Cameron calls for a strengthened sense of national identity instead of failed ‘state multiculturalism’
The UK’s Prime Minister, David Cameron says ‘state multiculturalism’ has failed and in its place we need ‘muscular liberalism’ and a stronger sense of national identity.
I think he’s probably right about state sponsored multiculturalism, which is inclined to exaggerate difference and the homogeneity of various communities, while simultaneously aggrandizing self-appointed ‘community’ spokespeople. So the state should tread lightly here. Britain (and everywhere else, for that matter) manages to be multicultural without the intervention of the government. In that respect, saying that you’re in favour of multiculturalism or against it is akin to taking a political position on the Earth’s atmosphere.
In any case, what Cameron has in his sights isn’t really multiculturalism at all, it’s what he defines as Muslim extremism. Although quite where this begins and ends in the Prime Minister’s mind is hard to tell, since any manifestation of Muslim opposition to western foreign policy or assertion or Arab self-determination is likely to be labelled ‘militant’ or ‘extreme’ these days.
Cameron argues that young Muslims find it hard to identify with Britain and apparently this is because ‘we’ have weakened our sense of national identity. I can’t find where Cameron sets out how the British might strengthen their sense of national identity. Perhaps they could coalesce around a collective suspicion of Catholic Europe? Or build an empire? Or go to war with Germany? Or (God forbid) build a welfare state. All of these worked at various times in the past.
Or maybe the British could demonstrate their collective genius by espousing fair play and decency, while pretending that these values are somehow exclusive and distinguishing national characteristics. (Does anyone know of a country that prides itself on cheating and indecency?)
Or perhaps the PM knows a way to conjure a warm sense of horizontal comradeship from the socially divisive policies currently being implemented by his government. Certainly the quickest and most effective way to strengthen national identity in these straitened times is probably to identify some perilous threat to ‘our’ way of life… like… err… Muslim extremists, for instance. Identities, after all, are defined negatively, in relation to what they are not. That is to say, the most important thing about being woman is not being a man; the most important thing about being a Glasgow Celtic fan is not being a Glasgow Rangers fan; and the most important thing about being Tory is not having a soul.
So I can’t see how prescribing national identity will remedy Muslim alienation. National identities are by definition exclusive. Not everybody can belong. Not everybody would want to belong. And the angry young Muslim men, referred to by Cameron in his speech in Munich, have probably already encountered and witnessed some fairly robust versions of Britishness. It’s probably what alienated and disillusioned them in the first place.