The UK government’s former chief adviser on integrating immigrants into British society has attacked attempts to denounce multiculturalism in favour of promoting “Britishness” in the wake of the London bombings.
Professor Sir Bernard Crick, who until his resignation three months ago was chair of the government Advisory Board on Naturalisation and Integration, said he was “pretty pissed off” over comments condemning multiculturalism made by Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, and the former Home Secretary David Blunkett. He added that any attempt to promote Britishness in its place could make Muslims feel threatened in the current climate.
Phillips entered a debate on integration of Britain’s ethnic and religious minorities which has been raging since the bombings by saying that multiculturalism had increased “separateness” between communities and aggravated community tensions. Last year he sparked controversy by saying that the term multiculturalism was of another era and should be scrapped. He instead called for all citizens to “assert a core of Britishness”.
Work and pensions secretary David Blunkett, when Home Secretary, urged people from ethnic minorities to develop a “sense of belonging” in Britain, and told them to speak English at home.
However, Crick countered: “I think things can be done to impress the [Muslim] community that they’re not threatened in their own culture, so I’m pretty pissed off with the Blunkett and Phillips line now that multiculturalism is an outmoded concept, as Phillips said.
“To start talking now about Britishness as replacing multiculturalism must seem pretty threatening to a lot of Muslims who follow their own religion but perhaps work in English-speaking environments. In other words, if one’s talking about integration, one’s talking about the ability to live in two worlds. It’s more difficult with a different religion than a visible mark of colour but it’s not impossible.”
The argument over multiculturalism brought into the open by Phillips last year has resurfaced since the London bombings as commentators struggle to explain the emergence of home-grown bombers.
But Crick said that placing a greater stress on citizenship and “educating for a multicultural society” was already working. However, he accused the government of underfunding the curriculum of citizenship studies for people seeking naturalisation recommended by his committee. As a result, “it’s going to appear as an imposition rather than an entitlement”.