Tuesday, 26 October 2010

There's A Fundamental Problem With Multiculturalism...............

Hullo ma wee blog,

Jings! I huv'nae half been a serious wee fella this last week or so. Aye, I'm afraid this is another one but I hope you'll forgive me. Hopefully I'll be a bit more lighthearted soon but this has been bugging me for a considerable while.

In among all the stories about spending last week I was caught by German Chancellor Angela Merkel's statement that in her opinion multiculturalism has failed in Germany. I firmly believe in the ideals and the principals of multiculturalism but she sees western Europe going down under the tide of radical Islam. Rather than liberal society creating the utopia of harmonious cultural pluralism, it's being swallowed whole by a giant predator whose voracious mouth it encourages in the spirit of tolerance. The very act of liberality, it would seem ,ensures its downfall as it invites enemies and friends equally and empowers them with all the worthily inclusive legal protections that it would use to defend itself. It is in effect being eaten from within by a self- inflicted parasite for which there is no known cure.

I felt a comment like that coming from Germany in particular to be somehow more telling than some of the stories heard from other European countries. I don't know much about Angela Merkel, her policies or her politics. I don't know for instance if such a comment from her could simply be political opportunism or even political diversionism, taking the focus away from some other aspect of European politics. I do feel that given their history, German mainstream politicians are potentially less likely to make inflammatory statements on race, to stoke any fires of religious bigotry without careful consideration.

There's been many signs of concern, discontent even, within the liberal countries of western Europe over the last year around the increasing impact of Muslim culture, particularly the more fundamental aspects of that culture and its apparent demand for us to accept change on what are seen by many to be basic aspects of western values and culture. I've spoken here about the debate on acceptance of the burqa and the niqab and this year has also seen some fairly radical steps taken by nations that directly affect Muslim populations. France and Belgium have banned the burqa and other countries are debating doing the same.; Switzerland has banned the building of any further minarets; Denmark has imposed ferocious limits on immigration.

It would seem that battle lines are being drawn whether we {or they} like it or not. There has been a culture, radically different to our own, planted in our civilisation and while it seems to want to take advantage of the commercial and political freedoms it doesn't seem to want to integrate with our culture and its more tolerant views on religion, marriage, sexuality or morality.

But is that really true? Have we, as a society, done enough ourselves to integrate these populations into every aspect of our lives? Have we really welcomed them with open arms or gone to them and encouraged their engagement with us? Have we actively built bridges with them and welcomed them into our homes and our lives, made sure that we have explained our expectations of them as citizens, told them what their responsibilities are as well as their rights. Have we done everything we could to protect them from bigotry and exclusion by elements of  'oor ain folk'.  I'm not convinced that we have and until we do I don't think multiculturalism is going to work. {it also has to be reciprocated by the other party too.}  It's not something we are naturally good at. Think how we behave when us Brits move abroad. Not exactly known for embracing the local culture and integrating into society are we? More likely we're known for doing the opposite and creating a 'Little Britain'. [Historically we have done little but dominate other countries and exploited their natural resources and manpower to our own ends.]

I think it's important that we are allowed and encouraged to keep the best aspects of our culture. It's beneficial to all that heritage is strong. It keep us unique and enriches, not denigrates whatever society we are part of and that goes too for Moslem or any other culture that comes here. I believe that we are all better for having an understanding of our roots and heritage and the roots and heritage of others. It's important that the best parts of all are used and spread to the benefit of all. Many parts of differing cultures get on perfectly well together, it's only in certain areas that conflict or confusion arises and these need to be carefully and calmly explored. Above all, it's important the indigenous culture and values of any host country are respected, protected and preserved and where change happens that this is done naturally and organically, freely driven by the host coming to recognise and accept the change as a beneficial development, not by imposing or demanding an uncompromising and inflexible set of conditions. To me that's not integration or even immigration. To me that's domination. That's invasion. It's where a host society, is being forced to change and in a direction that's not welcome. When this happens decisions have to be made. I believe this is what Angela Merkel and others are really saying. When a minority wants to use laws designed for tolerance and freedom to protect itself while at the same time spreading intolerant attitudes which threaten our core values then measures have to be taken to protect those values. These measures should be debated, taken openly, and be appropriate and just and should at all times uphold our values of tolerance and human rights for the benefit of society as a whole.

 Good and Evil.
Too close for comfort.

I do think there is a problem with Islam though and it's one that needs to be tackled urgently and ferociously within the framework above. Although I say the problem is with Islam I would qualify that and say that it is not a problem with the Muslim faith. I absolutely uphold the right of anyone to practice their faith. While not a practicing Christian it's how I was brought up and they are fundamentally the values I carry. I believe everyone has the right to follow the religion they choose without interference so long as that religion is not aggressive or bigoted against other religions or lifestyles. I believe that within Islam there is a crisis where radical hardline fundamentalist views are hijacking mainstream opinion and deliberately moving towards conflict to achieve domination of non-Moslem cultures. Their ability to do so lies at the heart of modern western unease with Islam and needs to be tackled by the Moslem populations themselves. But those who do this radicalisation are doing exactly the same within Islam as they are trying to do with our tolerant principles of individual freedom in the west. They use the very structure of Islam to protect themselves while promoting views which are very non Islamic. But by it's very nature confrontation or conflict isn't something that moderates are good at. Just as there is a radical risk built into any religion, Islam appears to stand ever closer to the moderate and tolerant majority losing control to fundamentalism by failing to curb negative tendancies, even sometimes seeming to protect fundamentalist ideals when criticism comes from outside the faith. Our western perception therefore is that Islam has moved away from a progressive and tolerant attitude to more conservative views. Holding to these semi-conservative views could be a way of using appeasement in preventing a swing to an even less tolerant outlook by potential supporters of a fundamentalist viewpoint, acting to show willingness to preserve and protect rather than modernise and adapt the faith as we have done in the west.

So, what is the problem with Islam?  It's that Islam is not just a faith but is also an ideology. This issue is 'fundamental' in several ways. In the west we are used to faith being almost completely separate from the state. While the states values may be based on religious principles, just as Christian principles shape Britain's laws, religion here no longer dictates the law of the land and has no control over it or the functions of the state. State and religion are completely separate and there are controlling structures for both.  In Islam, faith is the state and faith dictates the law, which controls every other aspect of life; justice, welfare, commerce, health, police and politics. There is no separation.  Religious leaders and their interpretation of  faith, and therefore how the faithful should behave, are important in ways we haven't known in the west for several hundred years, when the word of a Pope could send hundreds of thousands of believers on invasions as 'crusaders' - a term that Islamists of a conservative/fundamentalist mindset still use as an inflammatory description of westerners .  Religious interpretation can be polarised or hijacked to promote a particular agenda in radical or 'fundamentalist' ways. It is this reality, linked to Islam as an ideology that is it's greatest threat. A strong Islamist population with fundamental tendencies is a huge potential problem for western political systems. This is the fear and the reality which is at the root of statements such as 'multiculturalism doesn't work'. See this piece from 'The Telegraph' on how this is affecting politics in Tower Hamlets in London.

Islamic fundamentalists have become adept at manipulating ideology and faith for their own agendas and in turning the liberal values of others against themselves in the attempt to impose fundamentalist beliefs on others. They have also become adept at manipulating the faith of Muslims who are not fundamentalists themselves by stoking their fears and prejudices against other faiths or ideologies. This is what we are seeing in the conflicts in the middle east today.

I read a report about City University, central London, which states that a hard-line Islamist ideology is being promoted through the leadership of the university’s student Islamic Society, leading to increased religious tensions on campus and to the intimidation and harassment of staff, students and members of minority groups by extremists and increasing the risks of students turning to terrorism. It shows very clearly how this minority group has attempted to create huge influence within the university and to dictate or influence the actions of other groups to it's advantage. While it's a lengthy and academic piece - I took about 40 minutes to read it - it shows in microcosm how fundamentalism works to manipulate others to it's own ends. That this is amongst 'educated' students and not poor or uneducated people, shows faith is a powerful weapon when manipulated by experts.

In essence, if you don't have time to read the whole chilling report the method used is this;

There are four contributory factors which are:

1. Exposure to an ideology that seems to sanction, legitimise or require violence, often by providing a compelling but fabricated narrative of contemporary politics and recent history.

The report states;

City Univerity ISoc {Islamic Society} events and particularly Friday sermons given by ISoc members have additionally explicitly advocated the murder of individuals who do not pray, for women to be ‘forced to wear’ hijab, for the ‘prohibition’ of homosexuality and the ‘killing’ of apostates. Furthermore, extremely conservative opinions are advocated by ISoc speakers, such as that Muslim women must ‘walk as close as they can to a wall’, that women ‘should try their best to stay at home unless there is a necessity’, and that men should only speak to women ‘in times that are necessary’. Simultaneously, the ISoc have promoted a warped understanding of current affairs in which Muslims are the innocent victims of complex plots and conspiracies. This serves to reinforce their narrative of a global religious war between Muslims and non-Muslims. For instance, attacks on ISoc members by local gangs were deliberately and explicitly equated with foreign conflicts such as those in Kashmir and Palestine, while the attempted Detroit airliner bombing was dismissed as anti-Muslim propaganda.

2. Exposure to people or groups who can directly and persuasively articulate that ideology and then relate it to aspects of a person’s own background and life history.

Through material made available on their website, City ISoc have exposed students to a number of extreme Islamists whose pro-jihadist teachings are likely to prove a radicalising influence. These include Anwar al-Awlaki and Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi, both of whom have directly radicalised a number of prominent terrorists who have subsequently carried out attacks in the Middle East and in the West. Through its website, City ISoc has also exposed students to a number of extreme Wahhabi scholars who promote an intolerant and hard-line version of Islam. Such Wahhabism has historically helped to nuture pro-jihadist ideologies and to fuel religious tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims, and between Wahhabists and other Muslims. · In addition, the president of City ISoc, its ‘ameer’, appears to be a significant radicalising influence in his own right. A number of students have described him as a “hypnotic”, charismatic figure, who is capable of inspiring unquestioning obedience and devotion among his immediate followers.

3. A crisis of identity and, often, uncertainty about belonging which might be triggered by a range of further personal issues, including experiences of racism, discrimination, deprivation and other criminality (as victim or perpetrator); family breakdown or separation

'Partly through promoting its false narrative of victimhood and partly through its separatist and confrontational Islamist ideology, ISoc members have sought to create a globalised ‘grievance-based’ Muslim identity that is hostile to non-Muslims and paranoid and suspicious of outsiders. The ISoc’s president particularly sought to shape this identity. ISoc sermons, for example, deliberately reinforced this ‘us and them’ outlook, for instance through the use of phrases such as ‘the black heart of the kuffar [‘infidels’]’. · In order to push Muslim students into adopting this binary ‘us and them’ outlook, the ISoc has manipulated genuinely disturbing incidents and presented them as being part of a global conspiracy against Muslims. For instance, following the gang attack on Muslim students, the ISoc’s Friday sermon used war-like language to urge students to unite behind the ISoc’s leadership to the exclusion of other religious and social groups, saying ‘let us as Muslims stick together, united as one. One brotherhood, one sisterhood, united at all costs’.  Additionally, Islamist policy proposals advocated by the ISoc, such as stoning adulterers and killing apostates, are presented as being core Muslim beliefs and as being at odds with the ‘western value system’. Such phrasing deliberately creates a conflict between students’ ‘western’ identity and their ‘Muslim’ identity; effectively a laying down of a ‘with us or against us’ ultimatum for Muslim students – who are also told by the ISoc to defend such ‘Islamic’ acts against non-Muslims and not to become ‘apologists’ for their religion.  Moreover, they engaged with other members of the university campus, and student politics, in religious terms. For example, they advocated voting as Muslims – and what would benefit Muslims – rather than as members of a democratic, secular student body.'

4]  A range of perceived grievances, some real and some imagined, to which there may seem to be no credible and effective non violent response.’
As shown above, ISoc members have repeatedly taken Muslim students’ perceived and genuine grievances and amplified them by combining them with the ISoc’s Islamist ideology and with the ISoc’s preferred grievance-based identity. A typical ISoc strategy was to create a crisis between the ISoc and various members of the university population, to depict this crisis as evidence of Muslims being persecuted by non-Muslims and then to advance Islamist or separatist policies as a solution.  For instance, the ISoc has depicted the university’s closure of Muslim-only prayer facilities as evidence of an institutional hostility to Muslims. The ISoc, using religiously-loaded language at one Friday sermon, described this as an example of ‘the non-Muslims, the polytheists, the university officials who are driving us out of our homes’. Ultimately, they projected the conclusion that ‘no longer is it easy to practice Islam on campus’.  In addition the ISoc fostered a sense of grievance by presenting all criticisms of the ISoc as examples of wider society’s intrinsic Islamophobia. ISoc members writing on the society’s website abused individual university staff critical of the ISoc as ‘having an outright hatred for the Islamic way of life’. Similarly, staff and students critical of the ISoc’s activities have been repeatedly described by ISoc members as ‘Islamophobic’, implying that their opposition to the ISoc was based on irrational, anti-Muslim prejudice.  The ISoc leadership also used the incident over the campus stabbings to their advantage. By taking a genuine grievance – a serious and alarming incident in itself – they managed to draw parallels between their ‘plight’ and the people of Kashmir and Palestine, declare the university to be throwing them “out of their homes” and cast the police as the “kuffar” whose promises “mean nothing”.
khutbas (Friday prayers) have repeatedly promoted an extreme Islamist ideology that combines many aspects of jihadist and Wahhabi thought. Potentially, this ideology, as laid out by the ISoc’s leaders in their Friday sermons, calls for an ‘Islamic state’ in which shari’ah law will be instituted. It also calls for, in the words of the ISoc leader, ‘offensive jihad’ – i.e. unprovoked attacks on non-Muslims

It seems incredible that such exhortation to violence should be made by anyone who purports to be a leader of any community within a civilised country.

It really does require a reading of the whole report to explain how such radical views can be disseminated through an educated population, but this reinforcing and expanding of an 'aggrieved and threatened' culture is at the heart. I would urge you to read it.

But what of multiculturalism?  Is it really dead?  Should we simply discard it as 'failure to launch'?

I don't think so. To discard it would be to play the hand of the radical and retreat behind city walls and man the ramparts. We shouldn't either allow ourselves to become 'aggrieved and threatened' as a society.  We have to embrace multiculturalism. We have to find ways to make it work.

The alternative would surely be too horrible to contemplate.


Bovey Belle said...

A very interesting piece Al. I do wonder though - IS there actually any example of where multi-culturalism HAS actually worked?

Elizabeth Rhiannon said...

Weighty issues and touchy subjects but it was an incredible post! I have too many opinions about race, culture, religion from my 'melting pot' :) I think it best to remain silent and save my two cents for your 'silly' posts, heehee! Take care...

Alistair said...

Hi BB - you know, I don't think there is. There are examples where the opposite has failed of course, so I don't think not trying for multiculturalism is an attractive option.

Hullo ER - I know. It was tough to write but has been bugging me for a while. Merkels' comments were just a kick in the pants for me.

I'm not saying my view is 100% right either.

Rebecca S. said...

Wow. The situation in Europe seems pretty heavy as you describe it. I can't help but think there is a great deal of fear of the influence of the West at play here, and they are pushing back to try and gain a foothold in their new homes. It would seem that we westerners need to curb our fear and try and up our personal standards of being a shining example of true democracy, creative solutions and goodness. If money is the root of all evil, fear is the spiky flower.

Alistair said...

I think the situation regarding the threat of RADICALISM is quite threatening and I agree we really need to up our game and support the moderate majority better and hopefully can work together to reduce the fundamentalist threat to both our cultures.

It's a heavy topic, but I honestly believe the threat is there. Muslem faith does feel threatened by western culture and that is potentially only likely to drive them into the arms of terrorists. We have to find ways to integrate them. We can't allow them to opt out of their role in this either.

Normally we just sweep it under the carpet.

Well - that's my opinion anyway.

thanks for te comment Rebecca

The Scudder said...

A heavy, heavy subject Al, but you've handled it in your own inimitable style with such honesty, understanding and goodness. Unfortunately I tend to agree with BB & ER but I do hope your Utopian world will eventually come about .... someday.

Alistair said...

Cheers for that Scudder.

I hope so too.

Morning's Minion said...

What I see as a very related issue in the US is the current insistance on "political correctness" which to my mind is another way of saying that one isn't allowed to call a spade a spade! For some reason we are stuck in the mode of tip-toeing for fear of giving "offense" to any group who doesn't think or act quite like the mainstream or majority....even when their values and behaviors are disturbing.
While the concept of polite acceptance, laissez-faire, or whatever you may term it, sounds good, can't it turn into a sort of spineless retreat in the face of a strong and disturbing force?
This is rather heavier thinking than I usually dare to comment on [as you know I read and write fluffier stuff] but I think you've laid out the real issues very clearly.

Alistair said...

Hullo MM - Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on 'the heavier stuff'. As you know I think that simple appeasement or avoidance isn't an option. We have to look for other ways - and so especially does moderate Islam - to challenge situations like you describe.....

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