Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"Community" too often also means Disunity

"Our country must not become a mosaic of communities, no one else should ever wear a yellow star," "

So spoke Fadela Amara, the French junior minister for urban affairs, when asked about a new proposal to collect data on the ethnic origins of French citizens.

It's a statement that on the first and too fast reading, I wouldn't have agreed with; various times on here I've pointed out that for its long-term future, the best model for a truly United Kingdom is the mosaic format, bringing together in one picture the many ethnicities, religions, histories, "cultures" that are located in our nation. I was also initially surprised that it was Fadela Amara who made this statement; after all, she is of North-African origin herself. But on closer investigation, it's obvious that her problem is not the existence of the various differing strands of Frenchness- she is alerting her fellow countrymen and women to the danger to national unity posed by the development by the mosaic of "communities", not that of the individual peoples.

"Community" is most definitely now a vogue word within the UK political lexicon. We have, of course, the "Muslim", "Hindu", "Jewish" and Sikh "Communities". Over the last few years the "East European" "Community" has greatly expanded and joined its place amongst others, such as the earlier established "Afro-Caribbean", "South-Asian", Chinese and "Irish" "Communities" in our towns and cities. In Northern Ireland, we have the protestant/Unionist/Orange/British Community living jowl to cheek with its Roman Catholic/Nationalist/Irish counterpart.

Except we don't. Despite what The Newsletter might tell you, there is no homogeneous "protestant" community who all to a man vote DUP, wear the Sash and support Rangers. Trust me, some even would describe themselves as Irish. We're all individuals and this should be a basic, self-evident truth, but it's a point which even seasoned observers of the scene like Tom Griffin sometimes completely miss.

Similarly on the mainland, why on earth do we continue to persist with the belief that all people who share the same metaphorical church, mosque, temple, synagogue on Friday, Saturday, Sunday need necessarily also share enough of their political, cultural, social and yes, even religious beliefs to build up an autonomous "community". To talk about a East European community which will comprise, in all probability, of at least a dozen nationalities and more than three versions of Christianity (never mind any other religion) is also quite clearly a nonsense. As is the case with the "Afro-Caribbean" "Community", the "South Asian Community", the Chinese Community etc.

The reason we persist with the "community" concept is threefold and covered by three words now synonymous with the term "community" in the UK: "spokesmen", "funding" and "politics". Show me a self-described "community and I will show you very soon afterwards its self-described community "spokesmen". Very shortly after will follow the community "funding" to, well, fund the "spokesmen" or those ever helpful "workers" (in Northern Ireland, for some peculiar reason,both of these groups tend also to be convicted terrorists of one stripe or very communal). Most importantly for the integrity and cohesiveness of our unified nation and most definitely bringing up the rear is community "politics".

The "commmunity" "politics" expressed more often than not are the politics of those afore-mentioned "community" spokesmen. The problem being that these community guardians are rarely (if ever) aware or caring about the bigger picture beyond their own little powerbase. Their target is not for their community to be one of those small, interconnecting pieces making up that bigger picture that is our joint and shared society in the United Kingdom. Their target is to find enough space for their community to "develop" (ie expand) its interests and influence and, naturally, as a side effect for them personally, to simultaneously "develop" (ie pull in more power and finance). As Mme Amara has intimated in the case of France, such a growth of autonomous and often conflicting "communities" most likely will prove to be disastrous for the overall cohesiveness and unity of a nation.

I'm not ashamed to say that I'm a British multi-culturalist of the laissez-faire, libertarian variety. I'm not only comfortable with the fact that the United Kingdom is a multi-cultural nation, I positively welcome the fact. Jacques Chirac once said that France's strength lay in its diversity- I believe the United Kingdom can also gain a great strength and benefit from the diversity of its various peoples- but that diversity has to be one which is not derived from the independent growth of separate and separatist groupings or "communities". The necessary diversity must come from individuals having the right to enjoy and express their identity and the responsibility to respect the identity of others within the widest legal parameters afforded by the state.

Chekov had something relevant on this topic here a couple of weeks ago.


Chekov said...

It's worth reading Dominic Grieve's speech on the subject.Found here.

Chekov said...

How about this on a similar theme?!

O'Neill said...

To date 36 loyalists — many of whom are ex-UDA, UFF and UVF men — have passed level one of the pilot scheme entitled ‘The Thin End of the Wedge’

Beyond satire!

tony said...

Agree with a lot of your comments, however the following baffles me:

>>In Northern Ireland, we have the protestant/Unionist/Orange/British Community living jowl to cheek with its Roman Catholic/Nationalist/Irish counterpart.<<

Jowl to cheek? Perhaps in some communities, but why oh why would any reasonable person wish to include an organisation like the OO as part of your community? The reality of the situation need not belie the neccesity of distancing from such an extreme triumphalist group.

wildgoose said...

I agreed with what you had to say with one exception - multi-culturalism is not a good thing, it is divisive and separatist. A far better analogy would be that of an alloy in which the different parts make a stronger more cohesive whole.

O'Neill said...


I followed that very closely with "Except we don't."

It makes sense or easier for certain political parties and elements in media to pretend that it exists...but I don't believe there is a Protestant/Orange/British community in Northern Ireland. Fortunately Irish republicanism hasn't caught on to that fact yet.

O'Neill said...


A far better analogy would be that of an alloy in which the different parts make a stronger more cohesive whole.

I think we might be on the same hymn sheet here.

I deliberately said I'm a multi-culturalist small "m". In the UK, the policy of Multi-Culturalism (large "M") has meant the encouragement of those autonomous (and more often than not divisive) "community" groups and politics I was criticising. To be able to live in a society where there is amyriad of cultural influences interacting is good, to live in a society where different cultures and peoples are fighting for their own separatist space is bad.