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Monday, February 07, 2011 

Assimilate or you don't belong.

The formation of the coalition government has in many ways relatively spoilt those of us of a socially liberal bent. While there was never much danger of the Tories rolling back the many advances New Labour made on the equality front, it seemed certain that they would continue to pursue the authoritarian policies on law and order which had been the consensus since the days of Michael Howard. Down to a mixture of the forced inclusion of the Liberal Democrats, the defenestration of Chris Grayling and the pairing of Ken Clarke and Theresa May as justice and home secretary respectively, instead of bubble economics and illiberal triangulation we now have austerity and nominal but welcome defiance of red-top "solutions" to crime and disorder.

We have perhaps then been heading for a challenge to that arrangement, although it seemed more likely to come from a scandal/debacle similar to that which did for Charles Clarke than from the prime minister himself. David Cameron's speech in Munich was unexpected precisely because the coalition has done its best to take the politics out of the debate on the terrorist threat, having with the exception of the reforms to the control order system managed to successfully scale back Labour's excesses in legislating while causing the minimal amount of fuss from those who had previously screamed and demanded ever further impositions on liberty for the illusion of more safety. As others have pointed out, it's all the more puzzling because so much of what he said he's dealt with before, albeit it in opposition. Was it too much to expect that he would drop his shallow critique of "state multiculturalism" along with his constant references to the "broken society"?

For whatever reason, and it's difficult to dismiss that it has more than something to do with the increasing problems the coalition is facing as the cuts begin to bite and the economy flatlines, it's time to once again return to exactly what it is that motivates some Muslims to become so disengaged from society that they are willing to kill their fellow citizens. Why else indeed would he conflate terrorism, which those in Munich at the security conference were doubtless expecting him to speak about, with multiculturalism and integration as a whole? It certainly wasn't intended that he would give the speech on the same day as the English Defence League paraded through the boarded up streets of Luton, yet through not offering any overt criticism of the organisation and by all but echoing their message that the only real issue facing us is the refusal of Muslims to engage in wider society he will have certainly provided them with all the encouragement they need to keep bringing disruption to towns and cities across the country. It has only been thanks to supreme patience and the community leaders that Cameron has effectively impugned that there hasn't been a recurrence of the full scale riots of 10 years ago.

It is after all worth taking a step back and examining the supposed threat and just how large it really is. If we take the probably exaggerated estimates of the security services at face value, there are around 2,000 people in this country actively dedicated to what Cameron describes as the violent element of political Islam, a number which even considering the potential harm and suffering they could cause is tiny. As Jamie argues, there really has been relatively little to prevent given even those numbers post 9/11, thanks to a mixture of old-fashioned intelligence work and the stupidity of many of those involved. Nonetheless, Muslims as a whole have found themselves threatened, told to inform on those in their midst, been widely disparaged for failing to do just that and now find that even if they don't hold views defined as being extremist, they're being informed by none other than the prime minister of the country that they don't "belong".

This is the massive flaw in Cameron's Michael Gove/Policy Exchange inspired analysis. Even if we accept that the problem fundamentally is the attraction of violent political Islam as an all encompassing ideology, rather than his straw man of "soft left" compiled grievances, the idea that the solution is a new British identity built around a "muscular" promotion of "our" values is laughable. Cameron's example of communities being allowed to live apart, with white racism condemned while practices such as forced marriage are allowed to go ahead is muddled thinking at its worst, even if it was accurate. How would extremism be dealt a blow if we managed to stop every such arrangement from going ahead? Surely the opposite might well be the case? He goes on to talk of "groups and organisations" and "non-violent extremists" having first influenced those who have gone on to plot or carry out attacks, to which he can only be referring to either Al-Muhajiroun and its successor organisations, all since banned, and/or Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the organisation the Tories previously promised to ban. None of these groups have ever received government funds, and as Sunny points out, those organisations which hold views Cameron now says should proscribe them from direct involvement with the government stopped receiving it in around 2006.

While there is then more than a element of posturing to some of Cameron's points, he often isn't comparing like with like. If political Islam is a perversion of the faith, it requires those that share that faith who may potentially have some views we find abhorrent in order to properly fight against it; this isn't the equivalent of expecting a fascist party to fight a violent white supremacist moment. Some of those who have become radicalised simply won't be convinced by the arguments of the likes of the Quilliam Foundation, however much we would like it to be so. Cameron does in fact all but say this, then instantly contradicts it. This isn't to say that such groups or individuals should receive government funding, but it is counter-productive in the extreme to tell them to their face that they don't belong. Not only is this, as others have again argued, completely alien to the exact concepts of liberal democracy which Cameron wants to espouse and "muscularly" promote, nothing seems more calculated to breed resentment and disillusion with our society. It is exactly what the extremists would and will play on. Assimilate or you're not one of us is a disastrous message to send.

It could well be that this is just another speech that won't be properly followed up with action, or that in reality it just means that Labour's Prevent strategy of showering counter-radicalisation groups and organisations regardless of their provenance with money is coming to an end, as could be expected as the funding for almost everything else dries up. Tony Blair declared the end of state multiculturalism in a similar fashion, and little has changed. Alternatively, and with the announcement of the replacement for ASBOs following a similarly illiberal path, it could mark the end of the one reason to cheer the formation of the coalition.

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