can be wealthy, that we can be whatever we want to be.  But with rising unemployment – especially among young people – the chance of that dream becoming a reality is fading. And all the while, we are told that we are all in this together. When people see that this does not seem to be the case, it can cause resentment towards those who are not as affected by what is happening. Problems arise when these resentments are not addressed, and it only takes one action to push somebody over the edge. It is easier for others to follow once one group has stepped over the line.

When looking at the handing down of tougher sentencing, it is important that the punishment fits the crime, and that accountability is held across the board. Former members of the Bullingdon club – known for their wild parties – and a Deputy Prime Minister who once burned down two greenhouses full of rare plants tell us that those who commit offences must be held accountable, having themselves received no punishment. It makes it hard to believe that fair justice will really be done.  It is fairer sentences, not tougher that is what is needed here. If exorbitant punishments are handed down by the courts it will only serve to increase resentment towards the police and further damage trust in the justice system. It is easy to seek to make an example of someone, to scare those who might follow a similar path, but that doesn’t make it right. The sentence for burglary during a riot must be the same as that for any other burglary. I am not sure that stealing a £3.50 case of water would receive a 6 month prison sentence if it were not for the riots and politically motivated advice to ignore sentencing guidelines if the actions took place during a riot.

Social media is another soft target. It connects people more easily and more efficiently than ever before. All you have to do is log into your BBM, Twitter or Facebook accounts and you can interact with people immediately, and more widely than by texting or phone calls. I know this, because I use mine to interact with people as far apart as America, India and Japan. Yes, it can also be used to pass on information about where the police are, where there are shops with expensive goods, and where there is already violence taking place.  But while my city was caught up in the chaos of that weekend, I and many others, kept communications much closer to home – we contacted our friends and families to make sure they were alive, safe and unaffected. Using the hashtag #riotcleanup, people all across the country grouped together with others in their communities to pick up the pieces of their shattered neighbourhoods.

In a country where we are told that personal responsibility is the defining factor in behaviour it is illogical, naïve and possibly illegal to think that closing down access to social media will be of benefit. If personal responsibility is important, then judge each person by his or her actions. If those actions are illegal, then it is the individual’s responsibility, not the fault of the technology that they used.

If you tell one section of society that they are fat, lazy, stupid and criminal long enough and loud enough, then eventually they might start to believe you. When everyone assumes you break the law and contribute nothing to society, where is the social constraint that prevents you from doing exactly that? Society is broken, but it was broken long before these riots, and unless proper, long-term action is taken, it will be broken long after the glass shop fronts have been repaired.

We need to ensure that these events so not repeat themselves. That will not come about through draconian sentences, water cannons, rubber bullets or evictions from social housing. It will come about through an examination of every level of our society. Through stimulation and investment in less wealthy areas, to ensure that aspirations can be met. We must expect a higher standard from those above us. Our political and commercial leaders must lead by example, both in their words, and in their actions. And above all, we must rise above the temptation for retaliation, retribution or revenge. This is not a political problem, it is a social problem, but it does have political causes. We need to make sure that we are not just looking out for those at the top, or those in the ‘squeezed middle’, but everyone. The culture of blaming those below us must end. We must make our society stronger; make our country fairer, more balanced and tolerant. We must not forget that there have been victims of these events, and we owe it to them, and to ourselves, to ensure that there are no more.”

Men, Women, Left & Right: The Problem With Generalisation

Today I read two things, written by two very different people in very different places, both of which annoyed me quite a bit. The first one was this by Julie Bindel for The New Statesman and the second one was by Damian Thompson at the Telegraph. The one thing that both pieces shared is their willingness to lump people into blocks, so that they can be easily defined and derided. Whether it be “the Left” or “Men”, (or in my case, both) grouping everyone who falls under those respective umbrella terms so that they form a nice big target diminishes your argument, as well as helping to alienate people who may have agreed with some of the points you are making.
Firstly, Mr Thompson. “The Left” is a big group. We disagree with each other. A lot! You only have to look at the one supposedly left-of-centre party, The Labour Party, to see that. In the last decade we have seen Blair vs. Brown and Miliband vs. Miliband, and that is just on which individual is leader of the party. There is nothing we on the left do better than in-fight, backstab and name call. We disagree with each other almost as much as we disagree with various different factions on the right. There are many on the left who do not agree with UK Uncut (I am not among them). Ignore the fact that events over the weekend had little to do with UK Uncut and more to do with the death of Mark Duggan, who was shot by the police. Ignore the accusation that “criminals used social media to co-ordinate their actions, just as the Left does” as if there are not plenty of right wing viewpoints represented on Twitter – that Mr Thompson uses twitter to regularly promote his articles doesn’t make him a member of UK Uncut, a lefty or a criminal does it? To throw everyone on the left into one group is a lazy generalisation that trivialises his argument even more than an opening line of “I suppose I’ll be accused of exploiting the Tottenham riots and London-wide looting for political ends”. By the way Damian, you are exploiting them, but then, that was the point, wasn’t it? What happened over the weekend was not right, but it was understandable. This is what must be discussed and considered over the next few weeks – looting, burning down people’s homes and businesses is not acceptable, because it is illegal. But it is not as if the emotions that caused the protest were not present long before this weekend. The lack of trust between residents of Tottenham and the police is not something that is new. Add in the extra pressure of an economy in trouble, high youth unemployment and a government that shows little regard for those at the lower end of the income scale, and it only takes one action to spark people into action. Do not blame social media. Do not blame everyone on the left, or young people. Look at what created the increase in tensions, as well as whether or not the police actions were justified. It is important that people realise that it is possible to understand without condoning, to sympathise without supporting and to acknowledge the problems without trivialising what people are going through. Mr Thompson failed at that. What happened was not a PR disaster for UK Uncut, it was an actual disaster for those whose neighbourhoods were vandalised, whose livelihoods were destroyed and whose homes were burned down. Please do not use what has happened to them to try and score political points or make jibes at other commentators. That’s just crass.
Being lumped into one big group with everyone else who defines themselves as a man was actually more of a problem than a mass political generalisation. I would define myself as a feminist. I am very uncomfortable when feminist writers of any stripe generalise “men” as one large blob. We do think differently, and there are some men whose attitudes towards women disgust me. I do not want to be branded as one of them simply by virtue of being heterosexual and being a man. One of the arguments made regularly by feminists is that men should not all see women as sexualised objects, there to provide sex, food and babies. They are not. Much in the same way as not all men are beer drinking loudmouths who cannot control themselves when they see a pair of legs in a short skirt. I think that men have a vital part to play in the feminist movement – and hopefully proper gender equality for everyone. This is something that I would like to believe Ms Bindel also agrees with. It is important that men do not accept the idea of “fun feminists”, partly because it is a terrible name, but mainly because it is another example of women pandering to men. Doing it in a slightly different way is not feminism, it is simply reinforcing the social gap between the genders, and this time it is doing it with a female seal of approval. This is not feminism, and I would hope many feminists agree with me. Therefore, being told that if “men” agree with a type of feminism then it has failed, I find to be a real problem. Do you mean me? Do you mean those men who agree with real gender equality, who want to end the acceptance of misogyny that is prevalent in our society? I would hope not. I am not saying that feminism without men is dead, but I do believe that we can get involved, that we can make a difference, and if we want gender equality across the board, then both those of every gender should be encouraged to get involved. I am a feminist. I am not the same as those who laugh at rape jokes, who blame the victim for domestic violence or see women as nothing but objects for sex. I don’t want to be grouped with people who do. It could cause arguments.

Expected. Still a shame.

My old college, Rose Bruford has announced its Tuition Fees for 2012. They will be charging the maximum 9,000 for degree courses. I cannot say I that I am really all that surprised, given how lowly Higher Education in the Arts seems to be valued by the current government. It is still a shame though.

I can understand the college’s reasons behind charging these fees – through a combination of the tough position that the cut in HE subsidy has placed on the finance department, and through a desire to not be seen as a ‘lesser institution’ by charging less than the competition (for context, Central School of Speech & Drama has also announced that it will be charging 9,000 a year). These circumstances may mean that this is the right decision for the College, but it is the wrong decision for students.

My fear is that the increase in fees will put off students. The refrain that is mentioned in reference to the Arts is that it in an industry you work in for the love, not for the money. This may be true, but finishing training in thousands of pounds of debt may deter talented prospective students from applying. I paid a maximum of 3,250 a year for my tuition at Rose Bruford, and recently received a letter from the Student Loans Company informing me that I currently owed them somewhere in the region of 26,000. I am starting a Masters in October that has tuition fees of 8,400 and for full time study I need to be able to pay around 25,000 over the year to cover living costs, rent, repayments, food, travel and other expenses. Assuming that there are some expenses I am accruing that will not be faced by undergraduate students, it is possible that a Stage Management graduate – like myself – who graduates in 2015 could be leaving College with a debt of 40,000 from the three years of training. When a Stage Manager can earn somewhere around 450 a week, it makes that debt, before interest and other expenses (like rent and food) seem quite intimidating. I do not want to see talented, driven individuals who could contribute to one of the most profitable and valuable industries in the UK, to be put off applying through fear of the debt that they will be placing themselves under. With cuts to Arts Council budgets and a government desire to support the Arts through philanthropy, the uncertainty faced by recent graduates makes spending 9,000 a year just on tuition seem an even more substantial risk.

College will still need to take in the same number of students in order to balance the budgets. With some students being prevented from looking for places because of their financial situation, will there be a need to accept less talented, skilled and inspired students so that the money keeps coming in? I hope that this does not happen, because not only will it reduce the quality of the graduates that College is training, but with several drama schools being in a similar situation, will there be a lower standard of graduates entering the industry.

If, and this is a very large if, this does come to pass then the ability of the industry to continue to produce quality product will come into question, and this would then have an effect on the contribution that the Arts can make to culture, and to the amount of income generated in the direction of the Treasury. I do not want to see a shrinking of the artistic spectrum caused by the reliance on philanthropy and having to justify to wealthy benefactors that a production is a good idea – and I think that this potential over-commercialisation of the industry could lead to less risk taking and less invention. I also do not want to see the range of product on offer to be limited through a lack of talent. This would not be too evident for the first few years, as the older generation will still be there, but if there is a reduction in the talent pool then in the long term the variety of output could also be reduced, as groups and individuals may not have the abilities needed to create a wider, more varied range of productions.

I hope that it does not come to this, and I do think that these are worst case scenarios, and I hope many of those applying for places in 2012 will be doing it out of love for what they do, and will take their places in spite of the financial burden that they will be placed under. If ability to afford the tuition becomes the defining factor in prospective students decisions, then I think there could be trouble.

I guess we will have to wait and see.

A view on the anti-cuts movement

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I have attended several of the anti-cuts marches, demonstrations and events, from the protests against tuition fee increases to the march through London on January 29th.  At these events I have seen people from a variety of social groups, ages, races, but all united in their passion to defend themselves and their friends from the swinging axe of Tory ideology. However, the march at the end of last month was nowhere near as large as those in November and December. I do not think that there is a loss of opposition to what the government are doing, but I do fear that there might be a lack of direction, which is damaging the effectiveness of the movement
My approach to what is happening to this country is well served by this statement, attributed to either Harry S. Truman or Woody Allen: “Decisions are made by those who show up”. That is what we must now do. Show up. Show up by pressuring those in power, those who are cutting vital services with no consideration for the damage, pain and suffering that the loss of those services will cause, for example cutting benefits so that benefit cheats can no longer choose it as a “lifestyle”. Never mind all those who need those benefits because they cannot find a job, and have families to feed. Never mind hacking into public services, citing inefficiency, then setting unrealistic targets of expenditure reduction, when those most likely to be made redundant are not high-paid managers, but their subordinates. These ideological attacks on the public sector, on education, healthcare and the welfare state must be opposed. Here I will try to explain my personal opinion on how best we can go about doing so.
Every protest, march and event needs to have a clearly articulated message. Make sure that, as much as possible, everyone who is at the event is able to explain to passers by and observers what it is that they are fighting for. The tax avoidance protests by UKUncut is an example of how well this can work. People who see a protest are not always aware what it is about, and a number of them are shocked by what they find out, after we tell them about it. This needs to be spread to every event that is targeted at a government cut, or tax avoiders, or at a policy that will threaten the futures of a generation.
If people think that we are just there because we are young and want to make noise or cause them problems, we are failing to articulate our message – that these cuts affect more than just us. We need to get everyday people on the street to feel like they can get involved. Wanting to stand up against these cuts is not a feeling restricted only to those under 25. There are people of all ages who agree with what we are saying, and should not be ostracised because of their age. If they do not want to march with us, urge them to contact their MP, or to talk to their friends. We need to be seen to be standing up for everyone. The student protests against tuition fee rises was dismissed by far too many people as just being students annoyed at having to pay more. We need to spread the message that we are not just looking out for ourselves but looking out for others.
In terms of how to do this, when I went to the rally points for the marches I was handed several leaflets by various groups, SWP, Militant Student, Socialist Resistance among others. Often this is latched onto by the media as a reason to ignore us, or to say that it is just the radical left who are opposing what is happening. I think that we need to be able to produce leaflets that we can hand out to people who are watching us. This may require more expenditure, which I know will be tough, but it must be more than just different groups within the movement, looking inwards to those already on the streets. If we can get more information out to people, then they can form their own opinions. They may not agree with the action we take, but they might agree with why we are doing it. This is not a bad thing. There is not one way of protesting, and the variety of types of protests will keep up interest, and allow people to express themselves in a way that they are comfortable with. Not everyone wants to stand outside in the cold shouting for seven hours – and if they have an alternative way to get their opinion heard, then that is no bad thing.
Specificity must also come into play. At these events it must be clear what we are there for. It must not just be “we are anti-cuts”, it must be “we are anti THESE cuts, and here is why it affects YOU”. This will help us to demonstrate that we are not just looking for ourselves, and also mean that one of the politicians’ arguments will not be effective. During the protests against tuition fee increase, Nick Clegg said repeatedly that the protesters ‘did not understand’ what the government is doing. If we can demonstrate to people on the street, as well as whatever media we can talk to, that we do understand what the government is doing, and why we are opposing it, then that will be a good step towards gaining some level of respect.
We can also put pressure on the police to stop their violent attempts at suppressing our opinions. We have already had some highly negative experiences at their hands, from kettling people on Westminster Bridge to using CS spray on a peaceful protest. These are problems that we must address and make noise about in their own right. Where we must take a step forward is in engagement with the rank and file police. They will be losing over 10,000 front line officers when the cuts hit them. If they strike, march or protest we ought to be there with them. This may be hard to stomach, especially if you have been through the experience of being kettled before, but it is part of the message that we are looking out for more than just ourselves, and the police spend the majority of their time doing good work. Many of the rank and file police, including one British Transport Police officer I talked with at London Bridge station after the march on the 29th, support us, and what we are doing. They have more in common with us than with the likes of Sir Hugh Orde. If we can get them as onside as possible I believe it will help us.
That being said, we need to keep up pressure on the upper levels of police command to stop kettling at the larger events, as we all know that it will make the situation worse – it derives from the German word ‘kessel’, meaning ‘cauldron’. With the potential of ‘more extreme’ tactics being used against us, it is vital that we keep the pressure on the police to avoid brutality. It is also hugely important that as many people as possible at every event are able to record, film or photograph what is going on, especially police actions. They have their F.I.T. groups, so why can’t we have our own? They are much less confident of being able to push us around when they are on camera. Maintain, or even better, increase the level of evidence we have against what they are doing, and we will be able to show that we are not the aggressors, as it is often suggested in the media. We also have the support of some excellent legal people, and if they are involved in helping one of us, the more evidence the better. We can make it too hard for the police to bully us into submission, and too hard for the ‘small group intent on violence’ narrative from being trotted out by the government yet again. Yes there are small groups whose intention is to cause problems, but we need to make it clear that they are not part of our movement, and we do not support their actions.
It is also important that there are not only large-scale marches through London, but also small, targeted events focussed on local issues, local cuts and local problems. An example of this was the sit-ins in libraries all over the country to show how valuable they are to their communities. While the loss of libraries will affect people all over the country, the protest was at a local level, showing not just a general opposition to library cuts, but giving a human face to those who will be affected by the cut in their own community. The big society is meant to be about local communities taking responsibility, and this is where I think the movement needs to look next, at local community related actions, which will not only show how widespread the problems are, but also show that opposition does not just come from those holding banners and shouting their way through Parliament Square, but also those in towns and city councils across the country who will lose out on vital services, all in the name of budgeting.
If there are more local actions then it will also be possible to put more pressure on local councillors and local MPs, as they will have to see the faces of the people they are affecting, and not just watch a mass crowd outside Parliament via their televisions. They will have to justify to real people why they are hacking into the communities that they themselves are a part of, and why they are cutting services that people they know might use. Give a face to those affected by local cuts, give a voice to the opposition to local cuts and make councillors and MPs have to respond to real people who are really affected, and not just comfort themselves by thinking in abstracts and financial figures – and it is much tougher to vilify someone who wants to read a book than it is a student spray-painting a statue.
The final reason that we must embrace local protest is that they make it much more possible for the disabled to make their voice heard. The DLA cuts did not receive anywhere near as much press and publicity as other government actions, and part of this, I believe, is down to it being harder for those affected to make as much noise as those who are able to stand, sing and shout for hours on end. Many of the disabled, and those who provide them with care and assistance, will be hit hard by this government’s plans, and yet there is nowhere near the appropriate level of representation from that group. We must ensure that our actions are as accessible as possible for everyone, and local, closer to home events can help, since it will cut down on the effort and expense of travelling into a city centre, which can be exhausting before you even get there.
It is vital to ensure the government are made aware how wide-ranging the opposition their cuts are. Therefore it is important that we make sure our actions are as varied, informative and inclusive as possible. We can make our voices heard, and the voices of everyone who will be punished by this governments attack on the public sector, charities, communities, and everyone who is not as wealthy and privileged as them.

We can build this anti-cuts movement. The feelings are there, we must make sure that people do not become disillusioned with what is happening. It is vital to encourage people to get involved, and build momentum towards March 26th.

“It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.” – Robert H. Jackson

Multiculturalism and Liberalism

Today (Saturday 5th February 2011) we have seem a member of the social, political and cultural mainstream decide that multiculturalism is a failure in Britain. It must be easy to define how multiculturalism has failed us as a wealthy, Oxford educated white man. The “doctrine of state multiculturalism” has been dismissed as being soft on extremists, so a new direction will be taken to combat terrorism: a Blair-esque “muscular liberalism”.
“The doctrine of state multiculturalism” has not encouraged people to live away from the mainstream. They may have chosen to do so, but encouraging multiculturalism is not about the minorities, it is about the mainstream. It is about encouraging people to realise that there are different cultures being followed by people living in this country. It is about realising that, while those cultures may be different, we can celebrate those differences, rather than talking about tolerating them. When we accept and welcome other cultures, there will be integration. Of course there will be fringe groups on the edges who decide not to integrate, but that should not mean that all those from a similar culture must be blamed or accused. As we would not expect to be judged on the sins of our fathers, we cannot judge people based on the sins of those on the fringes of their communities.
Since it is a lack of British identity that is being blamed for young, disillusioned people embracing extremist, potentially violent, views, it is important to define what is the British Identity that everyone is meant to fit in to? I do not think that defining that culture so that we can decide who is in it and who is not is possible or fair. Through the late 20th century the British identity involved becoming more multicultural, having West Indians, Asians, Arabs, Jews and others moving to Britain and becoming part of the culture. The notion that everyone in Britain will conform to ‘British culture’ is laughable. Those who felt that everyone must conform to the pre-war ‘British’ identity were the likes of Enoch Powell. No culture, British, American, Indian or otherwise is a finite, unchangeable quantity. Cultures are defined by those living in them, experiencing them and contributing to them, not by what part of the map they are in at the time. Vilifying one group, deciding that they need to change or lose part of their home culture will not help them to conform to your culture, it will simply cause them to resent you.
If multiculturalism is such a failure, then why are there so many kebab shops, curry houses, Chinese restaurants? Why do so many Brits drink beers brewed by Dutch, Belgian or German companies? There are different cultures here in the UK, and many of us enjoy interacting with them, even if we are not part of them. Knowing the difference between Sag Paneer and Aloo Gobi doesn’t make you Indian, but if you did not interact with Indian culture (even if it is just for the food) then you wouldn’t. It is a simple example, but the point remains. Or here is another example; if multiculturalism has failed, how is it that the Chair of the Conservative party is a Muslim woman? While I disagree with Baroness Warsi over a great many things, the fact that a Muslim woman could chair the Tory party would have been unthinkable without multiculturalism.
How can people be integrated when phrases like “muscular liberalism” are used to describe how he would like everyone to integrate? Is the idea that everyone will be integrated, by force if necessary? It is not possible to force someone to believe in what you believe. That has been tried before; The empire, the invasion of Iraq, American Cold War support for any dictator who promised to crack down on communism (even if that meant deposing a democratically elected head of state in the process). It is not about saying ‘you will agree with us’. Integration should come from a sharing of ideas, a sharing of ideals, and the realisation that we are not as different as we may superficially appear to be.
“Strengthening … security aspects” has also been proposed. Is this more of the muscular liberalism that is being proposed? Gathering intelligence on religious groups – I would imagine almost entirely Muslim groups – purely because they are religious groups is incredibly illiberal. We are already one of the most watched, scrutinised and observed populations in the world, and in order to make us feel more at liberty and safer the government would like to strengthen security again? National security will be used as a justification, as it always is, but at what point does the state intervention into our lives become too much. The government wants to scale down state involvement in our lives, shifting power “from the state and to the people”. Then how do they, and their Liberal Democrat partners, equate this with even more state monitoring of everything we do, say or believe. There are so many peaceful devout Muslim groups, are they to be spied on and then shunned because of the actions of a few extremists who even Mr Cameron acknowledges are “not the same” as devout Muslims?
One more thing:
In Egypt over the last 2 weeks we have seen many things: protests, a dictator desperately clinging to power and also a great example of multiculturalism in action:
In this picture, there are many Muslims praying. In the foreground there are Egyptian Christians linking arms to protect those praying from any attacks while they are observing the rituals of their faith. This is an example of multiculturalism at its best. Christian and Muslim communities in Egypt have their differences, but here they are united in their desire to rid Egypt of Mubarak. Being from different social and religious groups or cultures has not stopped them from joining each other in action.
(credit picture: http://twitter.com/#!/nevinezaki)