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Saturday, February 16, 2008

The downside of 24/7 rolling news

How to get yourself taken seriously in today's modern news-media dominated Britain, in which journalists are struggling to fill twenty four hours of airtime, seven days a week - form a think tank and put out any old nonsense, the more controversial the better.

Admittedly, the Royal United Services Institute is not any old think-tank but, as the Guardian observes today, it is essentially a naval and military research institute which dates back to the colonial era. Its sudden interest in social cohesion is praiseworthy, but does it have the knowledge and the expertise to be deal with this subject in any authoritive way? Joseph Harker thinks not and I am with him on this:

The Royal United Services Institute report, drawn up by a panel dominated by military historians and former top civil servants and forces chiefs, said Britain has become a "soft touch" in combating the threat of terrorism, owing to "our loss of cultural self-confidence". It went on: "In misplaced deference to 'multiculturalism', [the majority has] failed to lay down the line to immigrant communities."

At best such language and attitudes are a throwback to the intolerant days of the 70s and 80s. At worst, they have the colonial air of white masters barking orders at the "uncivilised". The phrase "immigrant communities" itself has come to be the modern-day euphemism for black or brown people - never used for the Australians of Earls Court, for instance. Worse, it traps all racial minorities as permanent outsiders, the not quite British, regardless of how many generations have been born here.

Ranting old colonels, are, of course, entitled to their opinion, even if their take on modern Britain sounds like Alf Garnett with a degree. The real problem is when they are treated as experts and given acres of media space. The Rusi report was splashed across the front pages of both the Daily Mail and the Telegraph yesterday, the former giving it the banner headline "Soft Touch UK". It was given two slots on Radio 4's Today programme, including an interview with its author, who claimed without challenge that Britain is "at war but with a peacetime mentality". Talk of an enemy within, against a background where communities are so demonised, is not only insensitive but hugely reckless.

He concludes:

At a basic level, minorities born here want to belong in this country. Problems arise when they are denied opportunities and treated as second-class citizens, to be dictated to by others who feel an entitlement to bully and condescend. From this breeds a sense of alienation, which erupted among British-born black people in inner-city riots two decades ago and has now embedded itself within many young Asians.

Politicians, though, prefer to ignore this and pin the blame on multiculturalism - which at its heart is simply a policy of trying to encourage the whole population to understand and respect the cultures of our minorities. They are more interested in sounding tough to the majority white population, whose votes they crave. Trevor Phillips, the equalities commission chief, disastrously went along with this agenda, and his comments criticising multiculturalism have guaranteed him an honorary mention in every reactionary political speech since, from New Labour to Norman Tebbit.

If we are to make intercommunity relationships more harmonious, the issues of inequality and marginalisation have to be fully addressed. On the other hand, if Britain's future security lies in the hands of the top brass and the career bureaucrats, God help us.

And so say all of us.
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