|Sajjad Karim MEP|
British Premier, David Cameron recently gave a speech to the Munich Security Conference on countering extremism. Much of the reporting on it seems sensational, compared to the text of the address, but he does discuss moving to shared values and identity. New Europe spoke to Conservative MEP, Sajjad Karim, who represents the North West constituency, home to a large immigrant population about community relations and the wider lessons for Europe.
David Cameron’s speech seemed to say that we need to develop more of an identity, to be more inclusive than multiculturalism
For me, the whole issue of identity has centered around what it means to be British, as a concept. One subtle but important point in David Cameron’s speech is that he made it in Germany and the German view of what it means to be German is very different to the British view.
The concept of Britishness has always been very open, quite simply because of British history, all encompassing and open to a huge array of cultures, languages, people and it has become very rich as a result of that.
Within being British, you have many different layers of identity as well as the legally recognised ability to have more than one nationality. You can be British and Pakistani. What I do take exception to, and it has developed in recent years, post 911, is the term British Muslim to identify people like myself. This is where I think David Cameron got it completely right in his speech, is that what we need to do, is to invest and redevelop Britishness as our identity.
It should be British full stop. There should be no qualification to that, based upon one’s religion. As soon as you start doing that, based upon multicultural lines, that’s where you start to weaken the concept of shared values underneath identity. That’s something we need to roll back from.
I heard an interview with a woman from the North West, who said that she believed in multiculturalism because she was nothing like someone from the South West. This shows that there are many cultures within Britain and we often hear words about religion, but the subject does seem to be race
She makes a very valid point. When I speak about my identity, I always say that I was born a Lancastrian and that is very different to being from many other places. That’s another layer of identity, but it comes withing what it means to be British. You can also ask about what it means to be European.
The point about using religion to identify somebody, I find to be wrong, after great consideration. It’s not just about people who are immigrants, but you’re also talking about second or third generation British or people who have converted.
I am finding it increasingly troublesome to see people being identified as British Muslims. We don’t find people with people of other faiths, but when it comes to Muslim’s there seems to be a need to do that. By doing that, we’re qualifying their Britishness with a sub category. It can be a sub layer of your identity, but not nationality.
Identity is connected with history, but the diversity of that is not always recognised
I think there is a need for everybody to gain the knowledge and understanding of all the peoples who have made Britain what it is today. The contribution of Indian soldiers, defending Britain with their lives, and we’re simply not informed, and because people are not aware of that, people don’t feel part of the history of Britain and if they were, you’d have far less alienation and people from the wider communities had that recognition, you wouldn’t have the rise of the far right that we are seeing.
When I look at the English Defence League, I don’t recognise their version of Englishness
It’s very worrying foe me. It’s not that long ago when we saw these sorts of movements and we know where that got us. It’s not just the EDL in England, it’s also happening in many other places. The extremely worrying thing is that all of these groupings are not attaching themselves to ethnicity or race, they’re concentrating on a particular religion as being the threat and that is Islam.
What worries me is the overall is the atmosphere in the media, including the printed press, where you can speak about Muslims and Islam in a way that you wouldn’t dare speak about a particular race or any other religion. You’re allowed to concentrate on the actions of a small minority of extremists who cloak themselves with that religion, and say that they are representative of Muslims.
I wonder how most English people would feel, if all of a sudden, the actions of the EDL were said to be representative of them, as a whole.
I’m old enough to remember the influx of Asians in the 70’s and they got on by hard work. Do we recognise the contributions of people who have moved to the UK?
We don’t make the case enough,m that there are so many success stories out there, that don’t get told. These are British success stories. There are so many examples, and I describe myself as a British success story.
All to often the immigrant story, is one of an immigrant coming to our country to take. If you look at the reality, you’d be hard pushed to find an immigrant to arrived in the UK and taken more than he or she has contributed.
Immigration has been the bedrock of building the UK and it has been a very positive experience for them and for the UK. Our history is diversity and Britain has been at its strongest, not when it has been navel gazing, but when it has been looking outwards and reaching outwards.
We tend to ask, how do we see the world? We don’t ask enough, is how does the world see us? We need to start asking that because the world has changed significantly, from when we were about to ask what we thought about a particular country without having to think for a second about what do they think of us.