February 2011
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Is multiculturalism a cause of Islamic extremism?

British Prime Minister David Cameron says it is:

Here’s a longer, but still partial, transcript of the speech:

…I believe the root [of terrorism] lies in the existence of this [Islamic] extremist ideology. I would argue an important reason so many young Muslims are drawn to it comes down to a question of identity.

What I am about to say is drawn from the British experience, but I believe there are general lessons for us all. In the UK , some young men find it hard to identify with the traditional Islam practiced at home by their parents, whose customs can seem staid when transplanted to modern Western countries. But these young men also find it hard to identify with Britain too, because we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity. Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream. We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.

So, when a white person holds objectionable views, racist views for instance, we rightly condemn them. But when equally unacceptable views or practices come from someone who isn’t white, we’ve been too cautious frankly – frankly, even fearful – to stand up to them. The failure, for instance, of some to confront the horrors of forced marriage, the practice where some young girls are bullied and sometimes taken abroad to marry someone when they don’t want to, is a case in point. This hands-off tolerance has only served to reinforce the sense that not enough is shared. And this all leaves some young Muslims feeling rootless. And the search for something to belong to and something to believe in can lead them to this extremist ideology. Now for sure, they don’t turn into terrorists overnight, but what we see – and what we see in so many European countries – is a process of radicalisation.

Internet chatrooms are virtual meeting places where attitudes are shared, strengthened and validated. In some mosques, preachers of hate can sow misinformation about the plight of Muslims elsewhere. In our communities, groups and organisations led by young, dynamic leaders promote separatism by encouraging Muslims to define themselves solely in terms of their religion. All these interactions can engender a sense of community, a substitute for what the wider society has failed to supply. Now, you might say, as long as they’re not hurting anyone, what is the problem with all this?

Well, I’ll tell you why. As evidence emerges about the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were initially influenced by what some have called ‘non-violent extremists’, and they then took those radical beliefs to the next level by embracing violence. And I say this is an indictment of our approach to these issues in the past. And if we are to defeat this threat, I believe it is time to turn the page on the failed policies of the past. So first, instead of ignoring this extremist ideology, we – as governments and as societies – have got to confront it, in all its forms. And second, instead of encouraging people to live apart, we need a clear sense of shared national identity that is open to everyone.

Let me briefly take each in turn. First, confronting and undermining this ideology. Whether they are violent in their means or not, we must make it impossible for the extremists to succeed. Now, for governments, there are some obvious ways we can do this. We must ban preachers of hate from coming to our countries. We must also proscribe organisations that incite terrorism against people at home and abroad. Governments must also be shrewder in dealing with those that, while not violent, are in some cases part of the problem. We need to think much harder about who it’s in the public interest to work with. Some organisations that seek to present themselves as a gateway to the Muslim community are showered with public money despite doing little to combat extremism. As others have observed, this is like turning to a right-wing fascist party to fight a violent white supremacist movement. So we should properly judge these organisations: do they believe in universal human rights – including for women and people of other faiths? Do they believe in equality of all before the law? Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government? Do they encourage integration or separation? These are the sorts of questions we need to ask. Fail these tests and the presumption should be not to engage with organisations – so, no public money, no sharing of platforms with ministers at home.

You can read the whole transcript here: PM’s Speech ad Munich Security Conference.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel believes multiculturalism has “utterly failed” in Germany, too. She said so just last October:

So, the question of the day is this: Is nationalism the antidote to terrorism?

10 comments to Is multiculturalism a cause of Islamic extremism?

  • Frederick Smith

    These two leaders have hit the nail on the head for their nations and for all of us. We cannot afford to tolerate a nation where we embrace separatism with equality. The operative term in the “multicultural” groups within our nation must be “American”, be you African-American, Muslim-American, Hispanic-American, or whatever appendage you would like to add to the phrase. Our culture is a culture of freedom, tolerance, and equality. Yes, we will always have those who embrace hatred and prejudice, but they are not of the mainstream in this society. I believe in my heart that the majority of people who are American Citizens, be they immigrant or free born citizens, believe in our nation and what it represents to the millions of immigrants who try daily to come here. Opportunity, tolerance for the individual’s right to choose, and the ability to be heard as an individual. Our culture must become an American culture, and not be restricted to those cultures of the world that are being overthrown as we watch. Tunisa, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, and the countless other nations that demand freedom and tolerance at any cost. We must become what our founding fathers envisioned and more. We must become what we have represented for more than two centuries, the guiding light of the nations that will embrace the rights of every human being to be treated as an autonomous human being. We must fulfill the dream!

  • It depends on how these nations define multiculturalism. For all the complaints about protected classes here in the states, our law and culture pretty much insists that new arrivals blend in and follow the law. But we also bring parts of immigrant culture into the overall culture, and we respect the rights of individuals. That is how I define multiculturalism.

  • Frederick Smith

    As long as the immigrant culture does not interfere with the Americans, I agree. But please remember, they left that culture to come here because that culture did not allow them the opportunities of our nation. You are not free to pick and choose which parts of us to accept and which parts of us you can reject. We are all Americans first!

  • Paul W

    What it means to be “American” has changed over the years and will continue to do so. Just like the Moon and the Earth both exert a gravitational pull on each other, immigrants have always adapted to the culture, but likewise the culture has changed as the population makeup has changed.

    The arguments over immigration including “learning the language” and “assimilating” to “the American culture” have not changed one whit since the early 1800s when the Know-Nothings were (wrongly) freaked out over Catholics coming to impose Papal law over the US and Germans who “wouldn’t” learn English. Now the mistaken freak out is over Muslims who (don’t) want to enforce Sharia law in the US and Mexicans who “won’t” learn English.

    It wasn’t a threat then, and it isn’t one now. In fact, just the opposite: 19th century immigration drove the growth of the US economy to become the biggest and richest in the world by the opening of the 20th century. If anything we need to expand opportunities for immigration and be open to their ideas and culture. That’s the key to America’s success, and if we shut it down, it will become the key to our failure.

    The key aspect of America’s culture that’s important for immigrants (and natives) to embrace is the openness to allowing other cultures to exist alongside the ones that are already here. Panicking over mosques today is just as silly as panicking over Catholic churches 150 years ago. But it goes beyond being silly to being dangerous when the whole world can see the hateful rhetoric of those who are trying to leverage fear of Islam for political gain. Is it any wonder some people would respond radically and violently when they hear little but fear and hate for their entire culture coming from American pundits and politicians?

  • The Mouse

    Merkel and Cameron are right on. To say that Mexicans continuing to hold their language, culture and loaylty (to Mexico) isn’t a threat is wilfull blindness to reality.

  • I think Britain is a very benevolent nation as far as the issue of immigration is concerned. The result of this is the growing number of people who come to live there without even a basic knowledge of its culture or language. If these trends are to be eliminated there needs to be an improved system of immigration in the country.

  • But I guess that’s not as interesting as fantasizing about a new government program that will stick it to Muslims and magically make them fall in line, or whatever. Cameron’s plan just seems so obviously, pathetically designed to give older conservatives a way to vote their disapproval of the Muslim kids down the block, while hoping no one notices that his cut-and-prosper economic plan has been a failure.

  • “As long as the immigrant culture does not interfere with the Americans,”

    Too bad the Native Americans didn’t have this attitude… we wouldn’t be having these problems today.

  • David Cameron reminds me of former Peoria city council member John Morris.

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