Multiculturalism and Liberalism

Today (Saturday 5th February 2011) we have seem a member of the social, political and cultural mainstream decide that multiculturalism is a failure in Britain. It must be easy to define how multiculturalism has failed us as a wealthy, Oxford educated white man. The “doctrine of state multiculturalism” has been dismissed as being soft on extremists, so a new direction will be taken to combat terrorism: a Blair-esque “muscular liberalism”.
“The doctrine of state multiculturalism” has not encouraged people to live away from the mainstream. They may have chosen to do so, but encouraging multiculturalism is not about the minorities, it is about the mainstream. It is about encouraging people to realise that there are different cultures being followed by people living in this country. It is about realising that, while those cultures may be different, we can celebrate those differences, rather than talking about tolerating them. When we accept and welcome other cultures, there will be integration. Of course there will be fringe groups on the edges who decide not to integrate, but that should not mean that all those from a similar culture must be blamed or accused. As we would not expect to be judged on the sins of our fathers, we cannot judge people based on the sins of those on the fringes of their communities.
Since it is a lack of British identity that is being blamed for young, disillusioned people embracing extremist, potentially violent, views, it is important to define what is the British Identity that everyone is meant to fit in to? I do not think that defining that culture so that we can decide who is in it and who is not is possible or fair. Through the late 20th century the British identity involved becoming more multicultural, having West Indians, Asians, Arabs, Jews and others moving to Britain and becoming part of the culture. The notion that everyone in Britain will conform to ‘British culture’ is laughable. Those who felt that everyone must conform to the pre-war ‘British’ identity were the likes of Enoch Powell. No culture, British, American, Indian or otherwise is a finite, unchangeable quantity. Cultures are defined by those living in them, experiencing them and contributing to them, not by what part of the map they are in at the time. Vilifying one group, deciding that they need to change or lose part of their home culture will not help them to conform to your culture, it will simply cause them to resent you.
If multiculturalism is such a failure, then why are there so many kebab shops, curry houses, Chinese restaurants? Why do so many Brits drink beers brewed by Dutch, Belgian or German companies? There are different cultures here in the UK, and many of us enjoy interacting with them, even if we are not part of them. Knowing the difference between Sag Paneer and Aloo Gobi doesn’t make you Indian, but if you did not interact with Indian culture (even if it is just for the food) then you wouldn’t. It is a simple example, but the point remains. Or here is another example; if multiculturalism has failed, how is it that the Chair of the Conservative party is a Muslim woman? While I disagree with Baroness Warsi over a great many things, the fact that a Muslim woman could chair the Tory party would have been unthinkable without multiculturalism.
How can people be integrated when phrases like “muscular liberalism” are used to describe how he would like everyone to integrate? Is the idea that everyone will be integrated, by force if necessary? It is not possible to force someone to believe in what you believe. That has been tried before; The empire, the invasion of Iraq, American Cold War support for any dictator who promised to crack down on communism (even if that meant deposing a democratically elected head of state in the process). It is not about saying ‘you will agree with us’. Integration should come from a sharing of ideas, a sharing of ideals, and the realisation that we are not as different as we may superficially appear to be.
“Strengthening … security aspects” has also been proposed. Is this more of the muscular liberalism that is being proposed? Gathering intelligence on religious groups – I would imagine almost entirely Muslim groups – purely because they are religious groups is incredibly illiberal. We are already one of the most watched, scrutinised and observed populations in the world, and in order to make us feel more at liberty and safer the government would like to strengthen security again? National security will be used as a justification, as it always is, but at what point does the state intervention into our lives become too much. The government wants to scale down state involvement in our lives, shifting power “from the state and to the people”. Then how do they, and their Liberal Democrat partners, equate this with even more state monitoring of everything we do, say or believe. There are so many peaceful devout Muslim groups, are they to be spied on and then shunned because of the actions of a few extremists who even Mr Cameron acknowledges are “not the same” as devout Muslims?
One more thing:
In Egypt over the last 2 weeks we have seen many things: protests, a dictator desperately clinging to power and also a great example of multiculturalism in action:
In this picture, there are many Muslims praying. In the foreground there are Egyptian Christians linking arms to protect those praying from any attacks while they are observing the rituals of their faith. This is an example of multiculturalism at its best. Christian and Muslim communities in Egypt have their differences, but here they are united in their desire to rid Egypt of Mubarak. Being from different social and religious groups or cultures has not stopped them from joining each other in action.
(credit picture: http://twitter.com/#!/nevinezaki)
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