The Olympics: Opening Ceremony to Multiculturalism Backlash?

The Olympics. It would be wrong not to write about it for a multitude of reasons: a) It’s taking place in my home town b) Too much has been said about its linkage to ‘multiculturalism’ in the opening ceremony and I owe it to the organisation I work for and c) I too have to jump on the bandwagon sometimes.

Planted in the heart of the East End, the Olympic stadium sits like an advanced piece of machinery in a borough which was far from sophisticated until late. Within a fortnight I have seen a theatrical make-over in my neighbourhood, as though a rainbow has exploded on the streets of the East End. Bland walls now painted with jazzy hip art work, roadsides spilling with the most vibrant blossoming flowers and new markets brimmed with the finest cultural delicacies from all over the world. If anything this is a true reflection of the colour and diversity of East London, it’s just a shame that we had to wait for the Olympics to make it come to life – but that’s for a different column.

My local community was always a concoction of minority ethnic groups, mostly made up by Black and Asian communities. During my primary years, the only difference between Ali and Dwayne was that one only ate halal chicken while the other didn’t mind either way . Colour, religion, nor race, were catalysts for division. To me cultures were and still are colourful pieces of a puzzle waiting to be discovered in their unique colours and sizes to fit neatly together and build the vast masterpiece we all call Britain.

Multiculturalism is an embodiment of modern Great Britain. Or it has been during the entirety of my lifetime at least. That is why I wasn’t surprised to see the joyous celebratory performances displayed during the opening ceremony to the 2012 Olympics; the coming together of people from across the globe regardless of any political or historical tensions exploited in the past. Spectators waved their national flags, testament to feelings of patriotism whilst also embracing the great fusion of people coming together for this special occasion.

Millions reverted to Twitter to share their take on what was being displayed before them be it at the stadium or on their flickering screens in the comfort of their own homes. One Conservative MP Aiden Burley referred to what he saw as “leftie-multicultural” rubbish which provoked much controversy in the press and amongst fellow MPs over the weekend.

“Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multi-cultural crap. Bring back red arrows, Shakespeare and the Stones!” tweeted the MP, before adding: “Seems my tweet has been misunderstood. I was talking about the way it was handled in the show, not multiculturalism itself.”

In an interview with the BBC following the tweeting, Mr Burley stressed that he had not been having a go at multiculturalism and that in fact he agreed that “it should be celebrated”.

“I wasn’t having a go at multiculturalism itself, I was having a go at the rather trite way, frankly, it was represented in the opening ceremony.”

Other criticisms included: “We all love the NHS but really for all the people watching overseas, 20 minutes of children and nurses jumping on beds, that seems quite strange.”

“And then we had all these rappers – that is what got me to the point about multiculturalism.”

The Mayor for London Boris Johnson dismissed the comments as “nonsense”. Mr Johnson said: “It was actually the truth about this country in the last two or three hundred years told in a big, dynamic way.

“People say it was all leftie stuff. That is nonsense. I’m a Conservative and I had hot tears of patriotic pride from the beginning. I was blubbing like Andy Murray.”

Another Conservative MP, Gavin Barwell tweeted in response: “@AidanBurleyMP with respect, us Londoners are rather proud of the diversity of our city #nothingleftwingaboutit.”

Personally I think Danny Boyle did a spectacular job and was able to depict the best of Britain through a tremendously choreographed three hour performance.

I love that he was able to blend in the old with the new, history and humour including references to the industrial revolution, the suffragettes, the NHS and the UK’s diverse musical heritage – from the Beatles to rapper Dizzee Rascal. Even her Majesty the Queen illustrated some British wit through her first film performance with iconic British figure James Bond acted by Daniel Craig.

We the British may like to whinge and moan about anything and everything: about the traffic, the weather, too hot, too cold but when push comes to shove somehow manage to get together and make it work. I don’t think this would be possible without the flamboyant flavours multiculturalism has to offer. Whether it is displayed on the tarnishing walls of the East End or through the faces of our people I’m proud to be a product of a multicultural Britain.

*The ideas expressed in this column are solely the opinions of the author and not necessarily of the Dialogue Society

Havva Murat

Havva Murat is the Media and Communications Director at the Dialogue Society. She has experience designing and delivering successful PR and Social Media campaigns for national and global brands and has also written for local newspapers and lifestyle magazines.

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