Last week, at the tory conference I tried so hard to avoid, David Cameron predictably chose the easiest path to tabloid headlines by saying that Muslim “ghettos” in Britain need to be broken up. He then followed up this piece of radical wisdom by suggesting that Muslim schools should be forced to accept pupils from other faiths.
Jesus. (Or Mohammed, I'm not fussy). Everyone’s an expert.
The fact is that there are towns and cities in this country that are hugely racially and religiously polarised, which creates social problems. To pretend otherwise would be foolish. And certainly there are things that you can do to help integration, if integration is what you’re after (knocking down a council estate’s community centre and building an Asian community centre instead, as the council once did a few years ago in Camden, is probably a good example of the way NOT to go). Dave is also right to pinpoint childhood – the stage at which prejudice and preconception have had little time to foment – as the best time to encourage social mixing.
But what good is it to hijack the faith schools debate in such a flagrantly lazy manner? There are thousands of Catholic, Jewish and Church of England schools in this country that he does not suggest forcing to “do more than provide a good education…[to] turn out young men and women who have experience of life beyond their own community”. Thousands. Dave gives them a mere cursory mention (anti-Semitism being just so last year).
Meanwhile, there are six Muslim state schools in this country.
SIX: count them. If Britain’s Islamic educators genuinely are attempting to use the state school system to corrupt the minds of their own young against their non-Muslim peers – the clear implication here – they’re doing a fairly poor job of it, I’d say.
Dave’s speech is hardly Rivers of Blood, granted, but exploiting Middle England’s fear of otherness just confuses what is, in fact, one of the most important and valid issues for modern times in Britain (i.e. how we ensure a cohesive multi-faith and multicultural society when our community is now made up of groups of people whose beliefs are fundamentally opposed to one another).
Choosing to fan the flames of an already heated debate about Muslim integration as a means of guaranteeing press coverage is a decidedly cynical move, and probably tells us more about Cameron’s motivations (i.e. an ambition for the seat of power so great that he’ll do and say whatever it takes to shoehorn himself into it) than he or his speechwriters probably even intended.