Posts Tagged ‘multiculturalism’

The left must lose its instinctive defence of multiculturalism

February 6, 2011

David Cameron made a perfectly sensible speech at a security conference in Germany and – predictably enough – many of my fellow travellers have got their knickers in a twist.

Billy Bragg complains about the timing of the speech on his Facebook page, coinciding as it did with the English Defence League’s march through Luton. Dozens of fans then write on the Braggmeister’s wall to suggest that David Cameron is working in cahoots with the EDL, that making the speech in Germany is akin to saying ‘Hitler wasn’t all bad’, and that Tory ideology is based on white supremacy.

As I understand it, the PM’s attendance at the security conference was a longstanding commitment. Fine, the timing was maybe a bit unfortunate considering the EDL march, but the scheduling of Government business shouldn’t be dictated by the events calender of a right-wing street movement.

Some Labour MPs agree with the claim that Cameron is encouraging the EDL and other Muslim-bashers with his speech. Labour MP John McDonnell has tweeted “In every recession politicians find a scapegoat so instead of sorting out the bankers and their bonuses Cameron attacks Muslims. Same old”. Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan made a similarly stupid comment about Cameron producing propaganda for the EDL.

This despite the fact that the PM said “We need to be clear: Islamist extremism and Islam are not the same thing” and rejected “Islamophobia”. McDonnell and Khan therefore appear to be essentialising all Muslims as religious reactionaries who reject women’s rights, gay rights, secular democracy, etc. This is far more untrue and offensive than anything Cameron said in his speech.

Such lefties have an unsophisticated view of the world in which hatred and distrust of Tories outweigh their ability to perform objective analysis. I suspect that if David Cameron made a speech proclaiming that the Earth orbited the sun many of them would call for a general strike to demonstrate disagreement.

But it also comes from a the left’s attachment to the concept of multiculturalism. Opposition to multiculturalism, however defined, is equated to support for racism. However, the debate has moved on, with today’s far-right boot boys proclaiming themselves to be anti-racist and embracing the language of universal human rights. Suzanne Moore has a good article about this narrative shift here.

In contrast to the EDL, the left has failed to fully adapt its thinking and its discourse to deal with the rise of political Islam, the communitarian divisions which have been imported from the subcontinent, and the incidents of British Muslims becoming involved in terrorism.

The left needs an approach that will address people’s concerns and channel them into something other than the EDL’s ‘tide of patriotism’. And it could be to our electoral advantage if we do a better job of this than Cameron.

Considering the Conservatives’ sometimes uncomfortable relationship with issues around race and multiculturalism, I would say that Labour is better placed to produce a radical redefinition of multiculturalism. Or to just drop the word altogether.

Labour leader JR Clynes said that he came into politics not to practice the class war but to end it. That struggle continues, but it sits alongside cultural concerns and divisions that the left must also address.

Labour should uphold policies aimed at reducing cultural divisions rather than exacerbate them through crude state-sponsored multiculturalism – seen in policies such as propagating faith schools and trying to protect religious beliefs from criticism (yes, conveniently enough for this secularist my solution demands consistency through widespread secularisation!).

Demands for women’s rights, gay rights, secular laws, religious freedoms. These are all marks of human progress and all have originated from the left.

We must not surrender this language to the bigots of the EDL. We must not let our Conservative opponents pretend to do a better job of standing up for these demands. We must not compromise our values for fear of upsetting reactionary Muslim religionists.

Jack Straw versus the paedo gangs and lots of other people

January 9, 2011

Jack Straw sparks controversy again for ‘telling it like it is’.

Case against Straw:

  • Any decent politician should avoid  inflaming racial tensions through stereotyping and other simplistic analyses
  • I slightly suspect Straw’s motives when this seems to have been a longstanding problem he didn’t focus on whilst a senior figure in government

However, case against his critics:

  • Is there any way of identifying a phenomenon being prevalent amongst a certain demographic group without being labeled a racist by self-righteous morons who would apparently prefer these instances of criminal activity to be ignored rather than addressed?
  • The sensitivities of vaguely defined ‘communities’ should not trump the needs of the very real victims of the sexual grooming being organised by gangs.

 

 

The Sunday Times – a filthy fascist rag.

August 8, 2010

Not an unexpected statement considering that this is the paper employing the talents of Jeremy Clarkson, AA Gill and Rod Liddle.

But today’s edition was filled with even more hate-stirring fash nonsense than usual. In a report on the groundbreaking news that in a few parts of the UK most of the babies being born in hospitals are from ethnic minorities (to stress my sarcasm, I was apparently the only white baby on the mid 1980s London hospital ward, so this has been the case for a while) the Sunday Times descended into BNP propagandising.

It really, honestly does. The report was accompanied by a black-and-white photograph of a VE street party. Everyone is of course white and looking happy. Then, in a clever and subtle piece of juxtapositioning, the Sunday Times puts a photograph of a woman hidden away under a niqab. ‘Then’ and ‘Now’ – you see? The niqab-wearer is clearly meant to represent the onset of a multiracial society and it’s hardly a positive image.

The only BNP leaflet I’ve ever had delivered to my address also had the ‘happy white people in 1940s’ versus ‘niqab madness of modern multiculturalism gone MAD’ theme.  ( Yes, this was delivered in Islington! What did they think they were doing? Won’t somebody please consider the house prices!).

I find it disturbing, but not entirely surprising, that the Sunday Times editor seems to be getting his inspiration from BNP leaflets.

UPDATE

Since Liberal Conspiracy is sending lots of people here I thought I’d ingeniously bypass the Murdoch pay wall and show you what I’m talking about:

 

Failure to confront brutality in the UK

July 26, 2010

My day of being disgusted began when I read the Observer’s story on British girls undergoing genital mutilation yet there have been no prosecutions against this horrific practice.

It ended with the Dispatches documentary on religious fraudsters encouraging child abuse in their dimwitted but financially lucrative efforts to combat ‘witchcraft’. Again, this medievalism is happening in the UK and the authorities are apparently ineffectual at stamping it out. It is not illegal to accuse a child of being a witch and none of the ‘pastors’ filmed in the documentary have been prosecuted.

Let’s cut to the chase, whilst this abuse may only affect a small (though perhaps growing) number of children in recent immigrant communities, it cannot be tolerated.

The police have specialist units working on both problems. I can only hope their funding survives the Con-Dem cuts. But even with these units in place more must be done to prevent crimes being committed in the first place. I would hazard a guess that the police do not have many staff members who can easily blend in with the communities where this abuse occurs.

Instead of a laissez faire approach to immigration and multiculturalism the state should be far more interventionist. Recent immigrants need to be provided with access to social networks which will encourage integration with mainstream culture and will not leave them vulnerable to the influence of people like these religious charlatans. Cultural space must not be ceded to those who deviate so horrifically from norms of basic decency.

It fills me with sickening, absolute fury that this sort of bollocks is happening in 21st century Britain.

Tory burka barminess

July 20, 2010

Philip Hollobone, the Tory MP for Kettering who clearly wants to be the Daily Express’ favourite parliamentarian, wants to ban the burka (or, to be more accurate but less linguistically pleasing, niqabs).

This seems an odd response given his Government’s apparent concern for maintaining civil liberties and reducing state interference.

By contrast Caroline Spelman, the Tory Environment Secretary, posits that this sort of ultra-conservative Islamic dress can be “empowering”. She spoke of how burkas conferred dignity to women in Afghanistan and expressed respect for that culture of women covering up.

Both attitudes are wrong.

Hollobone justifies his proposed ban by claiming it would promote integration. How? Instead it would strengthen the Islamist narrative of Western society being ‘Islamophobic’. I’d like to see his evidence that curtailing the clothes choice of a minority of British Muslims would be more successful at promoting integration and cohesion than, for example, ending faith schools.

He also argues that these face veils are “un-British”. Well, yes, I agree that they do not conform to mainstream cultural norms in the UK but so do lots of things that Hollobone is surely not going to ban.

Looking at Hollobone, I would guess his list of suitably British activities includes dressing up as a station guard and playing with a model train set. But having an interest in daisy age hip hop may constitute an un-British activity that needs to be outlawed.

The bloke simply wants to demonise Muslims and it stinks.

Spelman’s position is another category of stoopid – a wholly different kettle of crazy fish. She seems to be advocating the worst form of multiculturalism; the lazy assumption that all cultures are equally valid and worthy of respect.

Rather than use her position as one of the few women in Government to point out how disgracefully repressive conservative Islamic cultures are in terms of women’s rights, she is excusing the proliferation of the most horrific anti-women attitudes.

We should not beat about the bush. Burkas, niqabs, and suchlike symbolise the belief that women needed to be hidden from men, that women are the property of men, that women’s sexuality needs to be controlled by men.

This is abhorrent and it is regrettable that any woman in the 21st century, anywhere in the world, chooses to wear one. Niqab-clad British Muslims effectively giving the sartorial equivalent of a two finger salute to the progress our society has made in the struggle against patriarchy.

I await a more sensible Tory to articulate a balanced approach which neither advocates crude bans or foolishly endorses the most reactionary Islamic cultures.

Quick response to my post coming under the knife…

February 9, 2010

Dave of Though Cowards Flinch disagrees with my thoughts on Sikh knives being allowed in schools.

I appreciate the need to try to respect pluralism and to accommodate the individual beliefs and cultural attachments of pupils. As a vegetarian I appreciated not being forced to eat meat at lunchtime and having the veggie option available. I’m aware that my dietary choice was ‘eccentric’ when compared to the majority and that I personally benefited from a certain flexibility in school rules and administration. 

I’m not sure, however, that I’m comfortable with Dave’s line that everyone should be allowed to wear their own symbols as long as they don’t harm others. Would swastikas be tolerated in Dave’s classroom? [EH-ERRR. Yes I know, the sound of Godwin's law being broken!] On the face of it, a swastika is less harmful and intimidating than a knife.

Also: I don’t really see why Dave has come up with this:

“Thinking secularists would surely defend the right of anyone to do anything, provided that it was unlikely to result in harm or the coercion of any individual.”

That seems more like a summary of liberalism or libertarianism to me than secularism. Dave then gets in a huff about my concern that religions are being granted exceptional status in the law and seems to suggest that this shouldn’t be relevant to secularists. He writes:

“…You could exclude non-Sikhs from wearing the kirpan on the same basis as excluding someone who claimed a shotgun was part of their worldview; blatant opportunism, rather than serious conviction.”

It is an odd sort of secularism that gives religious affiliation a priviliged position; when religious people are allowed to engage in behaviour clearly outside mainstream norms simply because they are religious. 

As I say, I understand that Dave as a teacher presumably presiding over a classroom of diverse individuals wants to maintain some sort of happy compromise, but I can’t see how Dave the secularist can be satisfield with rewarding those with “serious conviction” with behavioural exemptions.

Sunny over at Pickled Politics also disagrees with me, thinks schools should be allowed to let Sikh kids carry kirpans if they want to, and has a bit of a go at nasty militant atheists for being rude about religion.

Sunny posits leftie atheists criticising religion damage the left. I accept that sometimes this can happen. I myself try not to be too crude. Even when I do, I think I manage to get along fine with my religious friends and comrades. I would perhaps suggest to Sunny that endorsing a form of multiculturalism that grants all sorts of benefits and priviliges to those who shout loudest about their cultural identity and distracts from materialist interests has been more damaging to the left - but that’s a blog post for another day. 

Some of Sunny’s readers think it is bigoted and intolerant to describe the religious obligation to carry a knife around with you as “eccentric”. Such ridiculously sensitive souls.  

I like this article by Hardeep Singh Kohli in the Guardian. Well, not all of it, but this makes sense to me:

“Sir Mota believes that it is wrong to stop schoolkids wearing the secreted, ceremonial dagger into school and believe that it is an infringement of a child’s right to practise their religion. Let me repeat that: he thinks it’s OK for kids to take knives to class. Flippant though this may sound, while going to school in Barnet may be challenging, it’s not the Punjab in 1708. Sir Mota notes that there has been no case of any Sikh child using the kirpan in a violent way. But I’m simply not comfortable with knives being allowed into school. What if the kirpan were forcibly removed and used? The practicality of baptised Sikhs carrying kirpans is not a new issue. That is why small, symbolic kirpans are attached to combs that Sikhs keep in their hair. Similarly, small kirpan-shaped pendants are worn around the neck, again fulfilling the criterion of the faith that the dagger be ever-present…

…We must do all we can to protect the rights of people to enjoy the way of life they choose. But there are more important battles to fight with regard to religious intolerance than whether Sikh kids can wear kirpans to school. Perhaps I’m being too literal, but all religions could do with taking a step back from symbols and icons and explore a little more deeply the philosophical content of what their belief system hopes to offer the world.”

Thank Waheguru, Onkar, Rama and Purushah that this bloke is retired.

February 8, 2010

Sikh judge Sir Mota Singh criticises banning of Kirpan.

Please note Sir Mota saying: “The fact that I’m a Sikh matters more to me than anything else”.

Insisting that Sikhs should have the right to walk around with their ceremonial daggers – even in schools – certainly suggests the man is possessed by a religious arrogance of such massive proportions that there isn’t room for any other considerations.

Pity the BBC Asian Network didn’t bother finding an opposing point of view. I’m sure there’s a sensible Sikh out there willing to say that some of the more eccentric teachings of their faith should not be given privilege over the law of the land (and of course basic common sense).

Failing this, a secularist organisation would have been happy to point out that allowing children to take knives to school is ridiculous.

Tory inconsistency.

January 29, 2010

Yesterday a topical debate took place in the House of Commons to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

MPs from all parties were – quite rightly – speaking of the importance of remembering the Holocaust and other acts of genocide and of never being complacent about the possibility of such events taking place again.

Tory MP Bob Neill, a Shadow Minister, talked about his visit to Auschwitz. He said that he returned from the visit (organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust) on the same day that Nick Griffin, the filthy fash leader of the BNP, was appearing on the ‘Question Time’ panel.

Neill thought this “particularly obscene juxtaposition” demonstrated how vital it was to be vigilant against Nazi-like extremists who want to spread racial hatred and undermine our democratic, tolerant society.

Labour MP David Winnick then asked:

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that although immigration is a perfectly legitimate subject for debate-no one is suggesting otherwise, certainly not myself-there should be particular care in the coming general election about how the debate is conducted? It must be very far from the BNP. If we are talking about discrimination and the persecution of Jews, we must bear in mind that as we saw in Stoke last Saturday, there are also other groups in this country who are subject to racist thugs who will use any sort of lie against the Muslim community.

To which Bob Neill sensibly replied:

The hon. Gentleman is right. That is why it is important first that the mainstream democratic parties are not afraid to address these issues, but also that we set a lead in the tone and responsibility with which we do so. That is hugely important.

So that’s all well and good. Mainstream politicians recognise the dangers of irresponsible, rabble-rousing politicking and therefore promise to avoid doing anything that could encourage things like racism and persecution of minority groups. We’re all agreed on that then.

Except that only a few hours later Tory MP David Davies was getting pretty high scores on the irresponsibility-metre.

Davies speculated as to whether one individual rapist could have acted in the appalling way that he did because of his immigrant culture and the backward views towards women held amongst his community.

Idiot. Whilst it would be nice to see David Davies devote more time to improving women’s rights, there could hardly be a more perfect example of a mainstream democratic politician setting a low tone and using irresponsible arguments. BNPers would have surely nodded their heads enthusiastically upon hearing Davies’ thoughts on the matter.

Next time a white taxi driver gets banged up for similarly horrible crimes will Davies go on radio and start discussing the problem with the white taxi driver culture that leads them to commit rape?

Somehow I can’t imagine that happening. All this Tory inconsistency is truly nauseating.

“It is the essence of Western civilization to slice and divide”.

January 15, 2010

I am currently reading a book by an Indian politician called Mani Shankar Aiyar. The title of this book is ‘Confessions of a Secular Fundamentalist’. It was bought for me because I am pretty fundamentalist when it comes to secularism. 

For most of the book Aiyar comes across as a sensible chap. He lambasts the populists in Indian public life who want to encourage divisions and sectarianism between all the different religions that make up that country. He laments the 1947 partition that created a new state for Muslims. He loathes the Hindu nationalists of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) whose cultural chauvinism threaten religious coexistence in India.

Remember the scene in Slumdog Millionaire when there’s an anti-Muslim riot and little Jamal Malik’s mother gets killed by a rampaging mob? Basically that is the sort of stuff that, quite rightly, really annoys Aiyar when it happens in real life.

However, another thing that seems to irritate Aiyar is ‘the West’. In one of the later chapters in the book he broadens his focus beyond the subcontinent to look at religion and politics around the world. Inevitably he has some opinions on Israel-Palestine. Whilst discussing this subject he speaks a lot of nonsense. For example:

“Hitler’s anti-Semitism was by no means an aberration in European history; he merely carried to its logical (and terrifying) conclusion the fundamental defect in Western civilisation, which is non-comprehension of cultural and spiritual plurality, intolerance of ethnic diversity and discrimination against minorities”.

Eh? Western civilisation is unable to comprehend plurality and diversity? Discrimination against minorities is integral to Western civilisation? A tad harsh, methinks.

“The inability of Western civilisation to tolerate Jews in their midst was the basic cause of the Zionist mission to colonise Palestine with a sufficient number of European Jews to establish a Jewish homeland in Arab Palestine. That the Palestinians, who had done the Jews no harm, would be displaced and disenfranchised was of no concern to the Zionist, himself a product of European intolerance and Western racism”.

Leaving aside his simplistic/inaccurate take on the history around Zionism and the establishment of Israel, Aiyar continues pushing the line that Western civilisation is essentially intolerant of diversity. Aiyar should come spend a day working with me in Stamford Hill where the Jewish community seems to be doing just fine.

“It is the essence of Eastern civilisation – specifically of Indian civilisation – to synthesise and harmonize. It is the essence of Western civilisation to slice and divide. The Western mind finds only one solution to problems of conflict: separate and compartmentalise (dressed up as ‘self-determination’). The Western mind finds only one answer to ethnicity: domination of the minority by the majority (dressed up as ‘democracy’).”

Having spent the entire book highlighting the problems brought about by communalism in India and the divisions encouraged by the BJP, it is farcical for Aiyar to suddenly start talking about Indian civilisation’s essential tolerance. Aiyar’s desire to essentialise ‘civilisations’ is only a slightly more sophisticated version of coming up with anti-foreigner stereotypes – the French are smelly, the Germans are humourless, the Westerners are racist and unable to tolerate cultural diversity, etc.

His disappointing habit of using these cheap tactics suggests that he’s actually a bit dim or he himself has an appetite for crude political populism. Bash the West, claim India is the most tolerant place in the world, please your readers and voters (the book is primarily aimed for the Indian market). Nevermind that a Western country like Britain has one of the highest rates of interracial relationships in the world, a sizeable and safe Jewish population who are given the freedom to practice their religion in peace, and fewer communal riots than India!

Apologies for yet another post that seems to go along a clash of civilisations line. I just find his post-colonial instinct to paint a largely fictitious portrait of  ‘Western civilisation’ in order to then decry it highly nauseating. The sooner that people (and politicians!) all over the world stop trying to essentialise each other the better. Less of this ‘my culture is fundamentally good but your culture is fundamentally bad’ malarkey – more recognition of our common humanity.

Running up that Stamford Hill

November 27, 2009

I’m currently working on a job that requires me to spend all day knocking on doors in Stamford Hill, Hackney.

Stamford Hill is home to Europe’s largest community of Hasidic Jews. This makes it quite an interesting place to spend all day walking around. I’ve been reading up on the origins of Hasidic dress to try to get some idea of why they wear such crazy clothes.

Hackney’s Hasidics obviously want to keep themselves culturally distinct, but in some of the streets in the neighbourhood residents of other religious persuasions can be found. There surely aren’t that many areas in Britain where most of the doors have either Talmudic or Koranic texts stuck onto them, where there’s a synagogue twenty metres away from a Muslim Community Centre, and where all the women are wearing Tichels or niqabs!

Anyways, I’d better get back to work before Sabbath-o-clock.

Shalom!


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