Britain is an increasingly diverse society. When David Cameron announced that ‘Multiculturalism is dead’ last year, it didn’t call a halt to the reality of living in these communities; our modern, multi-cultural world continues to grow and transform, with all the benefits and problems that these co-existences create. Channel Four recently began a season of documentaries about the issues and conflicts that persist across Britain, seeking to understand the reasons for these problems.
Make Bradford British is a two-part sociological experiment in which eight people of different cultures, races and religions – all hailing from Britain’s ‘most segregated city’ – are forced to share a house and create their own miniature community within its walls, after collectively failing the national citizenship test. Proud and Prejudiced, on the other hand, is a documentary detailing a year in the lives of two of Britain’s most controversial figures – Tommy Robinson, the leader of the far-right English Defence League, and Saif al-Islam, the radical head of a group of notorious Muslim extremists – who fight a war of words, and occasional violence, on the streets of Luton.
As one might expect, Proud and Prejudiced features much more intense scenes of discrimination, from both sides in the debate, thanMake Bradford British. While the participants in the latter are generally quite friendly toward each other and willing to embrace other religious cultures with open arms, there is no such amicability in the former, with Robinson and al-Islam coming to blows at one point. For the most part, the housemates in Make Bradford Britishget on swimmingly, with a white pub landlady remarking that living with Muslims had ‘opened [her] eyes’ to a new appreciation of the nuances of different cultures. Despite expectations that the programme might reveal Bradford to be a hotbed of racism, only one controversial issue erupted – a white police officer of over forty years mentioned joking to a fellow officer about going ‘Paki-bashing’. Despite the fact that the colleague himself was Pakistani, and that the remark was intended as a joke (and had apparently been received as such), some of the housemates were infuriated by the comments, only backing down when he apologised for any offence he may have caused.
Nevertheless, the interaction between the participants of Make Bradford British proves that, no matter what your culture, you are more than capable of disagreeing with someone from a similar background as yourself, and of sharing personal values with people you may expect to be completely different to you.
On the other hand, whilst Make Bradford British proved relatively unchallenging, the most disturbing aspect of Proud and Prejudiced is that, at certain points, one finds oneself agreeing with people who allegedly hold extremist views. Of course, many of the opinions of these two men are completely vile, but this is not always the case. Saif al-Islam makes an uncomfortably pertinent point about western soldiers bringing terror to the innocent people of the middle east, whilst Robinson seems remarkably open to and positive about other races, if not religions. He left the British National Party after a year of membership when his black friends were refused entry to their meetings, and was arrested for head-butting one of his own supporters after the man claimed that Asians should not be allowed to join the EDL. Both men clearly have principles, but the problem is that they have simply gone too far. Whereas others may have complained about the conduct of soldiers, or identified themselves as anti-fundamentalism, most would not have gone on to publicly desecrate national symbols or found a movement which seeks to protest against an entire religion, regardless of the peaceful nature of the majority of its followers. Of course, their opinions are theirs and they have every right to them- they simply express and promote them in an antagonistic and harmful way.
However, watching these programmes in conjunction provides an intriguing view of multiculturalism in Britain today, allowing one to come to the conclusion that the only thing standing in the way of cultural unification is simple ignorance. Any misunderstandings between the people of Make Bradford British were the result of a lack of knowledge, rather than any irrevocable differences. Similarly, in watching Proud and Prejudiced, one cannot help being struck by the fact that Saif al-Islam and Tommy Robinson have an awful lot in common and share a number of the same views – the only reason their conflict continues is because of their joint refusal to look beyond the surface and actually achieve genuine understanding of the different layers that make up modern Britain.
In the immortal words of a Make Bradford British participant, an elderly, middle-class white woman, ‘I don’t care what colour or religion you are: if you’re a dickhead, you’re a dickhead.’