British Tolerance: Anti-Islam or Common Sense?
British Prime Minister David Cameron has had to defend the anti-Islamic rhetoric that he expressed in a speech last month to the Munich Security Conference. The speech, in which he warned European leaders to “wake up” to the threat of extremism, attracted international condemnation and suggestions that he has given legitimacy to the far right.
Mr. Cameron, who is on a trade visit to the Middle East, took questions from university students in Qatar. He was asked if his speech was in the spirit of ‘British tolerance’ and if his words had heightened tensions by ‘singling out’ Muslims.
Mr. Cameron, rather patronizingly, suggested that to come to that conclusion would be because his speech was taken out of context. “What I’m attacking is not the idea of a multi-racial society. Britain has an incredibly multi-racial society. We have people from all over the world, people from all different religions, all different colors, all different creed’s living in our country.”
He continued, “we should be clearer that when people come to our country, we should welcome them, we should not force people to assimilate in every single way but we should ask people to integrate, to become part of society. Was I singling out Muslims? No.”
Qatar is a fast-growing Gulf state, which has been controversially selected as host country for the soccer World Cup in 2022, despite scorching summer temperatures and a suspect record on human rights – homosexuality is illegal under Qatar law. Mr. Cameron, when asked by a student, suggested that staging the world cup would help change attitudes and be a “great engine for social change”. He said: “Football is for everybody – no one should be excluded on the basis of their race or religion or sexuality.”
World leaders, including Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel, attended the original, controversial speech the prime minister gave, where he spouted neo-Conservative thinking, saying Britain’s longstanding policy of multiculturalism was an outright failure and partly to blame for fostering Islamist extremism. He said the UK needed a stronger national identity to prevent people from turning to extremism and it was time “to turn the page on the failed policies of the past.”
The prime minister continued his passionate oratory and called for a new “muscular liberalism” and denounced “passive tolerance” as encouraging dangerous “radicalization of Muslims.”
The speech has brought both unwanted criticism and praise, with the latter coming from the vice-president of France’s far right Front National, Marine le Pen. She said in an interview with the Financial Times that Cameron’s comments were “exactly the type of statement that has barred us from public life for 30 years.”
She continued, “I sense an evolution at European level, even in classic governments. I can only congratulate him.”
Cameron and his Conservative Party quickly distanced themselves from Miss le Pen’s remarks, with a spokesman saying she had “clearly failed to understand the Prime Minister’s speech.”
David Cameron’s current visit to the Eastern region, which comes to an end tomorrow, has seen him give speeches in Kuwait, Qatar and Oman. The visit coincidentally coincides with the International Defense Exhibition Conference [IDEX 2011], the largest defense and security event in the Middle East and Northern African region where western-style democracy is, at best, a fragile concept.
Under the pretense of strengthening security ties and promoting political reform, the prime minister has spent the last three days touring undemocratic Gulf States with eight of Britain’s leading defense manufacturers. A move that will no doubt hurt relations with the region’s emerging democracies.
Mr. Cameron’s brash show of contradictory neo-Conservatism coupled with weapons selling at a time when a firestorm of unpredictable change is raging through the Middle East has not gone unnoticed by his political opponents. Kevin Jones, Britain’s shadow defense minister, said: “The defense industry is crucially important to Britain but many people will be surprised that the prime minister in this week, of all weeks, may be considering bolstering arms sales to the Middle East.”
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