Opinion: "It Takes More than Tea and Biscuits to Overcome Indifference and Fear"

February 27, 2006

Source: The Guardian


On February 27, 2006 The Guardian ran an opinion piece by columnist Madeleine Bunting about "the inadequacies of Britain's smug multiculturalism" that the recent cartoon controversy has exposed. Bunting writes, "This is how Britain does multiculturalism. It creates community leaders and then expects them to organise their fiefdoms. At an institutional level there is plenty of tea and biscuits and gallons of polite goodwill to speed them on in their task. But the message is clear: Islamic extremism is your problem, not ours. There's the loud splashing of water, washing and hands... In the UK, our brand of tolerance is doing nothing to ease the rift between an increasingly educated, highly politicised community desperate to be heard and tolerant non-Muslim Britain, which is more interested in Celebrity Big Brother than its Muslim neighbours. Most non-Muslims have their own views about such things as the nature of religious belief and the role of women, and they're not terribly interested in talking about them; they've made up their minds. The potential for real dialogue, where there can be a mutual changing of minds rather than simply getting other people to agree with you, is small.

A comfortable multicultural society is not made in Whitehall, but on the street, in the school - in the myriad of relationships of friends, neighbours and colleagues. That's where new patterns of accommodation to bridge cultural differences are forged; that's where minds change, prejudices shift and alienation is eased. The stakes here are so high, as British Muslims are well aware."