Multiculturalism: yes or not?
It is hard not to question the “failure of multiculturalism” while walking along the streets of Southwark. In less than 100 meters you come across a Colombian café at the exit of the Tube, an Indian restaurant on the opposite side of the road and a Mosque at the end of it.
“When white persons hold racist views we rightly condemn them. But when equally unacceptable views come from someone who isn’t white we are sometimes even fearful to stand up to them,” said PM Cameron in his recent speech in Munich where he declared, followed right after by Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, the failure of multiculturalism.
“We work hard every day in Southwark, where 169 different nationalities live, and I really don’t think multiculturalism has failed,” says Chris Haydon the manager of local TV network called Community TV Trust based in Elephant & Castle. The TV director has recently released a DVD about the Islamic society of the neighborhood entitled “MOSQUE: the story of Islam in Southwark.”
Mr. Haydon believes Muslims are victim of misrepresentation by the media. “From 9/11 on, media attention has focused mainly on Islam, which is understandable, but it failed representing it appropriately.”
Mr. Haydon, who has been working in the neighborhood for the last 10 years, says he experiences multiculturalism every day and highlights that it is not only about Muslims. “Here in Southwark you have a clear example of that,” he says, “We have a great number of Latin American, Indian and Chinese. Moreover, the many Islamic communities in Southwark do not necessarily interpret their faith in the same way .”
Still, media focuses on Muslims, Haydon says. “And if you think about it, even those who protest against foreigners focus on them.”
The hint is at the protests that took place in Luton at the beginning of the month, when English Defence League (EDL) and British National Party (BNP) marched shouting against Islam, claiming that it represents a threat to British people.
From the other side of the barricade, a supporter of BNP – who refused to leave his name – emphasis the importance of defending British culture and identity. “We focus on Muslims for obvious reasons,” he says, “Have we forgotten 9/11? The hijackers were neither Indian nor Chinese and so on. They were Muslims. Plus, I think we have been overwhelmed by them over the last years and I think it is our duty as Brits to defend our identity.”
More moderately, an old English lady who lives in Southwark says: “It is not a matter of focusing or not on Muslims. The problem is that I’ve been living in this neighborhood for 30 years and, believe me, it doesn’t look like London anymore. I think we need to preserve our traditions somehow and what Cameron said about it makes me feel safer.”
The debate gets to the point: if by multiculturalism we mean getting different communities to live together while keeping their own identities, is it actually possible to realise it?
“Of course it is,” says Mr Haydon, “I think very often is a mainstream media and a political approximation that of getting rid of the issue by saying: ‘it just failed, because simply it is not possible.’ Have they really tried?”
After having worked at many projects involving not only the Islamic communities of Southwark, the tv director believes instead that the best way of preserving British culture is to confront it with other cultures.
“After all, it is not something you can stop. Immigrants will not cease to exist. Plus, we first attracted them in the UK when we were the head of the Empire and I believe it is quite paradoxical that now we tell them ‘go back to your country!’ or ‘stay here, but stick exclusively to our rules.’”
On the issue, the young Imam of New Peckham Mosque Abdul Baki says: “I don’t think all British people agree with BNP and EDL thoughts. I think England is one of the best places in the world for everybody to practice his own cult. We managed to build a new mosque on a former church. I don’t think it would be possible the other way round in Turkey, for instance. I hope this kind of people will prevail.”