Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Enough of hands-off tolerance, says British PM

Feb 6, 2011

He blasts policy of multiculturalism, says better integration of young Muslims is vital

Munich - Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday condemned Britain's long-standing policy of multiculturalism as a failure, saying it undermined community relations.

He defined 'state multiculturalism' as 'the idea that we should respect different cultures within Britain to the point of allowing them - indeed encouraging them - to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.'

'State multiculturalism is a wrong-headed doctrine that has had disastrous results. It has fostered difference between communities,' the Conservative leader said in a speech to the Munich Security Conference.

"And it has stopped us from strengthening our collective identity. Indeed, it has deliberately weakened it."

It was his first major speech on Islamist extremism, an issue of major concern for British governments since four home-grown suicide bombers attacked the London transport system in 2005, killing 52 people.

'If we are to defeat this threat, I believe it's time to turn the page on the failed policies of the past,' he said.

The speech came as thousands of supporters of a British far-right group rallied in Luton, north of London, which has emerged as a flashpoint between radical Islam and Britain's far-right.

Large numbers of police were deployed to quell possible violence as supporters of the English Defence League, a group which says it is against militant Islam, took to the streets.

Counter-demonstrations were also under way by a group called Unite Against Fascism and sections of the town's large Muslim community, stoking fears of clashes.

The Prime Minister, who took power in May last year, argued that state policies that have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives had resulted in a lack of national identity in Britain which had made some young Muslims turn to extremist ideology.

'Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism,' he said.

'A passively tolerant society says to its citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values.

'A genuinely liberal country does much more. It believes in certain values and actively promotes them.'

Mr Cameron distinguished between Islam the religion and the political ideology of Islamist extremism, saying they 'are not the same thing'.

But Muslim groups in Britain reacted with a mixture of disappointment and outrage.

'It is disappointing,' Mr Faisal Hanjra, assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, told BBC radio, adding that it did not appear to mark a shift in the approach to tackling terrorism.

'Again it just seems the Muslim community is very much in the spotlight, being treated as part of the problem as opposed to part of the solution.'

Mr Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of British Muslim welfare group the Ramadhan Foundation, added: 'Singling out Muslims as he has done feeds the hysteria and paranoia about Islam and Muslims.'


Active liberalism needed

'Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism. A passively tolerant society says to its citizens: As long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values. A genuinely liberal country does much more. It believes in certain values and actively promotes them.'


[Maybe it is possible for Britain, Australia, and other countries where Muslims were historically not a large segment of the population for them to establish a common value system and to require new immigrants to subscribe to such a value system. The US for example had for the longest time, a "melting-pot" multi-culturalism. Immigrant cultures hit the US shores and were assimilated over generations. In the metropolitan cities, cultures meshed and gelled into the collective melting pot. Maybe it was easier with all the cultures were European cultures. So they may come with the lederhosen and their dirndi and other traditional clothes, but over time and over generations, the younger ones abandon their old ways and take up jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers.

For Singapore, certainly we have practiced parallel multiculturalism, as opposed to "melting pot" multiculturalism. So cultures and peoples remain distinct and identifiable. But with religious fundamentalism reacting to modernism and materialism, the Muslims and the Christians are turning inwards. The Muslims are turning to their religion to solve their social problems but in doing so, are taking on the outward trappings of piety (or fidelity or whatever it is their clothes are supposed to represent), which is separating them by the distinctive dressing, and isolating themselves by their implied criticism of modern society, and pragmatic and practical norms.

If I may rant here, a pious man can walk through a roomful of naked women and not have a stray licentious thought run through his mind. A good man could walk through the same room, be tempted, and resist temptation. But a lustful man can walk anywhere, be tempted and give in to temptation and sin. Discipline comes from within, not from imposition of one's weakness on others.

Interestingly, the Malay/Muslim turning to their religion is a reaction to their community's social issues and stress as a minority, as an economically under-represented group.

Conversely, the Christians turn to religion as a search for existential meaning in the face of unrelenting materialism. That's why mega churches can raise millions in a single weekend. The Christians are trying to buy peace of mind.

Next a letter from a well-meaning but naive letter writer in response to the British PM.]

Feb 8, 2011
Do it the Singapore way

I AM a firm believer in the adage: Too much of a good thing can be bad. This applies to political and social ideals as much as it applies to food - I love laksa but too much of it clogs my arteries.

Take the example of tolerance. British Prime Minister David Cameron has come out against the country's longstanding policy of multiculturalism, calling it a failure ('Enough of hands-off tolerance, says British PM'; Sunday). He has called for better integration of young Muslims to combat home-grown extremism.

While tolerance is very much needed for racial and cultural integration, too much of it results in a state of multiculturalism whereby respect and tolerance for different cultures result in different communities living separate lives, far apart from the mainstream.

Notwithstanding many Western countries' continued criticism of Singapore's 'political climate', they would certainly do well to learn from us, especially in the area of social integration.

Being ever so pragmatic, our approach to racial integration is a healthy mix of tolerance with active promotion of the value of common destiny - to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.

That common purpose is so succinctly stated in the National Pledge, which I recited every morning when I was a young boy in school.

We must applaud our founding fathers for their vision and for their fortitude in standing up for what they believed in, and for building Singapore into what it is today.

I am proud to be a Singaporean, to be a citizen of a nation that truly works as one, regardless of race, language or religion, so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for all people.

Dr Steven Thng

[It is not simply tolerance or reciting the pledge. It is also active integration and the dissolution of ethnic enclaves. By ensuring that Singaporeans of all races meet each other regularly, we are not isolated and estranged from each other. To that end, the ethnic quota policy has achieved its aim to some extent. However, this imposes some inconvenience and is counter to the general inclination of the minorities. Certainly they would be happy have their little enclaves where their kith and kin and near and available. Instead, they are dispersed.

At the same time, one has to asked if the daily use of distinctive clothes encourages the spirit of the enclave, if not the physical actuality of such. Does it identify, separate, and isolate as much as an actual enclave would?

They are not causing any harm, but is there a social harm? Would it be right to dictate dress codes? We won't tell the Sikhs to stop wearing their turban (tho many have stopped of their own accord). Partly it is because, there are so few of them, and they have been culturally consistent about their turban.

A few years ago, MOE ruled that children in schools must wear the prescribed school uniform, when there was a challenge from a family who wanted their girls to wear tudong headscarf. The school was ruled a public and common space and rightly, I feel, religious headgear had no place in it. Again, there was the challenge of the Sikh turban. The ruling was that the Sikh turban colonial legacy, whereas the tudong was an option and a choice at best, and even if compulsory, was only for girls who have reached puberty.

But still, there are madrasahs. And this is another non-integration point.]

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