The fallacy of multiculturalism helping terrorism

Last week the Royal United Services Institute, “the leading forum in the UK for national and international Defence and Security” founded by the Duke of Wellington, published a report from a panel which included, according to this report in the Sunday Times, Field Marshal the Lord Inge, Lord Salisbury, former Tory leader in the House of Lords, General Sir Rupert Smith and Gwyn Prins, historian at the London School of Economics. The report, according to the BBC, “is based on the findings of former military chiefs, diplomats, analysts and academics”. Joseph Harker, in the Guardian yesterday, called these people “ranting old colonels” with an outlook which resembles “Alf Garnett with a degree” (Alf Garnett is the character on whom Archie Bunker was based). To begin with, we should deal with an aspect of the Sunday Times’s coverage of the report.

Specifically, the Times chose to illustrate the full-page report with a stock picture of two women in niqab and next to one of a woman in a face-mask being led away from the scene of one of the July 2005 bombings - the implication being that the two women, or women a lot like them, are the problem. The reality is that most terrorists are men, and I am sure that the Times can easily find stock pictures of the male rabble-rousers who are known of and who, no doubt, have a bigger role in promoting terrorism (if not deliberately or directly) than those women, who were probably just going about their business. Not for the first time, it has to be said that not all niqabis are extremists and vice versa; I have personally come across women who wear niqab who belong to the more liberal trends in Islam. Most are simply conservative religious women and there is no evidence that the two women in that picture, or even any niqabi you might see in Birmingham or any other town or city centre, are any different.

A similar picture - if not the same one - appeared in another newspaper last weekend, illustrating a report on inbred Pakistanis. The picture is only relevant if there is a link, and the likelihood is that the women in that picture are Gujaratis, not Pakistanis. Most women from village backgrounds in Punjab do not wear niqab, but rather a loosely tied headscarf or dupatta. Yet another stock niqabi picture illustrated another negative Muslim story on the front page of the Independent last weekend, about “honour killings”. Actually, the woman in that picture is Bekhal Mahmood, the sister of a Kurdish female victim of such a crime, who wears the niqab purely to hide herself from potential enemies (i.e. friends of her sister’s murderers). This detail would not occur to most readers, however; the illustration would simply mean “strict covering equals male dominance which connects to honour killing”.

The RUSI report alleges that Britain has suffered a “loss of confidence in our own identity, values, constitution and institutions”:

Islamist terrorism is where people tend to begin. The United Kingdom presents itself as a target, as a fragmenting, post-Christian society, increasingly divided about interpretations of its history, about its national aims, its values and in its political identity. That fragmentation is worsened by the firm self-image of those elements within it who refuse to integrate. This is a problem worsened by the lack of leadership from the majority which in misplaced deference to ‘multiculturalism’ failed to lay down the line to immigrant communities, thus undercutting those within them trying to fight extremism. The country’s lack of self-confidence is in stark contrast to the implacability of its Islamist terrorist enemy, within and without.

Most of the media soundbites have been taken from this one paragraph, although it’s only one paragraph out of a six-page report. It makes the mistake of assuming that Britain’s exposure to terrorist violence has been due to its weakness and not to its actions, both before and after 9/11. There are plenty of countries in the world weaker than Britain, and more liberal in their social attitudes, than the UK, many of whom have Muslim populations of their own, yet no bombs have yet gone off in Stockholm, or even Amsterdam. A country’s weakness may well be an invitation for countries with bigger armies to attempt to invade and subjugate it; a country does not fall victim to terrorism simply because of its weakness.

If the UK is a “fragmenting” society with less sense of a national identity than Sweden or the Netherlands, that is a simple matter of how it is composed - of a union of peoples rather than a nation-state as such. It is far from the only “post-Christian” society in Europe or the western world. Many would dispute that “the majority” failed to “lay down the line to immigrant communities” out of “misplaced deference to ‘multiculturalism’”; elements among “the majority” tried hard to do that during the 1960s and 1970s with vilification and harassment, and perhaps there was a reaction to this. However, in London at least, there is nothing like the ghettoisation which exists in parts of the north, but even there, there has not been any steady stream of bombers coming south but, rather, three individuals three years ago.

As one who has encountered many Muslims both on the Internet and face to face over the past decade or so, I do not get the impression of a “firm self-image” among the hot-headed youths who have extremist sympathies, but rather from ordinary, decent religious Muslims with their heads screwed on. The aim of the paragraph is to give the impression of an implacable, determined “Islamist enemy” facing a society with its mental defences down, and that had Britain got tough on Muslims a lot earlier, the July 2005 bombings would never have happened. This is an oversimplified explanation which smacks of self-delusion.

As the Times article points out, recent British policy gives the impression of anything like a “soft touch”, which the RUSI report alleges that Britain is:

In the past seven years, the government has brought in four acts of parliament dealing directly with terrorism. New offences and penalties have been created, alongside new powers for the police and intelligence services. The measures include detention without charge for up to 28 days - which ministers want to increase to 42 days - control orders (virtual house arrest), restrictions on protest and free speech, and offences of acts “preparatory to terrorism”.

Nor can the security services claim to be short of funds. After the London suicide bombings in July 2005, the budget covering MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, the eavesdropping centre, rose 65% to a figure that will be more than £2 billion this year.

MI5’s manpower will nearly double to 3,600 by this April (compared with 2001) and it has massively expanded operations against 200 suspected terror groups comprising about 2,000 individuals.

MI5 has also set up regional offices in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Cardiff, Glasgow and other cities. Officials say it is developing what it calls a “rich picture” of local extremism.

There has also been a wave of written attacks on the principle of multiculturalism. RUSI’s report alleges that the July 2005 bombings “exposed the weakness of the ‘multi-cultural’ approach towards Islamists”, confusing Islamists with Muslims generally. There never had been such an approach towards extremists, particularly violent ones; there may well have been a policy of neglect, as evidenced by the failure to remove Abu Hamza’s gang from its illegitimate control of Finsbury Park mosque. What there has been is an opportunistic attack from sections of both the right and the left on tolerance of foreign religious practices, particularly their accommodations in schools and other public places, often from people hostile to religion in the first place.

The Times also comments that the acquittal last week of the five men who were convicted of possessing extremist material reflects badly-drafted law, and confused many people who asked why downloading child pornography attracted jail sentences, but downloading “violent jihadi material” did not, and explained it with the simple fact that the former was clearly illegal, while “the law on what constitutes material preparatory to terrorism is far from clear”. There is a good reason why this should be so: viewing indecent pictures of children, including footage of their being abused, means invading their privacy afresh - like secretly installing a camera in their bathroom and watching them wash in the nude - and enjoying the fruits of their abuse. Jihadi material, on the other hand, is just propaganda, and watching it does not make one a terrorist. Pictures of people having their throats cut are unpleasant to the average person, but they are not a form of sexual abuse as is child pornography, any more than footage of “happy slappings” is.

As an example of the failure of a section of British Muslimdom to integrate, the Times offers the website Islambase, a clumsy Joomla site (I can tell that, because its site logo is the Joomla logo) run by supporters of “Shaikh” Faisal and Omar Bakri. It hardly constitutes an attempt to represent the whole Muslim community; rather, it’s a portal and forum for hardline, extremist Islamists. The article they site, Democracy: False Religion, simply lays out the position of that “school of thought” on the subject. No surprises there; the fact that people with this mentality exist is nothing new. Unless they are stronger than they were in the 1990s, there is no relevance to it.

The Times also quotes Ian Kearns of the Institute for Public Policy Research as saying that the report ignores other factors behind radicalisation, among them “the social exclusion of young Pakistani men”. However, the report seems to ignore history. The causes of radicalisation include the inspiration supplied by the Afghan war of the 1980s, the enragement caused by the first Gulf War of the 1990s and the sanctions which continued well after it was over, in which the various rulers of the Muslim world collaborated, with disastrous humanitarian consequences; the slaughter of Muslims in Bosnia by their white, European neighbours, and finally British participation in America’s post-9/11 wars. Added to this, our Muslims come from Pakistan, with its adjacency and cultural and religious links to Afghanistan; there is also the free speech and flow of information which has allowed radical ideologies to be imported. To a certain extent, Britain’s hospitality has been abused by people who came here intending to cause trouble.

We should accept that the road to 7th July 2005 was long, and complicated. The idea that no such thing would have happened had it not been for Britain somehow getting tough on immigrant Muslims at some time in the past is a fanciful one, unless they mean not letting them settle at all, or something barely less draconian. For the most part, multiculturalism has allowed Muslims, among other immigrants and their descendents, to live productive and decent lives without sacrificing too much of their religious and cultural customs. It never has been about tolerating criminal extremist elements.

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