David Cameron has spoken today about what he calls 'state multi-culturalism', and claims that it hasn't worked. What presumably he means by this is Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Afro-Caribbean, Polish and other ethnic communities who retain much of their indigenous cultural identity whilst living in Britain. He sees these as potential breeding grounds for radical extremism and terrorist cells, and as such they need to be controlled a little better, or even curbed.
Not surprisingly his comments have met with opposition from, particularly, Muslim community leaders, who see his comments as misguided at best, and inflammatory at worst. Perhaps they could have been timed better, coming as they did during a march by the anti-Islamist 'English Defence League', giving ammunition to the far right in their bigoted battle against anything that may seem different and even slightly threatening. No doubt Nick Griffin will draw strength from Mr Cameron's remarks and peoples' reactions to them.
Although Cameron's remarks were aimed particularly at Islamist groups (and he specifically stated that he was not targeting Islam, but extremist corruptions of the faith), his comments have raise some further concerns for me. If, as he stated, he is keen for groups to 'believe in universal human rights - including for women and for people of other faiths' - rights that I believe to be fundamental, where does this leave certain Christian groups who believe as an article of faith that women should not have positions of leadership in the Church, or that Christianity is the only way to God and those who propound other faiths are satanic? Although I do not hold either of these beliefs, there are those of my Christian brothers and sisters (though usually brothers) who do. Where will they stand under Cameron's thinking?
He also asks 'do they encourage integration or separatism?' Is it naive of me to ask, where does this leave certain monastic communities who see separation from the world as central to their understanding of Christian discipleship?
Yes, ethnic communities should be free to carry out their cultural practices, where they don't harm anyone, and these communities should be free to express their cultural identity. But they should also seek to become part of the wider community in which they live - as many of them already do. We are one family, under One God: why can't we live, and be allowed to live, that way?