By Harshad Keval
As Britain braced itself for a festive celebration of multicultural diversity in all its lived socialities, David and Samantha Cameron paid a visit to a Hindu Temple in Neasden, one of the largest Hindu Temples outside India (architecturally stunning), and is used by a great many people both in local areas as well as from outside London. In a speech to thousands of worshippers, the Prime Minister said that the values of the UK’s Indian community should be “ever more involved” in shaping British life. The Telegraph (4th November) of course ran with this:
“Samantha Cameron made an effort to blend in with local Hindus at Neasden Temple this afternoon.”
Does this mean that when I wear ‘Western’ clothes I have blended in to my host society? Hmm. Samantha certainly looks blended in. There were a number of themes to the Dave and Sam visit, one of them being the Sari the wife of the prime minister ‘borrowed’ (why didn’t she just buy one? I always find that of a morning, when I’m getting ready to go to work and blend in, borrowing ‘appropriate’ clothes is really inconvenient. Buying them is far easier.) The second theme of course relates to what David Cameron is doing clasping his hands together in a temple at Diwali. In Britain. In 2013. Shortly after Theresa May dragged through parliament the 2013 Immigration Bill, and a few months after the sheer, blatantly racist ‘Go Home’ campaign (or should that be ‘war’) waged against what evidence from rapid assessment and research now shows, were, ‘visible’ minorities, who were, are, on visual sighting alone, impossible to judge in terms of their nationality or migration status.
One might argue there is an air of over-cynicism in this critique. One might, but not if one had even the smallest sense of justice, equality, liberty and fairness as an underwriting human consciousness guiding our thoughts, actions and awareness of ourselves in this strange, dangerous, circular repetitive story of the ‘other’.
Cameron, in the news media stated,
“This ideology crosses continents – we are all in this together.”
By this, we must presume he means the ideology of multicultural consciousness, the deeper “philosophy of multiculturalism” (Modood 2009), the lived multiculturality that cannot be wished away (Parekh 2000), and the multitude of naturally forming intersections of cultural interaction which occur in society when facilitated by Taylor’s notions “equal dignity and equal respect” (1994). We must presume this is what he means (he’s an enlightened chap is Dave) otherwise there would be a deep sense of cognitive and social dissonance. Why? Because of his statements in 2011:
“Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream. We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values…Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism.”
So, Cameron’s visit to a Hindu temple was a way of sharing his sense of deep commitment to…what precisely? Which values is he referring to? Whose values is he encouraging for a nation-wide rollout? The ‘obituary’ of ‘multiculturalism’ was forcefully announced by political leaders such as David Cameron (BBC News Online 2011) and Angela Merkel (BBC News Online 2010), during a period of rapid, insidious and overt racialization of both specific, securitised communities (Fekete 2004) such as Muslim communities, and general so-called ethnic minority / migrant minority populations. The racialization of the immigration debate is of course not new, or particularly innovative as a technique of reinforcing migrant moral panics, but is, unfortunately effective (the Home Office, UK Border Agency, and British Transport police tag team is an example).
So on the one hand, David Cameron arrives at a temple to well wish worshippers and share the diversity dream; on the other hand, one could argue a particularly sleight of hand, he remains firmly embedded in the ‘multiculturalism’ has failed camp, and wants us all to espouse ‘muscular, British liberal values’. At the same time, the home office, HIS home office is waging a war of terror on people in this country who look different to David, Sam and Theresa. As Sivanandan (2008: xv) has eloquently argued, the racialization of minorities (or what Gus John has provocatively and appropriately called the Global Majority!) is manifestly so:
“…immigration legislation has selected out asylum seekers for indefinite detention without trial, and summary deportation…Now anti-terrorist legislation is extending the same treatment to those who have already obtained the right to remain – and even to settled Asian communities…the war on asylum and the war on terror has produced…a racism that cannot tell a settler from an immigrant, an immigrant from an asylum seeker, an asylum seeker from a Muslim, a Muslim from a terrorist. All of us non-whites, at first sight, are terrorists or illegals. We wear our passports on our faces”.
Trevor Philips’s (2005) infamous, oft cited and expediently employed observation of black, minority and white community interactions in the UK under so-called ‘multiculturalism’ (though there has never been a general, specific, dedicated set of policies on multiculturalism) : “we are sleep walking into segregation…”, both fuelled pre-existing fears (worked on partly by discourse surrounding the northern disorders of 2001) and gave rise to new, more powerful, and intuitively attractive discourses of difference. Cantle’s work (2001, 2004, 2008) drove the ‘parallel lives’ syndrome in much academic and policy work, and is a prime instigator and igniting factor for the lead-up to what we are witnessing today in the debate. The ‘community cohesion’ policies which have pervaded government policy over the last 10 years, now have magically evolved into ‘new’ frameworks of ‘interculturality’ (it’s like an old cartoon I saw once: an advertising executive telling his junior colleague: “New is an old word, I want a NEW word”.)
These ‘parallel lives’ which Philips and others talked and wrote of, became the sole focus of both public and government hysteria – not the fact that large tracts of northern Britain were neglected, under-invested in, demonised, and left to wither under a series of confused financial, infra-structural, and welfare gazes. Trevor Philips’ analysis was more than the sum of his de-contextualised statements, and in fact offered a damning indictment of popular white, middle class ignorance about the differential impacts of racialization, and the hegemonic interplay of white, elite, British power structures which have left so many people in the UK marginalised and isolated in pockets of both indifference and prejudice.
Much of what Philips discussed was controversial, because it was allegedly ‘hard hitting’, but unfortunately the reasonable and actually evidence based accuracy of his suggestions (e.g. getting young people together in spaces where they meet cultural, ethnic, linguistic variety) which do indeed look notionally like a way forward (however Disney-Pixar that dream may look like at the moment) have been hijacked by the stealth-assassin of cultural-racism. This is what I call the Politics of Reasonable Prejudice, and we can witness this being played out in the arena of far-right movements colonising mainstream fears of being ‘swamped’ by foreigners, UKIP’s repetitive machinations about the EU and ‘open door’ (see Newsnight 7/11/2013) policies, and Home Office immigration legislation that is, from most accounts draconian and racist.
The current prime minister’s worshipping ritual has echoes in the history of government over the past 34 years, since Margaret Thatcher became the post-Callaghan pin up for Asian business owners nationwide. Lower taxes, less regulation, privatisation, increased capital investment in private business, and, importantly, the newly racialised landscape of immigration. Post 1979, a number of immigration acts signalled that the UK was going to begin a new journey in its relationship with its dark visitors. However, for a variety of reasons rooted in colonial and group specific histories many of the settled, entrepreneurial minorities were part of the semi-establishment (their business taxes generated income for the government). Those that were settled, left alone to make stable business profits were only too happy to ensure they backed a government that protected their capital wealth, whilst scapegoating and victimising other ‘others’. And so began this strange marriage of inconvenience, which led Major, Blair, Brown, and Cameron straight to the temple doors of South Asian settled groups in the UK, reinforcing the dynamic and disturbing relationship between race, class and power. The rest of the foreigners are to be dealt with by forcible, muscular British liberal values, and whose values, they argue, certainly should not be shaping British life. Plus ça change.
BBC NEWS ONLINE 2010 ‘Merkel says German multicultural society has failed’, BBC News Online, 17 October. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11559451
BBC NEWS ONLINE 2011 ‘State multiculturalism has failed, says David Cameron’, BBC News Online, 5 February. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12371994
FEKETE, LIZ 2004 ‘Anti-Muslim Racism and the European Security State’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, vol. 46, no. 1, pp. 3–29
Modood, T. (2009) Multicultural Equality, Liberal Citizenship and Secularism. Journal for the Study of British Cultures, Vol. 16/2, 131-150.
Parekh, B. (2000) Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural Diversity and Political Theory. Basingstoke: Macmillan
Sivanandan, A. 2008 ‘Catching history on the wing – Race, culture and globalisation’. London: Pluto Press.
Taylor, C. (1994) ‘The Politics of Recognition’ in Amy Guttmann (ed) Multiculturalism. Princeton University Press.