February 2011

Following the lead of German Chancellor, Angela Markel, Prime Minister David Cameron took a stab at the multiculturalism debate during a speech on extremism at the Munich Security Conference. Like the Chancellor, who was sharing the stage with him, he too concluded that multiculturalism had failed in Britain and identified it as a catalyst to extremism. While Markel only implied that Muslims were the culprits, Cameron stated this quite frankly.

Perhaps it was the 6-hour lunch with the Chancellor that led the PM to make such accusations, but it is quite clear that he feels Muslims in Britain aren’t British enough. In his simplistic attempt to point out the cause of extremism amongst British Muslim youth, he blamed state sponsored multiculturalism which encourages people to live separate lives instead of assimilating with the mainstream.

David Cameron’s conclusions are flawed on levels too many enumerate. To begin with, the accusation that British Muslims live isolated lives and aren’t a part of the mainstream is completely absurd. Muslims have been a part of Britain since Victorian times and have especially played an active role in society over the last half century. They are successful politicians, lawyers, doctors, social workers, artists and athletes. From cricketers like Naseer Hussain to musicians like Yusuf Islam, there isn’t a walk a life that Muslims have left untouched. Peter Sanders explored this very theme in his exhibit, ‘The Art of Integration’, something I would strongly recommend for David Cameron.

Another thing Mr. Cameron overlooks is our natural inclination as human beings to cling onto people with shared values, customs and beliefs. Just like goths hangout with goths and homosexuals thrive in certain parts of the city, similarly, Muslims too have a subculture that they find easier to relate too. Would the former groups be the next ones to be accused of not integrating into wider society? British Muslims have their own unique identity and to dismiss this as separatism is simply injustice. While preaching for liberal democratic values, the Prime Minister wants to eradicate individualism and wants to everyone to be a part of the mainstream? Am I the only one seeing the irony in this?

While I would agree that isolation from the mainstream community is the type of the environment that would fuel extremism, I disagree that this isolation exists because of a lack of shared national values. It exists because of the constant dehumanization of Muslims and uninterrupted bigotry that they are faced with. It is because of movements like the English Defense League and politicians like Geert Wilders whose sole aim is to spread fear mongering. As a result of this prejudice and constant stereotyping in the media, anti-Muslim sentiments have become increasingly acceptable in the UK. When society as a whole sees you as the ‘other’, it is only natural for you to isolate yourself from society.

It’s perplexing to see the Prime Minister of a country as old as Britain, with its rich history and timeless legacy, questioning national identity. This is a reflection of the insecurity felt not only in Britain but all across Europe. With David Cameron’s strong nationalistic tone and a call for assimilation into mainstream society, it seems like he won’t settle for anything less than Muslim women taking on the Union Jack for a headscarf.

Also published at Iqra


Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’ – Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan’s The Times They are a-Changin’ serves as an appropriate anthem to capture the spirit of revolution and the wave of change that is spreading across North Africa and the rest of the Arab world. This sentiment is unusual in nations which had seemingly gotten used to being ruled by dictators for decades. One can only guess what sparked it all; perhaps it’s simply an outburst of deep rooted resentment which was bottled up in the hearts of men for years. The protesters have sent a clear message across the world; they’ve had enough and they can’t take it any more.

On the surface, these uprising can be traced to the massive protests in Tunisia which led to the successful ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who had been in power for over 20 years. News of the success of the Tunisian people spread like wildfire across the Arab world. This resulted in similar protests sparking up in Egypt, Yemen and Jordan, amongst other places. All the demonstrations made the same demands; they were sparked over issues of unemployment, food inflation, corruption, freedom of speech and poor living conditions.

The protests in Egypt have now intensified greatly. The army was called for crowd control and curfews were declared in Cairo and other cities. Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s ruler for thirty years, responded by reshuffling the government. While this is not what the protestors wanted, it is indicative of how seriously they are being taken. The uprisings continue despite this announcement and have gained fuel as Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Laureate, who is seen by many as the next president, openly joined the protesters.

On another positive note, the referendum in Sudan was successfully executed and there is now hope that the decades long civil war between North and South Sudan will finally be over. Some 99% of South Sudanese voted to secede from the North which indicates that they have secured the mandate to soon become the world’s newest nation.

What will happen next is anyone’s guess, but I hope that it will be something positive and the civil unrest will eventually lead to good. The success of the Tunisians serves as a model as to how unwanted and unjust rulers can be removed in the Arab world. It’s a stark contrast to the methodology employed during the unjust invasion of Iraq which led to astronomical bloodshed. True social reforms happen in a society when its own people lead the change, not when foreign powers force values down people’s throats.

Originally written for The Mirror