Why do we tolerate these preachers of hate? Because we are British.

by Dan Hodges

Sitting in a Luton hotel room on Saturday, listening to members of the English Defence League chanting boastfully, and slightly implausibly, about how they had, “fucked all of Allah’s wives”, my thoughts drifted to the issue of multiculturalism. Being surrounded by a couple of thousand tanked up Islamaphobes can do that to you.

My musings were given structure by the words of David Cameron, delivered that morning to the Munich security conference. British prime ministers have a poor record of departing that particular German city with the security of their nation enhanced, and I perused his speech with some scepticism. Once I’d finished it, scepticism had changed to bewilderment.

There must be a reason why the queen’s first minister chose to deliver a speech on the perils of Islam on the day a significant number of her subjects descended on a town with a large Muslim population and malice in their hearts. It was just that at that moment, as the first beer bottles started to land, and the riot squad began to don their helmets, I couldn’t for the life of me think of one.

Make no mistake, David Cameron is a lucky man. Though Saturday’s demonstration passed with minimal violence, police officers on the ground expressed amazement that significant disorder had been avoided. In truth this  was in part due to their skilful management of the event. But it was also down to the remarkable restraint shown by the local Muslim community, who refused to rise to the EDL’s provocation. Or, as it turned out, the provocative words of the prime minister.

And they were profoundly provocative. There is a debate to be had about the challenges of how best to manage a diverse, multicultural society. There is also a debate to be had about the best way to counter terrorism. And there is even a legitimate debate to be had about the problems of Islamic extremism. But to lump all three together, on that day of all days, was incendiary. David Cameron made a direct causal link: immigration – Islam – extremism – terrorism.

Had he taken leave of his senses? I’m sure there were subtle nuances to his argument that the European diplomatic corps could appreciate. But they certainly weren’t being picked up by the booze-fuelled followers of the EDL.

“For the past two years we have been highlighting the evils of militant Islam and the effect it has on our country. And we are getting more support”, said EDL Leader Stephen Lennon, “Cameron’s seen this tide turning against these extremists living in our towns and has jumped on the bandwagon”.

David Cameron is no Islamaphobe, nor, to date, has he shown much inclination to play the race card. Which only makes Saturday’s intervention even more incomprehensible. According to Cameron,

“some young men find it hard to identify with the traditional Islam practised at home by their parents, whose customs can seem staid when transplanted to modern Western countries. But these young men also find it hard to identify with Britain too, because we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity”.

That’s a sound analysis. And how closely will those young men identify with Britain now the country’s prime minister is seen to have sided with a bunch of thugs who, when spotting an Asian women with her young daughter, started chanting “scum, scum, scum”?

I’ve had it with this “multiculturalism” debate. Because it’s not a debate. It’s nothing more than a series of empty, shallow slogans, masquerading as socio-political analysis.

Just look at this section from Cameron’s speech,

“A passively tolerant society says to its citizens, as long as you obey the law we will just leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values. But I believe a genuinely liberal country does much more; it 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”.

Hang on. A “passively tolerant” society is defined as one that insists its citizens “obey the law”. But a “genuinely liberal country” is defined as one that has at the core of its value system respect for…er…“the rule of law”. What’s the difference? We all have to obey the law. Laws that guarantee democracy, freedom of worship and equal rights. Despite what the EDL would have people think, there are no multicultural get out clauses.

David Cameron has fallen into the same old trap as every politician that wanders down this road. He has attacked multiculturalism. But he has no definition of the alternative.

Gordon Brown did exactly the same thing with his “Britishness” theme. Talk about “Britishness” and people nod approvingly. Ask someone what it actually is, and everyone simply scratches their heads, then trots out a list of ridiculous clichés about fairness, tolerance and liberty, non of which are uniquely British at all.

It’s time for the politicians and commentators who regard cultural homogeneity to be such a vital part of our social fabric to put up or shut up. If you dislike multiculturalism, fine. Show us what you mean by monoculturalism.

David Cameron can’t. If his speech was weak on analysis it was positively bed-ridden when it came to a prescription. His practical solutions were, “making sure that immigrants speak the language”, a “two-month programme for sixteen-year-olds from different backgrounds to live and work together”, and “shifting the balance of power away from the state and towards the people”.

How many of the 7/7 bombers couldn’t speak English? A number of members of the EDL’s Luton based leadership and local radical Muslim leaders went to the same school, even attending the same class. And is the prime minister really arguing that reduction of the state now, “defines us as a society: to belong here is to believe in these things”?

There are aspects of our diversity as a nation that enrich us. And there are some that trouble us. But ultimately, it is not the role of our government to prescribe the cultural choices we make.

In Luton on Saturday I was frustrated at those EDL members who chose to cover their faces in scarves and balaclavas. “It’s a barrier to integration”, I thought. Listening to the speeches of their leadership, I was angry;  “Why do we tolerate these preachers of hate”? As I saw the helicopters, the police horses, lines of riot police and boarded-up shops I questioned the cost of the operation; “how can it be right  that we’re spending such vast amounts of public money supporting this minority group”?

Personally, I hate the EDL and their culture. I think they’re narrow minded, aggressive, bigoted, shallow, Neanderthals. To me they are as alien and extreme as the radical Islamists they profess to oppose.

But as long as they stay within the law, my views are just that. Mine. The state should stay vigilant. When the law is breached, by all means step in with “muscular liberalism”. But it cannot attempt to impose my cultural values on others.

Because we are a multicultural society. And until someone can provide an alternative, our diversity will remain both our strength and our weakness. The EDL is proof of that.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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5 Responses to “Why do we tolerate these preachers of hate? Because we are British.”

  1. Colm says:

    Sorry Dan – you’ve called this one wrong. Perhaps your perspective was somewhat impaired by being in such close proximity to the thugs and bigots of the EDL: not an ideal environment for considered reflection.

    IMHO, the best analysis of Cameron’s Munich speech from a left-of-centre viewpoint is to be found here:


  2. Maria says:

    Brilliant article, Dan. Am singing from your hymn sheet on this. Just what did David Cameron think he was doing?

  3. MattT says:

    ‘David Cameron has fallen into the same old trap as every politician that wanders down this road. He has attacked multiculturalism. But he has no definition of the alternative.’

    I agree with Dan. If Cameron doesn’t want multiculturalism, what is his monoculture and how is he going to impose it?

  4. Harry says:

    I’m with Colm on this one. The coincidence of the EDL demo is a trivial point which demeans the argument. Cameron’s (entirely reasonable) response to this one is to point out that the Munich conference was planned, and the speech written, long before the EDL march was known about, and that you can hardly expect a PM to change it because of the coincidence.

    On the substantive point, it is one that many former Labour ministers made when in office (John Reid, Hazel Blears, Jacqui Smith etc) which is that you don’t fight violent Islamist extremism by promoting (supposedly) non-violent Islamist extremism, but by combating the ideology itself.

    Also, it’s dishonest to pretend that this is an issue of free speech. It isn’t. It’s an issue of government funding. Is it really proposed that it should be Labour policy to spend taxpayers’ money subsidising homophobic, antisemitic and misogynistic political groups?

    Cameron’s new line is both right and popular. Labour opposes it at its peril.

  5. David says:

    What Cameron attacked was not “multiculturalism” – i.e. the fact that people have varied group and self-defined cultures.

    It was “state multiculturalism”: that is, the state policy of treating people as if they were members of groups, rather than as equal citizens.

    Another word for “state multiculturalism” is “apartheid”.

    We can’t be hypocrites over this issue. Blair made a speech which was almost identical to this in 2005, and so did a whole host of other Labour ministers. This was the Labour Party’s policy in office for much of our time in power.

    Let’s attack Cameron over his economic policies and the cuts. This is too important an issue to turn into a party political slanging match.

    You have no idea of the level of bigotry and hatred that is being pushed at the moment by Islamist parties and hate preachers. They make the EDL look like the Liberal Democrats.

    Moreover, Labour were trounced by the Islamic Forum Europe in Tower Hamlets. They are our political competitors, and we have got to taken them on and defeat them, just as we defeated the White far Right.

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