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What multiculturalism really means

7 August 2012

11:57 AM

7 August 2012

11:57 AM

Proponents of multiculturalism are crowing after golden Saturday when Team GB won a slew of Olympic medals. Somali Muslim immigrant Mo Farah and mixed race Jessica Ennis were among those securing gold. ‘Today intolerant right-wingers question the motives of non-indigenous sportspeople and are furious they have been chosen to represent the UK,’ Yasmin Alibhai-Brown wrote in the Independent.

This is disingenuous. A packed Olympic stadium has stood and cheered for everyone in Team GB. The Times and Sun both carried articles on how our Olympic achievements reveal the success of a diverse and progressive nation.

Alibhai-Brown epitomises how many on the left perennially misunderstand the debate around multiculturalism. They accuse those of us who point to its shortcomings as wanting to replace diversity with a monolithic monoculture, stripped of plurality. The idea is inevitably equated with racism and intolerance.


This is not what multiculturalism is about. Multiculturalism has told a generation of immigrants – not of Farah or Ennis’ persuasion – that they need not integrate into British life, or contribute positively to the civic life of our country. It is ironical that multiculturalism promotes the precise opposite of what its proponents would have us believe, with the creation of parallel but distinct moncultural silos in our society.

The Chief Rabbi encapsulated this perfectly when he likened the British status quo to being like that of a hotel.

Recently we have thought of society as a hotel where you pay money in return for services and you are then free to do what you like so long as you don’t disturb the other guests. Hotels are fine, but they do not generate a sense of belonging. Society is not a hotel. It is the home we build together. It is the place to which we bring our distinctive contributions to the common good.

Achieving the common good requires us, as a society, to first identify precisely what that is. The Prime Minister went some way towards achieving this last year when delivering his Munich speech, highlighting the need for a greater inflection of normative British values in public life.

Alibhai-Brown is dismissive. ‘Now is time for a nicely turned prime ministerial speech on what immigrants have brought to team GB,’ she insists. Were David Cameron to take her advice, she would look foolish. The success of golden Saturday resonates entirely with the Prime Minister’s point; that immigrants who come to Britain, contribute to our society, and embrace our values are part of our collective success. This is the precise opposite of multiculturalism – and as the weekend’s fortunes show, it’s working.


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