Multiculturalism Again

How did everything get turned around?

Today, to criticise multiculturalism, one is invariably derided as ‘right wing’ or ‘reactionary’. Conversely, to champion multiculturalism, one is invariably perceived as ‘progressive’ or ‘of the left’. But it should be, and historically it has been, the other way around. Multiculturalism represents the antithesis of the Enlightenment principle of colour-blindness and the notion of the universality of humankind – while the fetishisation of ethnic particularism is a quintessentially Tory ideal. The liberal-left’s love affair with multiculturalism today is a betrayal of what it used to stand for.

That’s for sure. That realization is starting to trickle through, but dang it’s taking a long time. Hurry up, folks! Get a clue. The fetishization of ethnic or religious or cultural particularism is an idea whose time has gone. Kiss it good bye. Get with the program.

Salman Rushdie says it.

In Europe, integration has been held up as a bad word by multiculturalists, but I don’t see any necessary conflict. After all, we don’t want to create countries of little apartheids. No enlightenment will come from multicultural appeasement.

Maryam Namazie says it.

Though political religion is facing a revival, it is the political Islamic movement which is spearheading this. And this rise is taking place within a new world order in which universal norms and values taken for granted only decades ago can no longer be taken so. In this climate of cultural relativism, Islamists and their apologists have perfected the use of rights language to dupe and silence any opposition.

Simon Blackburn says it.

And as far as
toasting some particular subset of humanity goes, I also wish people were not keen on
separating themselves from others, keen on difference and symbols of tribalism. I don’t
warm to badges of allegiance, flags, ostentatious signs of apartness, because I do not
think they are good for the world. I am glad that the word “race” has lost most of its
reputation recently, and I would rather like the word “culture”, as it occurs in phrases like
“cultural diversity,” to follow it. More moderately, we might keep it, but also keep a
beady eye on it. When people do things differently, sometimes it is fine, but sometimes it
is not.

And Patrick West discusses it in detail in the Spiked piece.

Multiculturalism in subsequent years has acted only to divide the population into groupsicles of competing ethnicities who feel they have nothing in common with each other…In an article in the liberal monthly, Prospect, in December 2000, Alan Wolfe and Jytte Klausen argued: ‘Solidarity and diversity are both desirable objectives. Unfortunately, they can also conflict…But it is easier to feel solidarity with those who broadly share your values and way of life. Modern progressives committed to diversity often fail to acknowledge this.’ Diversity and solidarity, both sound bites of the Left, can be mutually antagonistic.

As can democracy and freedom, or democracy and rights, and for much the same reasons. It’s as well to keep that strongly in mind – to keep ‘a beady eye on it’ – when flinging around the usual rhetoric about democracyandhumanrights or democracyandfreedom, which tend to sound as if they are inextricably linked and that the one entails the other, when in reality they can fight each other, and one of them can lose the fight.

It is peculiar that many who are the inheritors of the secular, rational Enlightenment tradition, and who call themselves progressives, are not only apologists for ethnic separateness, but – under the ostensible banner of respecting diversity – defend organised religion and irrationalism. When Luton schoolgirl Shabina Begum lost her High Court battle to wear strict Islamic dress to school in June 2004, some left-leaning commentators decried this as racist and oppressive.

Peculiar indeed. I remember some left-leaning commentators who resorted to patronizing sexist rhetoric about me when I had the gall to keep pointing out that a lot of French Muslim and Muslim-background women were in favour of the hijab ban in schools. The things that come oozing out of the woodwork can be very surprising – as Nick Cohen notes in the New Statesman.

Her cheery note ended with a warning: “You’re not going to believe the anti-Semitism that is about to hit you.” “Don’t be silly, Ann,” I replied. “There’s no racism on the left.” I worked my way through the rest of the e-mails. I couldn’t believe the anti-Semitism that hit me. I learned it was one thing being called “Cohen” if you went along with liberal orthodoxy, quite another when you pointed out liberal betrayals. Your argument could not be debated on its merits. There had to be a malign motive. You had to support Ariel Sharon.

So it goes. Anti-Semitism, sexist epithets, patronizing anti-intellectual speculation about boredom or money-love – whatever tool comes to hand.

As Stephen Eric Bronner laments in Reclaiming the Enlightenment (2004), this is the symptom of a deeper corruption of the Left. Under the spell of relativist postmodernist theory, and despairing of the failure of the Socialist experiments of the twentieth century, erstwhile progressives have sought intellectual refuge in identity politics. They have come to resemble the conservatives of old. Todd Gitlin notes this in The Twilight of Common Dreams: Why America is Wracked by Culture Wars.

Yes he does. I’ve recommended that book to quite a few inquiring minds.

In academia, there are relatively few voices of the Left still championing reason, such as Noam Chomsky; Brian Barry, author of Culture and Equality (2001); Stephen Eric Bronner; Richard Wolin, author of The Seduction of Unreason (2004); and the late Susan Moller Okin, whose Is Multiculturalism Bad For Women? (1999), gave the answer ‘yes’ to its title. When Okin concluded that gender equality was impossible to achieve among societies that practice polygamy, forced marriage or female genital mutilation, she faced the accusation of being dogmatically attached to Western liberalism.

Well…we’re working on that (those of us who are), and the dam is beginning to break. Witness all those citations. So just keep chipping away at the dam…

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