Roger Hewitt: Our multiculturalism has developed strong roots

This is not to deny that aspects of the culture of other groups may be a problem for 'us'

Related Topics

When will politicians such as David Davis and commentators on the right realise that the old carping about ethnic diversity and multiculturalism has long been overtaken by a changed reality? Calling multiculturalism a "failed experiment" in the wake of the London bombings, or wondering if cultural diversity should be continued is well beside the point.

Cultural difference, even of an extreme kind, is no novelty in English life. Indeed, we have been expert in creating and sustaining social class distinctions in speech, dress and eating habits for several hundred years, perfecting it to the extent that we implicitly believe that if we hear a person speak we can describe what they probably had for breakfast. We have thrived on social difference.

Difficult, then, for us to declare at this late stage that our culture needs to be one. How irrelevant is David Davis's latest demand that British Muslims give up their culture and "join the mainstream"? That mainstream is already far wider than he seems to imagine and, for better or worse, we are all part of its flow. The global economy has changed the terms of the argument away from whether or not migrant communities should be welcome, towards which migrant skills we most need.

Culture itself is not the issue. We can be as culturally different as chalk and cheese - and often are - but as long as we live under the same framework of rights and obligations to one another there is nothing stopping us living, as we have been, cheek by jowl or merely side by side.

This is not to deny that some aspects of the culture of other groups may be a problem for "us", whichever "us" we belong to. However, we know now, after 30 or more years of change, that there is no connection between cultural incongruities and criminal acts of violence. A difference of opinion over the legal status of a garment, the veil or a turban, can be real but is not the window on to a murderous act.

Yet there is said to be a "backlash" - to some extent nominated as such by a press eager for such handles. There has been a deep and unified reaction across all British communities and beyond. Just as there was internationally in the days following the events of 11 September 2001.

Predictably there have also been a number of incidents of violence and abuse indiscriminately towards Muslims. It is these that have been said to constitute the "backlash".

This is to blunt an already blunt word. A backlash is usually a forceful, targeted response to a pressure coming from some source. The attacks on mosques and individual Muslims were not that. They were misplaced deeds apparently expressing anger at the bombing or, in some cases themselves fanatically driven, using the bombings as a pretext.

In terms of scale they are more than dwarfed by the widespread lack of blame being attached to the Muslim communities for fundamentalist violence. Some of the measures needed for the eradication of violent fanaticism claiming Islamic authority will have to come from Muslim communities.

Thankfully, because the interests and safety of all are at stake and because those communities are also realistic about the nature of multicultural society, that commitment appears to be already affirmed.

The sense that all "backlashes" in some sense "have a point", however misguided, makes the use of the term particularly inappropriate in the light of this commitment.

What is perhaps more surprising than the actions of the few is the fundamental stability of community relations. It seems, in fact, that far from being about to crumble, our multicultural society has come to develop strong roots.

The need for over-arching "isms" in some kind of charter for living together appears to have withered away. We are left, despite the tragedies and confusion, with the more normal burden of getting by, being accommodating to one other and to new groups, to transformations and all the social and cultural fluidity that London especially, but not uniquely, has come to embody.

There is no room here for hard-edged prescriptions and talk of cultural tolerance "cutting both ways" across fixed entrenchments. That is not what multicultural society is about, even if some still have that lesson to learn.

The writer is Senior Research Associate, Centre for Urban and Community Research, Goldsmiths, University of London. His 'White Backlash and the Politics of Multiculturalism', is published byCambridge University Press, 2005

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London