It worries me that today’s debate on British values comes off the back of an investigation into extremism in schools. What could, and should otherwise be a healthy discussion on what it means to be British, feels like it has some rather negative undertones. It almost feels like a backlash, a knee-jerk response in the ongoing battle against extremism.
Following the investigation that uncovered alleged attempts to introduce extremist Islamist values into 21 Birmingham schools, Education Minister Michael Gove has announced that schools in England and Wales should be taught “British values”. Senior politicians have today been scrambling to define these values. Words like ‘tolerance’, ‘equality’, and ‘freedom’ have been bandied around. But these are fairly generic terms which are not just unique to Britain; and indeed much of the debate in the media today has asked: exactly what are these British values that our children are going to be taught?
So as Whitehall sets about defining what it means to be British, what I really want to know is what these new British values will mean to the British Asian community. Where does this debate- that stemmed from extremism- leave us? Are we to be included in this new definition?
Multiculturalism has got to be our get-out-of-jail -free-card. For years under the Blair-Brown Labour government, multiculturalism was the hot ticket that everyone talked about. But then in 2011, David Cameron famously said that multiculturalism had failed. In fact today’s discussion to me feels like a retreat from the much-talked about multiculturalism of the ‘90’s and ‘00’s.
As yet what defines these British values is still up for grabs. In terms of how British Asians should respond to this debate, for me the answer lies in a comment made by Michael Gove (which is not something I ever thought I’d say!) Mr Gove told the Commons: “One strength of the United Kingdom is that it has provided a safe and warm home for people of every faith over hundreds of years.”
As an immigrant family that came to Britain in the late 1970’s, we have for the most part lived a comfortable life here. Asians and many other ethnic minorities have been tolerated and included in British society. Yes we’ve experienced our share of racism but we continue to live and thrive here. I believe we need to ensure that all families and communities have that same opportunity- to settle, to work, to live. But integration is key.
We need to make a positive contribution to British society- not huddle away in ‘little- Indias’ and other ghetto-ised neighbourhoods. We must continue to show that we have something valuable to contribute to Britain, its economy and culture, and as such prove that we are indeed a part of the fabric of this country.
Yes, we need to be a part of this debate on British values. We as British Asians are a bona fide community in Britain and so let’s help shape this debate.