Global debate on Cameron's multiculturalism speech

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David Cameron and Angela Merkel
Image caption,
David Cameron and Angela Merkel found common ground at the Munich conference

When David Cameron said he wanted to see the end of "state multiculturalism" the media firestorm it provoked in the UK soon blew itself out - but it is a different story in other parts of the world.

The latest figure to wade into the row is Marine Le Pen, the new leader of France's far right Front National, who has congratulated Mr Cameron for what she claimed was his endorsement of her party's position.

She told the Financial Times: "It is exactly the type of statement that has barred us from public life for 30 years."

The Conservative Party said Ms Le Pen had failed to understand Mr Cameron's speech, in which he called for less tolerance of extremism and an end to the doctrine of multiculturalism which encourages different communities to live separate lives.

But a trawl through the international media, thanks to the experts at BBC Monitoring, reveals some very different interpretations of what Mr Cameron had to say - some of which could have consequences for British foreign policy.

Some commentators have accused him of lending legitimacy to the far right.

"The vagueness of the formula, barely concealed by his gaudy propaganda, could be a sign that Cameron's speech sought above all to occupy the political space to which the British far right aspires," said an unsigned editorial in the Spanish centre-left newspaper El Pais, on 8 February.

It described multiculturalism as an "academic concept" which has little to do with "the pursuit and disbanding of terrorist networks" and the "need to step up vigilance in places like Luton", which had seen a march by the English Defence League on the same day.

'Anti-Islam face'

The speech was also condemned by Iranian newspapers, who interpreted it as an attack on Islam.

"David Cameron, who until now was hiding his anti-Islam face, eventually removed the mask from his face and during a speech at the Munich Security Conference, defended 'the Western values', criticised diversity and multi-cultural identities," reported conservative Persian daily Siyasat-e Ruz on 6 February.

It added: "Presently, more than two million Muslims reside in Britain under harsh conditions, on the pretext of terrorism they are deprived of many of the rights."

In an 8 February editorial headlined "European leaders welcoming neo-fascism", state-run Persian daily newspaper Javan said speeches by Mr Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel - who last year said German multiculturalism had failed - "show the beginning of a new round of restrictions for Muslims, aimed at restraining Islam-seeking in the West".

In other parts of the world they took a more positive view of the UK prime minister's words - particularly in Russia, where race relations have been a hot topic.

One piece, by Dmitry Kosyrev on the website of Russia's state-owned news agency RIA, even suggested Mr Cameron's speech could be the platform for a rapprochement between London and Moscow.

The views Mr Cameron expressed on "tolerance and intolerance may turn out to be better material for restoring Russia-UK relations than even topics such as security or missile defence", said Mr Kosyrev.

'Riots in suburbs'

An article entitled "Liberalism should have muscles" in pro-government daily newspaper Izvestiya, from 8 February, described Mr Cameron's speech as a "real sensation" because it had come from a politician from the UK, "which has always refused to have anything to do with problems like these".

A front-page opinion piece in Moskovskiy Komsomolets (Moscow Times), headlined "Islamic anti-terror", applauded Mr Cameron for "telling it as it is", while an article on page three of the same newspaper said that although the speech had caused a "furore", Mr Cameron had been merely giving voice to "the concern Britons feel about the fact that their country has long become a safe haven for religious extremists".

The article saw little prospect, though, of Mr Cameron or Mrs Merkel being able to solve problems associated with "immigrants". After all, it said, the French policy of "assimilation" had led to "riots in the suburbs".

Similar difficulties were diagnosed by Vedomosti in its front-page editorial entitled "Cameron's identification". On the other hand, Vedomosti said the speech had been "one of the hits" of the Munich conference.

'Croat war veterans'

Mr Cameron's speech allso went down well with some in the Balkans.

"Croat war veterans have called on the chairman of the Council of Ministers [Premier], Nikola Spiric, to follow the example of the leaders of Germany and Great Britain and announce the collapse of multiculturalism in Bosnia-Hercegovina," reported the Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA on 9 February.

Mr Cameron's speech provoked furious debate in Australia, a country whose immigration system has been held up as a model by both Labour and Conservative parties in Britain.

Jeff Kennett, writing in the Melbourne Herald Sun, said he saw no evidence in Australia of the "segregated communities" Mr Cameron spoke about and added: "Let's not be tempted to take the easy path and attack a concept that has served us all well."

But two days earlier, in the same newspaper, Andrew Bolt enthusiastically backed Mr Cameron, warning: "Time we woke up. To spend public money to create a nation of tribes is the great experiment that has failed - because it's succeeded only too well".

The Sydney Morning Herald, meanwhile, predicted a "chill in the melting pot" following the speeches by Mr Cameron and Mrs Merkel.

"Australia's more relaxed multiculturalism has concentrated more on the positive contributions of other cultures to the mainstream, and has been quite successful as a result. Let us hope it continues to be so, and that the tolerance, freedom and decency it has embodied can survive terrorism's threats. But the slow hardening of opinion now apparent overseas may presage a similar change here," it added.

'Right and wrong'

The debate also spread to Canada, with an editorial in the National Post saying: "It's time for a Canadian leader to show the same principled stand that Britain's coalition government is demonstrating toward the excesses of official multiculturalism."

Gurmukh Singh, a guest columnist in the Toronto Sun, also praised Mr Cameron and argued for a revamp of Canada's immigration system.

"Canada is now a multi-racial, multi-ethnic society of disparate, segregated communities. This so-called Canadian multiculturalism may ultimately lead to a crisis similar to the one facing Britain and Germany."

Meanwhile, Slovakia's privately owned Sme newspaper declared Mr Cameron "both right and wrong" on multiculturalism.

His mistake - and that of his critics such as former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw - was to view Muslims "as a monolithic mass with regards to European values and terrorism," argued journalist Peter Morvay.

"A very large majority of these Muslims - probably - indeed subscribes to the same or at least very similar values as a large majority of Europeans. This means that multiculturalism did not disappoint as far as 'our' Muslims are concerned," the paper notes.

But it adds: "Many Muslim advocates of hatred and totalitarian ideologies live in Europe and such people and groups should be resolutely stood up to, as Cameron called."

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