Mark Oliver, Guardian Unlimited, August 24, 2006
Neil Tweedie, Telegraph (UK), August 24, 2006
Neil Tweedie, Telegraph (UK), August 25, 2006]
Tensions between people of different ethnic groups and faiths in British society must be tackled, says Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly.
As she launched a Commission on Integration and Cohesion, she urged a “new and honest” debate on diversity.
The body, which will start work next month, will look at how communities in England tackle tensions and extremism.
But Ms Kelly says it will not look at whether faith schools are a good thing, insisting parents should have a choice.
The government plans to have more faiths schools but critics say they increase segregation between people of different beliefs.
The launch of the commission, which was originally mooted last July, comes amid growing fears of alienation, especially among young Muslims.
It will tour the UK before reporting next June, looking at how towns, cities and communities tackle challenges such as segregation and social or economic divisions between different ethnic groups.
The commission is designed to carry on some of the research that followed riots in northern towns in 2001.
Following that violence, experts warned the government some communities were leading “parallel lives” with little or no contact with each other.
Tensions and benefits
In a speech in London, Ms Kelly said the UK had moved away from an era of “uniform consensus” about multi-culturalism.
People were now questioning whether multi-culturalism instead encouraged separateness, she said.
But the new debate had to be based on “fact, not myth”.
Ms Kelly promised the commission would not be a “talking shop” and would not focus on tackling the ideology of a “perverted form of Islam” – something the government was examining in other ways.
Instead, it would look at building ways for people to get to know their neighbours and to stop people feeling a sense of “separateness”.
Ms Kelly said northern English towns like Oldham had made significant progress in bringing people together since the 2001 riots.
She said: “Multi-culturalism, different communities in Britain, the fact that Britain is open to people of all faiths and none, has been a huge strength of this country.
“But what we have to got to do is recognise that while there have been huge benefits, there are also tensions created.
“The point of the commission… is to try and examine how those tensions arise and what local communities can do on the ground practically to tackle those and make a difference.”
Ms Kelly said she accepted there were “elements of the Muslim community that profoundly disagree with British foreign policy”.
But she said foreign policy was not a “root cause” of extremism and could not be tailored for any one section of the community.
For the Conservatives Damian Green said: “There is a huge and vital challenge to be met in helping Britain’s Muslim communities integrate fully with the rest of society.
“We hope that this latest government initiative has more substance than previous initiatives which have tended to grab a headline but then achieve very little in the long term.”
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg said the belated launch of the commission was welcome.
But he warned: “To be truly effective, any attempt to reach out to disaffected members of our Muslim communities must also incorporate an honest debate about this government’s foreign policy and some of its counter-terrorism measures.”
Operation Black Vote condemned what it called a new attack on multi-culturalism by Ms Kelly.
And it said she had failed to mention the underlying roots of inequality, discrimination and racism faced by many black and ethnic minority communities.
On faith schools, Ms Kelly said Church of England Schools were among the most “diverse” in the country.
And she said Muslim parents should not be denied the same opportunities offered to Christians and Jews in sending their children to faith schools.
But she did suggest faith schools could be encouraged to play sports matches against each other, or twin themselves with schools of a different faith.
The alleged plot to blow up transatlantic airliners and last year’s terrorist attacks on London have made more people fear Islam as a religion, not merely its extremist elements, a poll for The Daily Telegraph has found.
A growing number of people fear that the country faces “a Muslim problem” and more than half of the respondents to the YouGov survey said that Islam posed a threat to Western liberal democracy. That compares with less than a third after the September 11 terrorist attacks on America five years ago.
The findings were revealed as Ruth Kelly, the Communities Secretary, conceded that the multi-culturalist approach encouraged by the Left for two decades had probably been a mistake and could have contributed to the alienation that many young Muslims said they felt and experienced.
Figures published yesterday by the Office for National Statistics also showed that immigration was now the driving force behind population growth. Last year the number of people living in Britain rose by 375,000 on the previous year to more than 60 million. That was the biggest annual rise since 1962 at the height of the post-war baby boom. Most of the rise was the result of record levels of immigration, which also produced the highest birth rate for 30 years.
The YouGov survey confirms ministers’ fears that the country is becoming polarised between Muslims and the rest of the population, which is suspicious of them, and that a belief in “a clash of civilisations” has taken root.
Since a similar poll was conducted after the July 7 bombings in London last year, there has been a significant increase in the number of people worried about some of their Muslim compatriots.
The proportion of those who believe that “a large proportion of British Muslims feel no sense of loyalty to this country and are prepared to condone or even carry out acts of terrorism” has nearly doubled from 10 per cent a year ago to 18 per cent now.
The number who believe that “practically all British Muslims are peaceful, law-abiding citizens who deplore terrorist acts as much as any- one else” has fallen from 23 per cent in July last year to 16 per cent. However, there remains strong opposition to the security profiling of airline passengers based on their ethnicity or religion.
A higher proportion than last year now feels that the police and MI5 should focus their counter-terrorism efforts on Muslims and far fewer people are worried that such an approach risks dividing the country or offending law-abiding Muslims.
Most strikingly, there has been a substantial increase over the past five years in the numbers who appear to subscribe to a belief in a clash of civilisations. When YouGov asked in 2001 whether people felt threatened by Islam, as distinct from fundamentalist Islamists, only 32 per cent said they did. That figure has risen to 53 per cent.
Five years ago, a majority of two to one thought that Islam posed no threat, or only a negligible one, to democracy. Now, by a similar ratio, people think it is a serious threat.
The findings illustrate the huge task facing the Government’s new ‘’cohesion and integration commission” which was formally launched yesterday, charged with finding out whether the multi-cultural experiment has failed and, if so, why.
Miss Kelly said that “difficult questions” had to be posed and answered by the commission, which was promised by the Government more than 12 months ago in its response to the July 7 atrocities on the London transport system that killed 52 passengers and four Muslim suicide bombers.
“In our attempt to avoid imposing a single British identity and culture, have we ended up with some communities living in isolation from each other with no common bonds between them?” she asked. Miss Kelly said that diversity had been “a huge asset” but she acknowledged that the wave of immigration, the highest in British history, had brought fresh challenges. These included the importation of “global tensions” and the growing alienation of white Britons worried by the pace of social and cultural change.
After years when many on the Left have either shut down the debate on cultural diversity or sought to avoid it, Miss Kelly said: “We must not be censored by political correctness and we cannot tiptoe around the issues.”
She said: “Our ideas and policies should not be based on special treatment for minority ethnic faith communities. That would only exacerbate division rather than help build cohesion.”
The commission will be chaired by Darra Singh, the head of Ealing council, in west London. He called for “a vigorous and open debate about diversity based on facts, not scaremongering”. He said: “The commission is a real opportunity to get to grips with this challenge.”
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: “To be truly effective, any attempt to reach out to disaffected members of Muslim communities must incorporate honest debate about Government foreign policy and some counter-terrorism measures.”