uccessful multicultural societies are difficult to get right. When people from different communities have mixed together, they have often fought over religious or ethnic differences. Tribal loyalties usually trump any attachment to a universal humanity. Contemporary Britain is far from perfect, but it’s one of the most successful liberal and democratic multicultural nation states in history.
One of the reasons Britain has been successful in this is that it has encouraged people to be both proud of their culture and of a larger British identity. The risk with this kind of multiculturalism is when communities are proud of their culture and nothing else. This has exploded into reality in Leicester.
It started with a cricket match. The Asia Cup match between India and Pakistan on August 28 in the United Arab Emirates has led to riots and vandalism in Leicester between male members of the city’s Hindu and Muslim communities.
Masked men have marched through Muslim areas chanting Jai Shri Ram, a religious chant now often used by Hindu nationalist groups in India. A Hindu temple in the West Midlands was targeted in a violent protest where missiles and fireworks were reportedly thrown at police. So far 47 people have been arrested.
Some have blamed the conflict on social media. Leicestershire Police chief constable Rob Nixon has said that “there are significant things on there which are false”. Both sides have used Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to inflame grievances.
Others have also mentioned international forces. The conflict has been a boon to the Hindu nationalist media in India. They can use it to support their world view of Hindus being besieged by Muslim extremists. As the commentator Sunny Hundal has written, India’s ruling political party, the BJP, is trying to export its ideology to Britain.
It’s thus a combination of social media disinformation and the sectarian politics of South Asia imported to Britain. But the conflict ultimately makes a nonsense of terms like BAME (black and minority ethnic), which homogenises ethnic minority people together. As this case shows, they are not all the same. Distinctions matter. We shouldn’t assume the shared experience of not being white should override cultural differences.
If we start by acknowledging the differences between different communities, rather than brushing them aside, we can build from that into a wider British identity that is inclusive of people of different faiths and backgrounds.
Pradyumna Pradip Gajjar, a Hindu religious leader from Leicester, has said this about the conflict: “The two faiths... arrived in this city together, we faced the same challenges together and made this city a beacon of diversity and community cohesion.”
The two faiths are different but they can (and must) live together. Otherwise the multicultural British dream is gravely endangered.
In other news...
When I was 15 I was playing video games, studying for my GCSEs and trying (and failing) to talk to girls. Ethan Nwaneri may be going through some of this right now, but he is different in one way: he has played in the Premier League.
The midfielder from Enfield made his debut as a sub for Arsenal last Sunday in their 3-0 win at Brentford. He became the youngest player in the history of English top-flight football, at 15 years and 181 days.
As an Arsenal fan, I am delighted for Ethan but I am also slightly nervous. Debuting in the Premier League at a young age does not guarantee anything. Of the top 10 youngest players to play in the Premier League, even die-hard fans struggle to recall names like Matthew Briggs, Rushian Hepburn-Murphy, Gary McSheffrey and Jack Robinson. Precocious talent is wonderful but we should be cautious: it is only the start of Nwaneri’s career in a hard profession.