TAG | Multiculturalism
In an earlier post here, Mr. Hume and Jackson Doughart, reacting to an exchange between Glenn Greenwald and Sam Harris, discuss (amongst many things) the way that the notion of ‘Islamophobia’ has been used to try to stifle those who have shall, we say, problems with hardline Islam.
The whole debate between Harris and Greenwald is in fact well worth reading in full (Harris easily has the best of it). I’d highlight this from Harris:
There is no such thing as “Islamophobia.” This is a term of propaganda designed to protect Islam from the forces of secularism by conflating all criticism of it with racism and xenophobia. And it is doing its job, because people like you have been taken in by it.
Did you happen to see The Book of Mormon? Do you know how the Mormons protested this attack upon their faith? They placed ads for Mormonism in the Playbill. Imagine staging a similar production about Islam: Would it be “bizarre and wholly irrational” for Trey Parker and Matt Stone to worry that the Muslim community might have a different response?
And this (Harris is quoting himself from 2006):
Increasingly, Americans will come to believe that the only people hard-headed enough to fight the religious lunatics of the Muslim world are the religious lunatics of the West. Indeed, it is telling that the people who speak with the greatest moral clarity about the current wars in the Middle East are members of the Christian right, whose infatuation with biblical prophecy is nearly as troubling as the ideology of our enemies. Religious dogmatism is now playing both sides of the board in a very dangerous game.
While liberals should be the ones pointing the way beyond this Iron Age madness, they are rendering themselves increasingly irrelevant. Being generally reasonable and tolerant of diversity, liberals should be especially sensitive to the dangers of religious literalism. But they aren’t.
The same failure of liberalism is evident in Western Europe, where the dogma of multiculturalism has left a secular Europe very slow to address the looming problem of religious extremism among its immigrants. The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.
To say that this does not bode well for liberalism is an understatement: It does not bode well for the future of civilization.
That analysis was (and is) an overstatement, and in the seven years since Harris wrote that passage, awareness of the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism has broadened further, as has, in some-still too rare-instances, the willingness to push back. Nevertheless, the situation is still such that, for all their overreach and occasional nuttiness, we should still be grateful for the efforts of the made-in-Ukraine feminists of Femen. Writing in the Guardian here’s Jonathan Jones on their latest :
She’s topless. She’s angry. And she is, literally, taking liberties. The activist in this picture [link here] took part in a protest in Paris in support of Amina Tyler, a young Tunisian woman who has been targeted by Islamists after she put a bare-breasted picture of herself on her Facebook page in March with the words “Fuck Your Morals” and “My Body Belongs To Me, And Is Not The Source Of Anyone’s Honour” painted across her chest.
Both Tyler and this activist are members of Femen, the radical feminist group that originated in the Ukraine and specialises in topless politics. Hackers attacked Femen’s Tunisian Facebook page replacing pictures with texts from the Qur’an, while a prominent cleric has suggested Tyler might be stoned.
So here is a picture of Femen’s response – it declared 4 April to be International Topless Jihad Day, and protesters duly took their clothes off in Paris.
And you thought this stuff was complicated. Religious traditions, respect for cultural difference, fear of legitimating Islamophobia … You’d think twice about declaring a jihad on Islamic attitudes to women and their bodies, right?
Not Femen. This picture is gloriously crude. At a time of tight-lipped liberal relativism when even the president of the United States is damned careful what he says about Islam, here is a woman bearing her body, quoting Tyler’s anti-religious slogan, wearing a pseudo-jihadist black scarf over her face. Clearly, the protest is provocative – even in Paris, where this man who may be religiously offended, or just offended by women in general, appears to be kicking her.
Already, the New Statesman has weighed in with a critique of Femen’s “jihad”, arguing that it is naive to defend the rights of women in north Africa in this cheerfully secular way. But what is so wrong with stating a clear principle?
Tyler has asserted in her own words, on her own body, that she belongs to herself and is not an object of moral scrutiny or male honour. This is fair enough, no? She is claiming freedoms and rights taken for granted in most democratic countries – but which are frowned on and suppressed and violently denied by religious conservatives. If Christian conservatives ran things here, our society would be hobbled and distorted and modern freedoms denied. Femen has indeed attacked Christianity as well as Islam. But in western Europe the church has very little real power over public morals. Islam does exert such power in north Africa. Tyler objects to this moral control. Is she wrong to do so? Why does this activist for freedom not deserve the same support the Arab spring got? Or is freedom only worth supporting when there is no possible conflict with Islam implied by all the romantic Arabist rhetoric?
Does this picture look to you like a foolish and ignorant attempt to intervene in Islam’s private concerns? Please explain why. Because to me it looks like a blast of honesty in a dishonest age…
Indeed it does.
Via The Daily Telegraph:
‘Political correctness’ is preventing police from stopping child abuse by parents and church leaders who believe in witchcraft, a minister warns.
Tim Loughton, the children’s minister, said that a “wall of silence” was obscuring the full scale of cruelty in some communities where beliefs in evil spirits was common. He was speaking as the Government announced plans to introduce new training for social workers, teachers, police and church members to combat the abuse.
It follows the conviction earlier this year of Eric Bikubi a London football coach, and his partner Magalie Bamu, for torturing and murdered a 15-year-old boy because they believed he was practising witchcraft. The couple, whose families came from the Democratic Republic of Congo, subjected Bamu’s brother Kristy to a three-day ordeal because they were convinced he was practising “kindoki” or sorcery. The case had echoes of that of Victoria Climbié, the eight-year-old girl who was murdered by her guardians who believed she was possessed by demons.
The Daily Telegraph’s Cristina Odone is rightly appalled by the murder of Shafilea Ahmed:
Shafilea Ahmed’s parents have been found guilty of her murder. The beautiful 17-year-old Cheshire schoolgirl was killed by her own mother and father in a brutal honour killing they kept hidden for nine years.
Even though I’d suspected, like everyone else who’s been following the tragic case, that Iftikhar Ahmed and his wife Farzana were responsible for their daughter’s murder, I’m desperately sad. Can religion really lead a mother and father to kill their own child? It is clear that in the Ahmeds’ case, this was so: Alesha, the victim’s surviving sister, testified in court that her parents openly acknowledged that they must do away with the rebellious teenager. She had adopted “western ways”, and brought shame on their family.
It is a terrible tragedy – even more so because although the [Uk] Home Office statistics claim that there are 12 honour killings a year in Britain, the truth is far more alarming. As Ann Cryer, the former Keighley MP who campaigned tirelessly against honour killings and arranged marriages pointed out to me when I was researching faith schools, teachers in predominantly Muslim areas complain regularly of “disappearances”.
I’m not the first to note this, but I have to say that if I were asked to compile a list of misleading phrases “honor” killings would be up near the top. These are shame killings, and as Ms. Odone clearly agrees, they are deeply shameful too.
Back to Ms.Odone:
Once a [British] Muslim girl hits puberty, the most conservative parents will pluck her out of school where she risks contamination from western peers, and if she is lucky they continue her lessons at home. If she is unlucky, they send her back to Pakistan, in an arranged marriage usually to a much older man. I see this as a very strong argument in favour of more Muslim faith schools: only when they feel their daughters are in a safe Muslim school will parents allow them to continue their education past puberty.
Yes and no, I’d say. In principle, taxpayer funded ‘faith schools’ (or, say, voucher programs that permit parents to spend their vouchers on such schools) seem fine to me. When run well, such schools can deliver a better education—and at lower cost to the taxpayer–than their equivalents in the public sector. Everyone wins.
On the other hand, they can also be a poisonous recipe for cultural isolation and, ultimately, the Balkanization of a nation. Taxpayer-funded Pakistani-style madrassas anyone? No, I didn’t think so. To that end, whether in Cheshire or in Louisiana it is essential that schools eligible for taxpayer pounds or dollars need to be open access (academic selection is fine, however) and subject to a strict accreditation process. What’s more, the UK experience would appear to show that the vetters themselves need to be vetted.
The problem with all that is that schools that have weathered that process are unlikely to satisfy parents such as Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed, two killers who are just the latest evidence of the failure of multiculturalism.
This piece by Kenan Melik on the changing definition of blasphemy, at least in the UK (and, by extension, elsewhere in the west) is well worth reading. This, I think, is the key extract:
In recent decades, faith has, in other words, transformed itself into the religious wing of identity politics. Religion has, ironically, become secularised, driven less by a search for piety and holiness than for identity and belongingness. The rise of identity politics has transformed the meaning not just of religion but of blasphemy too. Blasphemy used to be regarded as a sin against God. These days it is felt as a sin against the individual believer, an offence against the self and one’s identity. That is why for Sardar, ‘Every word [of The Satanic Verses] was directed at me and I took everything personally’, why he imagined that Rushdie had ‘despoiled the inner sanctum of my identity’. This is also why many laws these days that ostensibly protect faith – such as Britain’s Racial and Religious Hatred Act – are framed primarily in terms of protecting the culture and identity of individuals or communities. In today’s world, identity is God, in more ways than one.
The transformation in the meaning of blasphemy has not, however, transformed its underlying role. The prohibition of blasphemy remains a means, in Kolokowski’s words, of ‘reaffirming and stabilizing the structure of society’, of ‘proclaiming “this is how things are, they cannot be otherwise”’. But it has become a means of protecting beliefs deemed essential not to society as a whole, but to specific communities, and to an individual’s identity and self-esteem. What, however, defines a community? And who defines which beliefs are essential to a community? Or to the identity of individuals within it? These, too, are matters not of theology, or even of culture, but of power. The struggle to define certain beliefs or thoughts as offensive or blasphemous is a struggle to establish power within a community and to establish one voice as representative or authentic of that community. What is called offence to a community is in reality usually a debate within a community. – but in viewing that debate as a matter of offence or of blasphemy, one side gets instantly silenced.
Take the row over Salman Rushdie’s appearance, or rather non-appearance, at the Jaipur Literature Festival. The Islamists who, with connivance from the state and the festival organizers, successfully prevented Rushdie from appearing, even by video link, no more spoke for the Muslim community than Rushdie himself did. Both represented different strands of opinion within different Muslim communities. And this has been true since the beginnings of the Rushdie affair. Back in the 1980s Rushdie gave voice to a radical, secular sentiment that in then was deeply entrenched within Asian communities. Rushdie’s critics spoke for some of the most conservative strands. Their campaign against The Satanic Verses was not to protect the Muslim communities from unconscionable attack from anti-Muslim bigots but to protect their own privileged position within those communities from political attack from radical critics, to assert their right to be the true voice of Islam by denying legitimacy to such critics. And they succeeded at least in part because secular liberals embraced them as the ‘authentic’ voice of the Muslim community.
The same is true of, say, the controversy over Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s play Behzti which was driven off stage by protestors in 2004. The protestors outside the Birmingham Rep outraged by Kaur Bhatti’s play no more spoke for the Sikh community than did Kaur Bhatti herself. Both spoke for different strands within that community. But, as in the Rushdie affair, only the protestors were seen as authentically of their community, while Kaur Bhatti, like Rushdie, was regarded as too Westernized, secular and progressive to be authentic or truly of her community. To be a proper Muslim, in other words, in secular liberal eyes, is to be offended by The Satanic Verses, to be a proper Sikh is to be offended by Behzti. The argument for the necessity of blasphemy laws, or for the outlawing of offensiveness, is, then, both rooted in stereotypes of what it is to be an authentic Muslim or a Sikh and helps reinforce those stereotypes. This, of course, has nothing to do with the reality of being a Muslim or a Sikh, but everything to do with the reality of identity politics. Identity politics has rendered communities into homogenous, distinct, authentic groups, composed of people all speaking with a single voice, all driven by a single understanding of their faith. Once authenticity is so defined, then only the most conservative, reactionary figures come to be seen as the true voices of those communities.
Read the whole thing.
And that’s 2012 AD. The substitution of BC and AD with BCE and CE has to be one of the more pointless examples of the language laundering that scars our, uh, era.
This experience has sadly only confirmed my feelings regarding the often superficial coverage of the Middle East and the pervasiveness of new forms of liberal Orientalism.
“Orientalism” is a term whose meaning I suspect most of its wielders do not “interrogate.” In any case, I think Mark Steyn hit upon something important in regards to this whole farce, Why liberals fell for ‘Muslim lesbian blogger’ hoax:
Yet Tom MacMaster topped even that. He took an actual, live, mass popular uprising and made an entirely unrepresentative and, indeed, nonexistent person its poster-”girl.” From CNN to The Guardian to Bianca Jagger to legions of Tweeters, Western liberalism fell for a ludicrous hoax. Why?
Because they wanted to. It would be nice if “Amina Arraf” existed. As niche constituencies go, we could use more hijab-wearing Muslim lesbian militants and fewer fortysomething male Western deadbeat college students. But the latter is a real and pathetically numerous demographic, and the former is a fiction – a fantasy for Western liberals, who think that in the multicultural society the nice gay couple at 27 Rainbow Avenue can live next door to the big bearded imam with four child brides at No. 29 and gambol and frolic in admiration of each other’s diversity. They will proffer cheery greetings over the picket fence, the one admiring the other’s attractive buttock-hugging leather shorts for that day’s Gay Pride parade as he prepares to take his daughter to the clitoridectomy clinic.
Liberal multiculturalism as it is presently constituted is epiphenomenal. It will end with a monoculture, a de facto hegemonic culture atop others, or a Millet system.
Getting to grips with the pathologies of multiculturalism is no easy task, but here from the Wall Street Journal is retired (center-right) Dutch politician Frits Bolkenstein having a go. This, in particular, caught my eye:
The other foundation of our current masochism is, ironically, the very Christianity that modern generations have been so eager to cast off. Whether we like it or not, our civilization remains deeply marked by Christianity. Consider the Gospel of Saint Matthew, which states that “whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (23:12). Friedrich Nietzsche characterized this as “slave morality.” But one does not have to go that far to realize that this saying, along with instructions to “turn the other cheek” and “go the extra mile,” do not exactly prod people to stick up for their own.
If Islamic civilization may be described as a shame culture, Christianity is a guilt culture. Listen to Bach’s “Passion According to Saint Matthew.” The chorus—that is to say the people—sings, “I shall be punished for what you [Christ] have suffered,” and, “You are no sinner, like we and our children.” Pride joined guilt and we in Europe soon came to believe that the mote in our eye was heavier than the beam abroad.
This would not be a problem if the burden of a bad conscience came with atonement, forgiveness, confession, expiation or any of the other theological or liturgical forms for purging guilt from the sinner. Formerly, Catholicism and Lutheranism provided for the atonement of guilt. But these traditions no longer have credibility in Europe. Feelings of guilt are not sublimated. This also goes for Calvinism, which in its purest form knows no remission of guilt in this life. Its effects have been deep in Europe and outlast the doctrine.
Thus in 1996 the Dutch government declared that its “debate about multiculturalism must be conducted on the principle that cultures are of equal merit.” And so it has gone, for years.
A stretch, I feel, but intriguing…
An electrician faces the sack for displaying a small palm cross on the dashboard of his company van. Former soldier Colin Atkinson has been summoned to a disciplinary hearing by the giant housing association where he has been employed for 15 years because he refuses to remove the symbol….Throughout his time at work, he has had an 8in-long cross made from woven palm leaves attached to the dashboard shelf below his windscreen without receiving a single complaint.
But his bosses at publicly funded Wakefield and District Housing (WDH) in West Yorkshire – the fifth-biggest housing organisation in England – have demanded he remove the cross on the grounds it may offend people or suggest the organisation is Christian. Mr Atkinson’s union representative said he faces a full disciplinary hearing next month for gross misconduct, which could result in dismissal…Despite the company’s treatment of Mr Atkinson, the boss of the depot where he works…has been allowed to adorn his office with a poster of the Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara. Denis Doody…also has a whiteboard on which are written several quotations by the Marxist guerrilla leader…Colleagues said staff and even members of the public who were visiting the depot would be able to see the poster and whiteboard through his office window…
… [T]he company’s equality and diversity manager, Jayne O’Connell… replied: ‘WDH has a stance of neutrality. We now have different faiths, new emerging cultures. We have to be respectful of all views and beliefs.’
…At another meeting, Ms O’Connell said Mr Atkinson could express his faith but ‘it is quite clear it cannot be associated with WDH and displaying the cross gives the impression that WDH is a Christian organisation’. She said staff could demonstrate their personal beliefs ‘discreetly’, even adding that the company could provide extra material in its official corporate colours ‘for employees who wish to wear a different style of uniform’. Pressed… on whether a Muslim woman who wore a burka at work would be considered discreet, she said: ‘If they could do their job effectively, then yes.
Via Andrew Sullivan, an intriguing (and very lengthy) discussion in Eurozine on multiculturalism, much of it from contributors coming (I’d guess) from a leftish point of view, something which makes it all the more interesting.
This (from Kenan Malik) caught my eye:
When I was growing up in Britain in the ’70s and ’80s, we weren’t interested in promoting and pursuing our own ethnic culture. We never recognized ourselves as ethnically different. There was no such thing as a Muslim community. I didn’t see myself as a Muslim. None of my friends did. Actually, we all saw ourselves as “black”, because black in Britain in the ’70s and ’80s was a kind of generic term for non-whites facing discrimination. It was not an ethnic term: we saw the issues as political. There was no such thing as a Muslim community in Britain till the end of the ’80s. Multicultural policies helped created that.
So the point I’m making is the rise of multicultural policies did not primarily come from below. Or only to certain extent, with the rise of identity politics, which is a different issue. It was not because there was a great demand from minority communities for official recognition to be given to our identities, our cultures, our values and lifestyles. What we wanted was official recognition for ourselves as individuals, we did not want to be treated differently by the police, by the immigration authorities, by the housing authorities and so on. What has happened is that the very notion of equality has transformed over the last twenty years. Equality used to mean that everybody was treated the same despite their differences. Now it’s come to mean that everybody is treated differently because of those differences.
As for the relationship between multiculturalism and constraints on free speech, an argument has developed that runs something like this: we live in a society where there are lots of different peoples and cultures, each with deeply set, often irreconcilable, views and beliefs. In such a society we need to restrict what people say or do in order to minimize friction between cultures and to guarantee respect for people embedded in different cultures. Hence the arguments for hate-speech legislation, for censorship against the giving of offence and so on.
I take almost exactly the opposite view: namely that it is precisely because we live in a plural society that we need the most robust defence of free speech possible. It seems to me that in a plural society, the giving of offence is both inevitable and necessary. It is inevitable because we do have societies with deep-seated, conflicting views. But it’s far better to have those conflicts out in the open than to suppress them in the name of respect and tolerance. But most importantly, the giving of offence is necessary because no kind of social change or social progress is possible without offending some group of other. When people say, “you are offending me”, what they are really saying is, “you can’t say that because I don’t want my beliefs to be questioned or ridiculed or abused.” That seems to me deeply problematic.
There are quite often two extreme reactions when it comes to cultural variation.
- To assert that cultural differences are to a great extent incommensurable. The more extreme caricatures of this position fall into the class of cultural relativism.
- To assert that cultural differences are fundamentally superficial, and that all differences are easily resolvable through reconciliations of semantic confusions. The idea that all religions “believe in the same God” falls into this category.