Tony Blair has given a very thoughtful and important speech on balancing multiculturalism and integration. And it is very much a balancing game. A country with no variety is boring, bland and static. But likewise a country with no common shared values and no integration between cultures is a recipe for conflict. The challenge is to get the balance right,
Some key lines from Blair:
We like our diversity. But how do we react when that “difference” leads to separation and alienation from the values that define what we hold in common? For the first time in a generation there is an unease, an anxiety, even at points a resentment that our very openness, our willingness to welcome difference, our pride in being home to many cultures, is being used against us; abused, indeed, in order to harm us.
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.
It is true there are extremists in other communities. But the reason we are having this debate is not generalised extremism. It is a new and virulent form of ideology associated with a minority of our Muslim community. It is not a problem with Britons of Hindu, Afro-Caribbean, Chinese or Polish origin. Nor is it a problem with the majority of the Muslim community. Most Muslims are proud to be British and Muslim and are thoroughly decent law-abiding citizens. But it is a problem with a minority of that community, particularly originating from certain countries.
The whole point is that multicultural Britain was never supposed to be a celebration of division; but of diversity. The purpose was to allow people to live harmoniously together, despite their difference; not to make their difference an encouragement to discord.
We should share a common language. Equal opportunity for all groups requires that they be conversant in that common language. It is a matter both of cohesion and of justice that we should set the use of English as a condition of citizenship. In addition, for those who wish to take up residence permanently in the UK, we will include a requirement to pass an English test before such permanent residency is granted.
Again let us not be foolish, in our desire not to cause offence. Of course the extremists that threaten violence are not true Muslims in the sense of being true to the proper teaching of Islam. But it’s daft to deny the fact that they justify their extremism by reference to religious belief.
We know migration has been good for Britain. We acknowledge the extraordinary contribution migrants from all faiths and races have made. We are a nation comfortable with the open world of today. London is perhaps the most popular capital city in the world today partly because it is hospitable to so many different nationalities, mixing, working, conversing with each other.
But we protect this attitude by defending it. Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain, Britain. So conform to it; or don’t come here. We don’t want the hate-mongers, whatever their race, religion or creed.
If you come here lawfully, we welcome you. If you are permitted to stay here permanently, you become an equal member of our community and become one of us. Then you, and all of us, who want to, can worship God in our own way, take pride in our different cultures after our own fashion, respect our distinctive histories according to our own traditions; but do so within a shared space of shared values in which we take no less pride and show no less respect. The right to be different. The duty to integrate. That is what being British means. And neither racists nor extremists should be allowed to destroy it.
I will miss Tony Blair when he retires.Tags: International Politics