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'

Share
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

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Food Technology Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The rules were simple: before the results are announced, don’t mention the S-word

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Howard Jacobson has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for the second time  

In praise of Howard Jacobson

Simon Kelner
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week