Friday, 4 February 2011

A few questions for Mr Cameron...

“Muslims must embrace our British values” argues David Cameron in a speech delivered in Munich.

Well, I have a few questions for our Prime Minister about this all.

Why the division between Muslim and British?

Perhaps Muslim values and British values are not so different? As a British Muslim, I have found a lot of common ground, on family values, a culture of charity, even stoicism (the ‘stiff upper lip’).

And since we're on the topic, what are ‘British values’? You talk of freedom and equality. These are not just British values, they are Muslim values, they are secular values, they human values. No one would reject them as being virtuous.

But if you try to get more precise than this, we run into problems. The diversity of opinion in Britain, as in any country, precludes making such generalised and grand statements as ‘British values’, unless you include all values held by Britons, the full diversity of them.

I find it uncomfortable how you talk of ‘Muslims’ who must embrace ‘our British values’. I was born in Britain, raised in Britain, educated in Britain. I speak English as well you. I’m not sure why my values, which are born out of my Muslim faith, are not considered ‘British’? Do you not consider me British?

Maybe it's worth remembering that Muslims have been in Britain for centuries, not decades, and have been contributing to British life for just as long.

Intergration is a two-way process. Perhaps it’s time you embraced Muslims as part of Britain?

Has multiculturalism really failed, or are you just being fashionable?

Multiculturalism was the buzz word of the 90s, these days it’s all about ‘intergration’ and ‘community cohesion’.

Buzz words aside, we're really still having the same conversation I think.

There are two sides to multiculturalism. First is the reality, then there is the hope.

The reality is that there different cultures in Britain, these cultures are not just ‘white’ and ‘ethnic’. They are Welsh cultures, Muslim cultures, student cultures, working-class cultures. There is even a discernible ‘rich Oxbridge politician’ culture. They all weave into the fabric of the society we live in. There is no denying it.

Then there is the hope of multiculturalism. This is that these different cultures can interact and engage with each other. That they can find common ground in a shared identity with shared ambitions of the world they want to live in. This is not a two-way conversation, it’s a conversation takes place between lots of groups and cultures, over a long period of time. More than just 30 years.

So perhaps a bit early to call multiculturalism a failure. Especially when it's delivered success in so many areas. Feel free to visit Cardiff for an example. Or Liverpool. Or London. The vibrancy and life of these cities is due to the diversity of those who live there.

You talk of living 'separate lives'. The only ones I find who live 'separate lives' are the super rich, who live in a bubble away from the struggles and concerns of the majority of Britain. Who are so lacking in contact with everyone else they think there is no recession and Brits have 'never had it so good'.

The problems faced by society today have little to do with multiculturalism, which is a scape-goat for social ills caused by poverty, unemployment and disillusionment.

If you really want to solve the problems society faces, you have to be honest about the causes.

Is this about Muslims, or about foreigners? I’m getting a bit confused.

You talk about the need for ‘equality and freedom’, but suddenly you start talking about ‘ensuring immigrants learn to speak English’. Big jump there. Did I miss something?

And then there’s the bit where you say ‘when a white person holds objectionable views – racism, for example – we rightly condemn them. 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.’

Okay, we seem to be blurring the lines here a bit. There are plenty of white Muslims out there, have you been too cautious to stand up to them as well? Or only the brown ones? Or are you really just making naïve assumptions of ethnicity and religion based upon skin colour?

Surely you’re more educated and nuanced than that.

Why did you deliver this speech at a European security conference?

Violent extremism is a threat and a danger that should be combated with no hesitations.

But perhaps it’s worth remembering, that out of 294 terrorist attacks in Europe in 2009, only one was carried out by a Muslim.

Someone who didn’t vote for you. Or Nick Clegg for that matter.

NB: At time of publishing this blog, David Cameron had not yet delivered his speech, but speeches are released early to the press. As I'm not a fan of writing in the future tense, since I find it a bit weird and almost prophetic in tone, I've written in the past tense. I do however hope Cameron has a change of heart and decides to deliver a speech on fiscal reduction instead.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Slacktivism, Armchairism and Apptivism

2011 has certainly started on a promising note.

Tunisia ousted Ben Ali, ending decades of tyranny and offering the fragile hope of a more free, open and successful society.

The past week has seen awesome scenes in Egypt. Pundits and commentators talked of a ‘clash of civilisations’ in Egypt at the end of December, predicting Christian and Muslim tensions. The fallacy of such notions was dismissed when, unpredicted by all self-professed experts, the country rose up against the tyrant Mubarak. The streets of Cairo fills up with protestors daily, Muslims and Christians side by side.

The world also saw duplicity with which US foreign policy operates; invading Iraq in 2003 in the name of ‘democracy’, while simultaneously providing "military aid to Egypt [that] totals over $1.3 billion annually". It is this Egyptian army that has racked up a death count of 300 innocent protestors, and currently stands between the Egyptian people and an ousted Mubarak.

But the topic of this blog is not to add to the rolling and constant commentary on the unpredicted and unpredictable events in Egypt or Tunisia or the rest of the Middle East.

Rather, it’s to express dismay at the rise of the slacktivist, also known as the armchair acitivist, also known as the apptivist. The idea is pretty simple – Egyptians risk life and limb to protest, the slacktivsit tweets, clicks, and blogs his or her protest (yes, I’m a tweeter, a clicker and of course, a blogger).

It’s not that the tweeting, clicking or blogging is the problem. The problem is when it ends there.

We may not be in Egypt, or Tunisia, or Yemen. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to do. We don’t live in a utopia (…yet). Whether you live in the UK, the US or the Russian Federation (most my readers come from those three countries apparently!), there is plenty to be doing.

Poverty, injustice, oppression aren't absent.

The actions of protestors in the Middle East and elsewhere should remind us our duty to our community, the place in which we live.

For the believer, the action of the protestors should remind us of God’s appointment of mankind as “vice-regents of God on earth”, and the weight of this responsibility.

In the meantime, I’ll be heeding the words of Suhaib Webb, and remember Egypt in my prayers.