- 1 Campbell, A., 2007, p. 9.
- 2 Solomos, J., 1993, p. 196.
1The title of this paper was inspired by Tony Blair’s argument when recruiting Alastair Campbell in August 1994. “Governments can do things”, he told Campbell. “They can set the agenda with their actions”.1 The starting point for this work is that the discourse developed in the British media with regard to multiculturalism in general and the Muslim community in particular from 1997 onwards was not the product of chance. On the contrary, a conscious choice was made to deal with the Muslim minority in a particular way. This choice was not merely the fruit of political opportunism (playing the race card), although at times certain ministers came very close. Nor is it to suggest that there was a “rupture” with old Labour on the question of immigration, Labour having followed the Tories since the 1960s on issues such as immigration controls and asylum seeking. In some ways the Blair discourse which was to emerge from 1997 onwards was not radically different from that of Thatcher in the preceding years. Solomos notes that “The emphasis in her political rhetoric on the shared history, customs and values of Britishness was one way in which she attempted to draw together a social basis for her political project”.2 Nonetheless, the Blair project itself carried the seeds of what was to develop into an insidious campaign against British Muslims, which gathered force as he prepared for war in the Gulf and became almost hysterical when the consequences of that war returned to haunt the British people, in the London bombings and the spread of support for jihadist movements. The designation of the Muslim community as self-segregating and hostile to British values was a product of the ideological orientation of New Labour, the communitarianism freely borrowed from Clinton’s intellectual milieu and adapted for the British public, which in turn came from their desire to give a social, (but not socialist), content to what were essentially neoliberal policy choices.
- 3 Callinicos, A., 2001, p. 45.
- 4 Miller, D., 1992, p. 86.
- 5 Driver, S., & Martell S., 2002, p. 150.
2Traditionally, the Labour Party has been characterized by an attempt to marry discourses on class, embodied in Clause Four, for example, and those of national identity. But in the terms of New Labour’s Third Way, class struggle has become obsolete and the needs of society can and must be met through the operation of the market. Given that class is no longer relevant, what is the social content of New Labour’s ideology ? Blair and Schroeder’s Third Way transformed traditional socialist values such as equality or solidarity into a set of ethical values based on the notion of community. The notion of community was then extended to the international sphere, in terms of discourse on ethical foreign policy and the duty to carry out ‘humanitarian’ interventions around the world. For Blair, the concept of values – traditional values – lies at the heart of community. These traditional values, he describes as the belief in the equal worth of all, the equal right to dignity, liberty, freedom from discrimination and the right to economic opportunity. Thus Blair told a Washington seminar in 1995 that the Third Way was about reasserting Labour as a party of values, the rediscovery of the essential values such as the belief in community, opportunity and responsibility.3 A number of academics have also produced theories which seek to place community and nation, with their “shared values”, at the heart of political life. Thus social class as a focus for political organization is considered to be irrelevant. One of the main theoreticians is David Miller4, who argues that national territories and a common sense of nationality provides a framework in which social justice is possible (providing the “human” content in a Blair project which is otherwise difficult to distinguish from classical liberalism). Giddens is also inclined to argue that community spirit can be rebuilt and reconstructed through appeals to a shared national identity, though Driver and Martell point out that both Giddens and Miller are anxious to avoid being associated with a chauvinistic type of nationalism, Giddens expressing a preference for a form of ‘cosmopolitan nation’.5 Blair also seemed anxious to differentiate Labour’s vision of the nation from that of the Tories, stressing the openness, tolerance and compassion of British culture, the values embodied in the notion of “Cool Britannia”. Blair’s nationalism is a new, unifying force which will permit the country to overcome the class division of the past :
- 6 Speech to the 1995 Labour Party conference cited in ibid. p. 149.
Let’s build a new and young country that can lay aside the old prejudices that dominated our land for a generation. A nation for all the people, built by the people, where old divisions are cast out. A new spirit in the nation based on working together, unity, solidarity, partnership. One Britain. That is the patriotism of the future. Where never again do we fight our politics by appealing to one section of the nation at the expense of the other.6
3But when it comes to the community, cohesion is to be maintained by the adhesion of all to a system of shared values. Burnett, for example, reminds us of David Blunkett’s lecture in New York in April 2003, where he insisted heavily on the maintenance of core collective shared values as the way to instil the codes of individual responsibility. For Blunkett, it was the integration of the community around key core values which permitted communities to flourish, where the key-words are self-help and where individuals are equipped with the necessary skills and assets to flourish. For Burnett, Blunkett’s speech was a typical example of how of New Labour thinking was influenced by American ideals of communitarianism. He reminds us that the communitarian perspective, highly influential within American political thinking
- 7 Burnett, J., 2004, p. 2.
attempts to formulate an inter-dependent relationship between individual responsibilities, on the one hand, and the obligation of the state to extend opportunities on the other … Communitarianism favours the imposition of a dominant moral order that encompasses and frames the actions and voices of communities.7
4The main theoretician of this perspective is Professor Amitai Etzioni, who states that “As our moral order is shored up, we need to concern ourselves with the civic order. Individuals’ rights are to be matched with social responsibilities….we need to remind one another that no rights are absolute”.8
5Burnett argues that New Labour has taken up Etzioni’s ideas and created a bridge between the concept of citizenship and its obligations, and ever-widening notions of criminality. What are defined as the core values of community and responsibility are part of a realignment of the politico-ethical sphere with the sphere of neoliberal economics. It is somewhat paradoxical that the heart of the neoliberal project is the reduction of the rights of the individual and minority groups in favour of a duty of allegiance to overarching principles defined by the dominant culture. It may well be the case that certain rights are not absolute, but it would seem to be a principle of democracy that the suppression of certain rights should be the object of public debate, and not simply taken for granted. Driver and Martell9 have also criticised New Labour’s attempt to put a progressive gloss on values that are traditionally associated with the right. They remind us quite simply that the Left traditionally sees the concept of nation as blurring the lines of class division which are at the heart of society, and ask whether in attempting to reclaim the flag from the Right, Labour Modernizers are not in fact creating one Britain for insiders and another for outsiders, such as asylum-seekers. It is to this question which we now turn, as the analysis of speeches and media interventions by New Labour ministers since 1997 will show a conscious intention to blame Muslims for a failure to integrate and to adopt “British” values.
- 10 Speech at Downing Street, 8 December 2006.
- 11 Ibid.
6In December 2006, Tony Blair made a speech entitled Our Nation’s Future – multiculturalism and integration,10 in which he reaffirmed his support for the idea of a multicultural society. The New, Modern Britain was held up as a place of racial diversity, outgoing and embracing change, a stark contrast to the stuffy Britain of the 1970s. Blair pointed to the different anti-discrimination legislation which had been brought in by New Labour, and to the greater participation of minorities in public life and government under New Labour. Blair’s party could rightly claim to have taken a major step forward with the Lawrence Inquiry and the critique of institutionalised racism in the Macpherson report which emerged from it. But Blair went on to argue that the London Bombings cast multiculturalism into sharp relief. The fact that the bombings had been perpetrated by young men of Muslim origin, who had supposedly been integrated into British society, signalled that there was a problem with the present understanding of multiculturalism. For Blair, integration could only mean one thing : “Integration, in this context, is not about culture or lifestyle. It is about values. It is about integrating at the point of shared, common, unifying British values. It isn’t about what defines us as people, but as citizens, the rights and duties that go with being a member of our society.”11 The young Muslims had carried out the bombings because, according to Blair, they did not believe in shared values but separate ones. This belief in separate values originated in a warped version of the Islamic faith. Blair’s warning came in the wake of an extensive critique of multiculturalism by Trevor Phillips, who warned young Muslims that they would have to work by the rules of British people and accept the common values of Britain. This insistence on the duties of Muslims towards their adoptive country is echoed by Blair in Our Nation’s Future. In the speech Blair embroiders a theme which has been central to New Labour discourse – that of rights and duties. He makes a clear distinction between the right of different minority groups – Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, for example - to hold different religious beliefs and to practice these, and the duty of all to adhere to British values :
But when it comes to our essential values – belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all, respect for this country and its shared heritage – then that is where we come together, it is what we hold in common; it is what gives us the right to call ourselves British. At that point no distinctive culture or religion supersedes our duty to be part of an integrated United Kingdom.12
- 13 Joppke, C., 2004, p. 251.
7This insistence on the priority of integration represents a break with the traditional multiculturalist approach, which sees minorities as having rights which should be guaranteed by the state, rather than being engaged in a form of contract with the state. It is indeed very far from the approach taken in the 2000 report, The future of multi-ethnic Britain, where the argument was very much against the liberal model of integration for a diverse society. The liberal model, in which there was a single political culture in the public sphere with diversity relegated to the private lives of individuals and communities, was clearly inappropriate to British society, in the terms of the Parekh report, and what was needed was a ‘plural model’. In this model, the recognition of cultural diversity happened in the public sphere.13 But this insistence on integration and social cohesion, and an implicit rejection of multiculturalism, far from being a simple consequence of the London bombings, is an integral part of New Labour’s political agenda, embodied in the Third Way and its policies.
8 Rather than representing a new starting-point for race relations in Britain, the Macpherson report, which recognized the existence of institutionalized racism for the first time in Britain, was attacked by the media and certain academics :
- 14 Staff reporter, The Guardian, June 1, 2001.
A “white backlash” may be the result of the official report into the killing of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, a former home office advisor warned today. Dr Marian Fitzgerald said the report by Sir William Macpherson – held after police failed to bring the killers to justice – had done nothing to address the long-standing problems of ethnic minorities.14
9The Right had always criticized multiculturalism, and this criticism became particularly vociferous after the publication of the Macpherson report. Thus Melanie Phillips combined a rejection of multiculturalism with a rejection of the findings of the Macpherson report in the Sunday Times :
- 15 Phillips, M., The Sunday Times, December 24, 2001.
There’s a difference between accepting minorities as equal citizens and adopting a “multiculturalism” that sets ethnic group against ethnic group and destroys the common culture that alone gives us shared and equal citizenship…so, to criticise Macpherson’s definition of institutional racism, or, even worse, to question the assumption that Britain is a racist society is in itself said to be a racist position.15
- 16 BBC News Online, 9 December 2001.
- 17 Ibid.
- 18 BBC News Online, December 11, 2001.
10On the Left, criticisms of multiculturalism were voiced using the argument that it did nothing to overcome the real problems of ethnic minorities in Britain. But Labour’s first real test on the issue of multiculturalism, and on its commitment to eradicate the institutionalised racism pinpointed in the Macpherson report, came with the Bradford riots in the summer of 2001. When Muslim youth in deprived areas of Bradford rioted in reaction to marches organized by the far-right British National Party, they were denounced by Home Secretary David Blunkett, who declared in a BBC news report that “We will not tolerate what we would not accept ourselves under the guise of accepting a different cultural difference”.16 Here Blunkett is clearly implying that the socially disruptive behaviour of the rioters was a result of their cultural difference – their Muslim background – rather than the socio-economic inequality that marked their lives.The notion of rights and duties was evoked when Blunkett said that combating racial prejudice was a two-way street. According to the BBC news, he said that “we have norms of acceptability and those who come into our home – for that s what it is – should accept those norms just as we would have to if we went elsewhere”.17The Muslims were guests of the British, rather than citizens in their own right, he seemed to suggest, when he called on the English to celebrate their roots and identity more, to feel more confident about welcoming those from other cultures. Blunkett continued on this theme in the period preceding the publication of the official reports into the riots, saying that while racism must be confronted, immigrants who settled in the UK had to do their bit to ensure that future generations grew up feeling British. Blunkett also warned that the government would not tolerate practices unacceptable in the UK, such as enforced marriages. Blunkett’s arguments found an echo among sections of the population, as one BBC news report shows : under a sub-heading which stated more integration needed, a Burnley woman, described as white, gave the following opinion : “[U]nfortunately you can’t sell houses very easily in predominantly Asian areas for anything like the price you’d get otherwise”.She agreed with the Home Secretary’s controversial remarks that minorities might need to integrate better….”they talk in a foreign language even in front of you which is rude and makes you a bit paranoid. The problem is they all want to stick together….. I don’t think the Asians here have the will to integrate and it’s a real problem in this area particularly”.18
11 Criticism of Bradford Muslims were echoed in the press as a succession of government-inspired reports spoke of self-segregation and the deliberate perpetuation of Islamic Ghettos. The Guardian’s Martin Wainwright, for example, dedicated an article to the way in which the Ouseley report charged some Muslim elders with turning a blind eye to criminal activities by a minority of the community’s youth, out of concern to preserve Islam and their traditional way of life. Lord Ouseley accused some Bradford Muslims of acting like colonists.
- 19 Wainwright, M., The Guardian, September 12, 2001.
Immigrants…can and often do maintain key elements of their culture for generations, but in many other ways they accept the dominant, host culture. ….Colonists do not. They come into a country to displace the existing culture and establish their own. From colonist to immigrant is the dominant pattern historically. However, this process seems to have been thrown into reverse in Bradford.19
12The Cantle Report which followed the riots spoke openly of the “polarisation” of towns and cities, highlighting the separate educational arrangements, community and voluntary bodies, places of worship, language, social and cultural networks, which meant that communities seemed to have a series of parallel lives. Joppke comments that“the multi-ethnic Britain described in this report was certainly one of ‘communities’, yet one without a meta-community’ in the singular to tie them all together”.20 The report called for a greater sense of citizenship, common elements of nationhood had to be agreed upon, the use of the English language had to be strengthened in minority communities, and overall the non-white community had to develop a greater acceptance of, and engagement with, the principal national institutions.
13 But New Labour did not stop at rhetoric. Draconian prison sentences were handed down to the Muslim youths who were arrested in the wake of the Bradford disturbances, leading some journalists to question whether the Muslim community was being treated fairly. Faisal Bodi, writing in The Guardian, contrasted the sentences with those customary in Northern Ireland :
- 21 Bodi, F., The Guardian, July 1, 2002.
Take the following – representative – selection of cases: Istifar Iqbal, 11 months for picking up, but not throwing, two stones; Asam Latif, four years nine months for lobbing six stones; Mohammed Akram, five years for hurling various missiles; Mohammed Munir, four years and nine months for throwing two stones; and Ashraf Hussain, four years for throwing three stones. By contrast in Belfast, where the stakes are much higher, a first offence of riot gets you a fine, a second a heavier fine or suspended sentence. According to staff of the Belfast Telegraph, “if the judge was making an example out of you, you’d probably get thirty days for throwing a petrol bomb.”21
- 22 Freedland, J., The Guardian, September 19, 2002.
14The severity of the sentences - 46 people had been given sentences of 4-5 years imprisonment at the time the journalist wrote the article – and Blunkett’s continued provocation of the Muslim community prompted Jonathan Freedland to comment that New Labour had opened its big tent to the far right.22 While other politicians used a more moderate tone, even those who affirmed a commitment to multiculturalism, like Cantle himself, began to shift ground :
- 23 Cantle, T., et al., Eurozine Magazine, 2006.
I think there is now a recognition that we need to review our multicultural model. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has been a main proponent of that and, more recently, Trevor Phillips (of the Commission for Racial Equality) has come up with the idea of scrapping multiculturalism. I don’t agree with that……I don’t want to scrap multiculturalism, I want to move it on to where we can continue to preserve and respect difference, continue to promote cultural diversity but have a much clearer sense of promoting commonality between communities.23
15Multiculturalism is not rejected out of hand, but the idea that society needs to promote commonality suggests that various communities are fundamentally different. But as Terry Eagleton points out, what is most striking is the common ground between Muslim immigrants (or any others) and British-born people. As far as morality goes, he argues, it is difficult to find much difference between Allah and Jehovah. So why can’t politicians accept that there are moral values shared by all human beings, and that cultural differences are irrelevant ? For Eagleton, the answer lies in the fact that culture is a vital question for those who hold political power. Culture is what makes the power relations within society appear natural and legitimate. Authority must become intertwined with the roots of people’s experience and identity. Thus there is a political agenda behind the disavowal of multiculturalism by the political classes.
- 24 Eagleton, T., The Guardian, February 21, 2007.
It is easy to see why a diversity of cultures should confront power with a problem. If culture is about plurality, power is about unity. How can it sell itself simultaneously to a whole range of life forms without being fatally diluted ? Multiculturalism is not a threat because it might breed suicide bombers. It is a threat because the kind of political state we have depends upon a tight cultural consensus in order to implant its materially divisive policies.24
16For Ambalavaner Sivanandan, Director of the Institute of Race Relations, the multicultural society which exists in Britain today is the outcome of decades of struggle by migrant workers, mainly from Asia and the Caribbean, who found themselves segregated in the poorest housing, the worst jobs, and in workplaces where racism was rife. He points out that it was the struggles of these migrant workers in the 1960s and 1970s which forced governments to pass legislation against racial discrimination and to establish the Commission for Racial Equality. But the persistence of racism led to riots and disturbances, notably those in Brixton in 1981. The Brixton riots resulted in the setting up of the Scarman Inquiry, which concluded that a cultural deficit among Asian and African-Caribbean people was one of the main problems. This provided the impetus for the creation and financing of “ethnic” projects and organisations. Sivanandan is extremely critical of the multiculturalism sponsored by the Thatcher government in the 1980s – the multicultural struggle was transformed into the “three S’s” – saris, samosas and steelbands. This was not a period of equal opportunity, but of equal opportunism. The emphasis was no longer on what different communities had in common in their struggle against racism, but on what culturally divided them and set them apart. Middle class blacks benefited by obtaining jobs and representation in the town halls. But thousands of black working-class youngsters remained unemployed or in dead-end jobs. It is this weakness in multiculturalism which opened the way for criticism and finally rejection by many who have given intellectual support to New Labour think-tanks, such as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. Nonetheless, Sivanandan insists on the need to defend multiculturalism today.
- 25 Sivanandan, A., Socialist Worker, October 21, 2006.
Today, the forces of globalisation are attempting to culturally flatten us and force us all to accept a single culture – that of the free market. Multiculturalism is a barrier to this process because it legitimises the idea of diversity. For that reason it is hated by the pro-globalisation lobby, who tell us instead that we must all adhere to “Britishness”, as though it were a single monolithic culture. This notion of Britishness is one that leaves out the contribution that immigrants have made to this country. I am not talking about the economic contribution that almost all politicians acknowledge, but of the political contribution we made through our resistance.25
17Sivanandan points out that those who criticise the government’s foreign policy, for example, are condemned as un-British or unpatriotic. Yet it is precisely on this point that we see the full implications of the attack on multiculturalism.
18For Joppke, the shift away from multiculturalism coincides with a new assertiveness on the part of the liberal state.
- 26 Joppke, C., 2004, p. 250.
With its new stress on civic integration, however, the liberal state is becoming more assertive about its liberal principles, and shows itself less willing to see them violated under the cloak of ‘multicultural’ toleration. If liberalism has always been marked by a tension between the countervailing imperatives of ‘diversity’ and ‘autonomy’ (see Galston, 1995), one can interpret the new assertiveness as a shift of emphasis from diversity to autonomy, in whose optic liberalism itself appears as a distinct way of life that clashes with other, non-liberal ways of life.26
19Rejecting multiculturalism is part of a wider project which is embraced by a number of the so-called Western democracies, led by the United States, where the existence of a set of common values is used to justify (armed) intervention when the core group of liberal states deems that their principles are being violated. As Callinicos points out, for Blair, community is the master-concept at the international as well as the national level. Thus, in April 1999, the Prime Minister declared that
- 27 Speech to the Economic Club of Chicago, April 22, 1999.
We are witnessing the beginnings of a new doctrine of international community. By this, I mean the explicit recognition that today more than ever before, we are mutually dependent, that national interest is to a significant extent governed by international collaboration, and that means that we need a clear and coherent debate as to the direction that this doctrine takes us in each field of international endeavour. Just as within domestic politics, the notion of community - the belief that partnership and co-operation are essential to advance self-interest – is coming into its own ; so it needs to find its international echo.27
- 28 Callinicos, A., 2001, p. 70.
- 29 Held, D., et al., 1999, p. 425.
20The ‘doctrine of the international community’ implies, according to Blair, that the principle of non-interference implied by the respect of national sovereignty can be overridden. This was the case during the war waged by Europe and America on Kosovo. At the end of the Kosovan war, Blair announced that good had triumphed over evil, justice had overcome barbarism, and the values of civilisation had prevailed.28 The possibility of overriding national sovereignty and intervening where principles are being violated has been given theoretical underpinning by the ideas expressed in Held, McGrew et al29, who hold that globalisation has brought about a multiplicity of trans-national and supra-national organisms and organisations. From this perspective, internationalization and co-operation between the stable, core liberal democracies mean that no one power is hegemonic. The relative decline of American hegemony after the end of the Vietnam War is cited as evidence that a new political order is possible at the international level. According to Blair this new order should be based on a set of core values agreed on by the politically stable liberal states (the idea of multilateral governance).This means that national government is constrained and under the obligation to work within an array of global, regional and international systems of governance. But, as Callinicos argues,
We must raise the question of the real impact of these multiple forms of governance on the distribution of power. The mere fact of institutional proliferation tells us nothing about the actual relations of power… The Washington Consensus of privatization, deregulation and liberalization enforced on the Third World and ex-Stalinist countries by the IMF and the World Bank very much reflects these institutions’ close links with the US treasury.30
- 31 Freedland, J. The Guardian, October 18, 2006.
21The actual relations of power were shown quite clearly when Britain followed the United States in the invasion of Iraq in spite of the opposition of the international community and the majority of the British people. Over two million British citizens, of all religious denominations and none, demonstrated together against the war. Blair used fabricated arguments about inexistent weapons of mass destruction to legitimise an action which had no justification in terms of international law. What is most alarming is that as the consequences of military intervention become ever-clearer in terms of the growing instability of key regions of the world, New Labour intensifies its rhetoric of integration and its attacks on the Muslim community, as we saw in Jack Straw’s provocation of Muslim women who choose to wear a veil. The intensification of anti-Muslim diatribes following Straw’s comments prompted Jonathan Freedland to speak of “an ugly drumbeat of hysteria against British Muslims”. He noted, in the space of one week, a Times headline declaring “Suspect in terror hunt used veil to evade arrest”, alongside a lead in the Daily Express proclaiming “Veil should be banned, say 98 %”. The Express had conducted a telephone poll in which nearly all of those who rang in agreed that a restriction on the right to wear the veil would help to safeguard racial harmony. The Sunday Telegraph had a leader in which readers were told “Tories accuse Muslims of ‘creating apartheid by shutting themselves off’ ”. Other headlines urged politicians to “Ban Muslim ghettos”. Freedland draws an explicit link between this political discourse and the dramatic increase in attacks on Muslims, especially women, who have had their veils forcibly removed in the streets. Mosques had also been attacked and firebombed. Freedland ends his article on a personal note, saying I try to imagine how I would feel if this rainstorm of headlines substituted the word “Jew” for “Muslim” : Jews creating apartheid, Jews whose strange customs and costume should be banned. I wouldn’t just feel frightened. I would be looking for my passport.31 Freedland, although broadly supportive of the idea of a debate on multiculturalism, insists that no debate can be held in the climate of fear that politicians and the media have stirred up.
22Blair and New Labour, implementing the neoliberal policies of the Third Way, have relentlessly promoted the free market liberalism which is creating havoc with the economic, social and cultural fabric of British society. They have been prepared to export this model to the four corners of the earth, at the point of a gun if necessary. Faced with the consequences of these policies, the growing exclusion of the poorest at home and the increase in terrorism as a response to war in the Gulf, the government has, in the words of Arun Kundnani, a senior researcher at the Institute of Race Relations, chosen to bind itself to the people through fear rather than hope, through national security rather than people’s security, through the politics of a phoney Britishness rather than a genuine universalism. The result is a mindset which makes Muslims into potent symbols for an apparent loss of national belonging. In this context we can only agree with Kundnani when he denounces the politics of “community cohesion” and the new, leftwing communitarianism promoted by a coterie of intellectuals and pundits around New Labour. For, as he says :
- 32 Kundnani, A., The Guardian, January 21, 2005.
The aim is to renew a hard boundary of entitlements between citizens and foreigners, a boundary that is to be policed with oaths of allegiance, citizenship tests, identity cards and denials of human rights to foreign nationals. These measures represent an attempt to return to a clear sense of “us” and “them” in the face of a world in which sovereignty has been increasingly globalised. In the end, they mean the creation of a new Britain defined by demonisation, surveillance and internment.32