PM: Britain needs a stronger shared identity to tackle extremism

A shared identity and sense of belonging are key to achieving the kind of social cohesion that will prevent home-grown terrorism, David Cameron said today.

Published 05 February 2011
In a speech in Munich, the Prime Minister admitted that the past policies of multiculturalism and “hands-off tolerance” towards extremists had failed.

He stressed that there was a difference between Islam as a peaceful religion and the ideology of Islamic extremism, which he said was the “root” of Islamic terrorism.

The Prime Minister said that so many young Muslims in Britain were drawn to extremist ideology because of the failure to provide a vision of a society to which they felt they wanted to belong.

“In the UK, some young men find it hard to identify with the traditional Islam practised at home by their parents whose customs can seem staid when transplanted to modern Western countries,” he said.

“But they also find it hard to identify with Britain too, because we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity.

“Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream.

“We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.”

He admitted, however, that successive governments had been too tolerant of segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to British values.

“So 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.

“This hands-off tolerance has only served to reinforce the sense that not enough is shared … and the search for something to belong to and believe in can lead them to this extremist ideology.”

The Prime Minister went on to state that some community and group leaders were promoting separatism by encouraging Muslims to define themselves solely in terms of their religion and thereby engendering a sense of community as a “substitute for what the wider society has failed to supply”.

He said it was time to “turn the page” on the failed policies of the past and for societies as well as governments to confront extremist ideology in all its forms, rather than ignoring it.

Organisations that incite terrorism and even those that are non-violent yet espouse undemocratic values should not receive any public funding, he said.

“Governments must be shrewder in dealing with those [organisations] that, while not violent, are certainly in some cases part of the problem,” he said.

“Some organisations that seek to present themselves as a gateway to the Muslim community are showered with public money despite doing little to combat extremism.”

He said such organisations should be judged according to whether they believe in universal human rights, including for women and people of other faiths, equality for all before the law, democracy, and whether they encourage integration or separatism.

“Fail these tests and the presumption should be not to engage with organisations. No public money, no sharing of platforms with ministers at home.”

Part of confronting extremist ideology also lies, he said, in fostering a clear sense of shared national identity that is “open to everyone”, and being “hard-nosed” about the defence of liberty.

“We must build stronger societies and identities at home,” he said.

“Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism. A passively tolerant society says to its citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values.

“A genuinely liberal country does much more.It believes in certain values and actively promotes them - freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law, equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality.”

He referred to the Government’s planned National Citizen Service, a two-month programme bringing sixteen-year-olds to live and work together, as he spoke of the need to encourage the formation of a common purpose through “meaningful and active” participation in society.

He said: “It will also help build stronger pride in local identity so people feel free to say yes, I am a Muslim, I am a Hindu, I am Christian, but I am also a Londoner or a Berliner too.

“It’s that identity – that feeling of belonging in our countries that is the key to achieving true cohesion.”

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