Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Muslims are the new folk-devils: Johann Hari supports David Cameron's attacks on Muslims and multiculturalism

In her excellent novel, White Teeth, Zadie Smith reminds us that Britain has never been inhabited by one homogeneous tribe with one homogeneous culture:

“(Y)ou go back and back and back and it's still easier to find the correct hoover bag than to find one pure person, one pure faith, on the globe. Do you think anybody is English? Really English?” (Smith, 2001, ‘White Teeth’, Penguin; New Ed edition, p:169).

“Yes!” assert the EDL. In reality, however, England is a mongrel nation and the values and traditions they want to 'defend' are hybrids that have evolved from the long and often brutal processes of cultural conflict and exchange. In short, national identities are dynamic, not static, and every generation tries to cling on to symbols of the past to ease the pain of the disappearing present. Or, as Jonathan Freedland eloquently puts it, "Britain can seem like a widow still turning the pages of her sepia-tinged wedding album, unable to face the world outside her window" (Freedland , 1999 'Bring Home The Revolution: The Case for a British Republic', Fourth Estate Limited, p: 161).

A more sinister way of dealing with Britain's social and economic problems involves the identification of folk-devils on to which people are encouraged to displace their anger. In his recent attack on multiculturalism David Cameron chose to focus our attention on Muslims, but those who are able to face the real world find it is Cameron’s great public services sell-off that is really destroying social cohesion: libraries, youth centres and other places at the heart of local communities are being closed at an alarming rate while the rich isolate themselves from the have-nots in gated communities that provide all the services they need. So much for the claim that "we are all in this together".

Cameron argues that Britain needs a stronger national identity, but globalisation has eroded the importance of national boundaries and most of us now have many overlapping identities that are not in conflict. "For instance", argues Philippe Legrain, "an Arsenal fan will be a Gooner during a game against Chelsea, English at a football match against France, European during the Ryder Cup golf competition against America, and simply himself when he is with friends" (Legrain, 2006, ‘Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them’, Little Brown, p: 213).

Immigrant communities also have overlapping identities and, like our own ancestors, they are faced with the difficulty of having to fuse contrasting cultural traditions with their own lives. To claim that this is the root cause of the terror threat is very dangerous, not least because the 7/7 bombers were highly integrated into mainstream society. A recent Gallup poll also found that 77% of Muslims identify “very strongly” with the UK compared with 50% of non-Muslim British.

Nevertheless, Cameron didactically demands that they prove they are British first and other parts of their identity - particularly their Muslim part - second. Presumably, those that do not immediately stand to attention when the national anthem is played will be viewed as potential terrorists. Treating Muslims as second class citizens appeases those who want to use them as scapegoats for Britain’s social and economic problems, but this policy does nothing to encourage social cohesion.

Cameron claims that he wants to combat the terrorist threat on the one hand but on the other, he made it clear that he remains committed to spending billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on a fundamentalist foreign policy that has brought terrible suffering to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, thereby making young Muslims more willing to listen to the extremists’ message of revenge and hate. It is important to remember, however, that the terrorist threat remains small. Indeed, one is many times more likely to be killed by a car than by a Muslim extremist. Exaggerating the threat only serves those who want Britain to become the ultimate surveillance society.

Sadly, instead of making these points, Johann Hari has decided  to support Cameron's attacks on Muslims and  multiculturalism . The question is, why?