Friday, August 25, 2006

The Problems of "Multiculturalism" and Ruth Kelly...

What the hell is "Multiculturalism"? In my experience, the term simply means "willing to get along with your neighbours, regardless of where they come from". In which case, of course, every decent person should be in favour of "multiculturalism".

However, the term (I understand), also has another meaning: that no-one has the right to impose their social/cultural values upon anyone else. Simply because we in the West are (for intance) opposed to (say) female circumcision or in favour of one-person-one vote democracy, we have no right to impose those concepts upon peoples whose "culture" does not encompass such ideas. There are no" universal values"; Bollocks! socialists of the Marxists tradition are all in favour of "imposing" our "values" upon people. In general, we're in favour of doing so by persuasion, rather than by force. However, we *do* believe that our ideas are better than other peoples', and we* do* seek to win people over, especially from ignorent, reactionary religious ideas.

That's why Ruth Kelly's statement today, about Multiculturalism, (Ruth Kelly is the British "Communities Secretary"), gave me to pause for thought.

My first thought was, "this woman is a member of Opus Dei, the Catholic organisation that says all non-Catholics are doomed to an eternity in torment. She's also a member of a government that actively promotes religious schools: so what the hell is she doing lecturing the rest of us about "integration" and "cohesion"?

It is also, clearly, the case that the Blair government seeks to pander to white working class and middle class hostility to immigration in general. And, of course, their immigration policies remain a racist disgrace.

However, after all that has been said, the fact remains that "Multiculturalism" has been a disaster for working class people of all ethnic backgrounds in Britain: not least black and ethnic minority people. Funding (eg; SRB 6) for community projects actively promotes ethnic and religious *difference* between communities. The end result of this was seen earlier this year when Afro Caribbean and Asian people fought each other in Handsworth, Birmingham, earlier this year. If Trevor Phillips (of the Commission for Racial Equality) and ruth Kelly are now saying we need to re-evaluate "Multi-Culturalism", I think the serius left should agree with them: we need an approach that emphasises unity and human solidarity, rather than difference. but difference is what government policy has been emphasising up until now. Predictably, those who have a vested interest in promoting racial difference (like the "National Assembly Against Racism") , have objected to any re-assessment of "Multiculturalism". But socialists should do so: and just because the dreadful Ruth Kelly and the careerist Trevor Phillps now attack "Multiculturalism" doesn't mean that they're wrong. Socialists *should* emphasise unity over division.


Anonymous Boogski said...

Some things are just plain wrong. Forget your "culture". Forget your "religion". And most definately forget your "skin color". Wrong is wrong. The cutting off of clitorises is wrong! Sacrificing humans to appease "the gods" is wrong!

It's not the responsibility of your government to force you guys to tolerate barbaric cultures and religions.

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think multiculturism is a valid concept in socialism. My understanding of it is that any place doesn't need to subsume all cultures into one, that one being the original (and, by implication) the 'correct' culture.

So a socialist state wouldn't mean we all go back to all eating fish 'n' chips or in Wimpy bars, listening to the Rubettes or not living with our extended family. The UK's got a lot better since it stopped being all white (would you rather live in Birmingham or Basildon?)

Of course there are reactionary bits in any 'culture' as my early years being forced to attend Sunday School or getting into trouble for arguing in Divinity testifies to but it's not multiculturism that's the problem but bad culture.

Now of course UK culture of the 70s was in fact a mish-mash of UK, US, Black and many other cultures that people thought 'British'. And I suspect globalisation will one day homogenise all cultures in the way that all high streets are now the same - but that's a different story.

7:40 PM  
Anonymous boogski said...

Well I think some cultures ARE superior to others. Take mandatory clitorectomies for instance. It's appalling to sensible people for a good fucking reason. Namely, it's appalling and disgusting. The "we should be tolerant" crowd would grumble a little and then go belly up to preserve "good will". Screw that. Be assertive now and then.

8:33 PM  
Anonymous Brynley said...

Jim Denham is an excellent polemicist. I never agree with him.

Multiculturalism according to Jim is either trite neighbourliness, which is OK, or refusing to judge (other) cultures, which can land you in deep water.

But this ain't so. The right wing attack on "multiculturalism" is a demand that non-compliant minorities should come to heel.

For example, leftists oppose current British foreign policy from Gaza through Lebanon, Iraq to Helmand province of Afghanistan.

Jim Denham fails to make any adequate distinction between political outlook and formal religious belief, a fault he shares with some of the Arab street in looking at Israeli politics or with those who go on too much about Ruth Kelly's distinctive religious background rather than her awful political practice.

Jim Denham's satire about the ball tampering affair was less than subtle: does it mean that Jim will go away if we offer him a large pay-off?

12:07 AM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...

Errm... well there's nothing wrong with fish and chips or not living with your extended family, Southpaw - in fact most people in the UK would rather eat their own heads than live with theirs ;-)

Otherwise though, I think you've got a point. I have no problem at all with multiculturalism as long as it's tied to a universalist anti-racism, and it doesn't descend into balkanised cities where nobody from the various "cultures" ever talks to each other.

Furthermore, multiculturalism should not be allowed to mean that reactionary or right-wing elements in any culture should be beyond criticism, for instance left-wingers muting their criticisms of religious attudes on gay rights in the interests of maintaining a "coalition" is the wrong thing to do.

5:05 AM  
Anonymous Clive said...

Two points, which I guess are at odds with each other really. It does strike me that in fact British 'multiculturalism' has worked better, in terms of integration and what have you, than the ostensibly more universalist system in France, on the one hand, or the harder ethnically-divided system in the US. Maybe that's an accident of history rather than a product of multiculturalism, but it's worth noting.

On the other hand, the whole concept of 'culture' in the sense of an ethnic identity seems to me dubious to say the least. Amartya Sen's stuff about people having multiple identities seems right to me.

What's my culture? Well, I guess I'm a middle class, white English bloke. But I think my 'culture' is pretty radically diifferent from my parents', for example - to the point where they quite literally hardly understand some of it (and in lots of ways their culture is less middle class than mine, I suppose - didn't go to university, don't know that 'brut' means champagne is dry, you know, that sort of thing).

I have a good friend who is a Sikh Punjabi woman, and on one level, go to a party and you think - ah, these are Sikhs. But as it happens half of them are lesbians (of which at least another quarter are unaware)... Not quite so simple. Mutli *what* culture?

9:16 AM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...


I do take your point. However, if you continue down that line, don't you end up in a kind of postmodern no-mans-land where you can't meaningfully talk about anything (there are differences within all categories on every subject, after all)?

3:12 PM  
Anonymous Clive said...

Why can't you just have categories which are either a) meaningful in a given context, or b) qualified?

5:14 PM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...

What I'm saying is, even those could be deconstructed one way or another, if one were so minded. I do see what you're saying, inasmuch as "culture" is conflicted, complex and contested (contrary to some particularly stupid left views of "Muslim culture" prevalent at the moment). It's just that I think the term can be useful, as indeed can "Multiculturalism".

1:31 AM  

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