Skip to content

Integration with Diversity: Globalisation and the Renewal of Democracy and Civil Society

Article by The Rt. Hon David Blunkett MP, Home Secretary of the United Kingdom.

September 15, 2006

Globalisation has increased the extent and complexity of migration throughout the world. In the year 2000, there were some 168 million people living outside their country of origin – 21 million of whom were refugees or displaced persons.
Migration is now of crucial importance to developing countries, for whom remittances from migrant workers can outstrip overseas aid in economic significance. So, for example, “Migradollars” earned in the USA are now the most significant source of foreign exchange for many Central American countries. And managed migration also benefits advanced economies, supplying the workers they need at different skills levels, and cementing trade links.
But migration also brings significant cultural, as well as economic, benefits. It increases the diversity of our societies, and builds up our cultural capital. In the UK, we have always been an open, trading nation, enriched by our global links. Contemporary patterns of migration extend this tradition.
Unless properly managed, however, migration can be perceived as a threat to community stability and good race relations. Where asylum is used as a route to economic migration, it can cause deep resentment in the host community. Democratic governments need to ensure that their electorates have confidence and trust in the nationality, immigration and asylum systems they are operating, or people will turn to extremists for answers.
This is a key issue that I want to address in this article. But I want to start by looking at how the events of 11 September have shaped contemporary political debates. In particular, I will examine how they have acted as a prism through which many issues of social order, community cohesion and cultural diversity have been viewed in recent months.
11 September
People from all over the world were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Centre. They came from many different cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds. Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu believers were killed together as they worked in the towers. It is a bitter irony of the terrorist atrocity that the centre was targeted as a symbol of US capitalism, yet as a hub of global finance, its workers came from across the world, including Islamic countries. Wall Street’s bankers and stockbrokers are multinational, reflecting the integration of finance capital in the global economy. And its waiters, cleaners and chefs are equally cosmopolitan, reflecting the reality of mass migration in the modern world.
The 11 September atrocity has come to crystallise the fear and insecurity many people feel in this new globalised age. It was such an appalling, inexplicable and morally unimaginable act of terror that it appeared almost to symbolise our vulnerability itself.
But it is not simply fears that were evoked on September 11 and during its immediate aftermath. Rather, an extraordinary mutuality emerged in New York itself and across the United States of America, building on a national identity and commitment which embraces those from different cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds. It was a mutuality which spread outwards to embrace the kind of internationalism which is always talked about on the Left of politics, but which in this case, interestingly, did not appear wholly to engage some of those who would count themselves as internationalists. How many of those who normally preach solidarity and interdependence were opposed to the action against the Taliban and their protection of bin Laden and the al Qaida terrorists?
It’s a strange paradox, but one that is mirrored too often in the contradictions that exist in domestic as well as international affairs, when values and principles on the one hand get muddled with immediate reaction and long held antagonisms on the other!
Defending democracy
The attack was, of course, a threat to economic stability, to commerce and social intercourse, but primarily it was a threat to democracy. It was not simply a terrorist action, but a fundamental rejection of the values of democracy. The al-Qaida and their Taliban sponsors were motivated by doctrines that reject democratic norms, human rights, and the whole moral basis upon which our society has evolved in recent centuries. In that sense, it was an attack on modernity itself, reflected in the medieval repression to which Afghanistan was subjected under Taliban rule.
The military intervention in Afghanistan was therefore substantially also a defense of democracy, and fundamental norms of human rights. It was not, however, a defense of Western civilization against Islam. To portray it as such is politically misguided and historically wrong. It reduces the diversity of the states of the entire Islamic world – their structures of governance, civil societies, and religious and secular practices – to an extreme and crude parody of the faith to which the majority of their populations give adherence. It is akin to reducing the whole of the world in which the Christian faith is practiced to the actions of a cult. Moreover it ignores the fact that a substantial proportion of the citizens of the West are themselves Muslims – something which is very important to social cohesion in countries such as the UK.
People who talk about a clash of civilizations also imply the West has a moral superiority over Islamic culture. This is scarcely credible, not least because the most appalling genocide the world has ever seen took place in the 20th century in the heart of Europe. And historically, it is basically wrong. It obscures the depth of shared history that has formed our societies in both East and West. Trade and commerce, intellectual engagement, and cultural exchange have taken place throughout the centuries. So to suppose that there are two civilisations that have no shared roots or mutual ties flies in the face of history.
This is not to say, of course, that there isn’t a continuing tension between modernity and the cultural practices of some of those entering highly advanced countries. This is not true, of course, for the majority of those entering the more developed world, but it is for those who, because of education or geography, find themselves catapulted into effectively different centuries. They are making a journey in the space of a few weeks or months, which it has taken us hundreds of years to make.
Recognising and helping people with this change is as much part of the job of the settled community of similar religion and culture as it is of the host nation, and this is one of the challenges that we need to face. Accepted norms hundreds of years ago in this country, but now rejected, remain acceptable from particular cultures of varying religions. This is why Pim Fortuyn, the leader of the Libertarian Right movement in the Netherlands before his assassination in the Spring of 2002 had a point to make about the clash of modernity with long held cultural traditions – but not of course the solution he offered. Those who struggle intellectually and morally between their dislike of the Taliban with their instinctive opposition to the United States, found themselves equally at odds with modernity and cultural correctness when it came to Afghanistan.
The military engagement in Afghanistan illustrates not a war of competing civilisations, but a defence of democratic states from terrorist attacks sponsored by deep oppression and brutalisation. But democracy is not only defended in military terms – it is defended in depth through the commitment of its citizens to its basic values. When the people of New York pulled together after 11 September, they were displaying not just mutual sympathy, support and solidarity, but a patriotic commitment to their democracy. By that I mean patriotism in its most decent, and deeply expressed sense, of civil virtue – a commitment to one’s community, its values and institutions.
It follows that the strongest defence of democracy resides in the engagement of every citizen with the community, from activity in the neighbourhood, through to participation in formal politics. Interestingly, Robert Putnam, the American theorist, has conducted a survey of social capital in the USA since 11 September. He found that people have become more concerned about community and politics, and more engaged as citizens, as a result of the atrocity. Rather than terrorizing people, the attack appears to have stimulated greater social cohesion and civic awareness.
Security and social order
But the defence of our democratic way of life also requires that the threat to security at home is met.Securing basic social order, and protecting people against attack, is a basic function of government – a fact that has been recognised at least since Thomas Hobbes penned his famous description of life in the ungoverned state of nature as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
That is why, in the aftermath of 11 September, I took the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act through Parliament. I had to ensure that basic civil liberties and human rights were protected, at the same time as ensuring the protection of the public from terrorist attack in conditions of heightened threat.
There were, of course, real arguments about the balance between the immediate reaction to the threat and the long-term imperative to protect fundamental democratic norms. Constructive tensions exist in any democratic society between the freedom of the individual, the liberty of the population as a whole to move safely and freely, and the overriding well being of the nation state. These tensions are most acute at times of war or crisis. And as I illustrated in my book Politics and Progress, there has been a misunderstanding on the liberal Left in particular of the need to maintain stability and security in order to protect basic individual freedoms and liberty, rather than allow them to be eroded.
Of course, the democratic state can sometimes abuse its power as much as those who seek to destroy it abuse fundamental rights and democratic practices. In simple terms, there is an obligation on those who have some influence over the levers of state power to be more careful to maintain democratic freedoms, than there is on those who oppose these values. In spelling out to the House of Commons what I believed to be the balance between meeting the terrorist threat and the danger of over-reaction, I genuinely believed that the failure to take action would be an act of weakness.
As I had already reflected prior to 11 September, this was surely the lesson of the failure to understand the Nazi threat in Weimar Germany, or the social disintegration which led to the military coup against the elected government of the Spanish Second Republic.
Most of the criticism of the Act focused on the provisions for detention of foreign nationals in the UK who are suspected of terrorist activity or represent a threat to national security, in circumstances where a prosecution cannot be brought in this country, for either juridical or evidential reasons. My opponents on the Right argued that I should simply deport these people, whatever the consequences. On the opposite wing of the argument, civil libertarians accused me of breaching the fundamental principle of detention without trial.
I was not prepared to abrogate Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and deport people to countries where they could face death and torture. But neither was I prepared simply to let people stay in the country freely if they represented a threat to national security. My solution was to permit detention of these foreign nationals, building on existing immigration powers, but give them a right of appeal to senior judges on the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, who could overturn my ruling with access to the available intelligence evidence. In addition, those detained could leave the country at any point if they could find a safe third country to take them.
I believe this to be a correct and morally defensible means of protecting the basic right to security, as well as the liberties and freedoms, of the people I am elected to represent. The provisions of the Act are subject to statutory review, and many of the major clauses must be renewed by primary legislation after a set duration. I believe the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act will stand as a good example of the balances that must be struck by those who seek to defend the basic principles of democracy in conditions of uncertainty and threat.
However, we also need to face the fact that to protect democracy, we must strengthen it. This is not about returning to a 19th century form of Parliamentary representation, and therefore relying solely on accountability through the ballot box. It is more fundamental than that. We need to engage people with participative democracy, so that they are part of the process. At present, they simply do not feel that government is “on their side”. We need a new relationship between governed and governing, which reflects the profound changes that have taken place in our society. Globalisation has changed the nature of the power held by nation states, and the balance of forces in society. Aspirations are now much greater for control over the consumption of both public and personal goods and services. And people want to be active in civil society, sharing in the governance of their own communities of geography or interest.
But to protect the framework within which democracy can flourish, change and grow, it is necessary to understand the pysche and contempt for democracy displayed by those who would use suicide bombing and terror to get their way. This is true whether initiated by those funded and organised by Osama bin Laden, or by those who choose to send teenagers to their death as suicide bombers in the (legitimate) cause of establishing a viable Palestinian state.
By the same token, of course, democratic states like Israel who act to defend their citizens must abide by international law and conventions, and uphold moral standards. As we know from painful experience in Northern Ireland, conflicts between communities that have legitimate aspirations and rights cannot be resolved by brute force. A lasting peace depends on dialogue and justice.
Tackling crime together
At a very different level, we see in the elections across Europe in late 2001 and through 2002 a rejection of ruling establishments, bordering on contempt for corporatism. Whilst there is no doubt that perception can be substantially fostered or altered by campaigns through the print and broadcast media, politicians that do not hear and respond to the genuine feelings and concerns of those they serve, will in the 21st century receive short shrift. This, therefore, raises profound issues about the relationship between governed and governing, between civil society and formal political democracy, and of course the role of Government in a global, economic, and social firmament, where issues of rapid change and fears of social dislocation remain critical to a feeling of general wellbeing and stability. Dismissing this as either a right wing agenda or of marginal relevance can only lead to the demise of progressive politics.
There are wider implications here for the political thinking of the centre-Left. In my recent book Politics and Progress I examine the importance of social order and security to a healthy democracy and strong civil society. My argument is that the centre-Left has never adequately theorized social order – its importance, and the conditions in which it is sustained. In addition to a tendency to be suspicious of any external military action, we have in the past assumed too readily that a fair society of free and equal citizens would naturally be a harmonious one, and that the role of the state in protecting social order would become less important as social justice was achieved.
At its crudest, this was expressed as a simple economic reductionism: that crime and disorder were simply the result of unemployment and economic crisis. Whilst it is certainly true that the highest rates of crime are found in the most disadvantaged areas, this kind of simplistic cause and effect analysis – with the ethical laxity towards criminal acts that usually comes with it – is not tenable in contemporary societies. The causes of crime, as well as the solutions for tackling it, are far more complex and multifaceted than simple material poverty can explain.
Tony Blair’s famous soundbite, “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” demonstrated for the first time that the Labour Party cared about dealing with criminals, and knew how to tackle crime. It repositioned the centre-Left on crime, in a politically crucial fashion. But we have yet to fully develop that lead through into our political theory. Too often the debate is polarized between liberals and authoritarians. There is a tendency for those who justifiably want to protect human rights to fall into the trap of placing themselves on the side of the criminal, rather than the victim. In fact, whose side you are on is not only an important signal to the public, but a recognition of representative democracy itself. We need to be clearly placed on the side of the victim, but also on the protection and integrity of society. Individual rights, not subsumed but set within the context of broader freedoms, place those who believe in interdependence and mutuality firmly on the side of securing justice, and not simply “due process”.
What I have tried to offer is new thinking on tackling social disorder and crime, based on a civil politics for the centre-Left; a politics of mutualism and civil renewal that places a premium on active self-government within communities. My core belief is that the good society is one in which people are active as citizens in shaping what happens in their communities. People are only genuinely free and fulfilled when they themselves determine what happens in their community, not when someone else does it for them, or when they simply abdicate responsibility and retreat into the private realm.
What this means is that we have to nurture trust, confidence and the capacity to get things done in communities. None of that is possible if an area is plagued by crime, disorder and social disintegration, any more than maintaining liberty and making progressive change is possible if the state is threatened. Establishing basic order and security is a prerequisite of building social capital.
But beyond that, it means building community solutions to social problems. In terms of crime reduction, it means drawing on the moral resources of the community to tackle offending behavior – helping parents deal with difficult children; ensuring that antisocial behavior is not condoned or tolerated; and enabling people actively to shape policing strategies and assist the law enforcement agencies.
A civil politics also places the community at the heart of the process of justice. It sets out to make criminal justice comprehensible to the community, so that the processes of law are demystified, and the sentences imposed on criminals bear some tangible relation to the reality of everyday life. That doesn’t mean pandering to the lowest common denominator; in fact, quite the reverse. Brutal, simplistic solutions like capital punishment tend to gain support when the criminal justice system is completely opaque to people, and they play no part in it.
Similarly, community engagement in crime reduction attempts to “re-socialise” the processes of justice back into the local community. This can be achieved through a variety of mechanisms, such as: lay involvement in offender panels; restorative justice forums in which offenders have to confront the consequences of their behaviour; and rehabilitation and reparation policies which involve the community, as well as perpetrators of crime, in taking responsibility for stopping offending. It sees effective, tough community sentences as a strong alternative to prison for those who are not a violent danger to the public, because these are about confronting somebody’s lack of social morality, and ensuring that the community is given reparation for the crime.
Social order and the response to the far Right
Promoting social order and community renewal is also a political, as well as social, imperative. History shows us that anti-democratic forces, particularly from the far Right, gain support in conditions of fear and insecurity, mutual distrust and ignorance. When crime and insecurity rises, people look for authoritarian solutions, unless there is a credible alternative. This is what has happened in Europe in recent months. The substantial vote for Le Pen, and other anti-immigration or overtly fascist parties, has come about because millions of ordinary voters have felt alienated from the mainstream political process, and have looked for solutions from extreme parties.
Of course, there are tactical lessons for the Left as well. Le Pen’s breakthrough came about because the Left vote in France was fundamentally split. Large numbers of French voters abandoned the French socialists in favour of Trotskyist candidates, only to find themselves having to vote for Jacques Chirac in the second round to keep Le Pen out. Such sectarianism mirrors the disastrous policy of dividing the Left opposition to fascism that Stalin imposed on Western Communists in the early 1930s. Describing Parliamentary socialists as “social fascists”, the communists effectively prevented the formation of a united anti-fascist bloc, fatally weakening the opposition to the rise of the Nazi Right until it was too late. Those who write off any engagement with mainstream politics, and denigrate the motives and morals of democratic politicians, make the same mistake today.
Giving meaning to citizenship
A major part of the progressive response to this challenge must be found in giving content and meaning to citizenship and nationality. Too often, we have let citizenship go by default. Until 2002, we had not taught citizenship in our schools. Nor have we sought to induct new members of the community into what it means to be a British citizen. Nor have we actively promoted community cohesion and a shared sense of civic belonging.
An active concept of citizenship can articulate shared ground between diverse communities. It offers a shared identity based on membership of a political community, rather than forced assimilation into a monoculture, or an unbridled multiculturalism which privileges difference over community cohesion. It is what the White Paper Secure Borders, Safe Haven, called “integration with diversity”.
The starting point for an active concept of citizenship must be a set of basic rights and duties. Respect for cultural difference has limits, marked out by fundamental human rights and duties. Some of these boundaries are very clear, such as in the examples of forced marriage or female circumcision (more accurately described as female genital mutilation, for that is what it is). These practices are clearly incompatible with our basic values – an observation which went unremarked in the first edition of my book, but one for which I was later vilified! However, other issues are less clear, and it is for democratic politics to resolve disagreement and find solutions.
Respect and support for diversity within the boundaries established by basic rights and duties is equally crucial. People must be free to choose how to lead their lives, what religion to follow, and so on. Such diversity is not only right; it is desirable. It brings immense social, economic and cultural benefits to our society.
But there must also be greater content to citizenship beyond these foundations: it must be an active, real expression of the life of the community. Citizenship should be about shared participation, from the neighbourhood to national elections. That is why we must strive to connect people from different backgrounds, tackle segregration, and overcome mutual hostility and ignorance. Of course, one factor in this is the ability of new migrants to speak English – otherwise they cannot get good jobs, or share in wider social debate. But for those long settled in the UK, it is about social class issues of education, housing, jobs and regeneration, and tackling racism.
I have never said, or implied, that lack of fluency in English was in any way directly responsible for the disturbances in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham in the summer of 2001. However, speaking English enables parents to converse with their children in English, as well as in their historic mother tongue, at home and to participate in wider modern culture. It helps overcome the schizophrenia which bedevils generational relationships. In as many as 30% of Asian British households, according to the recent citizenship survey, English is not spoken at home. But let us be clear that lack of English fluency did not cause the riots.
It is vital that the Left doesn’t inhibit debate on these issues. Where people feel silenced, they turn to the politics of despair. We should embrace debate on citizenship, and make change happen in our communities, rather than just the statute book. If the Left fails to offer real solutions to these issues, the Right will step into the gap.
From politics to progress
Since I became Home Secretary, I have sought to put the political beliefs and policies I have outlined in this article and others published since the General Election into practice. Home Secretaries are notoriously vulnerable to “events”, and I am no exception. That’s one reason why it is important to have a set of guiding values which underpin a framework of policy. Without this foundation, the events that emerge from nowhere can blow you off course and obscure the work you are already doing. Given the tendency to collective amnesia in the Britain of the 21st century, where published policy or even immediate action is forgotten within weeks, I certainly don’t hold my breath as to whether I should find myself equally subject to the winds of misfortune.

    Related Articles

     Join our mailing list 

    Keep informed about events, articles & latest publications from Foreign Policy Centre