Politicians, artists, academics, trade unionists and religious figures have strongly disputed UK Prime Minister David Cameron's declaration that multiculturalism has failed in Britain.
They accuse him of divisive and simplistic politics, treating Muslims as "the enemy within" and turning the clock back "to the days when it was acceptable, through ignorance and fear, for people with a different religion, culture or skin colour to be scapegoated and treated as inferior or outsiders."
Signatories of an open letter that appeared in the Guardian newspaper earlier this week include Bruce Kent from the Catholic peace agency Pax Christi; Rabbi Lee Wax from the Interreligious Conference for European Women Theologians; Shemiza Rashid of the Creative Muslim Network; Rob Berkeley, Director of the Runnymede Trust; and Professor Tariq Modood from the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship at the University of Bristol.
Critics of Mr Cameron's speech say that while the government may have failed in the way that is has engaged, or not succeeded in engaging, with particular communities, this is quite different from suggesting that the intention and practice of seeking to build a rich patchwork of interracting cultures is wrong or damaging.
Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, which explores issues of religion and belief in a mixed society, and another signatory, added: "The Prime Minister's comments about 'multiculturalism' are confused and confusing."
"There is no singular British culture. The fabric of common identity and a shared ethos for living together is created by giving people a real stake in society and the economy, by building cultural bridges not political barriers, and by seeking to strengthen communities at all levels through drawing on the strengths of our different traditions -- while simultaneously calling each other to account (politically, culturally, socially and religiously) for our weaknesses and abuses of power. Scapegoating particular groups is part of the problem when it comes to social disaffection and the small number of people drawn to violent extremism. It is not the solution", added Barrow.
The full statement reads as follows:
We believe David Cameron's statement that multiculturalism has failed was a dangerous declaration of intent ('Blaming the victims', Guardian editorial, 7 February 2011). His speech was reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher's infamous 1978 statement that Britain was "being swamped by alien cultures". He has branded Britain's Muslims as the new "enemy within" in the same way as Thatcher attacked the miners and trade unions.
David Cameron is attempting to drive a wedge between different communities by linking Britain's multicultural society with terrorism and national security. His speech was made on the same day as the English Defence League brought its bigotry and violence to the streets of Luton. Mr Cameron's aim is simple as it is crude – to deflect the anger against his government's cuts from the bankers and on to the Muslim community. The prime minister is aping attacks by other European leaders like France's Nicolas Sarkozy, who passed legislation banning the veil, and Angela Merkel, who has also made statements denouncing multiculturalism in Germany. We believe our multicultural society and the respect and solidarity it is built on is a cause for pride, and reject any moves by this government to undermine and destroy it.
We must not allow this coalition government to turn the tide back to the days when it was acceptable, through ignorance and fear, for people with a different religion, culture or skin colour to be scapegoated and treated as inferior or outsiders.
Individuals and organisations wishing to endorse the statment can do so here: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/defend-multiculturalism.html