Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Growing official attacks on UK multiculturalism ... am I prescient or what?

Following UK Leader of the House of Commons (and former Foreign Minister and Home Minister) Jack Straw's attack on Islamism and the Muslim "blackout" veil two weeks ago (Melanie Phillips' comments here; contra Straw, from the New Statesman, Ziauddin Sardar, here), and more broadly on the bad, bad policy of multiculturalism, UK polls show wide public support for his view, then this article in the Daily Telegraph by Denis MacShane, former Labour MP and foreign office official (thanks NRO):

At long last, the debate on Islamism as politics, not Islam as religion, is out in the open. Two weeks ago, Jack Straw might have felt he was taking a risk when publishing his now notorious article on the Muslim veil. However, he was pushing at an open door. From across the political spectrum there is now common consent that the old multicultural emperor, before whom generation of politicians have made obeisance, is now a pitiful, naked sight...Chinese walls in Whitehall prevented effective inter-departmental co-operation. The Home Office, in addition to allowing Hamza to poison the minds of a generation, refused to return to France Rashid Ramda, who was wanted for questioning in connection with the 1995 Paris Metro bombings – a foretaste of our own 7/7. I hated having to go on French television and waffle defensively at a policy of not extraditing this evil man. But the prevailing culture was to deal with religious leaders, not elected politicians. Whitehall sought the advice of friendly theologians from Cairo, or Muslim ideologues such as Tariq Ramadan. This denied political space to British citizens of Muslim faith, women as well as men...Some difficult politics lies ahead. It is bizarre that neither David Cameron nor Sir Menzies Campbell have spoken. At some stage, the metro-populism of Notting Hill will have to engage with the worries of British citizens who understand a problem long before Whitehall gets it. There is a new generation of British Muslims who want to engage in politics and reclaim the issues that concern their communities from religious-based outfits or those who see their task as importing foreign conflicts into domestic British politics.They must be encouraged before it is too late.

In my TLS review of Francis Fukuyama's book, After the Neocons, I discussed the issue of Islam and multiculturalism this way:

[D]emocratic regime transformation in the Middle East will not address the problem of Islamist extremism and terrorism, because they are phenomena not principally of the Middle East, but of Muslims in the West confronting the loss of identity. Even assuming that the transformative strategy managed to stabilize Iraq, [Fukuyama] argues, the social precursors of terrorism are not to be found there. They are drawn from places we cannot attack with military force – Hamburg, London, the Parisian banlieues. Thus the phenomenon of Islamist terror is not a regional, political or even sociological problem; it is, rather, the accumulation of individual psychologies, massed together in shared and yet still highly individual narratives of resentment, exclusion and the search for Muslim social and economic integration, and particularly Muslim middle-class integration, within European pluralist modernity. Even if the birthplaces of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi Arabia and Egypt, this argument runs, their jihadist spiritual formation was in Western Europe. The Bush administration launched, on this account, a war that missed the point, targeting the wrong region and the wrong country.

[These observations] are a powerful prescription, in my view, for deep-seated ideological changes in Western societies and their states, though perhaps not the changes that Fukuyama has in mind. The changes they indicate the need for, I would argue, involve the explicit abandonment of the doctrines of multiculturalism in Western societies, doctrines that have so damaged and weakened them. They are an argument for a vigorous reassertion of traditional liberalism, above all its guarantees of free expression, even for blasphemy, and of a traditional liberal refusal to tolerate the intolerant. At some point, Europe and America will have to defend more vigorously – in the face of the cultural challenge of Islamism and other violent fundamentalisms, their broadly liberal inheritance (in America, liberal pluralism, to be precise, rather than liberal secularism, descended from European anticlericalism).

The core of that defence is a clear attitude to religious extremism. Islam – “moderate” Islam – must take its place alongside other religions. That is to say, it must dwell within the cage of tolerance, an iron cage that insists without apology that religions tolerate the liberal secular order of public life. Muslim communities in the West must know that the larger society will not compromise its demands that all respect the values of a liberal society; they must also know that they will be protected with force against the demands of extremists from within their own community.

I am skeptical that any long lasting debate is underway in Britain on these issues; I think the multicultural ideology has essentially won and is pretty much immovable in the UK. It is too deeply entrenched with leftwing ideology of anti-colonialism, resentment, and is also too deeply entrenched with political rent-seeking interests of various kinds. A country in which police now consult in some districts with local religious leaders on whether it is okay for them to go after a particular target on terrorism charges has pretty much lost the struggle for a neutral public sphere or the pretense of being a liberal state or society. It may call its multicultural sensitivity the gracious sensitivity of the majority for the sentiments of a minority - and no doubt at one point it was precisely that - but these days multicultural accommodation in Britain seems merely a poorly painted over best face put on ... fear.


Anonymous said...

Many thanks for your post, with most of which I find myself entirely agreeing. Am not sure that I find the 'iron cage' metaphor congenial but I take your point that religion and the State in the U.S. have generally accommodated themselves to a modus vivendi, and also your distinction of U.S. liberal pluralism from Continental liberal secularism.

One wonders: so where is the U.K. headed, since the 'multicultural ideology' has 'won'? does it ('multicultural ideology') present such a danger in this country, too, do you think?

(Damon Linker et al are trying to convince me that I present a danger to 'the liberal secular order of public life' because I insist that I can pursue certain policy goals without leaving my faith at the curtain to the polling booth.)

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Anonymous said...

That religion and the State in the U.S. have generally accommodated themselves to a modus vivendi, and also your distinction of U.S. liberal pluralism from Continental liberal secularism.