This past weekend David Cameron pushed forward considerably ideas his predecessors Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had been moving progressively towards …. In essence, this is to say pretty explicitly that, if you want to be British, you need to buy into the British identity and British values. (Ironically, freed from the collective responsibility of Cabinet, Blair on these issues is almost certainly well to the right of Cameron these days – see: ‘”Radical Islam” and the Return of Tony Blair’)
Cameron criticised ‘state multiculturalism’ and argued the UK needs a stronger national identity to stop people turning to extremism. With MI6 warning last week that Britain faces an “‘unstoppable wave of home-grown suicide bombers”, Cameron could hardly have ignored the threat from radicalised young Muslims; and it seems logical to ascribe their lack of identification with ‘British values’ as one cause of their radicalisation.
In his speech on Saturday (5 February) Cameron accused multiculturalism of leading to a Britain of ‘divided tribes’. The prime minister posited that the multi-culturalist dogma, which increasingly dominated political and social thinking from the early 1970s on, had meant the majority had to accord each minority ethnic group respect and the freedom to pursue its own cultural practices and traditions. Anti-discrimination legislation had protected the minorities – though arguably not so much the majority - leading to a failure to integrate into ‘mainstream British culture’. Then the very existence of multiple cultures - multiculturalism - with each one given equal due meant no one culture could dominate, leading to a diminishing of mainstream British culture - with a sense of loss of ‘Britishness’ and even confusion as to what ‘British identity’ might actually mean.
Cameron’s attack is certainly not new or isolated. The formal identification of multiculturalism as a source of racial, ethnic and cultural divisions began with Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, commenting on the reports on race riots in Oldham, Bradford, Leeds and Burnley during 2001. He told The Times (Tom Baldwin & Gabriel Rozenberg, 2004) that multiculturalism was out of date and no longer useful – not least because it encouraged ‘separateness’ between communities. He said that multiculturalism – one of the founding principles of his own organisation - “means the wrong things…. We are now in a different world from the Sixties and Seventies.”
Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, said in a speech last year that the concept of multiculturalism had been developed to create a more tolerant society – one in which everyone, regardless of colour, creed or culture, felt at home. However, multiculturalism’s message ended up becoming: “There is no need to integrate.” Further, Sacks saw multiculturalism as dissolving national identity, shared values and collective identity which “makes it impossible for groups to integrate because there is nothing to integrate into”.
I’ve touched upon the undermining of national identity via multiculturalism in Blog posts such as ‘Is restricting Immigration discriminatory?’…while Jon Twigge has taken the issue fully head-on in the Blog ‘The Curious Case of Being British’. There is little doubt that Cameron is describing, not theorising or speculating. Inevitably, though, for a politician trying to play the ‘populist card’, Cameron has oversimplified the issues.
Then there is the conundrum: if we accept that multiculturalism has led us to become a Britain of ‘divided tribes’ and the majority have lost much of their unique sense of Britishness, then what do we do about it?
What is the ‘British Identity’ and what are ‘British values’?
If we want to embody or become something, it’s a good idea to spell out just what that something is. So what is ‘British identity’ and what are ‘British values’?
On Saturday Cameron said: “Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism [which] believes in certain values and actively promotes them…. Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights, regardless of race, sex or sexuality. This is what defines us as a society. To belong here is to believe those things.”
That’s helpful. But the values the prime minister espoused are pretty much those formally held by any modern western democratic state. It hardly informs us what ‘Britishness’ is.
To expect people to adopt values unrelated to their identity is a fallacy. As Robert Dilts’ Neurological Levels model shows clearly, truly-held values come from the identity you hold in relation (contextually) to the environment you are in.
So, for people to cherish ‘British values’, they must have a ‘British identity’. When people wholeheartedly see themselves as ‘British’, then they are much more likely to hold British values.
Just over 18 months ago the inaugural Centre of Human Emergence - UK event featured Spiral Dynamics co-developer Don Beck leading us through an exploration of the British character - see: ‘”Britishness” at the Regent’s College Summit’. What we came up with was:-
- Leaders in many, many ways
- Great innovators
- Quirky and eccentric - often precursors to innovation
- Resilient and supportive of each other in face of external threats
- Humour-full -– we can usually see the humour and irony in most things and we don’t usually take ourselves too seriously
- At the centre of the world, a bridge between Europe, America and the Commonwealth
In large part our assessment was based on the past - our recent history from the days of Empire, through the Blitz to the ‘Swinging Sixites’ - though an echo of the ‘Blitz Spirit’ was acknowledged in the carry-on attitude displayed by many Londoners in the wake of the 7/7 bombings.
Of course, in identifying Britishness, we can’t simply go back to the 1960s before multiculturalism really began to take hold. That was then; this is now. As noted children’s author Rosemary Wilkie said at Regent’s College: “We have had a great story. Now we need a new great story.” So we need a new sense of Britishness, one that does indeed draw on Britain’s illustrious past but one which also takes stock of the peoples we are right now and one which can inspire us as a nation into our future.
Britain is not the land of white anglo culture it was 40 years ago. A walk along the high street of most towns will reveal a plethora of Asian, Chinese and Thai restaurants and takeaways – with the occasional West Indian or North African nestled in between them. These establishments couldn’t stay in business without substantial patronage from amongst the white majority.
This fact alone should tell anyone with the ability to view these things objectively that you can’t just turn the clock back 40 years - just imagine: no Chinese or Indian eating houses or takeaways! So the British National Party (BNP) pipedream of shipping 2nd and 3rd generation Asians and blacks off to some place their grandfather came from is just that: a fantasy pipedream. Short of the BNP being able to impose a totalitarian state in Britain and pursuing the kind of 10-year blame and dehumanisation strategies the Nazis employed against the Jews which eventually enabled them to pursue the ‘Final Solution’, black and Asian Britons are here to stay.
Even with the will to integrate, it is inevitable that many of them will be bi-cultural: they have the culture of the land they live in and belong to now and the heritage of the land their grandparents came from. On the one hand, it is essential to developing Britishness that they do assimilate into the mainstream; on the other hand, from their heritages, many ethnic groups have much to offer beyond eating houses.
So we need a ‘British identity’ that not only draws inspiration from the past but also incorporates, to some degree at least, the amount of diversity found these days in Britain’s streets.
Another factor to take into consideration in developing a new British identity is that Britain is, in fact, composed of 3 nations in a United Kingdom with Northern Ireland. While the Welsh and especially the Scottish contributed much to the explorations and innovations that developed Empire, ‘Britain’ all too often meant England and ‘England’ meant Britain. That code was particularly prevalent in foreign portrayals of the ‘British’ or the ‘English’ - the terms being effectively interchangeable. Just look at the way Hollywood movies portrayed us in the 1930s through to the 1960s. The Welsh hardly got a look-in and Scots were only usually included if it was to caricature the ‘wild highlander’!
That simply won’t do now. With Welsh nationalism an ever-strong presence in the Welsh Assembly and a minority Scots Nationalist Government in Hollyrood, any new sense of British identity must incorporate sufficient elements of ‘Welshness’ and ‘Scottishness’ to appeal to those more assertive and confident peoples no longer prepared to acquiesce compliantly to the Englishness.
Creating the new ‘Britishness’
Back in 2004, Trevor Phillips said: “We need to assert there is a core of Britishness…. What we should be talking about is how we reach an integrated society, one in which people are equal under the law, where there are some common values.”
The question then becomes: how do you create that integrated society Phillips talked about?
A strategy Tony Blair’s Government introduced in 2005 in an attempt to inculcate knowledge about Britain into immigrants applying for British citizenship (or long-term residency) was the mandatory ‘Life in the UK’ test. It covers issues such as Britain’s constitution, the originating countries of previous UK immigrants, family life in the UK and where dialects like Geordie, Scouse or Cockney come from. Knowledge of practical matters such as the minimum age to buy alcohol and tobacco and what services are provided by local authorities are also covered. Finally, the test requires a certain level of fluency in English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic.
Last May the Home Office revealed that a third of applicants fail the test.
Out of interest, I gave my GCSE Sociology classes the following mini-version of the test:-
- What is the Queen’s official role and what ceremonial duties does she have?
- What is the role of the Prime Minister? Who advises them and what are the main roles in the Cabinet?
- What is the Opposition and what is the role of the Leader of the Opposition?
- What are MPs? How often are elections held and who forms the government?
- Do women have equal rights in voting, education and work - and has this always been the case?
- How is political debate reported? Are newspapers free to publish opinions or do they have to
Close to a half failed the test. But, as several students - all of them white anglo – protested, their parents would probably have failed too and they were undoubtedly British!
As Dilts’ Neurological Levels model demonstrates only too clearly, it’s much more likely that identity leads to the values which make you want to acquire relevant knowledge than being fed knowledge shapes identity. The high level of failure in the Life in the UK test would indicate many applicants don’t value the knowledge…and the reason for that is almost certainly because they don’t really see themselves as British. Forcing knowledge at people in the hope they will ingest it does not mean they will. Ask any teacher!
By all means, from Phillips through Blair to Cameron, there needs to be pressure to integrate on the basis of the old proverb: ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’. But that pressure alone - which comes from BLUE’s do-what’s-right thinking – will not produce integration. Indeed, in immigrant communities where the acculturation strategy - as identified by John Berry (1997) – is to marginalise (have only minimal contact with the majority culture) or, even worse, separate (avoid contact altogether) to preserve the purity of the immigrants’ cultural identity, such pressure may even lead to extreme separation, a sense of persecution and deep-felt alienation from the mainstream culture. And that can only fuel the radicalisation of young Muslims in such immigrant communities.
What Government strategies life ‘Life in the UK’ miss is the need to target the PURPLE vMEME as well as the BLUE vMEME. What also needs to be understood by the strategists is that PUPRLE naturally differentiates between ‘my tribe’ and ‘your tribe’ - with race/colour, religion and ‘ethnic dress’ being the more obvious markers of difference – see: ‘Is Racism Natural?’ in the Society section of the main site.
If tribalism is natural and the markers of difference are needed to distinguish the tribes, how then can integration ever be possible?
The answer is that complete integration is likely to take generations as people grow beyond the boundaries of their tribal areas – and there are signs this is starting to happen naturally, led by one of the most powerful instincts of all: sexual love. While at the above-mentioned Regent’s College Summit in June 2009, I was impressed with how many white/black and white/Asian couples I saw in the pubs around cosmopolitan Finchley where I was staying. Around the same time last year, I attended the wedding of a white friend’s daughter to a Muslim man.
Using techniques adapted from sociopsychology, this process can be manipulated and accelerated. Muzafir Sherif et al ‘s famous Robber’s Cave Experiment (1954) demonstrated that you can create super identities with shared values if you create challenges which are so daunting, it is only by working together that they can be overcome. In 1984 G Andreeva, to all intents and purposes, repeated Sherif et al’s study but in a different culture - Russia – and this concept of uniting the tribes via common challenge (or threat) is at the heart of Samuel Gerners’ Common In-Group Identity Model (1993). However, while Gerner expressed concern that there could be a reversion to tribal identities once the challenge was accomplished, an interesting study by Andrew Tyerman & Christopher Spencer (1983) found it effectively impossible to turn the lesser identities against each other provided there was a potential for the super identity to endure and there was a moral element to the identity. In this case, the super identity was boy scouts, the study was carried out on different scout groups brought together and the moral element was the Boy Scouts Code of Honour.
Of course, it is difficult - if not impossible (short of genocide) - to eradicate tribal identities entirely and those tribal identities will always require managing. Just think how PURPLE tribalism tore apart Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union’s successor Russian Federation once the repressive BLUE controls of the Communist state were removed! But, if the memetic focus is on shared/common values, desires and needs, then the tribes can be brought together to work on achieving shared/common aims. After all, most people, whatever their tribe, want a decent income, good schooling for their children, freedom from crime and the fear of crime, value for money local services and amenities, etc, etc. David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ concept, if presented correctly, could actually stimulate inter-tribal co-operation. After all, if government does less, then the people need to come together to do more.
Last Summer, working with Councillor Darren Reynolds of Burnley Council, he and I tentatively mapped out how gatherings of seemingly-disparate tribes might work together in that ‘race relations hotspot’ to achieve things the Council could not.
Who do you belong to: God or the State?
This, for the devout – Christian, Jew or Muslim- is always going to be an issue if the state’s laws and/or requirements conflict with religious duty. For the devout, at the end of the day, it is usually God who wins. Eg: for the Christian, Acts 5:29 says simply: “…obey God rather than men…”
Thus, national identity needs to be constructed in such a way that it is not at odds with mainstream religious teaching.
David Cameron’s linking of a failure to become ‘British’ with extremist Islam is only valid if other causes of radicalisation are acknowledged and strategies put into place to deal with them.
For Muslims, there is a duty to fight with other Muslims against oppressors – viz:-
“And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith….
And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease, Let there be no hostility except to those who practise oppression.” (Sura 2: 191, 193)
All too easily radical imams have been able to turn the Anglo-American blunders in Afghanistan and, especially, Iraq and insensitivity to untold numbers of civilian lives lost or ruined into tales of the West oppressing Islam.
Thus, it’s difficult for a Muslim to be ‘British’ if the British are perceived to be carelessly slaughtering Muslims. The PURPLE/BLUE vMEME harmonic of loyalty and duty tells them they should be standing alongside their brothers and sisters fighting the oppressor.
In terms of whether young Muslims can be reconciled to a British identity, the Government has been losing the propaganda war since 2002 and first talk of invading Iraq. And there’s no sign yet that the new Government has any better idea than the previous one of how to win the war of hearts and minds. No wonder MI6 is predicting ‘an unstoppable wave of home-grown suicide bombers’!
For young Muslims appalled at Anglo-American actions in Afghanistan and Iraq to be reconciled to being British, their BLUE need to be told by those with high authority as Islamic scholars that violence is not the way to express disquiet and disgust. Rather, that their voices can be heard through the British political systems.
I’m still baffled why so much more was not made of Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri’s fatwa last year denouncing terrorism and stating suicide bombers could not go to Heaven - see: ‘Why is the West ignoring a leading moderate Muslim?’ As one of the most scholarly texts based on Islamic scriptures in recent years from one of the religion’s leading thinkers, it was literally an instruction to Muslims not to commit violence against civilians whatever the cause.
Yet it was largely ignored by western leaders.
The works of ul-Qadri – an appropriate teacher for the BLUE of many Muslims – and similar scholars should be being promoted through the mosques as the correct interpretation of Islamic scripture. With such memes forming their schemas, it is then possible for young Muslims to be British and use our democratic systems to articulate their needs, desires and dissatisfactions.