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The Key to Successful Multiculturalism

Last December Tony Blair made one of his most important speeches but it was not publicised as it should have been. What he advocated is at the heart if any cohesive and successful community: Integration. Speaking at a lecture at No. 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister held up a multicultural Britain as something to be celebrated, but added bluntly: "Conform to it or don't come here. We don't want the hate-mongers, whatever their race, religion or creed."

Blunt words indeed, but very necessary.

The one thing Britain has lacked for a long time is leadership on diversity issues. Since immigration has increased, there has been an emphasis on legislating for the newcomers' integration and protection while not much attention was given to the host members who had to deal with their new neighbours. Now, in the wake of the threat from terrorism and Jack Straw's comments about Muslim women wearing their veils, one can sense a new fear creeping in to communities which needed some sort of reassurance. Without that leadership in diversity, White Britons have perceived, whether wrongly or rightly, that their culture and heritage are being eroded and ignored in order to 'celebrate' that of others. We can only change perceptions by acknowledging and addressing them. Minorities are here partly because Britain tried to impose its values and its racism on other countries through colonialism and imperialism. Is that what some minorities are now trying to do? Because in the absence of free speech, we have only imposition and oppression. If we resented British imperialism we cannot have it both ways by trying to change the country to suit ourselves.

Tony Blair said people who wanted to live in Britain had a duty to integrate. He continued, "If you come here lawfully, we welcome you. If you are permitted to stay here permanently, you become an equal member of our community and one of us. The right to be different. The duty to integrate. That is what being British means. And neither racists nor extremists should be allowed to destroy it."

Some people in immigrant communities might take offence to those words but a divided society cannot advance in any meaningful way. The only way forward is together and, as we chose Britain to be our country of residence, we chose it for the very qualities we need to celebrate and promote, not knock them when we had a free choice in settling here. When we make a decision to leave our country of birth and to embrace the difference of another, that is a deliberate statement about our aspirations. What we believe is right for us at that point in time. We CHOOSE to come to Britain precisely because of the values, ethos and opportunities we too aspired to enjoy; to embrace what Britain is, not what we would like it to be! Constant criticism of a country we are free to take or leave only destroys its potential, as we would be merely pulling in different directions. No one stops us from returning to any country of our choice to enjoy the better existence we crave, or the particular lifestyle we seek. We choose to live in Britain because of what it has to offer each of us and what we can gradually add to it. Not what we can demand from it in our rush to pull it down.

Diversity and multiculturalism can work beautifully when all parties are prepared to compromise, and accord each other respect, but it has to be genuine in every sense of the word. We cannot simply demand respect for ourselves while giving none to others for their culture or beliefs because no country can thrive with a divided nation. If we really love our country, we strive to make it a great place to live. Britain is a wonderful country but it needs to have leadership on its diverse society by laying down clear guidelines of behaviour, what is acceptable and unacceptable for the benefit of all, White and Black. Decisions which should be made through a representative voice of its people, but they must be clear.

There is nothing wrong with the concept of multiculturalism. The problem comes in the lack of understanding of it. Multiculturalism is not about each culture simply doing its own thing, disregarding everyone else. It is actually the celebration of diversity within a framework of unity, compromise and respect which benefits all. In a multicultural society, there has to be clearly agreed principles, responsibilities and rights which everyone adheres to, if they are to have the full benefit of a multicultural state. Anything else, like the insecure vagueness now rampant in the UK, will simply be each to his/her own, a recipe for confusion, inequality and civil disaster.

There are rights and responsibilities attached to being citizens of any country and merely stressing the rights without the responsibilities is folly and can only lead to isolation, discrimination, resentment and divisions. Clear guidelines on what it means to be British are now crucial if the country seeks the respect of all Britons, if it hopes to make them feel empowered and to bring about healing. The Government also needs to add, equally clearly, that if life in Britain is not to one's liking, a life which every immigrant citizen freely chooses, there are many other countries they can go to that could be more suitable. It means that those who love Britain, warts and all, can enjoy its benefits and help to build it, and those who do not can contribute to somewhere else which means positivity all round. That should be the bottom line for social unity while ensuring due respect and rewards for those who choose to celebrate being British, regardless of their culture.

It seems Tony Blair has at last given a strong signal on that. I hope his successor will be equally uncompromising.

About the Author: ELAINE SIHERA (Ms CYPRAH is a British writer, media contributor columnist. The first Black graduate of the OU and a post-graduate of Cambridge University, Elaine is a consultant for Diversity Management, Personal Empowerment and Relationships. An intelligent, confident expert. Elaine is the author of: 10 Easy Steps to Growing Older Disgracefully; 10 Easy Steps to Finding Your Ideal Soulmate!; Money, Sex & Compromise and Managing the Diversity Maze, among others (all available on Also the founder of the British Diversity Awards and the Windrush Achievement Awards.

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