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Multiculturalism in the UK

Even though the British model of integration has been successful in many respects, the way in which the UK copes with cultural diversity has, nevertheless, been subject to debate.

Multicultural Birmingham

A Multicultural Society

Today, 11.6% (7 million) of the UK’s population is foreign-born. In the media and the arts, as well as in economics and in politics, people who are either first, second or third generation immigrants have found a place and contribute to society. For instance, British Asians (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh), who represent 4% of the population, contribute 6% of the GDP. Not surprisingly, many immigrants consider that their culture of origin is an important part of their identity. However, maybe because they are not required to choose between cultures since the UK has a strong liberal tradition in this field, many also adopt elements of British culture, and think of themselves as British.

Coping with Cultural Diversity

In February 2011, David Cameron, the Prime Minister, expressed the need to put into operation certain changes in policy concerning cultural diversity.

In short, Mr. Cameron warned that certain communities are, in fact, segregated from the rest of society, because they have no connection to other communities through the sharing of the core values of British culture.

  • Do they believe in universal human rights – including rights for women and people of other faiths?
  • Do they believe in equality of all before the law?
  • Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government?
  • Do they encourage integration or separation?

These are the sorts of questions we need to ask.

Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron

Identity and Extremism

One of the problems that arises because of this is that young people issuing from such groups may turn to extremism because they lack a stable identity and a sense of belonging (they also reject their parent’s culture) that perhaps could prevent them from being seduced by the simplistic answers that extremist ideologies provide.

In response to the problem, Mr. Cameron spoke in favour of no longer tolerating that communities that live in the UK behave in a manner that is not compatible with British core values. He mentioned forced marriage as an example. Cameron felt the UK had failed to provide:

"a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong […] a clear sense of shared national identity that is open to everyone […] Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and a much more active, muscular liberalism. A passively tolerant society says to its citizens, as long as you obey the law we will just leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values. But I believe 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. It says to its citizens, this is what defines us as a society: to belong here is to believe in these things.”.

For the whole speech:

Discuss

Use the excerpt (above) from Mr Cameron's speech as a basis for your discussion.

  1. Does Mr. Cameron suggest a break with multiculturalism or a revised understanding of it?
  2. How would such a speech be received in Norway?
  3. How do you react to its content?

Writing - the Meaning of Multiculturalism

In the UK, today, there is an ongoing debate on the meaning of multiculturalism. Look at this article from the BBC: Multiculturalism: What does it mean?. There are several people named in the article who give their opinion on the meaning of multiculturalism.

  • Make a list of the people with the relevant comment. Do any of the comments surprise you?
  • Write a comment to this article where you give your opinion on the meaning of multiculturalism.

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