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British Muslims, multiculturalism and UK foreign policy: 'integration' and 'cohesion' in and beyond the state

Causes of radicalisationDiscussions on PolicyRadicalisationRegions

This paper discusses one of the controversial 'causes' of radicalisation: UK foreign policy. The author argues that whilst the (Blair) government argued against any linkage between the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the radicalisation of British Muslims for reasons of political survival, it also did so because of a historical belief that foreign policy was separate from questions of immigrant integration.

It is this second argument that is concentrated on in this paper and the author does it by tracing the development and then abandonment of a policy of multiculturalism from Jenkin's 1966 speech outlining the approach through to Blunkett's implicit departure from it. The initial approach (multiculturalism as based on 'equal opportunity, accompanied by cultural diversity, in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance') formed part of a raft of measures which saw the separation of immigration policy from integration strategies, accompanied by an understanding that links to countries of origin would diminish over time and that policy towards these countries bore no relation to community relations within the UK.

The advent of cheap air travel and global communications in fact allowed transnational links to remain strong and a series of significant events (Rushdie, Bosnia and Chechnya) connected UK policy with community relations within the UK. These also came at a time when young Muslims, born and bred in the UK, were negotiating their own transnational identities, finding resonance with Saudi Arabian funded initiatives that connected them with a global community and shared narratives of grievance with the West.

The author's intent is not to present evidence of radicalisation due to UK foreign policy, but rather to discuss how such a situation could have arisen. He provides a concise reading of the history of multiculturalism in the UK, including its apparent demise under the pressure of government policy and community activism, concluding by adding that there is a need for the role of policy to be discussed, if at least to ensure that a one-sided view expressed by those with more extreme opinions is not allowed to dominate.

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