Full text of Blair's multiculturalism speech
9/12/2006
 

We should begin by celebrating something. When we won the Olympic Bid to host the 2012 Games, we presented a compelling, modern vision of Britain: a country at ease with different races, religions and cultures. This was not the stuffy old Britain that used to be sent up in the comedy sketches of the 1970s but a nation proud, willing and able to go out and compete on its merits.

The ethos of this country is completely different from thirty years ago. The courts recognise racial offences in a way that was inconceivable then. We have the most comprehensive panoply of anti-discrimination legislation in the world. We have tough laws outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, religion, race, gender and disability. The Human Rights Act provides basic protection to ethnic minorities and lays down some minimum standards. It is a matter of some pride to me that it has only been Labour governments that have introduced anti-discrimination legislation. 

Our public culture is also completely different. We now have more ethnic minority MPs, peers, and Ministers though not enough. We have had the first black Cabinet minister. The media are generally more sensitive, and include ethnic minority reporters and columnists. Racism has, for the most part, been kicked out of sport. Offensive remarks and stupid stereotypes have been driven out of public conversation. The basic courtesies, in other words, have been extended to all people.

Trevor Philips said recently that Britain was by far the best place to live in Europe, if you are not white. Others might dispute that; but it was interesting he could say it so confidently. Recently, MORI updated a poll they have run over many years, about attitudes to race and ethnicity. Only 25 per cent of Brits say they would prefer to live in an all-white area. In some European countries it's over 40 per cent. Only 12 per cent of whites would mind if a close relative married a black or Asian person; those who would not mind were over 50 per cent. Just five years ago the figures were 33 per cent minding and just 22 per cent not minding. 

It didn't happen easily. Most of us grew up in an era when action against discrimination was condemned as political correctness. But from Roy Jenkins seminal and brave speech in 1966 to the National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants onwards, fair-minded people brought about the change we can justifiably celebrate in 2006. 

The day after we won the Olympic bid came the terrorist attacks in London. These murders were carried out by British-born suicide bombers who had lived and been brought up in this country, who had received all its many advantages and yet who ultimately took their own lives and the lives of the wholly innocent, in the name of an ideology alien to everything this country stands for. Everything the Olympic bid symbolised was everything they hated. Their emphasis was not on shared values but separate ones, values based on a warped distortion of the faith of Islam. 

This ideology is not, of course, confined to Britain. It is a global phenomenon, long in the making and taking a long time to unmake. 

However, it has thrown into sharp relief, the nature of what we have called, with approval, "multicultural Britain". We like our diversity. But how do we react when that "difference" leads to separation and alienation from the values that define what we hold in common? For the first time in a generation there is an unease, an anxiety, even at points a resentment that our very openness, our willingness to welcome difference, our pride in being home to many cultures, is being used against us; abused, indeed, in order to harm us. 

I always thought after 7/7 our first reaction would be very British: we stick together; but that our second reaction, in time, would also be very British: we're not going to be taken for a ride. 

People want to make sense of two emotions: our recognition of what we legitimately hold in common and what we legitimately hold distinct. When I decided to make this speech about multiculturalism and integration, some people entirely reasonably said that integration or lack of it was not the problem. The 7/7 bombers were integrated at one level in terms of lifestyle and work. Others in many communities live lives very much separate and set in their own community and own culture, but are no threat to anyone. 

But this is, in truth, not what I mean when I talk of integration. Integration, in this context, is not about culture or lifestyle. It is about values. It is about integrating at the point of shared, common unifying British values. It isn't about what defines us as people, but as citizens, the rights and duties that go with being a member of our society. 

Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and other faiths have a perfect right to their own identity and religion, to practice their faith and to conform to their culture. This is what multicultural, multi-faith Britain is about. That is what is legitimately distinctive. 

But when it comes to our essential values - belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all, respect for this country and its shared heritage - then that is where we come together, it is what we hold in common; it is what gives us the right to call ourselves British. At that point no distinctive culture or religion supercedes our duty to be part of an integrated United Kingdom. 

Others warned me against putting the issue in the context of 7/7, of terrorism, of our Muslim community. After all, extremism is not confined to Muslims, as we know from Northern Ireland and fringe elements in many ethnic groups. 

But actually what should give us optimism in dealing with this issue, is precisely that point. It is true there are extremists in other communities. But the reason we are having this debate is not generalised extremism. It is a new and virulent form of ideology associated with a minority of our Muslim community. It is not a problem with Britons of Hindu, Afro-Caribbean, Chinese or Polish origin. Nor is it a problem with the majority of the Muslim community. Most Muslims are proud to be British and Muslim and are thoroughly decent law-abiding citizens. But it is a problem with a minority of that community, particularly originating from certain countries. The reason I say that this is grounds for optimism, is that what the above proves, is that integrating people whilst preserving their distinctive cultures, is not impossible. It is the norm. The failure of one part of one community to do so, is not a function of a flawed theory of a multicultural society. It is a function of a particular ideology that arises within one religion at this one time. 

Yet, because this challenge has arisen in this way, it is necessary to go back to what a multi-cultural Britain is all about. The whole point is that multicultural Britain was never supposed to be a celebration of division; but of diversity. The purpose was to allow people to live harmoniously together, despite their difference; not to make their difference an encouragement to discord. The values that nurtured it were those of solidarity, of coming together, of peaceful co-existence. The right to be in a multicultural society was always, always implicitly balanced by a duty to integrate, to be part of Britain, to be British and Asian, British and black, British and white. Those whites who support the BNP's policy of separate races and those Muslims who shun integration into British society both contradict the fundamental values that define Britain today: tolerance, solidarity across the racial and religious divide, equality for all and between all. 

So it is not that we need to dispense with multicultural Britain. On the contrary we should continue celebrating it. But we need - in the face of the challenge to our values - to re-assert also the duty to integrate, to stress what we hold in common and to say: these are the shared boundaries within which we all are obliged to live, precisely in order to preserve our right to our own different faiths, races and creeds.

We must respect both our right to differ and the duty to express any difference in a way fully consistent with the values that bind us together. 

So: how do we do this? 

Partly we achieve it by talking openly about the problem. The very act of exploring its nature, debating and discussing it doesn't just get people thinking about the type of Britain we want for today's world; but it also eases the anxiety. It dispels any notion that it is forbidden territory. Failure to talk about it is not politically correct; it's just stupid.

Partly the answer lies in precisely defining our common values and making it clear that we expect all our citizens to conform to them. Obedience to the rule of law, to democratic decision-making about who governs us, to freedom from violence and discrimination are not optional for British citizens. They are what being British is about. Being British carries rights. It also carries duties. And those duties take clear precedence over any cultural or religious practice.

Asserting the duty to integrate can also be done by way of practical and symbolic measures that underscore what that duty entails. I want to set out six elements in policy to do this. 

First, we need to use the grants we give to community racial and religious groups to promote integration as well as help distinctive cultural identity. In a sense, very good intentions got the better of us. We wanted to be hospitable to new groups. We wanted, rightly, to extend a welcome and did so by offering public money to entrench their cultural presence. Money was too often freely awarded to groups that were tightly bonded around religious, racial or ethnic identities.

In the future, we will assess bids from groups of any ethnicity or any religious denomination, also against a test, where appropriate, of promoting community cohesion and integration. 

Second, we stand emphatically at all times for equality of respect and treatment for all citizens. Sometimes the cultural practice of one group contradicts this. 

We need very clear rules for how we govern the public realm. A good example is forced marriage. There can be no defence of forced marriage on cultural or any other grounds. We set up the Forced Marriages Unit in 2005 and they now deal with 250-300 cases a year mainly relating to people of South Asian background. We have also changed immigration rules raising the age at which a person can obtain marriage entry clearance to come to the UK to 18. We consulted on whether a specific offence should be created, but, in the light of the responses received, chose not to pursue this. We will however return to the matter if necessary and will also consult on raising the age for entry clearance further, a point made strongly and well by Ann Cryer MP. 

One of the most common concerns that has been raised with me, when meeting women from the Muslim communities, is their frustration at being debarred even from entering certain mosques. 

Those that exclude the voice of women need to look again at their practices. I am not suggesting altering the law. But we have asked the Equal Opportunities Commission to produce a report by the spring of next year on how these concerns could be practically addressed, whilst of course recognising that in many religions the treatment of women differs from that of men. 

Third, we must demand allegiance to the rule of law. Nobody can legitimately ask to stand outside the law of the nation. There is thus no question of the UK allowing the introduction of religious law in the UK. Parliament sets the law, interpreted by the courts. All criminal matters should be dealt with through the criminal justice system. There may be areas where, in civil proceedings, parties consent to arbitration by a religious body. But these are arrangements based on consent and, in all cases, parties will have recourse to the UK courts. 

Fourth, there has been a lot of concern about a minority of visiting preachers. It would be preferable for British preachers to come out of the community rather than come in from abroad. Where they are recruited internationally, we will require entrants to have a proper command of English and meet the pre-entry qualification requirements.

Overseas nationals can come to the UK in a public speaking capacity as business visitors or as visiting religious workers. However, the Home Secretary may exclude from the UK any person where he judges that their presence here is not conducive to the public good. We have published a list of certain unacceptable actions that would normally lead to the exclusion of a person from the UK. The publication of those unacceptable actions makes it clear that we will not tolerate those who seek to create an environment in which terrorism and radicalism can thrive. 

Fifth, we have a very established set of rights that constitute our citizenship. We should not be shy to teach them. That is why citizenship became part of the statutory national curriculum in secondary schools in 2002. 

The national curriculum needs to stress integration rather than separation. The 1988 Education Reform Act states that religious education in all community schools should be broadly Christian in character but that it should include study of the other major religions. There is currently a voluntary agreement with faith schools on this basis. Faith schools also naturally give religious instruction in their own faith. It is important that in doing so, they teach tolerance and respect for other faiths and the Education Department will discuss with the faith groups how this is achieved and implemented, according to new national guidelines. 

These will be based on the pioneering work done in this area by Charles Clarke when Education Secretary. As he said in his recent and excellent Royal Commonwealth Society lecture on Faith, such policies 'will rightly increasingly marginalize those very small numbers who want to teach religious education in a way which misleads and misrepresents other faiths.' We will also encourage all faith schools to construct a bridge to other cultures by twinning with schools from another faith. There have been concerns about some Madrassahs. The DfES is working to bring together a host of voluntary groups to form a National Centre for supplementary schools. It will recommend best practice to try to encourage tolerance and respect for other faiths by, for example, establishing links with other schools. 

There can be no excuse for Madrassahs not meeting their legal requirements and they will be enforced vigorously. Sixth, we should share a common language. Equal opportunity for all groups requires that they be conversant in that common language. It is a matter both of cohesion and of justice that we should set the use of English as a condition of citizenship. In addition, for those who wish to take up residence permanently in the UK, we will include a requirement to pass an English test before such permanent residency is granted. I do not in any of this, ignore the social and economic dimension to extremism. 

Deprivation is a bad thing in itself and it can create the conditions in which extreme ideologies of all kinds can flourish. But it cannot be permitted as an excuse. The best way to deal with this is to do what, for a decade now, we have done: systematically to tackle disadvantage. The causes usually have nothing to do with ethnicity - they are low educational achievement and poor skills. But many ethnic minorities have been beneficiaries of the New Deal, the neighbourhood renewal strategy, the minimum wage, Sure Start and so on. We have made very good progress on education. We began a national programme aimed specifically at under-performing Muslim pupils in 2004. In June of this year it was doubled in size. In 2000, 29 per cent of Pakistani and Bangladeshi children achieved 5 good GCSEs, against a national average of 49 per cent. This year 51 per cent of Pakistani and 56 per cent of Bangladeshi pupils did so. The national average was 58 per cent. In 2003 only 33 per cent of Black Caribbean pupils achieved 5 good GCSEs. 44 per cent did so in 2006. The New Deals have helped more than 200,000 ethnic minority people into work. Jobcentre Plus have specifically targeted wards with high ethnic minority populations. Ethnic Minority Outreach was introduced in 2002 to offer help from people from ethnic minorities who were struggling to get back into work. 9,000 people have been helped. 

We will continue to do all we can, in the name of equality, to provide hope, opportunity and the chance to aspire, to all our communities, in this case specifically the poorer Muslim communities, at risk of being left behind. None of these things in and of themselves will solve the problem. But then, there is no simple action by government that can solve it. It requires an act of collective leadership from us all and, in particular, from the leaders of the main religious and racial groups that go to make up the diverse identity of the modern British nation. Inter-faith dialogue has a vital role in all of this. 

Again let us not be foolish, in our desire not to cause offence. Of course the extremists that threaten violence are not true Muslims in the sense of being true to the proper teaching of Islam. But it's daft to deny the fact that they justify their extremism by reference to religious belief. The more understanding there is between religious faiths, the more knowledge and the less ignorance, the better the prospect of mutual respect and tolerance. Forgive me for mentioning, in this connection, and in a spirit of humour, the woman whom I saw on TV in Turkey, protesting about the Pope's recent visit, whose poster read: "Jesus was a prophet but not the Son of God", elevating the placard to an altogether higher plane of theology. Most Christians are hugely surprised to be told that the Koran reveres Jesus as a prophet. 

Many Jews, Muslims and Christians are entirely ignorant of the rich Abrahamic heritage we share in common. I recall at the special service in Parliament in the year 2000 to mark the millennium, all three religions plus those of the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, and Zoroastrian faiths and others, coming together, giving their readings and marvelling at how similar were the sentiments and how close the values underpinning them. Religious bigotry is inconsistent with most true religion. Part of the battle is indeed in religious instruction, where those qualified to present the true theology should gird themselves up and defeat those that pervert it. 

We should also take heart from the fact that we are not alone in having this dilemma. This debate is richocheting round the international community today with some force. We are familiar with it in Europe, where in France, Denmark, Holland and Belgium - just to name a few - such public discussion has been, as here, fraught and intense. In Germany, Interior Minister Schaueble recently held a Conference on Islam where he said "Muslims in Germany should feel like German Muslims". Italy's Guiliano Amato has just set up the "Consulta Islamica" to advise on common Italian values and their interaction with Islam. 

But perhaps less well-known is the strength of the debate in Muslim countries. In Turkey, there has recently been a fierce controversy over the Muslim headdress of women. In Tunisia and Malaysia, the veil is barred in certain public places. I know it is not sensible to conduct this debate as if the only issue is the very hot and sensitive one of the veil. For one thing, the extremism we face is usually from men not women. But it is interesting to note that when Jack Straw made his comments, no less a person than the Mufti of the Arab Republic of Egypt made a strong approving statement; and it really is a matter of plain common sense that when it is an essential part of someone's work to communicate directly with people, being able to see their face is important. However, my point is this: we are not on our own in trying to find the right balance between integration and diversity.

There is a global agonising on the subject. In fact, if anything, the UK is better placed than most to conduct the debate sensibly and to settle it sensibly. I think it is great that in British politics today no mainstream Party plays the race card. It is not conceivable, in my view, that this leader of the Conservative Party would even misuse the debate on immigration and that is both a tribute to him and to the common culture of tolerance we have established in this country today. 

There will, naturally, be debates about the rules for migration - what they should be and how they are enforced. But there is no appetite for turning such a debate into an attack - explicit or implied - on immigrants. On the contrary, we know migration has been good for Britain. We acknowledge the extraordinary contribution migrants from all faiths and races have made. We are a nation comfortable with the open world of today. London is perhaps the most popular capital city in the world today partly because it is hospitable to so many different nationalities, mixing, working, conversing with each other. But we protect this attitude by defending it. 

Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain, Britain. So conform to it; or don't come here. We don't want the hate-mongers, whatever their race, religion or creed. If you come here lawfully, we welcome you. If you are permitted to stay here permanently, you become an equal member of our community and become one of us. Then you, and all of us, who want to, can worship God in our own way, take pride in our different cultures after our own fashion, respect our distinctive histories according to our own traditions; but do so within a shared space of shared values in which we take no less pride and show no less respect. 

The right to be different. The duty to integrate. That is what being British means. And neither racists nor extremists should be allowed to destroy it.