by Philip S. Powell, 31st August 2016
Team GB has had a glorious Olympic Games at Rio this year. UK Sport chief executive Liz Nicholl commented that Great Britain is ‘one of the superpowers of Olympic sport’. A total of 67 medals with 27 golds put Team GB second in the medal table - above China. Great Britain is the first country to improve on a home medal haul at the next Games, beating the 65 medals from London 2012.
For a nation weathering the storms of post-Brexit politics, sporting glory at Rio seems to have come at the right time. For Brexit supporters Rio was a reminder of the great things Britain can achieve ‘going it alone’. The country was able to briefly put aside worrying about economic and political turmoil and celebrate the glory of British men and women succeeding on the world stage. Instead of feeling disunited the country felt a sense of celebrating together. The Union Jack was once again flying high. So far so good!
What is going to happen once the buzz of the Olympics dies out? What will be the new normal? Britain as a nation is changing.
Trevor Phillips, former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), in his recently published essay ‘Race and Faith: The Deafening Silence’ warned that ‘liberal self-delusion’ on race and immigration is making Britain ‘sleepwalk into a catastrophe’. (See: http://www.civitas.org.uk/content/files/Race-and-Faith.pdf). In the wake of the EU Referendum there have been increased racially-motivated attacks on minorities, particularly Muslims. More than 300 hate crime incidents were reported to a national online portal in the week following the vote. According to Dr Paul Bagguley, from the Centre of Ethnicity and Racism Studies at Leeds University, there is a new kind of hostility towards ‘anyone who is different’, as the idea of ‘Englishness’ becomes exclusively white and Christian. But this is not the whole story and there is another side.
At the 2012 London Olympics, Somali-born immigrant, Mo Farah, was the poster-boy of multicultural Britain. Farah, speaking the day after winning the 5,000 meters race, hailed the role of Britain’s multicultural society in helping him to his double gold medal Olympic performance. His opportunity to shine was made possible because inclusion and diversity are core British values. Beyond sports there were election victories in 2016 for Sadiq Khan in London, the first Muslim mayor of a western capital and Marvin Rees in Bristol. Khan was born in Tooting to a working-class Pakistani immigrant family. Rees describes himself as the mixed-race son of a White single mother and Jamaican father. He notes that when his dad arrived in Britain fifty years ago, there were signs that read: ‘No Irish, no blacks, no dogs’. We have come a long way since those times and diversity in public life is taken for granted as a matter of fact. Britain is certainly changing with the influx of immigrants from around the world seeking opportunity and a better life. No matter what people like Nigel Farage promise, we cannot and must not close-in on ourselves and try to re-invent a new fortified island identity. So what is the future of British national identity?
Back in February 2011, former Prime Minister David Cameron delivered an important policy speech in Munich at the International Security Conference setting out his view on radicalisation and Islamic extremism. He criticised and dismissed official ‘state multiculturalism’ as a failure. What the PM wanted was a rejection of the ‘passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism’. His speech angered and disappointed many Muslim groups while the English Defence League dismissed it as timid. Is multiculturalism dead? The question I suppose to ask is, when people reject multiculturalism, what exactly are they rejecting? How should Christians respond?
(For the conclusion to this post click here.)