What a surprise it was to hear only last week a newsreader for BBC London news remarking, so casually and assuredly that he might have been remarking that Tuesday follows Monday, that in today’s Britain “tensions between cultures have never been greater”. Leaving aside for a moment the quite glaring inaccuracy of the statement – for anyone with even a monosyllabic knowledge of modern British politics will know that it is plainly incorrect – what is most instructive is that this nugget of insight was volunteered not as part of an expose on hook-wielding clerics or BNP skinheads, but was merely part of an introduction to a harmless piece about the cultural diversity embodied and encouraged by the Arsenal football team, whose club was that week carrying out a public relations exercise themed on cultural diversity. By way of introduction the newsreader, or more accurately his editor, was contrasting this initiative favourably with the aforementioned unprecedented cultural tension, probably in the genuine belief that in his own small way he has helped combat the rising tide of hate.
That such bold statements can be casually inserted into the most innocuous pieces is a sign that the alleged cultural clash has attained the status of established fact. It is also a testament to the determined arrogant misanthropy of a largely middle-class intelligentsia who continue to make a comfortable living out of a media campaign that is based almost entirely on a groundless fabrication, namely the campaign to persuade us that there is an irreconcilable clash of cultures between Muslim immigrants and white British people and that this clash is resulting in a simmering tension in our society that threatens to explode. This is simply not correct. It is correct that racial tension exists in our society as it has done for as long as immigration has existed, and it is also statistically verifiable that the Muslim community has been targeted in security operations aimed at preventing terrorism, and that his targeting has caused a substantial degree of resentment. But there is nothing to suggest that racial tensions have exceeded the levels of, say, the 1970s and the heyday of the National Front – not one iota of evidence. Nevertheless, the media fixate on this subject and drone on with such tremendous zeal and apparent earnestness that there is a significant danger that they might spread a real panic far more far-reaching than their invented crisis. In fact it would not be only the slightest exaggeration to suggest that they are the ones who are spreading paranoia and ultimately hatred by filling people’s lives with endless dreary phone-ins, chat shows, newsroom experts and discussion programmes all devoted to questions of identity and Britishness (a word which my computer spell-checker quite correctly identifies as being nonsensical) and other such vacuous chauvinistic drivel, when there is a multitude of matters of infinitely greater social importance than the non-existent increase in cultural or racial tensions. Perhaps the aforementioned newsreader would have surmised more accurately and honestly if he had observed that cultural tension has simply attained unprecedented levels of importance on the media agenda. The levels of cultural tension, meanwhile, are roughly the same as they always have been, and that is the sober, non-sensational, mundane truth of the matter.
Twinned with this campaign is the assumption, for which no empirical evidence is ever offered, that popular opinion in Britain has turned against Islam following the terrorist atrocities committed in the name of Islam in recent years. Once again the truth is somewhat more mundane: as far as anyone can discern there simply is not, nor has there ever been, a critical mass within public opinion whose views on Islam have shifted from indifference to hostility in the space of the past few years. And as for the Muslims themselves, their commitment to the alleged Jihad is clear enough from the pathological violence of the extremists themselves, driven to their cathartic acts of despair by the indifference of their desired constituency. And yet the media campaign goes on unabated, fuelled by a kind of comic-book fascination among respectable editors with the intricate details of the lives of young Arab or African terrorists (we are often assured that these young men are “brainwashed”, presumably unlike our young men fighting in Iraq) – the kind of Americanised sensationalism that has led most mainstream editors to repeatedly refer to the alleged attempted bombings in London on 21st June 2005 as “21/7” apparently without the slightest twinge of shame or embarrassment.
While this campaign only spreads hatred, irritation and confusion in equal measure, one possible explanation for its continuing popularity with influential opinion-formers is that it does serve one important purpose, in that it fits neatly into a framework for an imperialist outlook. For there are, broadly speaking, two ways of interpreting such tensions as can be said to exist between East and West. The first view requires us to consider two sets of extremist minorities (an alliance of Christian fundamentalists, imperialists and sympathetic business interests on the one had, and an Islamic fundamentalist current on the other), each intent on going to war against the other, each settling for nothing less than total victory, with the huge mass of humanity, not represented by either party in the conflict, essentially dodging the bullets and trying to progress in spite of these two pariahs. That mass of humanity all essentially want the same things – good health, jobs, education, security – irrespective of what race they belong to or what if any religion they follow. This first view is highly controversial, and it is not conducive to mobilising popular support for, or acquiescence to, the fighting of wars of aggression. So it is not considered, save occasionally for the purpose of ridicule.
The second view, which is prevalent among a number of influential Washington intellectuals, is that there is in fact a clash of civilisations which will not resolve itself by peaceful means, that East and West are irreconcilable, and the people of each society do not have common needs but rather their needs and interests are synonymous with those of the whole “culture” to which they belong. Once this view is accepted then the logical premise for any “pre-emptive” imperialist aggression is also accepted, because the West is pictured in a necessarily defensive position – “You are either with us or against us”, as Mr Bush pointed out with far greater insight than he was credited for by the media who briefly mocked this declaration for its crassness before obediently assimilating it. This worldview, resting on a ludicrous notion of an apocalyptic fight to the death between us and the Other has been embraced without qualification by the overwhelming majority of the mainstream media, with disastrous consequences in foreign policy terms; in their coverage of domestic affairs the invented crisis in race relations, which would appear to fit neatly within its parameters, is but one cog in a machine that is working with devastating, unrelenting efficacy.