The Null Device

The perils of multiculturalism

From a BBC article, asking what could motivate normal young men from Leeds to become suicide bombers:
"Then the government aren't helping that either because they approach people by putting labels on them.
"These kids, whoever they are, want to create their own identities but are being told they are Muslim, white, black or whatever.
"The majority of the lads just want to be British but ever since 9/11 they've been pushed back time and again onto a Muslim identity.
And elsewhere, questions are being asked about multiculturalism and its present implementation.

Could it be that multiculturalism, as practiced in Britain, overemphasises the rights of cultures over the rights of individuals to choose their own identities, discouraging them from joining the mainstream of British culture in the interest of diversity? In the multicultural age, the concept of assimilation is considered unfashionable, bordering on racism; the alternative, however, seems to encourage the formation of enclaves and ghettos, and the sorting of individuals into those by their ancestry or background. Could it be time to reassess this balance?

If someone is, say, Catholic or Jewish, that is treated as incidental to everything else they are, rather than as a primary and core part of who/what they are. (Well, except possibly by various Ulster unionists and BNP neo-Nazis). If someone is Muslim, however, that seems to be regarded as a fundamental part of their identity, an indicator of difference. The subtext seems to be "they're not like us": they pray differently, eat differently, drink differently, dress differently, and even if they don't, they have different values. Over time, this could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, an internalised mechanism of segregation.

Part of this is due to the legacy of 1960s New Left identity politics, with its emphasis of empowerment through collective identity and condemnation of any privileging of a mainstream culture over subcultures as "hegemonic". Taken to its extreme, this would end up with disjoint, ghettoised communities, each with their own cultures and values. And when there is little meaningful interaction between communities (and impersonal transactions in kebab shops and minicab offices don't count as meaningful), it is easy for radical elements within either community (be they Islamist militants or the BNP) to dehumanise the other community as a faceless collective enemy, rather than a large number of different individuals, some of whom one could probably get on with rather well.

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