It has been a debate which has dominated British politics for nearly decade. It has radically changed domestic policy including the flawed, ‘Community cohesion’ agenda, and the even more flawed, ‘Prevent agenda’.
At the same time the debate fed into a monstrous lie that would demonise a philosophy/policy -multiculturalism- that had ensured Britain was at the forefront of a positive race equality agenda.
But now the truth is out and official: British Muslims were not radicalised by multiculturalism as was vehemently argued by a whole range of politicians, journalists and key community figures, but rather the seeds of extremism were to be found in British foreign policy and in particular the UK’s involvement in the Iraq war.
This unequivocal assertion did not come from a politician, journalist or shock jock radio DJ, but rather from the former Head of the UK’s security service at MI5, Eliza Manningham–Buller.
Manningham-Buller yesterday stated on the record at the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war that, ‘Our involvement in Iraq radicalised a whole generation of young people-who saw our involvement as being an attack on Islam’.
Manningham-Buller’s comments cannot easily be dismissed as were our comments during the long protracted and damaging debate. The fact is that MI5’s work necessitates that they acutely understand why individuals act in an anti-government manner. Their motivation could for example be money, politics, influence, bribery, insanity, or religion, but whatever it is they need to understand it in order to effectively deal with it, and their conclusion is straight forward and damming: The war in Iraq.
Damning for a number of reasons, not least because the contenious war meant that terrorism came closer to the UK, but also that the ideal of ‘multiculturalism’ was an easy scapegoat that had a ready army of detractors, including Lord Norman Tebbitt, Rod Liddle, Trevor Phillips, Melanie Phillips and Richard Littlejohn, some of whom were ready to pontificate in one way or another on the miscalculation that: multiculturalism = separatism = radical Muslims = home grown terrorism. The tragedy has been that some politicians, including the then Prime Minster Tony Blair, knew the opposite to be true -given MI5 chiefs, would have been informing them- yet continued perpetuating a falsehood.
For example, in his attack against multiculturalism the then Prime Minster stated that,
‘The right to be in a multicultural society was always implicitly balanced by a duty to integrate, to be part of Britain, to be British and Asian, British and black, British and white.’
And whilst the opposition leader David Cameron had less information at hand he broadly sung from the same sheet in what was seen as a ground breaking speech to explain Muslim extremism:
‘Multiculturalism had reinforced divisions, treating communities as “monolithic blocks” not individuals and leading to social housing being allocated along ethnic lines.’
I’m not saying that every aspect of multiculturalism has been executed correctly or that as time progresses there may be different ways of interpreting what we mean, but at its core the philosophy of multiculturalism has been empowering different communities to achieve greater equality. Moreover, it is constantly being argued that delivering greater equality ensures a more cohesive society.
Thank you Lady Manningham-Buller for highlighting the blindingly obvious, and in doing so killing the lie.
By Simon Woolley