Muslim clerics in the UK who inflame terrorism by denouncing free speech, equality and democracy will be opposed in a “muscular” new defence of “British values”, David Cameron has pledged.
In a powerful intervention clearly aimed mainly at “preachers of hate”, the Prime Minister says the failure to stand up to such firebrands has “allowed extremism – both the violent and non-violent kind – to flourish”.
He plans to use the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta – 12 months from today – to reassert British values in a “Magna Carta for Modern Britain.”
It is time to stop being “squeamish about Britishness” and tell everyone who lives here that refusing to accept British laws and the British way of life is “not an option”, Mr Cameron argues.
The Prime Minister will emphasise the commitment by insisting that Magna Carta becomes part of the school curriculum.
Downing Street stressed the Prime Minister’s comments, which come in an article in today’s Mail on Sunday, are aimed at all sections of the community, not just Muslims. However, they appear to signal a key change in the stance of successive recent governments, Tory and Labour, on this sensitive issue.
They have faced claims that some unrepresentative ethnic minority leaders have been given free rein to promote extremist views – and trample on UK laws and rights on democracy, women’s equality, religious freedom and tolerance.
Mr Cameron’s initiative is a direct response to the “Trojan Horse” scandal of Islamist extremists who infiltrated state schools.
School inspectors said that at some Muslim-dominated schools in Birmingham, pupils were taught that white women were “prostitutes”, boys and girls were segregated, Christmas events were scrapped, tombolas were banned as “non-Islamic” and children in biology lessons were told that evolution was untrue.
The dispute convinced Mr Cameron that it was time to lead a fightback on behalf of British values.
In addition, there are growing fears that radical preachers are encouraging young British Muslims to join terrorists fighting to bring down the democratically elected government of Iraq. And it is alleged radical clerics have tried to establish “Sharia Law Zones” in some British cities with bans on gambling, music and alcohol.
Education Secretary Michael Gove has announced plans to teach British values in schools, but Mr Cameron wants to go further.
“It isn’t enough simply to respect these values in schools,” he says. “They’re not optional; they’re the core of what it is to live in Britain. In recent years we have been in danger of sending out a worrying message: that if you don’t want to believe in democracy, that’s fine; that if equality isn’t your bag, don’t worry about it; that if you’re completely intolerant of others, we will still tolerate you,” he writes.
“This has not just led to division, it has also allowed extremism – of both the violent and non-violent kind – to flourish. We need to be far more muscular in promoting British values and the institutions that uphold them. A genuinely liberal country believes in certain values, actively promotes them and says to its citizens: this is what defines us as a society.”
Mr Cameron says Britain’s “belief in freedom, tolerance of others, accepting personal and social responsibility, respecting and upholding the rule of law” are vital and “as British as the Union Flag, football and fish and chips.” Such freedoms did not “come from thin air” – and will not be surrendered, he declares.
“Our values and respect for the history that helped deliver them and the institutions that uphold them form the bedrock of Britishness. We should not be squeamish about our achievements, or bashful about our Britishness. We should be proud of what Britain has done to defend freedom and develop these institutions – Parliamentary democracy, a free press, the rule of law – that are so essential all over the world.”
He added that it was essential for economic and social reasons, and that the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta was an ideal time to restate British freedoms – and make it clear everyone had to respect them. Mr Cameron will also be holding a “one year to go” Magna Carta reception at Downing Street tomorrow.
The irony of the Mail‘s inflammatory headline, of course, is that a 2009 Gallup poll found that over three-quarters of British Muslims identified with the UK and its institutions – far more than the general population did.
As a Gallup analyst pointed out: “In the aftermath of the horrific London bombing, Britain’s multicultural approach to integration came under fire from pundits in Europe and the United States, who saw it as an appeasement of unreasonable demands and promoting parallel societies. However, it appears British Muslims are more likely to identify strongly with their nation, and to express stronger confidence in its democratic institutions, while maintaining a high degree of religious identity.”
Update: Cf. Owen Jones, “Sorry, David Cameron, but your British history is not mine”, Guardian, 16 June 2014
The problem is that a large majority of the public buy into Cameron’s simplistic “British values” narrative. A YouGov poll conducted on behalf of the Sunday Times has found that