“France, ridiculed when Bernard Stasi and his commission first recommended a ban on all religious symbols in schools, has since excited the interest of those who note that this is, nevertheless, the country with the largest number of Muslims, with a population far greater than either Germany or the UK. The social control, they also remark, exerted by the combined results of secularism, conscious integration and a preventative security policy has led – according to the inverse terms of multiculturalism – to France being spared from terror attacks for the past decade.”
Gilles Kepel in the Independent, 22 August 2005.
Note the use of “the past decade” as the period of comparison. This has presumably been chosen so as to exclude the Paris Metro and other bombings of 1995. The “combined results of secularism, conscious integration and a preventative security policy” didn’t seem to have much effect then, did they? At that time, as I recall, the London Underground was, by contrast, spared any terrorist attacks by Islamist extremists, despite Britain’s commitment to multiculturalism.
Is it stating the obvious to point out that in both cases the bombings were provoked by the foreign policy of the country under attack – in 1995 by French support for the Algerian government’s brutal suppression of the FIS (which had been about to win a democratic election) and in 2005 by Blair’s participation in the bloody invasion and occupation of Iraq?
Why multiculturalism has failed Britain
By Gilles Kepel
Independent, 22 August 2005
Before leaving on holiday, Tony Blair announced a series of anti-terror measures that signified a radical departure from the traditional British policy towards its Islamist community. The policy of ‘Londonistan’ – a place where political asylum was given to radical Islamist ideologists in return for keeping Britain a sanctuary from violence – was buried for good.
The measures, ranging from the expulsion of fanatical clerics (as in France and Spain) to the closure of religious centres where ‘extremism ferments’, herald a new age of conscious integration in place of a general atmosphere of laissez-faire.
All this, of course, has thrown British liberals, denouncing the plans as posing a deadly threat to traditional freedoms of their society, into turmoil.
But, if one looks beyond the controversy, it is clear that the abandonment of the Londonistan policy poses more profound and complex questions regarding the model of multicultural society.
Before the July attacks, the UK was the multicultural champion of Europe, along with the Netherlands, where it had already been dramatically called into question by the murder of the film director Theo van Gogh in autumn 2004.
Londonistan used to represent the tip of the multicultural iceberg – to the point of becoming a caricature of it. It posited the theory that, by offering refuge to extremist ideologists, these individuals would exert a positive influence on young people tempted by radical Islam and violence, and would dissuade them from rebelling against a state which had allowed Abu Hamza, Abu Qatada and numerous Omar Bakris to flourish.
And, for a decade, it did save Britain. The spread of radical discourse, regarded as lawful provided it did not lead to violence, was the cost.
It made its voice heard in the United Kingdom thanks to a total absence of identity among many young people (despite their British nationality), as well as through the burgeoning of an international Islamist identity, accentuated by the dramatic deeds of jihad throughout the world.
This global identity, made increasingly accessible by means of the internet, meant that, while the jihadi heroes carried out their attacks all over the world after 11 September 2001, the ideologists of Londonistan paled into insignificance and lost their value and influence in the most radical minorities.
The legal measures restricting them now have thus, above all, a largely symbolic and retrospective effect. The intellectual bedrock which allowed Londonistan to exist in the first place, on the other hand, retains its relevance.
It fostered a multiculturalism where what differentiates religious and ethnic communities is regarded as essential, while what unifies individuals, beyond race or faith, as citizens of the same society is seen to be of secondary importance.
In Britain, multiculturalism was the result of an implicit consensus between the establishment elite and the workers of the left. The separate development of Muslims allowed the one side to keep an eye on Pakistani immigrant labour and the other to secure their votes through religious leaders at election time. It is this consensus that the July bombings smashed to smithereens.
Multiculturalism, after all, makes sense only if it leads to a peaceful society, where community leaders keep their flocks in check and instil in their followers religious and moral values which are conducive to the maintenance of the global public order.
The British social system now finds itself divided, with entire sections primarily defining themselves through the identity of their religious community but with this identity finding itself unable to act as a shield against those emulating al-Qa’ida and fighting a war against ‘impious’ society.
And, with multiculturalism thus failing in its role of defending the public order, the British – following the examples of the Dutch in the aftermath of Theo van Goth’s murder – are engaging in fearsome debate over how best to get out of their impasse.
Beyond the dismantling of Londonistan and the array of anti-terrorist measures which will, in all likelihood, lead to lengthy legal battles, society has been presented with a draconian choice between two models: radical secularism and radical multiculturalism.
Radical secularism – which, in the UK, would have to begin with the abolition of the Anglican Church as the established religious institution – would eventually lead to a redefinition of the pact between the new secular state and its citizens using a written constitution as its basis. At the other extreme, multiculturalism pushed to its limits would end in the creation of an autonomous ‘Muslim parliament’, elected by its community, responsible for governing this community and equipped with the means of applying the law. In short, exactly the framework put in place by the Ottoman empire to allow for its Jewish and Christian minorities.
These two options may seem excessive. But they serve as two hypotheses at opposite ends of the spectrum, between which European societies are going to have to choose their own path. And above all, they indicate how urgent it is for this debate to be taken up in Europe.
France, ridiculed when Bernard Stasi and his commission first recommended a ban on all religious symbols in schools, has since excited the interest of those who note that this is, nevertheless, the country with the largest number of Muslims, with a population far greater than either Germany or the UK.
The social control, they also remark, exerted by the combined results of secularism, conscious integration and a preventative security policy has led – according to the inverse terms of multiculturalism – to France being spared from terror attacks for the past decade.
But nothing can be taken for granted in the secular Republic either. The marginalisation of many young people of Maghreb and African origin, the spread of jihadi websites, the departure of some of the young men to fight on the front line in Iraq or Pakistan, all provide the ingredients for the same lethal cocktail in France as in other countries. But there have been no deaths, and, until now, those who predicted them have not been proved right.
This is a problem just as relevant to the inhabitants of Paris, Rome, Madrid, Brussels and Amsterdam as it is to Londoners. We cannot – must not – bury our heads in the sand.
The question of terrorism, beyond symbolic measures designed to put an end to the Londonistan way of living, poses above all the question of what we, together with our fellow citizens of Muslim or any other faith or non-faith, want to do with our European identity.
It is high time that the European Union, after the disaster of the constitution, grabs the bull by the horns and tackles this problem. For Europe must play a role in its future solution.