Dinti Batstone writes: Cheap shots at multiculturalism generate more heat than light

Last Thursday, generations of Chinese in Soho welcomed the Year of the Rabbit in time-honoured traditional ways. Yet we didn’t hear David Cameron demonise Chinatown as a ‘segregated community’ living ‘apart from the mainstream’. On the contrary, the annual lion dance spectacle has become an essential fixture in London’s calendar, enjoyed by people from many different cultures.

The Oxford dictionary defines multicultural(ism) as “of or relating to or constituting several cultural or ethnic groups within a society”. Note the word “within”. Yet there’s a growing tendency to rubbish multiculturalism, treating it as synonymous with the failed Labour policies referred to in David Cameron’s speech. This is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

When I first came to the UK in the early 1980s real parmesan cheese was hard to come by. Nowadays you’ll find it in virtually every corner shop, somewhere near the hummus, bagels and microwave naan. A trivial example, certainly, but over the past few decades British eating habits have evolved out of all recognition. ‘Modern British’ cuisine is a product of multiculturalism – and I’ve yet to meet anyone who wants to turn back the gastronomic clock.

When people feel welcome, they integrate. My children learned traditional English nursery rhymes not from me but from an Algerian-born volunteer at our local Sure Start. They played with children of Iraqi, Somali, Russian, and Brazilian parentage, while mums in hijabs swapped toddler war stories with mums in skin tight jeans. Some multicultural mums were friendlier than the native West London Sloanes.

Multiculturalism makes London a dynamic and fascinating place to live as well as a magnet for global talent. There are now so many French children in Hammersmith & Fulham that the Tory Council recently set up a bilingual French/ English primary school… State sponsored multiculturalism, Prime Minister?

Positive examples of thriving multiculturalism on our doorstep never seem to make it into big political speeches. Multiculturalism is invariably portrayed as a problem that needs fixing, rather than an enriching everyday reality – and indeed a competitive economic advantage in a complex, globalised world.

Dealing with hate-filled extremists urgently requires a different approach to that taken by Labour. However, constantly framing wider discussion of multiculturalism against the negative backdrop of Islamist extremism misses the huge contribution that cultural and ethnic pluralism has made to modern British life.

Dinti Batstone is a member of the Federal Policy Committee and former European Parliament candidate in London.

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  • Great post, Cameron should apologise for his sickening speech.

    I wonder if he knows much about British history and the many cultures that have arrived here starting with the Normans?

  • @Frank
    ‘starting with the Normans’?
    You should go back furher. Where do people think white Anglo Saxons actual come from? Certainly not these islands! nor the Celts before them!

    And as for some right wing groups use of the flag of St George, Richard the 1st nicked both the Saint and the flag from Georgia on his way back from murdering muslims. Good to know things have not changed much in the last few hundred years!

  • What you say is absolutely right about London, but to be fair to Cameron I think he was talking about northern towns like Burnley or Bradford where white and a particular Asian community are segregated by area of the town, school etc. and virtually never meet. The whole world is in London and ring fenced communities like that are practically unknown.

  • Dinti – you’re quite right – Cameron obviously forgot about the Chinese so I’ll remind him immediately and as soon as I do the LibDems will also forget about them. When are you going to wake-up to the Tories you are propping-up.

  • Jonathan Hunt 11th Feb '11 - 11:59pm

    It is, sadly, all too obvious what Call-me-Dave’s real message is. It is that black and Asian people are responsible for terrorism because we are too tolerant of their insistence of keeping their distinctive differences.

    But that is what diversity is all about, and we British are fortunate that our imperial heritage has left us with the rich diversity that makes our country the exciting, pluralistic and joyful land that it is.

    But even if you removed all the non-white and foreign people, Britain would still be a truly multicultural nation, with people speaking a number of languages, own cultures and eating their own food. Even if you ignore the geographical differences between the countries and regions of Britain, class and religious differences would still mark us out as multicultural.

    And a total absence of Muslims would not render us immune for terorism and killing, as 25 years of IRA religous war should remind us.

    Indeed, the way in which Northern Ireland Catholics were discriminated against, bullied and denied equal opportunites should remind us of the parellels with the way Prots treated the Papists and politicised their young people into retaliation and resistance.

    Let us belatededly learn that lesson before more young English muslims are driven into the arms of the militants.

  • Despite the dictionary definition this article is very vague about what multiculturalism is. What we’ve had is the idea that keeping cultural groups separate is somehow A Good Thing and to be encouraged. The trivial but important examples of how British society has accepted and come to enjoy styles of food which originated elsewhere are about the very opposite of multiculturalism, a melding of identities to produce a new, shared concept of Britishness which is much richer than what we had before.

    Multiculturalism sought to stop that happening. Multiculturalism wanted to keep people apart and create separate societies with separate values. In Luton you can find ‘Pakistani’ women who don’t speak English, despite the fact that they’ve lived there all their lives. That’s a success by the standards of multiculturalism. It’s an abject failure and utterly shocking by the standards of anyone who believes in a decent and open society.

    In short, multiculturalism as it’s been practiced in Britain is just racism with a different name. It’s done our society tremendous damage and put back the cause of building a new, better Britain with people from many backgrounds all contributing their best and getting a fair reward by many decades.

  • mhinder bhopal 12th Feb '11 - 10:28pm

    David Camerons’ speech was an outrageous, if implicit, use of the race card to start deflecting attention from the economic choices, and consequent debates. I am increasingly astonished at how far the liberal democrats will collude with the creeping conservative extension of the `coalition’… while there may be no gainers, it seems more and more obvious the main losers will be the liberal democrats…we are going back to the two part system…I know where I stand in that choice.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 12th Feb '11 - 10:34pm

    Dinti – a very good piece. For those still confused as to what we mean by multicultural, and the history of Britain, I can recommend a very good book: Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain
    by Robert Winder. A comprehensive account about British history, and how poor immigrants arrived from across the world. In 1500, there were 3,000 foreigners in London, 6 per cent of the population, and it was said that “Tottenham has turned French”.
    It also recounts how In 1764, the Gentleman’s Magazine reckoned there were 20,000 “negroe servants” in London alone, and the outright ant-semitism directed against Jewish refugees during the 1930s.
    He traces the history of immigration, from the Normans to more recent asylum seekers, showing how each wave of foreigners were greated with hostility before they became accepted as a permanent part of British society.
    Well worth a read. Ilustrates how nothing has really changed.

  • gramsci's eyes 12th Feb '11 - 11:44pm

    as Sly and the Family Stone said ” different strokes for different folks, and so on and so on, scooby dooby do”

    Thought the whole thing sounded better in the original German.

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