Faced with growing alarm about Islamic militants who have made Britain one of Europe’s most active bases for terrorist plots, Prime Minister David Cameron has mounted an attack on the country’s decades-old policy of “multiculturalism,” saying it has encouraged “segregated communities” where Islamic extremism can thrive.
Speaking at a security conference in Munich on Saturday, Cameron condemned what he called the “hands-off tolerance” in Britain and other European nations that had encouraged Muslims and other immigrant groups “to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream.” He said that the policy had allowed Islamic militants leeway to radicalize young Muslims.
In what aides described as one of the most important speeches in the nine months since he became prime minister, Cameron said the multiculturalism policy – one espoused by British governments since the 1960s, based on the principle of the right of all groups in Britain to live by their traditional values – had failed to promote a sense of common identity centered on values of human rights, democracy, social integration and equality before the law.
Similar warnings about multiculturalism have been sounded by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France. But, if anything, Cameron went further. The head of the Conservative Party, called on European governments to practice “a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism,” and said Britain would no longer give official patronage to Muslim groups that had been “showered with public money despite doing little to combat terrorism.”
Perhaps most controversially, he called for an end to a double standard that had tolerated the propagation of radical views among nonwhite groups that would be suppressed if they involved radical groups among whites.
“When a white person holds objectionable views – racism, for example – we rightly condemn them,” he said. “But when equally unacceptable views or practices have come from someone who isn’t white, we’ve been too cautious, frankly even fearful, to stand up to them.”
Muslim groups in Britain were quick to condemn the speech, among them the Muslim Council of Great Britain. Its assistant secretary-general, Faisal Hanjra, said Cameron had treated Muslims “as part of the problem as opposed to part of the solution.”