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The Riots and Multiculturalism

I’m always a little dubious of these demographic extrapolations; what should be a genuine worry, however, is the extremely high Muslim populations transnationally in northwestern Europe and their demands for separation. There are a string of towns and cities, from Rennes in the south, through Lille, Brussels, Antwerp, Zeebrugge, Rotterdam, Bremen to Aarhus in Denmark in the far north, where the Muslim population approaches or exceeds 20 per cent (and in some cases constitutes a majority). Drawn on a map, these gritty and largely depressed urban conurbations fittingly describe an almost perfect crescent across the North Sea seaboard of Europe, a crescent of growing Islamic influence.

There have been some excited proclamations from within the Muslim communities that these places might one day — and not too far in the future — form an Islamic caliphate; what the scaremongering Yankees refer to as Eurabia. And the problem is that the creed of multiculturalism has encouraged such aspirations and, as a result, confidence is growing within Islam that the antithetical ideologies of such intransigently liberal states as Holland and Belgium and Denmark can be taken on and beaten. This is why the Dutch have suddenly got angry, banned the burka and torched a few mosques. Why the Danes have become infuriated recently at attempted Muslim censorship.

The French, however, remain different. Vive la différence and so on. Of all the countries in Western Europe, they have pursued the most extreme form of that discredited ideology, multiculturalism, and now they are witnessing the result. It is partly the sheer weight of numbers of its Muslim population and partly the insouciance with which they regarded the notion of separate development. Right now, everyone — Muslim and Christian — is up in arms. ~Rod Liddle, The Spectator

Rejecting the burblings of many a foolish neocon and liberal, Mr. Liddle has hit the mark in connecting the crisis in France with the French embrace of multiculturalism. Or, more precisely, it is the belated addition of multiculturalism to an earlier approach that denies and ignores particular cultural identities as meaningful categories. It is this multiculturalism that assumes, very much like our own, that cultural identity does not really command the loyalty of people--only political ideas and institutions and economic structures could possibly mean anything.

Even after everything we ought to have learned over the last 15 years about the capacity of ethnic and religious loyalties to motivate and inspire people to both solidarity and violence, our pundits have done everything possible to explain most conflicts of these kinds in terms of economic deprivation, political structures or prejudice. Much like Mr. Bush's pathetic attempts to disentangle Islamist violence from Islam itself, which actually tends to belittle and demean religion in general as something essentially private and irrelevant to political life, these attempts to ignore the power of cultural and ethnic identities have caused these pundits to miss the most essential elements of contemporary conflicts.

It is not only that liberal pundits and journalists are embarrassed to report that Muslims are rioting in France and are identifying their actions with their identity as Muslims, which tends to make nonsense of their belief in the virtues and efficacy of tolerance and diversity. They are even more embarrassed that there are people who, given the chance in a Western country to become deracinated, secular, spiritually dead people like them, find meaning in something else, however deficient and pernicious it may be from a Christian perspective, and who choose to remain what they are rather than abandon it for a fairly empty civic life.

The fragmentation of a society into sharply divided cultural and ethnic groups follows quickly upon the belief that culture and ethnicity mean nothing more than ethnic food, amusing costumes and the occasional festive parade. That is the superficial, ignorant multiculturalism that we were taught in school in the '90s. When violent upheaval comes, as it very well could, my generation will be as bewildered and stupified by it as Dominique de Villepin has been by the last two weeks of rioting. For those who underestimate or deny the powerful draw cultural and ethnic identities have, it is impossible to know how to discern the causes or handle the problems of cultural and ethnic conflict. My generation is uniquely unqualified, by and large, to understand these problems thanks to the extensive disinformation campaign that passed for our formative education.

Contrary to Eugene Robinson of the Post, a multiculturalist does not accept, much less understand, cultural diversity--he minimises it, makes a joke out of it, and then sets it aside. The hideous word multiculturalism itself conjures up the image of a movie multiplex, where culture is simply a form of entertainment, a sort of pastime, and the snack bar has quite a few exotic options. Such a multiculturalism does not "work" to integrate different peoples: it is a steady drain on every attempt to do so. It sets cultures side by side in meaningless comparison, as if knowing a few 'fun facts' about Thai cuisine, Persian poetry or North African Rai music could ever help in creating a working modus vivendi with Thais, Persians or North Africans. Thus Mr. Robinson can idiotically recommend that we embrace Spanish as our second language, as if France would be better off today had it publicly made Arabic its second language! By all means, make language rights a live, contentious political issue--it worked so well for the Habsburgs! Perhaps if only the French knew more of the history of the Aghlabids, they could sit together at the table of brotherhood with Algerians and Tunisians! That is ridiculous.

There is the possibility of states uniting many different nations and language groups through loyalty to a common monarch or dynasty, and it can work fairly well for a long time until, as in Austria-Hungary, the ruling class openly advocates for its own, specific cultural identity over and against those of the subject peoples. But for the rise of the liberals in Austria, the Anschluss and the increasing German nationalism of the Austrian liberals after 1867, the bitter dialectic between German and Czech nationalism in Cisleithania and a similar process resulting from forced Magyarisation in Transleithania might have been avoided and the Habsburg state might have endured even past 1918. It is, however, essential to the preservation of such a state that there be very little in the way of popular or representative government--once popular participation in government is allowed, national and language questions are impossible to contain.

Mr. Robinson's multiculturalism would entrench and strengthen the intensity of existing cultural and ethnic divisions in this country, as well as giving greater substance to the separatist potential of the growing Mexican population of the Southwest. Placating the Quebecois with an official language, handsome subsidies and quite a few other political concessions has not seriously staved off the drive for Quebec's independence (it has been, if anything, the failures of the Parti Quebecois that continue to prevent the final break), and indeed the status of French in Canada has allowed the Quebecois to preserve their separate identity against the odds. If we want to encourage separatism in the Southwest and ghettoisation of Mexican and Latin American immigrants throughout the country, making Spanish an official language would be the way to go. Every city in the Union could one day aspire to be as functional as the border towns along the Rio Grande.

To the extent that our assimilation policies have ever truly worked, they have worked by sublimating and obliterating difference, at least as far as public life was concerned, often at the cost of creating a homogenised, somewhat sterilised civic identity. What has not been working for the last forty years, and what cannot work, is the fantasy that we can assimilate new people to even this sterile civic identity while allowing them fully to retain their far more meaningful attachments and customs. Their stronger attachments will win out, and the assimilation model we have had for over a century will finally collapse, fatally wounded by multiculturalist nonsense.

It is not surprising that many Westerners are having trouble grasping what has been happening in France: when one's own once-powerful and meaningful symbols and customs are not taken seriously, indeed are no longer respected by or meaningful to many of us, it is difficult to grasp fully how these can motivate and inspire other peoples. Only someone who thinks that such identities cannot seriously inspire or drive human action would be so foolish as to want to bring a number of such potent, contradictory symbols in close proximity to one another.

Daniel Larison | November 12, 2005



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