Has “multiculturalism failed”? What this means for Hindus.

Islamic protesters call for those who insult Islam to be killed

Is this what multiculturalism means?

Last week the Prime Minister, David Cameron said that “multiculturalism has failed“.  This raises a number of questions:

  • What does he mean by this?
  • Is he right?
  • What does this mean for Hindus?
  • Does David Cameron expect Hindus, Jews, Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Buddhists all to abandon their individual cultures and beliefs?

Understanding this is important, because similar statements have been made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Australia’s ex-prime minister John Howard,  and Spanish ex-premier Jose Maria Aznar.  First of all, I will look at this question: “what is multiculturalism?”.

What is multiculturalism?

multiculturalism

The UK has never had a uniform culture

Wikipedia makes it clear  that multiculturalism can have several meanings:

Multiculturalism has a number of different meanings. At one level the term means the appreciation, acceptance or promotion of multiple cultures, applied to the demographic make-up of a specific place, usually at the organizational level, e.g. schools, businesses, neighborhoods, cities or nations. In this sense multiculturalism approximates to respect for diversity.

I think it is clear that the UK has always been multicultural in this sense. The above composite picture shows the Yorkshire Show, Scots Pipers, and Punters in Cambridge. All of these people have very different outlooks, ways of life,  and views of the country. It seems very unlikely that David Cameron wants to integrate all of these into a mono-cultural society.  The Wikipedia article also says:

In a political context the term has come to mean the advocacy of extending equitable status to distinct ethnic and religious groups without promoting any specific ethnic, religious, and/or cultural community values as central.

So is he saying that different religious and ethnic groups should not be treated equitably? Is he promoting some core community values? I think that his words make things a little clearer:

But these young men 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 apart from the mainstream. We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.

What he appears to be saying is that there are some core values, and communities should not oppose these. Also communities should not live separate lives from the mainstream. Later he concentrates on those opposing core values:

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. As others have observed, this is like turning to a right-wing fascist party to fight a violent white supremacist movement. So we should properly judge these organisations: do they believe in universal human rights – including 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. Fail these tests and the presumption should be not to engage with organisations – so, no public money, no sharing of platforms with ministers at home.

What he seems to be saying is that certain core value should be upheld: the right to democracy, equality of all in law, and universal rights for people of all faiths. I agree with him on this point, though it does not seem to me to really be an issue of multiculturalism. It is a general issue of freedom where some people oppose it. It applies to areas like free speech (should people be allowed to speak against free speech), democracy (should an anti-democratic party be allowed to run for election and then end democracy), and rights (to what extent should we restrict the rites of those who will infringe the rights of others, for example imprisoning criminals). The generally accepted answer is that these groups should be limited where they infringe others rights,; so people should be allowed to speak against free speech (as it does not affect the rights of others), but a democratically elected party should not be able to remove democracy, and criminals who are likely to kill, injure, or steal from people can be locked up to protect the rights of others.

I think the example of a democratically elected party being prevented from removing democracy is the closest analogy. Protecting democracy by a constitution, so that one elected party cannot abolish it can be seen as an enhancement of democracy, even though it limits the powers of a democratically elected party. Similarly restricting cultural groups opposed to the rights of other cultures or beliefs should be seen as an enhancement to multiculturalism rather than its failure.

Upholding the Secular Freedoms

Ahmadiyya Mosque Berlin

The Ahmadiyya Muslims reject violent Jihad and the propagation of Islam by the Sword.

Interestingly the rights of freedom and democracy he is talking about are secular rights, they did not arise out of Christianity. For years Christian Britain had a feudal system, and those of other faiths were restricted by law (or at some times in history executed).

I don’t think that Hindus, Jews, most Christians, Buddhists or many other people would have any difficulty in recognising these secular rights. There are also Muslims who support these rights:  many individual Muslims and some Muslim groups, such as the Ahmadiyya reject violence and subjigation of those of other faiths. They should be accepted the same as anyone of any other faith.

For those who believe that they should have the right to subjugate others, that they should have a superiour position in law, it should be made very clear that this is against our principles of secular freedoms, and will not be allowed. Any attempt to impose these ideas should be dealt with by the law. This should apply to all people, whatever their religion or background.

Integration or Separation

Though I agree with what David Cameron says about cultures and groups having to accept certain universal rights, I think that the meaning of this call for integration is less clear. Does he mean that cultural groups  should forget and suppress their individuality and integrate into one culture? If he means that then I am against it. If,  he means that each group should be able to openly celebrate their own festivals, hold events, and respect the right of others to do the same then that is fine.

Maybe he is talking about not forcibly keeping people away from other communities. I really think that he is unclear on this point, which is dangerous, it will be seen as support for extremist views by the right wing.

So has multiculturalism failed?

David Cameron’s main argument is  that people should respect basic rights and freedoms of others, and that all should be equal under the law.  This point is not related to multiculturalism as much as to universal rights and freedoms.

Certain groups are against these principles, but that does not mean that multiculturalism has failed any more than you could say a social club failed if one person refused to attend. Most Christians, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs and many others manage to live together respecting the rights of others to equal treatment. The fact that some groups don’t accept this doesn’t mean that the the basic concept of multiculturalism is wrong.

If David Cameron that the idea of having separate cultures or beliefs in society has failed, then he is certainly wrong – this has always been part of the UK society. I would say that multiculturalism is having respect for other ways of life and beliefs, while holding your own. This works.

We need to make sure that those who think that they should dominate and restrict other groups are not allowed to do so. This restriction, preventing them from subjugating others and illegal acts, is no more a failure of multiculturalism than constitutionally preventing parties from ending democracy is a failure of democracy!

How does this relate to Hinduism?

Hinduism is part of the UK’s multicultural society. I have already described how the tolerance between groups within Hinduism is a model for inter-religious respect. If Vishnava, Saiva, and others within Hinduism can hold their own views and respect others then this attitude can be exists between to other faiths in society.

David Cameron’s statement could be used by extremist right-wing groups to legitimise racial and religious prejudice. This could have an impact on Hindus as well as other minorities.  We need to keep an eye on the dialogue, and make sure that “anti extremism” isn’t hijacked by right-wing parties and changed to an “anti other culture” movement.


The picture of the extremist banners is on many sites on the internet, and the small resolution image is considered fair use. The composite picture of different UK cultures is made from a picture of Scots pipers from wikimedia, a picture from the Yorkshire Show from Wikimedia and a picture of Cambridge punters by Yudi Asnar, released on the creative commons attribution license. The picture of the Ahmadiyya mosque in Berlin is also from Wikimedia.

20 responses to “Has “multiculturalism failed”? What this means for Hindus.

  1. We all know that Cameron is not speaking about Hindus or Buddhists or Sikhs.
    He is afraid of openly criticizing islam.

    In islamic countries, they oppose multi-culturalism.

    Regarding Ahmediyas,

    They were in the forefront of anti-Hindu riots during 1947 partition.
    Ahmediyas assassinated Pandit Lekh Ram who was trying to shuddhi muslims.

    Multiculturalism has not failed in co-existing in UK
    Islam has failed in co-existing in UK

    Honor-killings, terrorism, grooming of white girls, no-go zones and so on.

    UK leadership in the last 50 years has been as foolish as Vortigern, in letting in islam.

    A fair number of UK Hindus and Sikhs do support BNP and EDL.

    • Namaste Shan,
      Regarding the Ahmediyas, I have looked in to the assassination of Pandit Lekh Ram, and it looks as though they were probably responsible. However, nothing was proved legally. Also Mirza Ghulam Ahmad has “prophecises” the death of the Pandit incorrectly at least twice before, at one point promising 500Rs if he lived a year (admitted even by Islamic sites). He did not pay even though Pandit Lekh Ram lived, showing that he was not a man of truth. If he was going to arrange an assassination then why not then?

      I think that there is no doubt that the Ahmediyas did nothing to calm people and prevent the Pandit’s murder. It is also quite likely that they did “fulfill their own prophecy”, but I don’t think that this is certain.

  2. The primary question is whether the intolerant ( islam ) should be tolerated in the name of multiculturalism

  3. This is of course complicated by the fact that many, in fact most individual Muslims are opposed to violent action. Like most people, the majority just want to live their lives in peace.

    It would be nice if they spoke out against their violent brethren more frequently and more clearly though.

  4. Surveys show that over 70% of muslims want sharia laws, such as dhimmitude and hand choppings,

    Violent Jihad is simply a means to the end ( Sharia )

    Yes many oppose the means but few oppose the ends.

  5. an intresting documentary by bbc on what is taught in deobandi(indian muslim movement) faith schools of please watch it full. they have some nasty views .and majority of british moslem faith schools follow deobandi views.
    and majority of british muslims are pakistanis.watch their views on hindus,its bad even when its origin is from india.

    [Tandava: inline video changed to link] http://goo.gl/p3mDu

  6. Around 300AD, the pagan romans made a fatal mistake, they tolerated the intolerant christianity and got wiped out in a few decades.

    Islam is the more intolerant sibling of pre-modern christianity and poses an even stronger danger to the now tolerant semi-christian west

  7. Oh kindred soul! No political comment, just very pleased to be reading your blog. I’m on a similar journey and geographically close, but without the courage to blog or a local temple I am kept company and inspired by others’ writings. Thanks for being there.

  8. I left out some commas which made it read as though I didn’t have the courage, but that’s not what I meant. Without the courage to blog, OR a local temple, I feel isolated. I would be happy to visit a temple. My closest temple, as far as I can find out, is about 50 miles away, so I’ve set one up in my home. I’m doing the Master Course too. Anyway, thank you for your reply.

  9. Shan Barani

    1/29/07 Daily Telegraph UK: 40% of Muslims, ages 16 to 24, want Sharia law; 13% admire al-Qaeda; 36% believe apostates should be executed; 75% believe that women should wear veils. –

    Do you think they believe in multiculturalism ? The mainstream UK muslim seems to want Sharia

  10. Shri Aurobindo, a Hindu saint on this issue, from a Hindu viewpoint – “You can live amicably with a religion whose principle is toleration. But how is it possible to live peacefully with a religion whose principle is “I will not tolerate you”? How are you going to have unity with these people? “

    • This video speaks volumes about brain washing small children. UK needs better laws which needs to looks at intolerance and extremism. For democratic secular countries it is a double sword. They don’t know which way to go till their house is out of order.

  11. Tina,
    Namaste.
    i can understand how you must be feeling without a tample in town. I had the same misfortune for 4 years in Arkansas state in USA. That was a serious enough reason for me to move to a big city; believe me I feel so peaceful, eventhough i dont visit the mandir that often. Tandava, white hindu and others are as well very dedicated hindu bloggers. I read mostly and comment rarely. Hindudharmaforums.com similarly has lots of westerners from both europe and the Americas and you can debate with many western hindus there. Shanti.

  12. Tina,
    this is blissful tune affects me no matter how many times i listen ti it…for you. Namaste.
    [Tandava: inline video changed to link] http://goo.gl/tBYVd

  13. Kawaii Gardiner

    One has to ask what is meant by integration; for me issues such as different cultures clothing, food etc. are pretty superficial in the grand scheme of things – when it comes to ‘integration’ it should be on the basis of binding oneself into a larger tapestry of shared values that we all accept and uphold. Share values include the idea that all citizens are equal before the law and that there are a single set of laws and system to implement to which all citizens agree on. The government is there to reflect the will of the people but at the same time politicians are expected to protect the rights of minorities from the tyranny of the majority. Freedom of speech cannot be abridged because some people feel like precious snow flakes; ones faith should be rock solid enough to handle the robust of critiques or crudest of charactures.

    For me I’ve always had three basic rules, as long as it is consensual, doesn’t cost me any money and I’m not forced to watch/condone it, then go ahead – fill your boots. What ever floats your boat have fun doing it. The problem starts to happen, as Shan Barani pointed out, that we have become so tolerant that we tolerate the intolerant – we’re starting to excuse behaviours at the expense of protecting those who need to be protected.

    Shan Barani you made an interesting point regarding the speech, I wouldn’t even say he is commenting about Islam in general – his comments were about Muslims from South East Asia, specifically of the Sunni variety. Funny enough you don’t see the sorts of radicalism when it comes to Shi’ites, or Iranians etc. but of course being the careful politician he tries to hide his real message under several layers.

  14. There are 2 types of Shiites.

    The ismailis under the Aga Khan and regular Shias

    In Shiaism, Itjehad or re-interpretation of the Koran has never been closed and so you find that Shia Iran is fairly democratic for a muslim country and women are allowed to work.

    In India, in the last 60 years, Shias and Ismailis have never been found to indulge in riots or terrorism.

    The Aga Khanite ismailis are descendents of the Hashishin Assasins.
    They realised that they will never be in majority and will never have political power and so they support separation of church and state and are probably the most tolerant among muslims.

  15. The article concentrates on the negative sides of Islam which are portrayed in the media. A couple of inhuman British Muslims cannot mean multiculturalism has failed in Britain. Even thou David Carmeron states that its failed in Britain but the London Olympic 2012 shows that its a Success.

    Multiculturalisms

  16. Well , i wont say against cameroon. As we ourself are fedup of ‘SECULARISM OR SICKULARISM’ we want a happy , hindu India , where hindus, jews, tolerating christian/muslim, bhudist and jain, sikh live with us.

  17. I know how UK christians would feel.
    We hindus in India are 3rd rate citizens. Muslim get reservations in university, job and even rich muslims get minority scholarship while if Hindu is poor he cant study. Half of criminal activities are from muslims in this country where total minority populatn is 20%!!
    Kill our cows, rape women, wives seen as sex and kid producing machines. Temples bombd, fird , demolished. Even Cows in Temple are RAPED!!
    Love jihad- new method to make love with hindu – christian grls and convert them to Islam!! We are highly tolerant but dnt touch our cows and women.
    But govt, politics everthing is with them.
    Last week a muslim guy dragged a bengali grl here in south Kerala, and raped her and tore all her clothes and threw away in middle of street.
    Army men who put their life in uncertainity for Kashmir cant buy a piece of land there coz of special status! Kashmir Pandits, original owners of kashmir were attackd. 300 people killd, many rapd and nw 4lac of them live in Delhi without basic rights – refugees in theirown land. While muslim illegal immigrants of Bangladesh , half of whom are terrorist, are being given citizenship !

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