Tuesday, 24 November 2015


When I was first a teacher in an inner-city multi-cultural secondary school (nearly 30 years ago) 'multiculturalism'  was being embedded in British education. At that time it was about natural justice. These were the years when Black and Asian Britons were largely invisible in public life and racial attacks, indeed murders, were tragically common. One year was even known as "the year of the fires" because there were so many arson attacks. 'Multiculturalism' therefore addressed a real problem about how to properly recognise all our citizens.

One of the conclusions of the Bullock report was that no child should be forced to throw off their home heritage once they stepped in to school. Contrary to what critics may say now, this led to an explosion of positive initiatives to integrate everybody into a modern multicultural Britain. We learned about other people's heritage, festivals and languages. It also led to important and useful developments in language teaching. Far from the presence of many languages in the classroom harming pupils' progress, it fired the imagination and enthusiasm of pupils and teachers.

Of course, having always been a Conservative teacher many of my colleagues and I probably disagreed on practically everything. But we were united in the belief that we had a lot to learn from each other and that we are all equal under the skin. A number of them were Communists, but in many ways I admired them. They would have no truck with sectarianism of any kind and believed that whatever heritage we had, we shared a common humanity. If anyone had predicted that 25+ years later large sections of the Left would be in alliance with Jiamat i Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood, I would have said they were crazy.  Yet that is where we are today-for a number of reasons. Sections of the Left and many Muslims are obsessed with Israel and America. They have forgotten the precept that just because you object to a country's policies, you should never ally yourselves with (clerical) fascists.

This alliance is not only dangerous for the rest of us, but dangerous (ironically) for the Left. Firstly, they have lost their moral compass-and now their political compass too. Alliances with clerical fascists tend to be deleterious to the health of the secular leftists. Both Sudan and Iran had large Communist and other Left parties. Where are they now? How many of their comrades were executed or are in exile? I don't wish our political opponents well, but I don't want to see them dead.
How did this happen? Arguably, we can trace a lot of the trouble back to the Rushdie Affair. Bradford City Council ironically helped to set up the Bradford Council of Mosques to help it get an entry into the Muslim community. Communication and identifying local people's needs when they have a different culture and language has never been easy. Unfortunately, what happened was that these 'elders' acted as gatekeepers, in effect channelling funding in return for votes.  With the scandalous easy availability of postal votes, this discredited and sectarian system has been given a new lease of life.

The burning of the 'Satanic Verses' led to the Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa and Salman Rushdie being protected by the state (ironically, led by 'Mrs Torture'). Originally, on the BBC coverage of the Satanic Verses it was the references to Mrs. T. that had prominence. But as soon as I saw the parts about the Prophet's wives I knew we were in for trouble, although not to the extent of what actually happened. The government's response was weak. Sher Azzam and the Council of Mosques got away with incitement to murder. Such luminaries as Yusuf Islam (the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens) and Iqbal Sacranie (ex-head of the MCB) have never repudiated their support for Rushdie's death.

What can we learn from this? Not that 'multiculturalism' has failed. On the contrary, if we have open minds we can learn a great deal from each other. But the stubborn continuance of religious sectarianism and communalism has never been tackled. On the contrary, it has been swept under the carpet-partly because it suits political parties to keep the communal system going because they can get a block vote. The Labour Party has been (and indeed continues to be) the prime culprit. But activists in all parties do it. Until this is taken seriously, nothing will change and we will continue to be in danger.

* Whether I would be so keen to endorse 'multiculturalism' today is an open question

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