The UK's growing multiculturalism requires a reinterpretation of what it is to be British, Jack Straw has said.
Writing in The World Today, a monthly periodical published by thinktank Chatham House, the leader of the Commons believes unity can only be achieved around a citizenship fostering universal values of democracy and freedom.
These values should be linked to citizenship by referring to the British experience of the last 1,000 years – from Magna Carta, the civil war and the "fight for votes" to "the fight now against unbridled terror", he writes.
"If there is a sense of Britishness through our beliefs in freedom and democracy, is it possible for the world's multifarious identities to share an overarching desire for common values which embraces and celebrates those identities but does not place them above all common values?" he asks.
"I believe it is, because the values I have talked about are not exclusively British or indeed western: they are common human values reflected in the charter of the United Nations."
Mr Straw acknowledged that the rapid pace of cultural change in the UK is having "a profound effect on British society", however.
He noted a growing paradox between increasing integration and segregation occurring simultaneously, acknowledging that the struggle against extremism must be targeted at preventing religious radicalism.
Widening the concept of British citizenship to include broader principles – like the ideas articulated by other multicultural societies like the US and Australia – will help solve the problem, Mr Straw believes.
"I believe that the more we can strengthen and make explicit the values – the rights and responsibilities – which come with being a citizen of Britain and the identity of being British, the more we can make democracy and identity compatible in a way which protects and celebrates all manner of those identities, religious and otherwise," he argued.
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