Britain’s leadership has mismanaged and misinterpreted multiculturalism, leading to a fracturing of British society and mutual distrust between the Muslim community and the rest of the country, the U.K.’s minister of state for security and counterterrorism said Oct. 28.
“Multiculturalism in its original form meant you were entitled to dignity, to fair treatment and equality, irrespective of your origin,” Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones said, responding to a question from Big Peace following a speech at the Brookings Institution. “It turned into, well, because you’re Sikh we’ll give you some money so you can be a bit more Sikh; you’re Muslim so we’ll give you a bit more money so you can be a bit more Muslim–more mosques, more this, more that.”
Neville-Jones, who was appointed by Prime Minister David Cameron in May, said this interpretation of multiculturalism is divisive because it creates a sense of envy and estrangement between the various minority communities who are left to compete for government funds.
Additionally, the government carried out this process under the banner of the prevention of violent extremism.
“That is to say, implicitly, if we don’t give you some money you will be violent and extremist–awful branding,” she said. “So generally [it was] a mistaken policy, and what it’s done on the whole is to entrench difference and compound it by–the then-mayor of London was an exemplar of this, [Ken] Livingstone–would buy votes that way. Not literally, but certainly to curry favor.”
Neville-Jones was at Brookings to present Britain’s new national security strategy amid controversy over cuts to the military budget–about 8 percent over the next four years.
Neville-Jones was asked by Big Peace to clarify statements she made criticizing the previous government’s handling of Britain’s integration of its growing Muslim population, which she said bred mistrust and provided a “seabed for terrorism.” She said there was no communication between the Labour government and the Muslim communities, whose members feel “picked on” and which are becoming increasingly isolated.
“We need to ensure that kids meet each other more,” she said. “They can go to school and never meet another ethnic community. That’s serious. You have generational differences in many ways–the second and third generations who should be integrating are in fact stranded between their parents, who live very often spiritually still in Pakistan, and the mainstream community into which they never quite found their way.”
Neville-Jones also recommended encouraging the independence of women in Muslim society, as well as better instruction of British history in schools as part of a new integration strategy.
“We’ve got to show people what the shared past is, so that they’ll have some idea of what the shared future is,” she said.
On the military budget, Neville-Jones said the new Conservative government “set ourselves a lot of goals and a hot pace in which to reckon them.”
She concentrated on four areas: terrorism; military conflict, especially low-level counterinsurgency; resilience and strengthening of the national infrastructure to deal with such disasters as floods and pandemics; and the need to build a secure national cyber platform.
On terrorism, Neville-Jones said they “assess the threat as being continuing, indefinite.” She said Britain is still fully committed to the “organic relationship” between the U.K. and the U.S., especially on matters of military intelligence. She also said that the government needs to build trust with the local Muslim communities or risk alienating them and losing their cooperation on the essential matter of homeland security. “We do believe national security is about society,” she said.
She said that while there is a shortage of materiel needed by British troops in Afghanistan–such as those related to airlifting and helicopter access–the armed forces in other areas have a surplus of unnecessary vehicles and other items, because there hasn’t been a strategic review in a decade.
While some money, therefore, must be spent more efficiently, Britain’s overall strategy will now be to put more emphasis on prevention as opposed to intervention. Its implementation will put more diplomats on the ground where there is not yet a need for soldiers, such as Yemen and Somalia. “Don’t let it develop,” she said. “I think we’re trying to learn some of the lessons of the last decade.”
According to Neville-Jones, the budget cuts will also have Britain focusing more on soft power, which can be a difficult sell to the public. Nonetheless, she insisted, Britain will retain the ability to display enough hard power to defend itself. And though there is no pressure for the government to withdraw from Afghanistan, she said, “there is anxiety.”
She also tied Britain’s military obligations in the Middle East to brewing resentment among the country’s Muslim citizenry. “As we are less involved in Muslim countries… that source of tension will undoubtedly diminish,” she said.
Neville-Jones said the specificity of the budget cuts and reallocations shows this was not a rash move in the early days of a new administration but rather the result of years spent in opposition carefully cultivating an understanding of past mistakes and of future requirements.
“We didn’t come to this exercise empty-headed,” she said.