Cultural sensitivity putting rights at risk, warns Cameron
Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent
Wednesday February 27 2008
A “cultural cloak of sensitivity” is preventing figures in authority, including police, teachers and social services, from protecting basic human rights for fear of upsetting certain ethnic minority communities, David Cameron warned yesterday.
In his strongest attack on multiculturalism, which he said had created a “cultural apartheid” by allowing communities to lead separate lives, the Conservative leader claimed that society was caving in to “extreme elements” who should be sidelined. Cameron cited two examples:
authorities often turn a blind eye to forced marriages – schools in Derby have recently refused to put up posters about the issue – amid fears that they might be perceived as racists;
Victoria Climbi, the eight-year-old who was tortured to death by her aunt and her aunt's boyfriend, was not properly protected by social services because they did not want to offend a family that had recently arrived in Britain.
Cameron said: “For too long we've caved in to more extreme elements by hiding under the cloak of cultural sensitivity. For too long we've given in to the loudest voices from each community, without listening to what the majority want. And for too long, we've come to ignore differences – even if they fly in the face of human rights, notions of equality and child protection – with a hapless shrug of the shoulders, saying, 'It's their culture isn't it? Let them do what they want'.”
He spoke out at a debate hosted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, whose chair, Trevor Phillips, recently praised Cameron for attempting to “deracialise the issue of immigration”. Cameron echoed Phillips with a strong attack on what he described as “state multiculturalism”.
Cameron said: “Of course we should respect different cultures. But we shouldn't encourage them to live apart.” He cited the recent intervention by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said it was “unavoidable” that elements of sharia law would be introduced to Britain. This would be fine, Cameron said, if sharia law remained under the jurisdiction of English law, but wrong if different laws applied to different communities. “The reality is that the introduction of sharia law for Muslims is actually the logical endpoint of the now discredited doctrine of state multiculturalism, seeing people merely as followers of certain religions rather than individuals in their own right within a common community.”
Cameron's aides regarded his speech, which follows a visit to victims of forced marriage in Bradford last week, as a significant moment. They said he wanted to address difficult issues with care, without sidestepping them.
The Tory leader concluded his speech with a warning that Britain should become “a cold place” for people who refuse to integrate.