Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Archbishop's Beard

Our Prime Minister, David Cameron, made a speech recently in which he suggested that multiculturalism has failed. He implied that this failure was responsible for the emergence of home-grown terrorism in the UK. He is not an unintelligent man but he comes from a very privileged background and his experience of the diversity of life is sadly limited.

Multiculturalism has been a great success in this country. Compare the relations between different ethnic groups in this country with that in the countries of mainland Europe, such as France where far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, who described the Nazi gas chambers as a ‘detail of history’, came second in the presidential election in 2002; or Italy where the grand-daughter of Mussolini, who has her own quasi-fascist party, declared in 2007 that all Romanians were criminals.

Of course, there are racial tensions in Britain, and there are people who make a living out of the culture of grievance. But you get people like that in every sphere. However, to make a link between these sorts of tensions and the growth of terrorism is quite unreasonable. Particularly when Mr Cameron makes absolutely no mention of our foreign policy, or the wars in which we have spent so much money and lost so many young men trying to arrange the political affairs of other countries to our liking.

The trouble is that David Cameron doesn’t have the kind of complex set of identities that many people experience in contemporary Britain. Consequently he feels threatened by them. Well I suggest there is nothing to be frightened about.

In my own way I am a product of multiculturalism. I was born in this country to fiercely republican Irish parents. I was brought up as a fervent Catholic who was taught by nuns that the best thing that could happen to England would be that it would be re-converted to Catholicism. In assembly we sang hymns like Faith Of Our Fathers, the final verse of which goes like this:

Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free
How sweet would be their children’s fate,
If we, like them, could die for thee

Now if that isn’t an incitement to martyrdom, what is?

Nowadays I see myself as more of a cultural Catholic. I like to think of it like this: if the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury were having a boxing match, I’d be shouting for the Pope. Admittedly, it wouldn’t be much of a fight. Unless the Pope started cheating and pulled the Archbishop’s beard. Now that I would pay to see.

In the same way, if Ireland were playing England at football I would be cheering for Ireland. Why? Because that’s my parents’ culture and I will never turn my back on it. Of course if England were playing France or Italy, it would be a different matter.

Identity is a complex and shifting arena. It is at the heart of so much of our art, literature, music, fashion and cuisine. For centuries this country has been fashioned from multiculturalism. That’s one of the reasons I love it and it’s why I would not want to live anywhere else.

1 comment:

Derek said...

I suppose it all depends on his success criteria. I was fortunate to grow up in London and learn about other cultures first hand and hopefully to be more open to new ideas and opinions as a consequence. Society will always only ever be an evolving work in progress, but as you say, it has come a long way. Those in power today probably had a more homogenous set of influences while growing up...