The discovery that the four London bombers were British Muslims has ensured that one of the great social debates of the next few years will be on the sensitive issues of racial ghettos, integration in schools and multiculturalism.
Fear of being labelled racist has helped to ensure that few have dared to put their heads above the parapet and challenge the orthodoxy that Britain is a multicultural nation and must behave like one. Ray Honeyford, a Bradford headmaster, was one of the first and most significant critics to challenge publicly multiculturalism’s central tenet that all cultures in Britain are equally valid and no single tradition should be dominant.
As the head of Drummond Middle School in Bradford, where 90 per cent of pupils were Asian, Mr Honeyford was concerned about the consequences of encouraging children to cling to their own ethnic group rather than integrate.
In a series of articles published in the Right-wing Salisbury Review in the early 1980s, he criticised Bradford city council’s policy of educating ethnic minority children according to their own culture, predicting that the move would create divisions between white and Asian communities.
At school, where languages such as Urdu, Gujurati and Hindi predominated over English, Mr Honeyford tried to introduce a uniform but he was opposed by the local council, which judged that such a move could be racist. Concerned that “we were getting nine-year-olds who had never sat in the same class as a white child”, Mr Honeyford wanted to impose racial integration—if need be, by busing in white pupils from across the city.
His views provoked an outcry among the anti-racism lobby. Some picketed the school and Mr Honeyford was subjected to personal abuse and accused of racial prejudice—leading to his early retirement in December 1985 to save his family from further harassment. He wrote later that he was told he had been forced out because his attitudes were “racist” and his insistence on integrating Asian children was “dangerous and damaging”.
Although Mr Honeyford remained a pariah for the education establishment, ironically, many of his views were later echoed by Herman Ouseley, one of the country’s leading anti-racism campaigners. Lord Ouseley was a former head of the Commission for Racial Equality, which had been one of Mr Honeyford’s main critics.
In his report about race relations in Bradford following rioting by Asian and white youths in 2001, Lord Ouseley blamed fear, ignorance and segregation in the city’s schools for preventing integration and tolerance.
His report concluded that self-segregation was driven by exclusively Asian or white schools, and ignorance of each other’s religions and communities. The main problem within the schools had to be addressed by citizenship classes, he added.
Community leaders were upset by the report and accused the peer of failing to understand the city’s “complexities”.
A year later, Lord Ouseley complained that his recommendations had been largely ignored and blamed Bradford’s leaders for failing to act. Mr Honeyford, meanwhile, claimed that the report justified what he had been saying years before. However, Estelle Morris, the Education Secretary at the time, later acknowledged that ministers needed to do “some serious thinking” in the wake of the report.
In an attempt to stem mounting opposition to an expansion of faith schools, she revealed plans to impose new rules to ensure that they were “inclusive” by taking children from other faiths or forming partnerships with non-religious schools by sharing teachers or arranging joint activities.