Multiculturalism in the UK: Has it any Future?

Date: 9 May 2013

Country: UK

multiculturlism parliamentAt a conference in Munich in 2011, the British Prime Minister David Cameron affirmed that “state multiculturalism in the UK has failed” and that the country needed a stronger national identity to prevent people turning to all kinds of extremism.

These words were the starting point of a debate “Multiculturalism in the UK: Has it any Future?” organised by The Prisma Multicultural Newspaper, in the House of Commons on 9 May.

The aim was to go through the status of multiculturalism over the last few years, after Cameron’s well-known assessment, and to discuss the deployment, effectiveness and purposes of implementing a multiculturalist ethos in the UK, as well as the actual realities of living in a nation of cultural plurality.“The UK has made multiculturalism a controversial subject because it has been mixed with the idea of immigration, fault of the economic crisis,” said Monica Del Pilar Uribe, editor of The Prisma, the newspaper at the frontline in promoting diversity worldwide.

Multiculturalism is multifaceted and embraces everything related with culture, from language to fashion, music, and design. “It’s not only sexual orientation, religion, and race. It’s families’ traditions first of all,” explained Zita Holbourne, trade union and community activist. “But when Cameron talked about failure, he was not referring to the multiculturalism of Oxbridge, but to non-white communities,” emphasized Holbourne.

In fact, as a member of the audience points out, indigenous black British people are often thought, and therefore treated, as immigrants just because of the colour of their skin.

multiculturlism parliament 2Panellists, including Mike Jempson, author and journalist, Nigel Pocock, social scientist and theologian, Claudio Chipana Gutierrez, Peruvian philosopher, and Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP, all agree that multiculturalism in the UK has not failed and that has been alive and kicking for long, despite the challenges. Among them is the demanding task of conciliating the respect for different cultures with human rights.

“For multiculturalism to exists, people should abide only to their conscience,” said Abdullah al Andalusi, intellectual activist for Islam and Muslim affairs. What he proposed, arousing strong reactions among the audience, is a plurality of legal systems within the same country. According to him, liberalism is not the answer, as “it imposes rights and suppresses some cultures”.

The UK is now following the opposite direction by separating religious laws from secular laws, with which most of the panellists agreed. Same-sex marriage, for example, “it’s not imposing anything, it’s just giving an opportunity,” Jeremy Corbyn stated.

These days Britain has seen immigration and multiculturalism being at the centre of a number of political discussions. The panel debate in the House of Commons came a week after the council elections revealed the surge of UK Independence Party, renowned for its programme focused on crackdown on immigration. And it also came a day after the Queen’s speech in the Parliament which has unveiled the coalition government’s intentions to restrict access to benefits and NHS care for the immigrants.

Although London is a positive example of different cultures living together, conclusion of the debate was that multiculturalism in the UK is not perfect and that there is still a lot of room for the improvement.

What can be done collectively? The editor of the Prisma Monica del Pilar Uribe concluded that “the enemies of multiculturalism are not only the religious fundamentalists and conservatives, but also those who do nothing to promote it.”