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Friday, November 9, 2012

The End Of Multiculturalism–Finally

Timothy Garton Ash, a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books has observed (NYR 11.22.12) that ‘Multiculturalism’, that movement which ‘celebrates’ diversity, has done a disservice to the establishment of truly multicultural societies by creating parallel cultural universes.

Some, though not all, of the policies described as “multiculturalism” over the last thirty years have had deeply illiberal consequences. They have allowed the development of “parallel societies” or “subsidized isolation.” Self-appointed community leaders have used public funds to reinforce cultural norms that would be unacceptable in the wider society, especially in relation to women. This has come close to official endorsement of cultural and moral relativism. A perverse effect has been to disempower the voices of the more liberal, secular, and critical minority within such ethnically or culturally defined minorities.

The Multiculturalists have, says Ash, pigeonholed individuals within artificial and no- longer-relevant categories.  It is not fair or right to brand a Salvadoran-American first and foremost as Latino when he is likely to be an amalgamation of many groups.  He may be gay, religiously indifferent, politically conservative, and passionately internationalist, while also loving rancheros and Dos Equis. 

Most societies in Europe and in the Americas are becoming increasingly ethnically diverse.

According to US Census Bureau projections, non-Hispanic whites will be outnumbered by other ethnic groups in the United States in about 2042. As a chorus chanted at a Chicago cabaret: “In 2042, there’ll be more of us than of you.” If Turkey joins the European Union, then by 2030 one in every five residents of the EU could be Muslim. This diversity is most visible in cities such as London, Amsterdam, Toronto, and New York. Some 37 percent of New Yorkers are foreign-born; in Toronto, the figure is close to 50 percent. Three hundred languages are spoken in London. One in four newborns in Britain have at least one parent who was born overseas.

This does not mean that we should automatically identify these groups by either their ethnic, geographical, or religious origins.  They are Americans or Europeans first, and our societies must find a way to both be inclusive and demanding.  That is, to allow the free expression of their particular sentiments, but to never condone or permit intolerance or a rejection of the core liberal values of Western democracy.

Ash has five principles upon which these newly multicultural societies should be built: Inclusion, Clarity, Consistency, Firmness, Liberality. I agree with most of what Ash says, but not all.

The most problematic is inclusion.  Ash argues for a more tolerant policy concerning illegal immigrants.  Whether someone is here legally or illegally, he says, they should be treated fairly and justly, not like a pariah or outcaste.  Such negativity and opprobrium against people who are simply acting both according to their own self-interest and to the marketplace will always be counterproductive, perpetuating stereotypes and myths about the mooching, welfare-dependent illegal.  This is good policy, since Americans – both producers and consumers – want the low prices on goods and services that illegal immigrants can provide.  As long as we want these migrants in, then we should treat them properly.  I have always argued for increased liberalization of the immigration policy, moving as quickly as possible to open borders, at least within existing trade agreements, such as NAFTA.

The problem of immigrants, however, will not go away with simple legalization or regularization of their status.  The African immigrants who now populate the violent and dysfunctional northern suburbs of Paris have long since been ‘French’ but their exclusion from society has been near permanent.  Simply by considering someone French by no means guarantees their assimilation.  When immigrants, whether Latinos or Africans, come to our countries, they tend to group together, retaining language, religion, and customs. While Hispanics in the United States become assimilated after two generations, such is not the case with Muslims in Europe.  We have seen how not only have they remained separate, but are becoming more militantly so.

Attempts for engineered inclusion have not worked.  Affirmative action, outlawed in France, worked thirty years ago in the United States, helping to break longstanding barriers in education and employment, but is now counterproductive and divisive. The only way for true assimilation and inclusion to occur is through economic opportunity; and this is likely only if the migrant/minority communities assume more responsibility for their own futures and adopt majority norms.

Ash goes on to cite the importance of inclusion in entertainment, journalism, and sports; but he does not discuss the blatant racism expressed at soccer matches, the vitriol spewed on Internet sites, and the persistent prejudiced views pronounced around the dinner tables of many families who feel threatened.

Clarity – assuring that all new immigrants understand and learn the rights, privileges, duties, and responsibilities of citizenship or residency.  Western societies based on social and economic liberalism simply should never tolerate abuses of civil and human rights.  Although our societies will defend the freedom of expression of all groups, we will not tolerate intimidation and the use of force to promote individual group principles.  Existing citizens must also know these rights and obligations and understand what immigrants can and cannot do.  This will lead to more tolerance and mutuality.  Again, all well and good, but very idealistic; for we have seen how some groups, particularly European Muslims refuse to abide by majority rule and the laws of governance.  Their religious beliefs will always trump national identity.

Consistency – applying rules, regulations, and principles uniformly and fairly – is the easiest to understand, but one of the hardest to implement:

Why, for example, are there blasphemy laws protecting only Christianity? Faith schools for only some faiths but not all? Memory laws covering only some genocides, such as the Holocaust? Pockets of legal exceptionalism for only some communities, such as the Amish in the US?

A secular, liberal state needs some shared values to underpin it, and the such values must be tied to one particular culture. The challenge of our time is precisely to build on values that are defensible in the light of reason and can be found across cultures.

Firmness is Ash’s term for absolute adherence and defense of liberal principles, especially Free Speech, which is perhaps the core conviction of modern society.  The Multiculturalists’ desire to limit free speech, to engineer civility, and to protect the new and disadvantaged members of minorities, is exactly the wrong approach to take.  Inclusion can happen more structurally if differences, however insensitively expressed, are aired.  If not, they will go underground where they will fester.

Firmness for Ash also refers to solidarity.  Not only the forces of order but the general citizenry should rally around any group or individual who speaks and is threatened.  Such solidarity will silence those who threaten.  The case of Salman Rushdie is not far from Ash’s mind.

Liberality – an openness of mind to all opinions, beliefs, and convictions – is perhaps the most idealistic of Ash’s pentagram of proposals:

It evokes the strand of liberalism that takes a generous, curious, imaginative interest in other cultures, philosophies, and ways of life…It takes seriously the proposition that we can understand, appreciate, and learn from others even while profoundly disagreeing with them.

Ash admits there is nothing new in his proposals, but that they have even more salience and relevance than ever before.  I agree on the principles of open immigration, strict adherence to liberal Western principles, but disagree that government can engineer inclusion, and reject the notion that simply by encouraging inclusion, clarity, or liberality, majority views of immigrants will change.  As we have seen in this recent Presidential Election (2012), demographics are what count.  Even the Republican Party will start to take Latinos seriously now that they represent a significant voting bloc.  We will take the value of Mexican immigrants more seriously once they leave are wobbly economy for a more vibrant one back home.

Economic opportunity is the one principle that Ash downplays.  Economic equality will always produce ethnic, racial, and gender equality; and once minority groups reform and organize themselves to compete within a 21st Century market, the sooner this equality will come about.

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