"I have long argued that the giving of offence, and even hate speech, should be a moral matter but not a matter for the criminal law. That is as true on the football pitch as on the streets. We should always challenge racism. We should also always challenge attacks on liberties in the guise of faux antiracism." Kenan Malik

Kenan Malik

THE FACTS, THE MYTHS AND THE FRAMING OF IMMIGRATION by Kenan Malik


For more of Kenan Maliks writings and discussions please head over to his blog Pandaemonium

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At the heart of the current debate about immigration are two issues: the first is about the facts of immigration, the second about public perception of immigration.

The facts are relatively straightforward. Immigration is a good and the idea that immigrants come to Britain to live off benefits laughable. Immigrants put more money into the economy than they take out and have negligible impact on jobs or wages. An independent report on the impact of immigrationcommissioned by the Home Office in 2003, looked at numerous international surveys and conducted its own study in Britain. ‘The perception that immigrants take away jobs from the existing population, or that immigrants depress the wages of existing workers’, it concluded, ‘do not find confirmation in the analysis of the data laid out in this report.’ More recent studies have suggested that immigration helps raise wages except at the bottom of the jobs ladder where it has a slightnegative impact. That impact on low paid workers matters hugely, of course, but is arguably more an issue of labour organization than of immigration.

Immigrants are less likely to claim benefits than British citizens. According to the Department for Work and Pensions, of the roughly 1.8 million non-British EU citizens of working age in this country, about 90,000, or around 5%, claim an ‘out of work benefit’, compared with around 13% of Britons. Migrants from outside the EU are also much less likely to claim benefits.

The most comprehensive study to date of East European migrants to Britain concluded that ‘A8 immigrants who arrived after EU enlargement in 2004… are 60% less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credits, and 58% less likely to live in social housing’.  The study also discovered that ‘in each fiscal year since enlargement in 2004, A8 immigrants made a positive contribution to public finance despite the fact that the UK has been running a budget deficit over the last years’. This was because ‘they have a higher labour force participation rate, pay proportionately more in indirect taxes, and make much lower use of benefits and public services’. They paid around 30 per cent more in taxes than they cost our public services.

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Whatever the truth about immigration, it is clear that there exists widespread popular hostility to immigrants. For some, often on the right, the hostility makes sense because, irrespective of its economic benefits, the social impact of immigration is destructive. For others, often on the left, such hostility exists because people are irrational and take little notice of facts and figures. Both arguments have little merit.

Immigrants, the critics insist, disrupt communities, undermine traditional identities, and promote unrestrained change.  David Goodhart, director of Demos, whose book on immigration, The British Dream, is published on Monday, claimed last week that ‘Large-scale immigration has created an England that is increasingly full of mysterious and unfamiliar worlds’. As a result, ‘for many of the white people… the disappearance of familiar mental and physical landmarks has happened too fast’. He quotes one man from Merton in south London: ‘We’ve lost this place to other cultures. It’s not English any more.’

Had Arthur Balfour been able to read that, he would undoubtedly have nodded in agreement. Balfour was the Prime Minister in 1905 when Britain introduced its first immigration controls, aimed primarily at European Jews. Without such a law, Balfour claimed, ‘though the Briton of the future may have the same laws, the same institutions and constitution… nationality would not be the same and would not be the nationality we would desire to be our heirs through the ages yet to come.’ Two years earlier, the Royal Commission on Alien Immigration (an ‘alien’ was, in the early twentieth century, both a description of a foreigner and a euphemism for a Jew) had expressed fears that newcomers were inclined to live ‘according to their traditions, usages and customs’ and that there might be ‘grafted onto the English stock… the debilitated sickly and vicious products of Europe’.

The sense that Jewish immigration was uncontrolled and that ‘We’ve lost this place to other cultures. It’s not English any more’, was palpable in the discussions. ‘There is no end to them in Whitechapel and Mile End’, claimed one witness giving evidence to 1903 Royal Commission.  ‘These areas of London might be called Jerusalem’. The Conservative MP Major Sir William Eden Evans-Gordon expressed the same sentiment through a quite extraordinary metaphor. ‘Ten grains of arsenic in a thousand loaves would be unnoticeable and perfectly harmless’, he told Parliament, ‘but the same amount put into one loaf would kill the whole family that partook of it.’

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By the 1950s, the Jewish community had come to be seen as part of the British cultural landscape.  The same arguments used against Jews half a century earlier were now deployed against a new wave of immigrants from South Asia and the Caribbean. A Colonial Office report of 1955 echoed Arthur Balfour, fearing that ‘a large coloured community as a noticeable feature of our social life would weaken… the concept of England or Britain to which people of British stock throughout the Commonwealth are attached’. There were worries, too, about the uncontrolled nature of immigration. ‘The question of numbers and of the increase in numbers’, Enoch Powell insisted, lie at ‘the very heart of the problem’. ‘Whole areas, towns and parts of England’, he claimed, were being ‘occupied by different sections of the immigrant and immigrant-descended population’. A decade later Margaret Thatcher gave a notorious TV interview in which she claimed that there were in Britain ‘an awful lot’ of black and Asian immigrants and that ‘people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture.’ The echoes are unmistakable both of the debate about Jews before and of the contemporary immigration debate.

Just as Jews became an accepted part of the cultural landscape, so did postwar immigrants from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent, though the acceptance was more grudging, and often not extended to Muslims.  Today, the same arguments that were once used against Jews, and then against South Asian and Caribbean immigrants, are now raised against Muslims and East Europeans.

The idea that immigration is disruptive of culture, identity and social cohesion is, in other words, as old as immigration itself.  Whether it is Irish or Jews coming to Britain, Italians or North Africans to France, Catholics  or Chinese to America, every wave of immigration is met fear and hostility and a sense being overwhelmed.

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Immigration has clearly brought major changes, in the physical character of British cities, in the rhythm of social life and in the sense of what it is to be British. But immigration is not alone in driving social changes, nor is it even the most important driver of social change. Had not a single immigrant come to Britain, Britons today would still be living in a vastly different nation from that of half a century ago. Feminism, consumerism, increased social mobility, the growth of youth culture, the explosion of mass culture, the acceptance of free market economic policies, the destruction of trade unions, the decimation of manufacturing industries, the rise of the finance and service sectors, greater individual freedom, the atomisation of society, the decline of traditional institutions such as the Church – all have helped transform Britain, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.  But it is immigrants who primarily have become symbolic of change, and of change for the worse. Why? Because of the way that the immigration debate has been  framed. From the beginning, immigration has been viewed as a problem, even as a threat.   This is true even of liberals and multiculturalists, who might welcome diversity but think it has to be policed, by enforcing speech codes for instance, to minimise the clashes and conflicts and frictions that it brings in its wake. Inevitably, therefore, immigration comes to be seen at best with suspicion, at worst with hostility.

Consider, for instance, an image that David Goodhart uses as a symbol of unpalatable change – that of a newly built mosque in Merton, south London. The ‘mega mosque’, Goodhart writes, ‘replaced an Express Dairies bottling plant which provided a few hundred jobs for local people and lots of milk bottles — an icon of an earlier, more homogenised age’. In fact, a local blogger pointed out, ‘the dairy closed in 1992 and the mosque was inaugurated in 2003’. There was a seven-year gap between the dairy closing and building work beginning on the mosque. In those seven years the abandoned dairy was, according to local accounts, turned into a crack den. So, one story we could tell is that of economic forces closing down an unprofitable dairy, with the loss of a several hundred jobs, and of Muslims subsequently rescuing the abandoned, crime-infested site, creating new jobs, both in the construction and in the running of the mosque, and in the process transforming Merton for the better. Critics of immigration want, however, to tell a different story. The mosque, in their eyes, is symbolic not of the rescue of a site from abandonment and crime, but of the original closure of the dairy and of the transformation of Merton’s old way of life.

All this takes us to the second kind of argument as to why immigration continues to be such a fraught political issue. Many, often on the left, accept that immigration is a good but worry that people are too irrational to understand. Hitting people with facts and figures, they suggest, will not help. We need to accept people’s emotional opposition to immigration. If we do not engage with people’s anxieties, they argue, the left’s project will get shouted down by rightwing and populist anti-immigration voices.

It is true that simply presenting facts and figures will change few minds. This is not, however, because people are irrational or because they are indifferent to facts, but because facts are always understood within a particular political, social or philosophical framework. Since the issue of immigration has been framed in such a way that both sides accept immigrants as a problem, so it is inevitable that people will understand facts and figures within that context. That is why the Merton mosque, for instance, is seen only as a threat and as a metaphor of loss. That is why the economic and social changes that truly disrupted the old way of life in Merton become elided with the building of the mosque, and the mosque becomes symbolic of change for worse.immigration

If we want the facts and figures to have an impact we need first to reframe the immigration debate. There is not much point in showing that immigrants do not come to sponge off the welfare state, or that they benefit the economy, if we have already accepted that immigrants are a problem. We need rather to view immigration from an entirely different perspective. We need to acknowledge the movement of peoples as neither an aberration, nor as an evil to be tolerated, but as an inherent part of human life. We need to view the social changes that immigration brings not as a loss of something precious, but also as the gain of something valuable, the creation of a more open, vibrant, cosmopolitan society. We should regard the clashes and conflicts in ideas and values that immigration often creates not as something to be feared and minimised but as something to be prized, the basis of social engagement, the means by which we can break out of our narrow cultural boxes and create possibility of a common language of citizenship.

Adopting such an approach is difficult because it runs counter to so much of what is regarded as social wisdom. That is why it is all the more important to view immigration in this fashion. To do so requires, however, conviction and courage. And those are two virtues noticeable by their absence in contemporary politics.

http://kenanmalik.wordpress.com/2013/03/30/the-framing-of-immigration/#more-12747


REACHING FOR A MORAL HIGH GROUND LONG SINCE CROWDED by Kenan Malik


 

Taken from Kenan Maliks blog Pandaemonium. Please follow it here.

I have been meaning for a while to write about the current controversy over racism in English football. Lack of time has prevented me from doing so but today’s match between Chelsea and Liverpool is too good an opportunity to pass up.

These are, of course, the two clubs at the heart of that controversy.  Earlier this year, Luis Suarez, Liverpool’s Uruguayan forward, was banned for eight matches for calling Manchester United’s Patrice Evra a ‘negrito’. Suarez insisted that this was colloquial Spanish for ‘mate’. An FA disciplinary board found him guilty of racism. More recently Chelsea (and former England) captain John Terry was accused of racially abusing Queen’s Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand during a match. This time the police got involved. Terry was charged under the criminal law with using ‘abusive language’ but was acquitted in court. After that acquittal the FA charged him with the same offence and, with a lower burden of proof, found him guilty.  Then last month, Chelsea accused a referee, Mark Clattenburg, of using ‘inappropriate’, and reportedly racist, language towards two of its players, a claim currently being investigated by both the police and the FA.

The discussion of these cases by football authorities, politicians and the media has led to a growing sense of English football as a hotbed of racism. A number of leading black players, including Rio Ferdinand and Jason Roberts, have accusedKick It Out, football’s official antiracist campaign of being ‘soft’ on racism. Some have threatened to create a breakaway union black players’ union. A national poll revealed that 40 per cent of people think that racism is ‘rife’ in football and more than half believe it will never be eliminated.

As someone who has been both watching football and fighting racism for nearly thirty years, I find much of this discussion surreal. I am, for my sins, a Liverpool fan. I am Gary Neville’s worst nightmare – probably the only person brought up in Manchester who ended up supporting the real Reds. I arrived in Britain as a six-year-old, knowing nothing about football, still less about the sociology of tribal support. By the time I found about the bitterness of the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United, it was too late. The tribal, irrational, unconditional nature of football support meant that I was stuck with my loyalties.

In my teenage years visiting Anfield, standing on the Kop, I was often spat on, kicked, called a ‘fucking Paki cunt’ and worse. I was hailed not infrequently with a chorus of ‘There ain’t no black in the Union Jack, so all the Pakis can fuck off back’. Not just from the visiting fans, though that often happened, but also from the Kop faithful. Not by everyone on the Kop, of course, or even by most people, but by a significant number, and a significant number that was largely tolerated. In the 70s and 80s racism was endemic in the football, and the authorities did not want to know.

Why did I carry on supporting Liverpool despite the abuse? Partly because sporting obsessions are rarely driven by rational considerations. Partly because to have stopped watching football would have been to give into racism; and I am the kind of person who, if I am told I cannot do something, I insist even more on doing it. And partly because standing on the Kop was little different then from standing on any street corner in Britain. Britain was a very different place then, and so was football.  Racism then was vicious, visceral and often fatal. Stabbings were everyday facts of life, firebombings almost weekly events, and murders all too common.

This is why the current furore over racism seems so bizarre. I cannot remember the last time I faced the kind of abuse that was so common in the eighties.  Racism still exists, of course, and needs always to be confronted, but it is relatively isolated. Indeed, it is precisely because racism is so rare that it seems so shocking when we are confronted with it.

If I cannot remember the last time I faced the kind of abuse that was so common in the seventies and eighties, nor can most players. David James was for many years the England goalkeeper, one of England’s leading black players and a highly articulate opponent of racism. ‘I struggle with the racist issue in football’ he observed recently at a ‘Leaders in Football’ conference at Stamford Bridge recently. Not because he faces racism all the time, but because he so rarely does. ‘I don’t see it’, James said, ‘and that’s not because I’ve got my head in the sand. In the earlier days, yes, but the game’s changed.’ In the whole of the 2010-11 season, there were just 43 arrests in England for racist or indecent chanting. A number of black players have certainly faced nasty abuse on Twitter, but that tells us more about the character of Internet discussions than it does about racism in football.

The fact that racism is rare, does not mean that it should not be challenged wherever it appears. But just because racism is not right does not mean that we should pretend that it is rife.

If racism is not the issue that once it was, why the sudden interest on the part of the football authorities in combating racism? Having spent decades ignoring racism in the sport when it was a real, live issue and required a robust response, the FA is now trying to gain the moral high ground by conducting a war that has largely been won.  It would have taken guts and commitment to have stood up to racism three decades ago. Today, the FA is trying to clamber on to a moral high ground that has long since become crowded.

If the character of racism has changed over the past three decades, so too has the character of antiracism. Antiracism has all too often become less about challenging discrimination or hatred, more about moral posturing. ‘A lot of the issues that we’ve gone on about in the last season or so, it’s more about people driving the issue than the issue being a real focus’, as David James put it.

Antiracism has also increasingly become a matter of social control, of the law defining what is and is not acceptable for people to say. Consider two recent cases. Last month, Rangers fan Connor McGhie was jailed for three months for ‘religiously aggravated breach of the peace’ for singing ‘offensive songs which referred to the Pope and the Vatican and called Celtic “Fenian bastards”’. Meanwhile the Society of Black Lawyers have threatened Spurs fans with court actionif they continue to refer to themselves as ‘Yids’ or the ‘Yid Army’. The Rangers fan was undoubtedly motivated by bigotry, the Spurs fans mostly by a desire to challenge bigotry. Both cases reveal, however, how antiracism in football has become part of the wider campaign to use the criminal law to ban speech deemed offensive or hateful.

I have long argued that the giving of offence, and even hate speech, should be a moral matter but not a matter for the criminal law. That is as true on the football pitch as on the streets. We should always challenge racism. We should also always challenge attacks on liberties in the guise of faux antiracism.


INTELLECTUAL CHARLATANS & ACADEMIC WITCH-HUNTERS

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From Kenan Maliks blog Pandaemonium

Judith Butler is a queen, perhaps the queen, of poststructuralist philosophy. A pioneer of queer theory and one of the world’s leading feminist philosophers, she made her name with her 1990 book, Gender Trouble, which dismisses the idea of sex and gender as fixed categories, viewing them instead as forms of social artifice. Butler introduced in the book the concept of gender as ‘performativity’: by behaving as if there were male and female ‘natures’ we create the social fiction that these natures exist.

Next week Butler is due to receive the prestigious Adorno Prize. Awarded by the city of Frankfurt to honour its most celebrated philosophical son, Theodor Adorno, the triennial award is given for ‘outstanding work in the fields of philosophy, music, theatre and film’. Previous winners have included such luminaries as Jurgen Habermas, Zygmunt Bauman, Norbert Elias, Pierre Boulez, Jean-Luc Goddard and György Ligeti.

This year’s award has caused a major controversy. Critics have described the award of the prize to Butler as ‘monstrous’, a ‘scandal’, and ‘morally corrupt’.

Butler’s work has always divided critics. While some view her as a courageous and innovative thinker, others view her as an intellectual charlatan. ‘It is difficult to come to grips with Butler’s ideas’, the American philosopher Martha Nussbaum has written in a devastating critique, ‘because it is difficult to figure out what they are.’

Butler is not only a princess of postmodern prose; she is also the empress of the impenetrable phrase. In 1998 she won another, less desirable, prize, when the journal Philosophy and Literature awarded her its ‘Bad Writing’ award, a prize that sought to ‘celebrate the most stylistically lamentable passages found in scholarly books and articles’. Butler responded with an op-ed in the New York Times in which she celebrated incomprehensible writing as the only way ‘to question common sense, interrogate its tacit presumptions and provoke new ways of looking at a familiar world’.

In fact, as the philosopher Martha Nussbaum observes, the impenetrability of Butler’s prose serves not to challenge common sense but to protect the emptiness of the ideas within. The jargon-infested obscurity of Butler’s work, Nussbaum wrote, helps ‘create an aura of importance’, so as to ‘bully the reader into granting that, since one cannot figure out what is going on, there must be something significant going on, some complexity of thought, where in reality there are often familiar or even shopworn notions, addressed too simply and too casually to add any new dimension of understanding.’

It is not simply the form of Butler’s work, but its content, too, that is problematic. For Butler we are constituted in discourse, in relations of power, and out of that discourse, out of those relations of power, we cannot escape. Power, for Butler, as for Michel Foucault, from whom she draws much of her argument, is omnipresent. Its threads are everywhere and it is only through power that reality is constituted. ‘The power is “always already there”’, as Foucault puts it, meaning ‘that one is never “outside” it, that there are no “margins” for those who break with the system to gambol in’ [Power/Knowledge, p85]. Or, in Butler’s words, ‘Called by an injurious name, I come into social being, and because I have a certain inevitable attachment to my existence, because a certain narcissism takes hold of any term that confers existence, I am led to embrace the terms that injure me because they constitute me socially’ [The Psychic Life of Power, p104]. Since I am, in other words, created by social relations of power, I can never escape those relations of power without ceasing to be. I can never challenge the system in any comprehensive way because ‘the power is “always already there”’. I can simply work within it, carve out a space, turn the language of subordination that imprisons me upon itself to mock my imprisonement,  transgress by performing in a slightly different, parodic manner. For all her claimed radicalism, Butler’s politics, like that of many poststructuralists, is the politics of gesture, not the politics of change.

Little of this, however, seems to concern the critics of Butler’s Adorno Prize. What has infuriated them is not so much the intellectual shallowness of Butler’s work as the unacceptability of her political views, in particular her fierce hostility to Israel. Butler supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign that seeks to isolate Israel, culturally and economically, arguing that links to Israeli universities and cultural institutions should be cut. She has called Hamas and Hezbollah‘social movements that are progressive’, and ‘part of a global Left’. (In a response to her critics, Butler has attempted to evade the charge that she supports Hamas and Hezbollah by insisting that the comment was ‘merely descriptive’.  Since when has ‘progressive’ been merely a ‘descriptive’ term?)

All this has inevitably created outrage.  ‘Who boycotts Israel cannot be an Adorno-laureate’, insisted the German section of the Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, an advocacy organization for Israel.  It added that ‘this grotesquely wrong decision of the City of Frankfurt leads to the suspicion that it agrees with this radical enmity of its laureate toward Israel’. Professor Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University claimed that ‘The boycott campaign is… the modern embodiment of anti-Semitism.’ According to Steinberg, ‘Butler is one of a tiny number of token Jews who are used to legitimize the ongoing war against Israel, following a dark practice used for centuries in the Diaspora.’ Stephen J. Kramer, the general secretary of the German Jewish Council condemned Butler’s ‘moral depravity’, lambasted as ‘shocking’ Frankfurt’s decision to honour her, and suggested that the fact of Butler’s Jewishness ‘makes her worthy of a study of the psychology of self-hatred but in no way as a laureate of the Adorno prize whose name is now stained’. Pro-Israeli activists are attempting to force the city of Frankfurt to rescind the award of the prize to Butler. An online petition has been launched under the headline ‘No Adorno Award for Anti-Semite Judith Butler’.

There is certainly something deeply dispiriting about the BDS campaign, about the idea that there is anything progressive about trying to silence Israeli academics or preventing theatre groups from performing abroad, about showing solidarity with the Palestinian people by seeking to restrict intellectual freedom. There is also something abhorrent about a public intellectual who not only believes that Hamas and Hezbollah are ‘progressive’ but also tries to evade responsibility for that view.

Yet the campaign against Butler is equally dispiriting and dangerous.  There is, of course, nothing wrong with criticizing Butler’s work or her politics, or even of the awarding of the Prize to her. Indeed, it would be astonishing if there was not such criticism. The current campaign against Butler is not, however, just about exposing Butler’s arguments. It is also about defining the kinds of criticisms of Israel that are legitimate, about marking out the political and moral limits of acceptable academia. To label Butler ‘anti-Semitic’ is simply an attempt to shout down debate. As Butler herself rightly observes (with a lucidity so often missing from her academic work):

Such charges seek to demonize the person who is articulating a critical point of view and so disqualify the viewpoint in advance. It is a silencing tactic: this person is unspeakable, and whatever they speak is to be dismissed in advance or twisted in such a way that it negates the validity of the act of speech. The charge refuses to consider the view, debate its validity, consider its forms of evidence, and derive a sound conclusion on the basis of listening to reason. The charge is not only an attack on persons who hold views that some find objectionable, but it is an attack on reasonable exchange, on the very possibility of listening and speaking in a context where one might actually consider what another has to say.

It is ironic that critics of the campaign to enforce a cultural boycott of Israel should themselves seek to constrain free speech and to force Frankfurt to rescind the prize.  It is ironic that critics rightly incensed by the facile comparison of Israeli actions with those of the Nazis should make similar comparisons about cultural boycotters. It ‘is a scandal’, claimed the SPME ‘that the City of Frankfurt… where the boycott against Jews of the Nazis in 1933 is still remembered, awards a prize of €50,000 named after a scholar who was driven into exile by the Nazis, to a person that calls for the singular boycott of Jewish Institutions within the state of Israel’. One might not agree with BDS tactics, but to compare them with the actions of the Nazis is absurd. It is ironic, too, that those happy to lambast Butler for the ‘immorality’ of her hostility to Israel think nothing of  dismissing the reality of Palestinian life, describing the ‘Israeli “occupation” [as] a relic of the past’and condemning ‘the false Arab-Palestinian notion of being “occupied” and “robbed” of their true destiny’.  Such a view is a grotesque distortion of reality; but people have the right to hold those views, and even win to prizes while doing so. The same applies to Judith Butler.

The shallowness of Butler’s ideas is good reason to question the award of the prize. Her hostility to Israel is not. Even intellectual charlatans with questionable political views deserve protection from academic witch-hunters.


Kenan Malik’s ‘What’s Wrong With Multiculturalism?’ Audio Download

Kenan-Malik

What’s Wrong With Multiculturalism?

Friday, June 22, 2012 | Categories: Past Episodes |


Writer, lecturer, and broadcaster Kenan Malik

Writer, lecturer, and broadcaster Kenan Malik

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How should European societies respond to the influx of peoples with different traditions, backgrounds and beliefs? In the 2012 Milton K. Wong Lecture, Kenan Malik looks at multiculturalism policies in Europe, at the ways in which different countries have approached immigration and diversity, and at the reasons for the current dissatisfaction. The lecture is presented by the Laurier Institution, UBC Continuing Studies and CBC Radio One. For more details, please visit the Milton.K. Wong Lecture website.

Kenan Malik is a writer, lecturer and broadcaster. His books include From Fatwa to Jihad (2009),Strange Fruit (2008), Man, Beast and Zombie (2000), and The Meaning of Race (1996). He has also written and presented a number of radio and TV documentaries including Disunited 
Kingdom, Are Muslims Hated?, Islam, Mullahs and the Media, Skullduggery, and Man, Beast and Politics. He is currently writing a history of moral thought.

‘WHAT IS WRONG WITH #MULTICULTURALISM?’ by Kenan Malik


This is a combined two part article of a recent lecture given by Kenan Malik. If you wish to comment on the article after having read both parts please head over to Kenans blog Pandaemonium. Why not sign up over there for updates while you’re at it!

Kenan also has a website here http://www.kenanmalik.com/

 

I gave the Milton K Wong lecture in Vancouver on Sunday.  I very much enjoyed the event- it was a stunning venue, a superb audience and a good discussion of the issues. My thanks to the Laurier Institution, University of British Columbia and CBC for inviting me. Entitled ‘What is Wrong with Multiculturalism? A European Perpective’, the lecture pulled together many of the themes about immigration, identity, diversity and multiculturalism of which I have been talking and writing recently. It was a long talk, so I am splitting the transcript into two. Here is the first part; I will publish the second part later this week. It will be broadcast in full on 22 June on the CBC’s Ideas strand.


It is somewhat alarming to be asked to present the European perspective on multiculturalism. There is no such beast. Especially when compared to the Canadian discussion, opinion in Europe is highly polarised. And mine certainly is not the European perspective. My view is that both multiculturalists and their critics are wrong. And only by understanding why both sides are wrong will we be able to work our way through the mire in which we find ourselves.

Thirty years ago multiculturalism was widely seen as the answer to many of Europe’s social problems. Today it is seen, by growing numbers of people, not as the solution to, but as the cause of, Europe’s myriad social ills.  That perception has been fuel for the success of far-right parties and populist politicians across Europe from Geert Wilders in Holland to Marine Le Pen in France, from the True Finns to the UK Independence Party.  It even provided fuel for the obscene, homicidal rampage last year of Anders Behring Breivik in Oslo and Utøya, which in his eyes were the first shots in a war defending Europe against multiculturalism. The reasons for this transformation in the perception of multiculturalism are complex, and at the heart of what I want to talk about. But before we can discuss what the problem is with multiculturalism, we first have unpack what we mean by multiculturalism.

Part of the problem in discussions about multiculturalism is that the term has, in recent years, come to have two meanings that are all too rarely distinguished. The first is what I call the lived experience of diversity. The second is multiculturalism as a political process, the aim of which is to manage that diversity. The experience of living in a society that is less insular, more vibrant and more cosmopolitan is something to welcome and cherish.  It is a case for cultural diversity, mass immigration, open borders and open minds.

As a political process, however, multiculturalism means something very different.  It describes a set of policies, the aim of which is to manage and institutionalize diversity by putting people into ethnic and cultural boxes, defining individual needs and rights by virtue of the boxes into which people are put, and using those boxes to shape public policy. It is a case, not for open borders and minds, but for the policing of borders, whether physical, cultural or imaginative.

The conflation of lived experience and political policy has proved highly invidious.  On the one hand, it has allowed many on the right – and not just on the right – to blame mass immigration for the failures of social policy and to turn minorities into the problem. On the other hand, it has forced many traditional liberals and radicals to abandon classical notions of liberty, such as an attachment to free speech, in the name of defending diversity. That is why it is critical to separate these two notions of multiculturalism, to defend diversity as lived experience – and all that goes with it, such as mass immigration and cultural openness – but to oppose multiculturalism as a political process.

To make my case I want to begin by questioning three myths of immigration. Three myths at the heart of the discussion about multiculturalism. Three myths created by the confusion I have just described. Three myths that have also helped maintain that confusion. The first is the idea that European nations used to be homogenous but have become plural in a historically unique fashion. The second claim is that contemporary immigration is different to previous waves, so much so that social structures need fundamental reorganization to accommodate it. And third is the belief that European nations have adopted multicultural policies because minorities demanded it. Both sides in the multiculturalism debate accept these claims. Where they differ is in whether they view immigration, and the social changes it has brought about, as a good or as an ill. Both sides, I want to suggest, are wrong, because these three premises upon which they base their arguments are flawed.

*  *  *  *  *

The claim that European nations used to be homogenous but have been made diverse by mass immigration might appear to be common sense. In fact, most European nations are in fact less plural now than they were, say, a hundred years ago. The reason we imagine otherwise is because of historical amnesia and because we have come to adopt a highly selective standard for defining what it is to be plural.

Consider France. At the time of the French Revolution, less than half the population of France spoke French. The historian Eugene Weber has shown how traumatic and lengthy was the process of what he calls ‘self-colonisation’ required to unify France and her various populations. These developments created the modern French nation.  But they also reinforced in the elite a sense of how alien was the mass of the population. Here is the Christian socialist Phillipe Buchez addressing the Medico-Psychological Society of Paris in 1857:

Consider a population like ours, placed in the most favourable circumstances; possessed of a powerful civilisation; amongst the highest ranking nations in science, the arts and industry.  Our task now, I maintain, is to find out how it can happen that within a population such as ours, races may form – not merely one but several races – so miserable, inferior and bastardised that they may be classed below the most inferior savage races, for their inferiority is sometimes beyond cure.

One only has to read the novels of Émile Zola or the works of Count Arthur Gobineau, one of the leading racial scientists of his day, to recognize how widespread was this sentiment.

The social and intellectual elite in France, far from viewing their nation as homogenous, regarded most of their fellow Frenchmen not as ‘one of us’, but as racial alien, and so inferior that they stood below the ‘most inferior savage races’ and were ‘beyond cure’.

In Victorian England, too, the elite viewed the working class and the rural poor as the racial Other. A vignette of working class life in the Saturday Review, a well-read liberal magazine of the era, is typical of English middle class attitudes:

The Bethnal Green poor… are a caste apart, a race of whom we know nothing, whose lives are of a quite different complexion from ours, persons with whom we have no point of contact… Slaves are separated from whites by more glaring marks of distinction; but still distinctions and separations, like those of English classes which always endure, which last from the cradle to the grave, which prevent anything like association or companionship, produce a general effect on the life of the extreme poor, and subject them to isolation, which offer a very fair parallel to the separation of the slaves from the whites.

Modern Bethnal Green is not home to warehousemen or costermongers, but lies at the heart of the Bangladeshi community in East London. Today’s ‘Bethnal Green poor’ are often seen as culturally and racially distinct. But only those on the fringes of politics would compare the distinctiveness of Bangladeshis to that of slaves. The sense of apartness was far greater in Victorian England than it is contemporary Britain. And that’s because in reality the social and cultural differences between a Victorian gentleman or factory owner, on the one hand, and a farmhand or a machinist, on the other, weremuch greater than those between a white resident and one of Bangladeshi origin living in Bethnal Green today.

However much they may view each other as different, a 16-year-old kid of Bangladeshi origin living in Bethnal Green, or a 16-year-old of Algerian origin living in Marseilles, or a 16-year-old of Turkish origin living in Berlin, probably wears the same clothes, listens to the same music, watches the same TV shows, follows the same football club as a 16-year-old white kid in that same city. The shopping mall and the sports field, the TV and the iPod, have all served to bind differences and create a set of experiences and cultural practices that is more common than at any time in the past.

There is nothing new, then, in plural societies. From a historical perspective contemporary societies, even those transformed by mass immigration, are not particularly plural. What is different today is the perception that we are living in particularly plural societies, and the perception of such pluralism in largely cultural terms. The debate about multiculturalism is a debate in which certain differences (culture, ethnicity, faith) have cometo be regarded as important and others (such as class, say, or generational), which used to be perceived as important in the past, have come to be seen as less relevant. Why this has happened I will come to later.

*  *  *  *  *

The second myth I want to challenge is the claim that contemporary immigration to Europe is different, and in some eyes less assimilable, than previous waves. In his much-lauded book Reflections on a Revolution in Europe the American writer Christopher Caldwell suggests that prior to the Second World War, immigrants came almost exclusively from other European nations, and so were easily assimilable. ‘Using the word immigration to describe intra-European movements’, Caldwell suggests,  ‘makes only slightly more sense than describing a New Yorker as an “immigrant” to California’. According to Caldwell, prewar immigration between European nations was different from postwar immigration from outside Europe because, ‘immigration from neighboring countries does notprovoke the most worrisome immigration questions, such as “How well will they fit in?” “Is assimilation what they want?” and, most of all, “Where are their true loyalties?”.’

In fact, those were the very questions asked of European migrants in the prewar years. In 1903, the British Royal Commission on Alien Immigration expressed fears that newcomers were inclined to live ‘according to their traditions, usages and customs’ and there were fears that there might be ‘grafted onto the English stock… the debilitated sickly and vicious products of Europe’.

Britain’s first immigration law, the 1905 Aliens Act, was designed primarily to bar European Jews, who were seen as unBritish.  The Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour, observed that without such a law, ‘though the Briton of the future may have the same laws, the same institutions and constitution… nationality would not be the same and would not be the nationality we would desire to be our heirs through the ages yet to come.’

In France, nearly a third of the population in the 1930s were immigrants, mostly from Southern Europe. Today we think of Italian or Portuguese migrants as culturally similar to their French hosts. Seventy years ago they were viewed as aliens, given to crime and violence, and unlikely to assimilate into French society. ‘The notion of the easy assimilation of past European immigrants’, the French historian Max Silverman has written, ‘is a myth’.

One of the consequences of postwar migration has been to create historical amnesia about prewar attitudes, just as it has created historical amnesia about the divided nature of European societies before such immigration.  From a historical perspective, there is little that is unique about contemporary migrants, or in the way that host societies perceive them.

*  *  *  *  *

The third myth that underlies much of the discussion of European multiculturalism is that European nations have become multicultural because minorities wished to assert their differences. The question of the cultural difference of immigrants has certainly preoccupied the political elites. It is not a question, however, that, until recently, has particularly engaged immigrants themselves.

Take Britain. The arrival in the late 1940s and the 1950s of large numbers of immigrants from India, Pakistan and the Caribbean, led to considerable unease about its impact upon traditional concepts of Britishness. As a Colonial Office report of 1955 observed, ‘a large coloured community as a noticeable feature of our social life would weaken… the concept of England or Britain to which people of British stock throughout the Commonwealth are attached’.

The migrants certainly brought with them a host of traditions and habits and cultural mores from their homelands, of which they were often very proud. But they were rarely concerned with preserving cultural differences, nor thought of it as a political issue. What inspired them was the struggle not for cultural identity but for political equality. And they recognized that at the heart of that struggle was the creation of a commonality of values, hopes and aspirations between migrants and indigenous Britons, not an articulation of unbridgeable differences.

This is equally true of the group whose traditions, beliefs and mores are widely perceived to be most distinct from those of Western societies, and hence the group that is supposedly most demanding that its differences be publicly recognized: Muslims.

The patterns of Muslim migration have, in fact, been little different to that of other communities. The best way to understand it, as of much postwar migration to Europe, is in terms of three generations: the first generation that came to Europe in the 50s and 60s; the second generation that were born or grew up in the 70s and 80; and the third generation that has come of age since then. This is, I know, a somewhat crude characterisation, but it is also a useful to have a broad-brush understanding of the changing relationships between migrants and European societies. The illustrations I am giving come primarily from Britain. But the structure applies to immigration to other European countries too.

The first generation of Muslim immigrants to Britain, who came almost entirely from the Indian subcontinent, were pious in their faith, but wore it lightly. The British writer and theatre director Pervaiz Khan, whose family came to Britain in the 1950s, remembers his father and uncles going to the pub for a pint. ‘They did not bring drink home’, he says. ‘And they did not make a song and dance about it. But everyone knew they drank. And they were never ostracised for it.’ No woman wore a hijab, let alone a niqab or burqa. His family ‘rarely fasted at Ramadan’, Khan says, ‘and often missed Friday prayers. They did not boast about it. But they were not pariahs for it. It is very different from today.’

Khan’s experience was not unusual. My parents were very similar. And those of most of my friends. Their faith expressed for them a relationship with God, not a sacrosanct public identity. Islam was not, in their eyes, an all-encompassing philosophy.

The second generation – my generation – was primarily secular. I am of a generation that did not think of itself as ‘Muslim’ or ‘Hindu’ or ‘Sikh’, or even often as ‘Asian’, but rather as ‘black’. Black was for us not an ethnic label but a political badge. The ‘Muslim community’, in the sense of a community that defined itself solely, or even primarily, by faith did not exist when I was growing up. Neither did the Sikh community, or the Hindu community.

Unlike our parents’ generation, who had largely put up with discrimination, we were fierce in our opposition to racism. But we were equally fierce in our opposition to religion and to the traditions that often marked immigrant communities. Religious organizations were, in my youth, barely visible. The organizations that drove migrant communities were primarily secular, often socialist: the Asian Youth Movements, for instance, or the Indian Workers Association.

It is only with the generation that has come of age since the late 1980s, that the question of cultural differences has come to be seen as important.  A generation that, ironically, is far more integrated than the first generation, is also the generation that is most insistent on maintaining its ‘difference’. That in itself should make us question the received wisdom about how and why multicultural policies emerged.

The shift in the meaning of a single word expresses the transformation I am talking about. When I was growing up to be ‘radical’ was to be militantly secular, self-consciously Western and avowedly left-wing. To be someone like me. Today ‘radical’ in a Muslim context means the very opposite. It describes a religious fundamentalist, someone who is anti-Western, who is opposed to secularism.

What I have said of Britain is true also of other European countries, Germany, for instance, or France. The irony in France is that, for all the current hostility of the French state to Islam, and to public displays of Islamic identity, such as the burqa, for most of the postwar years, while migrant workers were defiantly secular, successive governments regarded such secularism as a threat and attempted to foist religion upon them, encouraging them to maintain their traditional cultural identities. Paul Dijoud, minister for immigrant workers in the 1970s government of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, declared that ‘The right to a culture identity allows the immigrant, despite his geographical distance, to stay close to his country.’ The government sought in Islam ‘a stabilizing force which would turn the faithful from deviance, delinquency or membership of unions or revolutionary parties’. When a series of strikes hit car factories in the late seventies, the government encouraged employers to build prayer rooms in an effort to wean immigrant workers, who formed a large proportion of the workforce, away from militant activity.

The claim that minority communities have demanded that their cultural differences be publicly recognized and affirmed is, then, historically false. That demand has emerged only recently. The myth that multiculturalism was a response to minority demands gets cause and effect the wrong way round. Minority communities did not force politicians to introduce multicultural policies. Rather, as I shall show later, the desire to celebrate one’s culture identity has itself, in part at least, been shaped by the implementation of multicultural policies.

* * * * *

The three myths I have talked about are important because they underlie so much of the discussion of immigration and multiculturalism in Europe, and shape both sides of the debate. Having hopefully laid them to rest, I want now to rethink both multiculturalism and the criticism of it. And to begin to do that by looking at how multicultural policies historically have developed.

This is, however, not a single story. Throughout Europe, multicultural policies have developed in response to mass immigration. But they have done so in different ways. Britain and Norway, Sweden and Germany, Holland and Denmark  – every country has its own specific multicultural history to tell.  What I want to do, therefore, is to look at two contrasting histories –  that of Britain and Germany – to understand what these histories have in common despite their differences.

Let us begin in Britain. While the question of cultural differences preoccupied the political elite in the 1950s and 1960s, it was not one, as I have already suggested, that particularly troubled immigrants themselves. What preoccupied them was not the desire to be treated differently, but the fact that they were treated differently. Racism and inequality, not religion and ethnicity, were, for them, the key issues.

Throughout the Sixties and Seventies, four big issues dominated the struggle for political equality: opposition to discriminatory immigration controls; the struggle against workplace discrimination; the fight against racist attacks; and, most explosively, the issue of police brutality.

These struggles politicised a new generation of black and Asian activists and came to an explosive climax in the riots that tore through Britain’s inner cities in the late Seventies and early Eighties. The authorities recognized that unless black communities were given a political stake in the system, their frustration could threaten the very stability of British cities. It was against this background that the policies of multiculturalism emerged.

Local authorities in inner city areas pioneered a new strategy of making black and Asian communities feel part of British society by organising consultations, drawing up equal opportunity policies, establishing race relations units and dispensing millions of pounds in grants to minority organisations. At the heartof the strategy was a redefinition of racism. Racism now meant not simply the denial of equal rights but the denial of the right to be different.  The old idea of British values or a British identity was defunct. Rather than be expected to accept British values, or to adopt a British identity, different peoples should have the right to express their own identities, explore their own histories, formulate their own values, pursue their own lifestyles.

Scepticism about the idea of a common national identity arose in part from cynicism about the idea of ‘Britishness’. There was widespread recognition among blacks and Asians that talk about Britishness was a means not of extending citizenship to all Britons, whatever their colour and creed, but of denying equal rights to certain groups.  But the new strategy did not simply challenge old-fashioned ideas of Britishness. It transformed the very meaning of equality. Equality now meant not possessing the same rights as everyone else, despite differences of race, ethnicity, culture or faith, but possessing different rights, because of them.

In 2000, the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, chaired by the philosopher Bhikhu Parekh, published its report that famously concluded that Britain was a ‘community of comunities’ in which equality ‘must be defined in a culturally sensitive way and applied in a discriminating but not discriminatory manner’. The Parekh report has come to be seen as defining the essence of multiculturalism. But the arguments at its heart had emerged out of the response, two decades earlier, to the inner city riots. The consequences of these arguments I will come to later. But first I want to turn to the question of multiculturalism in Germany.

*  *  *  *  *

Germany’s road to multiculturalism was different to Britain’s, though the starting point was the same. Like many West European nations, Germany faced an immense labour shortage in the postwar years and actively recruited foreign workers. Unlike in Britain, the new workers came not from former colonies, but initially from Italy, Spain and Greece, and then from Turkey. And these workers came not as immigrants, still less as potential citizens, but as ‘guest workers’, who were expected to return to their country of origin when no longer required to service the German economy.

Over time, however, immigrants became transformed from a temporary necessity to a permanent presence. This was partly because Germany continued relying on their labour, and partly because immigrants, and more so their children, came to see Germany as home. But the German state continued to view them as outsiders and to refuse them citizenship. There are nearly 4 million people of Turkish origin in Germany today. Barely half a million have managed to become citizens. Nor is it just first generation immigrants who are denied citizenship; their German-born children are excluded too.

Instead of creating an open society, into which immigrants were welcome as equals, German politicians from the 1980s onwards dealt with the so-called ‘Turkish problem’ through a policy of multiculturalism. In place of citizenship and a genuine status in society, immigrants were ‘allowed’ to keep their own culture, language and lifestyles. The consequence was the creation of parallel communities. The policy did not so much represent respect for diversity as provide a means of avoiding the issue of how to create a common, inclusive culture.

First generation immigrants were often secular, and those that were religious wore their faith lightly. Today, almost a third of adult Turks in Germany regularly attend mosque, a far higher rate than among Turkish communities elsewhere in Western Europe, and higher than in most parts of Turkey. First generation women almost never wore headscarves.  Many of their daughters do. Without any incentive to participate in the national community, many did not bother learning German.

At the same time as Germany’s multicultural policies encouraged immigrants to be at best indifferent to mainstream German society, at worst openly hostile to it, they also made Germans increasingly antagonistic towards Turks. The sense of what it meant to be German was in part defined against the values and beliefs of the excluded migrant communities.  And having been excluded, it has become easier to scapegoat immigrants for Germany’s social ills. A recent poll showed that more than a third of Germans think that the country is ‘over-run by foreigners’ and more than half felt that Arabs were ‘unpleasant’.

In Germany, the formal denial of citizenship to immigrants led to the policy of multiculturalism. In Britain, the promotion of multicultural policies led to the de facto treatment of individuals from minority communities not as citizens but simply as members of particular ethnic groups. The consequence in both cases has been the creation of fragmented societies, the alienation of many minority groups and the scapegoating of immigrants.


WHAT IS WRONG WITH MULTICULTURALISM? [PART 2]

The story I have told so far is of a Europe that is not as plural as many imagine it to be, and of immigrants less assertive of their cultural identities than they are claimed to be. Multicultural policies emerged not because migrants demanded them, but primarily because the political elite needed them to manage immigration and to assuage anger created by racism.

Why, then, have we come to imagine that we are living in particularly plural societies,  in which our cultural identities are all-important? The answer lies in a complex set of social, political and economic changes over the past half century, changes that include the narrowing of the political sphere, the collapse of the left, the demise of class politics, the erosion of more universalist visions of social change. Many of these changes helped pave the way for multicultural policies.  At the same time, the implementation of such policies helped create a more fragmented society. Or, to put it another way, multicultural policies have helped create the very problems they were meant to have resolved. I want to demonstrate this through two examples. The first is a riot in Britain, of which you may not have heard, the second a cartoon crisis in Denmark, about which everyone has heard.

In 1985, the Handsworth area of the English city of Birmingham was rocked by riots.  Blacks, Asians and whites took to the streets in protest against poverty, unemployment and, in particular, police harassment. In the violence that followed, two people were killed and dozens injured. It was almost the last flicker of the Eighties inner city conflagrations.

Twenty years later, in October 2005, another riot erupted in the area. This time the fighting was not between youth and police but between blacks and Asians. An unsubstantiated – and almost certainly untrue – rumour that a Jamaican girl had been raped by a group of Asian men, led to a weekend of violence between the two communities, during which a young black man was murdered.

Why did two communities that had fought side by side in 1985 fight against each other 20 years later? The answer lies largely in the policies introduced by Birmingham Council after the original riots. In response to those riots, the Council proposed a new political framework for the engagement of minority communities. It created nine so-called Umbrella Groups, organizations based on ethnicity and faith that were supposed to represent the needs of their particular communities while aiding policy development and resource allocation. These included the African and Caribbean People’s Movement, the Bangladeshi Islamic Projects Consultative Committee, the Birmingham Chinese Society, the Council of Black-led Churches, the Hindu Council, the Irish Forum, the Vietnamese Association, the Pakistani Forum and the Sikh Council of Gurdwaras.

Birmingham Council’s policies were aimed at drawing minority communities into the democratic process. The trouble was, there was precious little democracy in the process. The groups themselves had no democratic mandate, and indeed no mandate at all. After all why should the Council of Black-led Churches presume to speak for the needs and aspirations of African Caribbeans in Birmingham? Why should all Bangladeshis be represented by an Islamic organisation, or all Sikhs by the gurdwaras? And indeed what is the Bangladeshi community or the Sikh community and what are its needs and aspirations?

Imagine if the council had set up a ‘White Forum’ to represent the needs of the white community in Birmingham. Could such a group have represented the interests of all white people in the city? Clearly not. Why should we imagine that Bangladeshis or Sikhs or African Caribbeans are any different?

This points up a paradox in the multicultural vision. The staring point of multicultural policies is the acceptance of societies as diverse. Yet, there is an unstated assumption that such diversity ends at the edges of minority communities. Birmingham council’s policies, like much multicultural policy, treated minority communities as homogeneous wholes, ignoring conflicts within those communities. As the council’s own report put it,

The perceived notion of the homogeneity of minority ethnic communities has informed a great deal of race equality work to date. The effect of this, amongst others, has been to place an over-reliance on individuals who are seen to represent the needs of the whole community and resulted in simplistic approaches toward tackling community needs.

Multicultural policies, in other words, have not responded to the needs of communities, but have helped create those communities by imposing identities on people. And they have created communities by ignoring internal conflicts – conflicts that arise out of class, gender and intra-religious and other differences. What multicultural policies do is empower not minority communities, but so-called ‘community leaders’, who achieve power not because they represent their community but because they have a relationship with the state.

At the same time as they ignored conflicts within minority communities, Birmingham’s policies created conflicts between them.  As one academic study of Birmingham’s policies observes,

The model of engagement through Umbrella Groups tended to result in competition between black and minority ethnic communities for resources. Rather than prioritising needs and cross-community working, the different Umbrella Groups generally attempted to maximise their own interests.

Once political power and financial resources became allocated by ethnicity, then people began to identify themselves in terms of those ethnicities, and only those ethnicities.

Imagine that you are a secular Bangladeshi living in Birmingham. You don’t think of yourself as a Muslim, you may not even think yourself as Bangladeshi. Over time, however, you come to see yourself in those terms, not just because those identities provide you with access to power, influence and resources, but also because those identities possess a social reality through receiving constant confirmation and affirmation. It is how you are seen; so it is how you come to see yourself.  You come to fear and resent African Caribbeans and Sikhs and the Irish, partly because they are competitors for that pot of council largesse and power, and partly because the rules of the game are that your identity has to be affirmed as distinctive and different from the identities of other groups.  Being Muslim also means being not-Irish, not-Sikh and not-African Caribbean.

The consequence is what the great Indian-born economist Amartya Sen has called ‘plural monoculturalism’ – policy driven by the myth that society is made up of a series of distinct, homogeneous cultures that dance around each other.  And policy makes such a segmented society a reality. The result in Birmingham was to entrench divisions between black and Asian communities to an extent that sparked inter-communal rioting.

*  *  *  *  *

Not only have multicultural policies entrenched the idea of homogenous communities, with disastrous consequences. They have also enabled the most conservative figures to be seen as the authentic voices of those communities.

Consider, for instance, the controversy over the Danish cartoons. We all know what happened. A Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published a series of inflammatory cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. Islam forbids the depiction of the Prophet. So millions of Muslims worldwide were enraged to the point of violence.

Except it never happened like that. For a start, there is no universal Islamic prohibition on the representation of the Prophet. It was, in fact, common to portray him until comparatively recently. A number of Islamic, especially Shiite, traditions continue to accept the pictorial representation of Muhammed.

Shortly after Jyllands Posten published the cartoons, the Egyptian newspaper Al Fagr reprinted them. They were accompanied by a critical commentary, but Al Fagr did not think it necessary to blank out Muhammad’s face, and faced no opprobrium for not doing so. Egypt’s religious and political authorities, even as they were demanding an apology from the Danish Prime Minister, raised no objections to Al Fagr’s full frontal photos.

So, if there is no universal prohibition to the depiction of Muhammad, why were Muslims universally appalled by the caricatures? They weren’t. And those that were driven by political zeal rather than by theological fervour. The publications of the cartoons in September 2005 caused no immediate reaction, even in Denmark. Journalists, disappointed by the lack of controversy, contacted a number of imams for their response. Among the first was Ahmed Abu Laban. He seized upon the cartoons to transform himself into a spokesman for Denmark’s Muslims. Even so, it took more than four months of often hysterical campaigning, and considerable arm-twisting by Saudi diplomats, to create a major controversy.

Why did journalists contact Abu Laban in the first place? His Islamic Society of Denmark had little support. Out of a population of 180,000 Danish Muslims, fewer than a thousand attended the Society’s Friday prayers. He was, however, infamous for his support for Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 attacks. From a journalistic viewpoint, it made sense to get a quote from someone so controversial. But politically, too, it made sense.

Western liberals have come to see figures like Abu Laban as the true, authentic voice of Islam. The Danish Muslim MP Nasser Khader tells of a conversation with Toger Seidenfaden, editor of Politiken, a left-wing newspaper highly critical of the caricatures. ‘He said to me that cartoons insulted all Muslims’, Khader recalls.  ‘I said I was not insulted. He said, “But you’re not a real Muslim”.’ In liberal eyes, in other words, to be a real Muslim is to find the cartoons offensive. Once Muslim authenticity is so defined, then only a figure such as Abu Laban can be seen as a true Muslim voice.

The myths about the Danish cartoons – that all Muslims hated the cartoons and that it was a theological conflict – helped turn Abu Laban into an authentic voice of Islam, and to silence other voices.  At the same time Abu Laban’s views seemed to confirm the myths about the Danish cartoons.

The question at the heart of the Danish cartoon controversy is not simply ‘what is offensive?’ but also ‘who decides what is offensive?’ In other words, ‘Who speaks for the community?’ Abu Laban or Nasser Khader? That is also the question at the heart of many of the flashpoints about ‘offensiveness’, from the global confrontation over Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses to the local struggle over Sikh writer Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s play Bezhti which was forced off stage in 2005 by Sikh activists in Birmingham who objected to it.

The issue of free speech and the giving of offence has become central to the multiculturalism debate. Speech, many argue, must necessarily be less free in a plural society. For such societies to function and be fair, we need to show respect for all cultures and beliefs. And to show respect for all cultures and beliefs requires us to police pubic discourse about those cultures and beliefs, both to minimise friction between antagonistic cultures and beliefs, and to protect the dignity of those individuals embedded in them. As the sociologist Tariq Modood has put it,

If people are to occupy the same political space without conflict, they mutually have to limit the extent to which they subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism.

One of the ironies of living in a plural society, it seems, is that the preservation of diversity requires us to leave less room for a diversity of views.

Leaving aside the question of whether there is anything morally wrong with giving offence (and I don’t believe there is), the problem with this line of argument is that what is often regarded as offence to a community is in reality a debate within that community.  That is why so many of the flashpoints over offensiveness have been over works produced by minority artists – not just Salman Rushdie and Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, but also Hanif Kuresihi, Monica Ali, Sooreh Hera, Taslima Nasrin, MF Hussain, and so on.

Take the Rushdie affair. Neither Rushdie nor his critics spoke for the Muslim community. Each represented different strands of opinion in that community. Rushdie gave voice to a radical, secular sentiment that in the 1980s was deeply entrenched. Rushdie’s critics spoke for some of the most conservative strands. Their campaign against The Satanic Verses was not to protect Muslim communities from unconscionable attack from anti-Muslim bigots, but, rather, to protect their own privileged position within those communities from political attack from radical critics, to assert their right to be the truev oice of Islam by denying legitimacy to such critics. And they succeeded at least in part because secular liberals embraced them as the ‘authentic’ voice of the Muslim community.

Just as Abu Laban was seen as an authentic Muslim and Nasser Khader as not a proper one, so Rushdie’s critics were seen as authentic Muslims and Kaur Bhatti’s critics as proper Sikhs, while Rushdie and Kaur Bhatti themselves were regarded as too Westernized, secular or progressive to be truly of their community. The consequence  is that the most conservative voices are often seen as the authentic representatives of those communities, while the progressive voices get marginalized.

*  *  *  *  *

Having explored the problems of multiculturalism, I want briefly to look at the criticisms of multiculturalism. Much of that criticism is undoubtedly driven by racism, bigotry and sheer hatred for the Other. Nowhere is this more savagely evident than in the case of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer.

Many feel that faced with a monster like Breivik, we must close ranks and defend that which he wishes to destroy. It is a version of an argument that has gained ground as rightwing leaders, from Germany’s Angela Merkel to Britain’s David Cameron to former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, have in recent years become more fiercein their criticism of multiculturalism. It is an argument that misunderstands both multiculturalism and Breivik’s hatred. The real target of Breivik’s assault is not so much multiculturalism as immigrants, immigration and diversity.

The problem with multiculturalism, I have suggested, is that in putting people in ethnic boxes it undermines diversity. I am critical of multiculturalism precisely because I want to defend diversity. Breivik, however, does not oppose multiculturalism because he wants to defend diversity. Rather, he opposes diversity because he wants to put people into cultural boxes, in his case primarily labeled ‘Christian’ and ‘Muslim’. In his twisted, fantasy world the presence of Muslims in the Christian box pollutes and defiles it and needs to be eliminated.

Few but the most psychopathic have any sympathy for Breivik’s homicidal frenzy. Yet, many agree with his intellectual assault. The idea that ‘Christian Europe’ is under threat, that Muslim immigration amounts to an invasion, and that ‘Western civilization’ is facing collapse finds a widespread hearing. In a television debate during the French Presidential elections, Nikolas Sarkozy called for a restoration of border controls and passport checks in order ‘to defend a European civilization’. Christopher Caldwell, whose work I mentioned earlier, suggests that Islam has ‘broken’ the fundamentals of the European tradition, ‘not enhancing or validating European culture’, but ‘supplanting it’. In his polemical screed America Alone, the Canadian journalist Mark Steyn talks of the Madrid train bombings and of 7/7 attacks on the London transport system as the ‘opening shots of a European civil war’ that will lead to ‘societal collapse’, ‘fascist revivalism’ and a never-to-return journey into ‘the long Eurabian night’.

Such ideas draw their power from a vision of a world torn apart by a ‘clash of civilizations’. An idea first popularized by the American political scientist Samuel Huntingdon a decade before 9/11, it has, for many, come to define the decade after.

What is striking about these two approaches – multiculturalism, on the one hand, the clash of civilizations, on the other – is how much they have in common. It is true that there is little love lost between multiculturalists and clash of civilization warriors. The former accuse the latter of pandering to racism and Islamophobia, while the latter talk of the former as appeasing Islamism. Beneath the hostility, however, the two sides share basic assumptions about the nature of culture, identity and difference. Both view the key social divisions as cultural or civilizational. Both see cultures, or civilizations, as homogenous entities.  Both insist on the crucialimportance of cultural identity and on the preservation of such identity. Both perceive irresolvable conflicts arising from incommensurate values.

It’s not just multiculturalists and clash of civilizational warriors who draw upon these themes. The far right, too, in recent years, has increasingly, in public at least, swapped the old language of biologicaldifference, for the new idiom ofcultural identity. At the heart of the far right and populist assault on multiculturalism is a defence of ‘my culture’, ‘my history’, ‘my tradition’.

Listen to the language that Breivik employs. Multiculturalism, he told his trial, is a ‘hate ideology’. He lamented its ‘deconstruction of European cultures and traditions’, and saw himself as acting ‘in defence of my culture and of my people’.  This is precisely the language of culture and identity that multiculturalism has done so much to foster in recent years.

If the far right has appropriated the language of pluralism, many pluralists have slipped into the idiom of exclusion. The late Isaiah Berlin was probably the pre-eminent philosopher of modern pluralism, hugely influential, not least on that torchbearer of Canadian liberalism, Michael Ignatieff. Shortly before his death Berlin was interviewed by the political philosopher Steven Lukes. Was it possible, Lukes asked, for peoples of different cultures to live together?

‘When you have two peoples of different origins and cultures’, Berlin replied, ‘it is difficult for them to live together in peace… it is quite natural that each side should think that they cannot lead free lives in an integrated society if the others are there in quantity.’ Black immigration to Western Europe, he added, was ‘a problem’ because ‘cultures which have grown up with no contact with one another have now collided’.

Berlin is not alone in making a multiculturalist case for ‘keeping them out’. Will Kymlicka, who gave this lecture four years ago, has perhaps inherited Berlin’s mantle as the most important and cogent philosopher of multiculturalism, a highly subtle thinker, and an unswerving liberal. In his book Multicultural Politics,Professor Kymlicka makes a case for the right of cultures to protect their unique characters from changes wrought from the outside. ‘It is right and proper’, he argues, ‘that the character of a culture changes as a result of the choices of its  members’.  But ‘while it is one thing to learn from the larger world’, he insists, it is quite another ‘to be swamped by it’.

That is a telling phrase. For the fear of being ‘swamped’ has long been a rightwing trope, used to whip up fears about immigration. It’s at the heart of the current hysteria about Islam. Professor Kymlicka is liberal to his bones, resolutely hostile to the arguments against immigration and Islam. Yet, once it becomes a matter of political principle that cultures should not be swamped by outsiders, then it is difficult to know how one could possibly resist the anti-immigration arguments of the right.

The irony of the polarised debate in Europe is that the assault on multiculturalism is all too often pursued through the language of multiculturalism.  Perhaps the biggest indictment of multiculturalism is that it has transformed racism into another cultural identity.

*  *  *  *  *

I began this talk by distinguishing between the idea of diversity as lived experience and that of multiculturalism as a political process. I want to end this talk by returning to that distinction.

The real failure of multiculturalism as a political process, it seems to me, is its failure to understand what is valuable about diversity as lived experience.

When we say that we live in a diverse society, what we mean is that it is a messy world out there, full of clashes and conflicts. And that is all for the good, for it is out of such clashes and conflicts that cultural and political engagement emerges. Diversity is important, not in and of itself, but because it allows us to break out of our culture-bound boxes, by engaging in dialogue and debate and by putting different values, beliefs and lifestyles to the test.

But the very thing that is valuable about diversity – the cultural and ideological clashes that it brings about – is the very thing that many people fear. And that fear takes two forms. On the one hand, you have the nationalist sentiment: immigration is undermining the national fabric, eroding our sense of Britishness or Frenchness or Germanness. And on the other you have the multicultural argument: diversity is good, but it has to be policed to minimise the clashes and conflicts and frictions it brings in its wake.

To say that clashes and conflicts can be good does not mean, of course, that every clash and conflict is a good. Political conflicts are often useful because they repose social problems in a way that asks: ‘How can we change society to overcome that problem?’ We might disagree on the answer, but the debate itself is a useful one.

Multiculturalism, on the other hand, by reposing political problems in terms of culture or faith, transforms political conflicts into a form that makes them neither useful nor resolvable. Multicultural policies both constrain the kinds of clashes of opinion that could prove politically fruitful, and unleash the kinds of conflicts that are socially damaging. They transform political debates into cultural collisions and, by imprisoning individuals within their cultures and identities, make such collisions both inevitable and insoluble.

The lesson of Europe, it seems to me, is that if we want to preserve diversity as lived experience, we need also to challenge multiculturalism as a political process.


THREE MYTHS OF IMMIGRATION by Kenan Malik


You can follow Kenans blog here http://kenanmalik.wordpress.com

I am giving the Milton K Wong Lecture in Vancouver in June. Entitled ‘What’s Wrong with Multiculturalism? A European Perspective’, it will try to explain to a Canadian audience, for whom multiculturalism has a very different meaningthan it does to a European one, the contours of the European debate, as well as my disagreements with both sides. In particular I want to show why both multiculturalists and many of their critics (particularly their rightwing critics) buy into the same set of myths about the history of immigration into Europe, these three in particular:

1 ‘European nations used to be homogenous but have become plural  because of mass immigration’

It is a claim that might appear to be common sense. After all, immigration has transformed Western European societies, and many seem to be riven by the kinds of cultural and religious conflicts that were rare in the past – from the controversy over The Satanic Verses to the debate about whether women should be allowed to wear the burqa. In fact, most European nations are less plural now than they were, say, a hundred years ago. The reason we imagine otherwise is because of historical amnesia and because we have come to adopt a highly selective standard for defining what it is to be plural.

Consider France. At the time of the French Revolution, less than half the population spoke French. The historian Eugene Weber has shown how traumatic and lengthy was the process of what he calls ‘self-colonisation’ required to unify France and her various constituent populations. These developments created the modern French nation.  But they also reinforced in the elite a sense of how alien was the mass of the population. Here is the Christian socialist Phillipe Buchez addressing the Medico-Psychological Society of Paris in 1857:

Consider a population like ours, placed in the most favourable circumstances; possessed of a powerful civilisation; amongst the highest ranking nations in science, the arts and industry.  Our task now, I maintain, is to find out how it can happen that within a population such as ours, races may form – not merely one but several races – so miserable, inferior and bastardised that they may be classed below the most inferior savage races, for their inferiority is sometimes beyond cure.

One only has to read the novels of Émile Zola – Nana, for instance – or the works of Count Arthur Gobineau, one of the leading racial scientists of his day, to recognize how widespread was this sentiment. Gobineau, for instance, had this to say about social distinctions in France in his Essay On the Inequality of the Human Races:

Every social order is founded upon three original classes, each of which represents a racial variety: the nobility, a more or less accurate reflection of the conquering race; the bourgeoisie composed of mixed stock coming close to the chief race; and the common people who live in servitude or at least in a very depressed position. These last belong to a lower race which came about in the south through miscegenation with the negroes and in the north with the Finns.

The social and intellectual elite in France, far from viewing their nation as homogenous, regarded most of their fellow Frenchmen not as ‘one of us’ but as racially alien, and so inferior that they stood below the ‘most inferior savage races’ and were ‘beyond cure’. The concept of ‘race’ today is so intertwined with the idea of ‘colour’, and of the distinction between Europeans and non-Europeans, that it is often difficult to comprehend nineteenth century notions of racial difference.  For  nineteenth century thinkers, race was a description not so much of colour differences as of social distinctions. The lower classes were, in their eyes, as racially different as were Africans or Asians.  The ‘Other’ were not peoples who came from without; they lived within the nation, and were part of it.

In Britain, too, the elite viewed the working class and the rural poor as the racial Other. In October 1865, a local rebellion by peasantry in Jamaica was put down with the utmost ferocity by the island’s governor Edward John Eyre. Eyre’s actions generated considerable debate in Britain.  Most of those who defended his viciousness did so on the grounds, not that Jamaicans were black, but that they were no different from English workers. ‘The negro’, observed the planter Edwin Hood, ‘is in Jamaica as the costermonger is in Whitechapel; he is very likely often nearly a savage with the mind of a child.’

A vignette of working class life in the Saturday Review, a well-read liberal magazine of the era, is typical of English middle class attitudes of this era:

The Bethnal Green poor… are a caste apart, a race of whom we know nothing, whose lives are of quite different complexion from ours, persons with whom we have no point of contact… Slaves are separated from the whites by more glaring… marks of distinction; but still distinctions and separations, like those of English classes which always endure, which last from the cradle to the grave, which prevent anything like association or companionship, produce a general effect on the life of the extreme poor, and subject them to isolation, which offer a very fair parallel to the separation of the slaves from the whites.

Modern Bethnal Green is no longer home to warehousemen or costermongers, but lies rather at the heart of the Bangladeshi community in East London. Today’s ‘Bethnal Green poor’ are often seen as culturally and racially distinct. But only those on the fringes of politics would compare the distinctiveness of Bangladeshis to that of slaves. The sense of apartness was far greater in Victorian England than it is contemporary Britain. And that is because in reality the social and cultural differences between a Victorian gentleman or factory owner, on the one hand, and a farmhand or a machinist, on the other, were much greater than those between a white resident and one of Bangladeshi origin living in Bethnal Green today. However much they may view each other as different, a 16 year old of Bangladeshi origin living in Bethnal Green, or a 16 year old of Algerian origin living in Marseilles, or a 16 year old of Turkish origin living in Berlin, probably wears much the same clothes, listens to the same music, watches the same TV shows, follows the same football club as a 16 year old white teenager in that same city. The shopping mall and the sports field, the TV and the iPod, have all served to bind differences and create a set of experiences and cultural practices that is more common than at any time in the past.

There is nothing new, then, in plural societies. From a historical perspective contemporary societies, even those transformed by mass immigration, are not particularly plural. What is different today is the perception that we are living in particularly plural societies, and the perception of such pluralism in largely cultural terms. The debate about multiculturalism is a debate in which certain differences (culture, ethnicity, faith) have come to be regarded as important while others (such as class, say, or generational), which used to be perceived as important, have come to be seen as less relevant. The real question, then, is not about how to manage uniquely plural societies, but about why we imagine that contemporary societies are uniquely plural.

2 ‘Contemporary immigration is different to previous waves, so much so that social structures need fundamental reorganization to accommodate it’

In his much-lauded book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe the American writer Christopher Caldwell suggests that prior to the Second World War immigrants came almost exclusively from other European nations and so were easily assimilable. ‘Using the word immigration to describe intra-European movements’, Caldwell suggests,  ‘makes only slightly more sense than describing a New Yorker as an “immigrant” to California’. Muslim migration, in particular, Caldwell sees as a form of colonization. ‘Since its arrival half a century ago’, Caldwell argues, ‘Islam has broken – or required adjustments to, or rearguard defences of – a good many of the European customs, received ideas and state structures with which it has come in contact.’ Islam ‘is not enhancing or validating European culture; it is supplanting it’.

Caldwell is deeply hostile to multiculturalism. Many multiculturalists, too, however, see postwar immigration as different from previous waves, and demand major changes to social structures to accommodate those differences.  The British sociologist Tariq Modood, for instance, suggests that the new immigration requires a new ‘equality encompassing public ethnicity’. This means an ‘equality as not having to hide or apologise for one’s origins, family or community, but requiring others to show respect for them, and adapt public attitudes and arrangements so that the heritage they represent is encouraged rather than contemptuously expect them to wither away.’ Both multiculturalists and their critics, then, view new immigration as distinct from old immigration and as demanding major social surgery. Multiculturalists see this as positive, or at least as an acceptable necessity. Their critics see it as an intolerable problem. Both are wrong.

I will come to the question of postwar immigration in due course. Let me deal first with the claim that prewar immigrants were perceived as little different from the indigenous populations. According to Caldwell, prewar immigration between European nations did ‘not provoke the most worrisome immigration questions, such as “How well will they fit in?” “Is assimilation what they want?” and, most of all, “Where are their true loyalties?”.’

In fact, those were the very questions asked of European migrants in the prewar years. In 1903, the British Royal Commission on Alien Immigration expressed fears that newcomers were inclined to live ‘according to their traditions, usages and customs’ and there were fears that there might be ‘grafted onto the English stock… the debilitated sickly and vicious products of Europe’.

Britain’s first immigration law, the 1905 Aliens Act, was designed primarily to bar European Jews, who were seen as unBritish.  The Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour, observed that without such a law, ‘though the Briton of the future may have the same laws, the same institutions and constitution… nationality would not be the same and would not be the nationality we would desire to be our heirs through the ages yet to come.’

In France, nearly a third of the population in the 1930s were immigrants, mostly from Southern Europe. Today we think of Italian or Portuguese migrants as culturally similar to their French hosts. Seventy years ago they were viewed as aliens, given to crime and violence, and unlikely to assimilate into French society. ‘The notion of the easy assimilation of past European immigrants’, the French historian Max Silverman has written, ‘is a myth’.

One of the consequences of postwar migration has been to create historical amnesia about prewar attitudes, just as it has created historical amnesia about the divided nature of European societies before such immigration.  From a historical perspective, there is little that is unique about contemporary migrants with regard to the way that host societies perceive them.

3 ‘ European nations have adopted multicultural policies because minorities have demanded them’

The irony of multicultural policies is that they were imposed not because minority communities demanded that their differences be recognised but because it was useful for policy makers that they were. The question of the cultural difference of immigrants has  always preoccupied the political elites. It is not a question, however, that, until recently, has particularly engaged immigrants themselves.

Take Britain. The arrival in the late 1940s and the 1950s of large numbers of immigrants from India, Pakistan and the Caribbean led to considerable unease about its impact upon traditional concepts of Britishness. As a Colonial Office report of 1955 observed, ‘a large coloured community as a noticeable feature of our social life would weaken… the concept of England or Britain to which people of British stock throughout the Commonwealth are attached’.

The migrants certainly brought with them a host of traditions and habits and cultural mores from their homelands, of which they were often very proud. But they were rarely concerned with preserving cultural differences nor thought of it as a political issue. What inspired them was the struggle not for cultural identity but for political equality. And they recognized that at the heart of that struggle was the creation of a commonality of values, hopes and aspirations between migrants and indigenous Britons, not an articulation of unbridgeable differences.

This is equally true of the group whose traditions, beliefs and mores are widely perceived to be most distinct from those of Western societies, and hence the group that is supposedly most demanding that its differences be publicly recognized: Muslims. The patterns of Muslim migration have, in fact, been little different to that of other communities. The best way to understand it, as of much postwar migration to Europe, is in terms of three generations: the first generation that came to Europe in the 50s and 60s; the second generation that were born, or grew up, here in the 70s and 80; and the third generation that has come of age since then.

The first generation of Muslim immigrants to Britain, who came almost entirely from the Indian subcontinent, were pious in their faith, but wore it lightly. The British writer and theatre director Pervaiz Khan, whose family came to Britain in the 1950s, remembers his father and uncles going to the pub for a pint. ‘They did not bring drink home’, he says. ‘And they did not make a song and dance about it. But everyone knew they drank. And they were never ostracised for it.’  No woman wore a hijab, let alone a niqab or burqa. His family ‘rarely fasted at Ramadan’, Khan says, ‘and often missed Friday prayers. They did not boast about it. But they were not pariahs for it. It is very different from today.’ Khan’s experience is not unusual. My parents were very similar. And those of most of my friends. Their faith expressed for them a relationship with God, not a sacrosanct public identity. Islam was not, in their eyes, an all encompassing philosophy.

The second generation – my generation – was primarily secular. I was of a generation that did not think of itself as ‘Muslim’ or ‘Hindu’ or ‘Sikh’, or even often as ‘Asian’, but rather as ‘black’. Black was for us not an ethnic label but a political badge. ‘Officially, as it were’, observes Jamal Khan, the narrator of Hanif Kureishi’s novel Something to Tell You, ‘we were called immigrants, I think. Later for political reasons we were ‘blacks’… In Britain we were still called Asians, though we’re no more Asian than the English are European. It was a long time before we became known as Muslims, a new imprimatur, and then for political reasons.’  Or as thenovelist Tariq Mehmood, one of the Bradford 12, puts it, ‘In the 1970s, I was called a black bastard and a Paki, but not a coloured bastard and very rarely was I called a Muslim’.

The ‘Muslim community’, in the sense of a community that defined itself solely, or even primarily, by faith did not exist in the 1970s. Neither did the Sikh community, nor the Hindu community. ‘I had grown up in a profoundly secular environment’, recalls Balraj Purewal, who was a member of Asian Youth Movement in the 1980s. ‘As a Punjabi I did not think about Muslim or Sikh. At school the person next to me was never a Muslim or Hindu. It never occurred to me to think like that.’ Unlike our parents’ generation, who had largely put up with discrimination, we were fierce in our opposition to racism. But we were equally fierce in our opposition to religion and to the traditions that often marked immigrant communities. Religious organizations were barely visible. The organizations that bound together migrant communities, were secular, often socialist: the Asian Youth Movements, for instance, or the Indian Workers Association.

It is only with the generation that has come of age since the late 80s that the question of cultural differences has come to be seen as important.  A generation that, ironically, is far more integrated and ‘Westernised’ than the first generation, is also the generation that is most insistent on maintaining its ‘difference’. This in itself should make us question the received wisdom that multiculturalism has been a response to minority demands and an accommodation to their unwillingness to integrate. The shift in the meaning of a single word expresses the transformation through the postwar years. When I was growing up, to be ‘radical’ was to be militantly secular, self-consciously Western and avowedly left-wing. To be someone like me. Today ‘radical’ in a Muslim context means the very opposite. It describes a religious fundamentalist, someone who is anti-Western, who is opposed to secularism.

What is true of Britain is true also of many other European countries. In France, for instance, the irony is that, for all the current hostility of the French state to Islam, and to public displays of Islamic identity, such as the burqa, for most of the postwar years, while migrant workers were defiantly secular, successive governments regarded such secularism as a political threat and attempted to foist religion upon them, encouraging them to maintain their traditional cultural identities.

‘The right to a culture identity’, declared Paul Dijoud, minister for immigrant workers in the 1970s government of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, ‘allows the immigrant, despite his geographical distance, to stay close to his country.’ The government sought in Islam ‘a stabilizing force which would turn the faithful from deviance, delinquency or membership of unions or revolutionary parties’. When a series of strikes hit car factories in the late seventies, the government encouraged employers to build prayer rooms in an effort to wean immigrant workers, who formed a large proportion of the workforce, away from militant activity.

The myth that multiculturalism was a response to minority demands gets cause and effect the wrong way round. Minority communities did not force politicians to introduce multicultural policies. Rather, the implementation of multicultural policieshelped entrench the politics of identity within minority communities and shaped the desire to celebrate one’s culture identity.

Most of the quotes in the first two parts come from my books Strange Fruit andThe Meaning of Race; most of those in Part 3 are taken from my book From Fatwa to Jihad. The photos are, from top to bottom, of the SS Empire Windrush, which brought the first group of Caribbean immigrants to Britain in 1948; an anthropometrics demonstration at the Second International Exhibition of Eugenics held in New York’s Museum of Natural History, 1921; a poster for an anti-immgration demonstration in 1902; an Asian mother and child arriving at Heathrow in 1968; and Jayaben Desai, leader of the Grunwick strike in 1976.


FROM STREETFIGHTERS TO BOOKBURNERS


By Kenan Malik from his blog Pandaemonium.

 

Earlier this week I published an extract from my book From Fatwa to Jihad, that told the story of how the Asian Youth Movements were created in Britain in the 1970s. This second extract explains how the British state and religious conservatives joined forces to marginalise secular radicals in the name of multiculturalism. This is the story of how Bradford came to be painted green. The same story could be told about towns all over Britain.


In the summer of 1981 Bradford’s Asian communities were flush with rumours of an impending attack by neo-fascists. A group of young Asians, including Tariq Mehmood, made and stashed away petrol bombs to be used in the event of any such attacks. They were all members of the United Black Youth League, a group that had broken away from the Asian Youth Movement which they felt was not sufficiently radical. Police discovered the petrol bombs on some waste ground and twelve members of the UBYL were arrested and charged with conspiracy to cause an explosion and endanger lives. The trial of the ‘Bradford 12’ the following year created a national sensation. The defendants put up an audacious defence. They openly admitted making the petrol bombs – but argued that they were acting legitimately to protect their communities. Astonishingly, the jury agreed and acquitted all twelve.

The sheer bravado of the Bradford 12 and their bold, confident self-assertion won them respect and support from communities across the country that similarly felt under siege from racists.  It also unnerved both local politicians and Muslim religious leaders. ‘Our children were growing up hating our culture’, observed Sher Azam of the Bradford Council for Mosques. ‘They were being drawn to Western values and Western lifestyles. We knew such values and ways of doing things could only harm them. Without Islam they no foundations, no home. They were angry, withdrawn, we could not reach them.’

The reverberations of the Bradford 12 case were also felt within the town’s political elite. The trial had revealed not just an unprecedented degree of self-assertion among young Asians but also a yawning gap between Asian communities and mainstream political structures. A few months after the arrest of the Bradford 12, a council report observed that ‘we have no direct knowledge of Asian needs and requirements, and we have no automatic way of knowing the issues they feel important.’ The council needed ‘some new channel of communication between the Council and the communities – something to compensate for the lack of political representation.’

Today Ali Hussein is a casually-dressed graphic designer living in a newly-built loft apartment in Leeds. In the eighties he lived in Manninghan in Bradford and was deeply immersed in the political battles of the time. The atmosphere in the town hall was, he says, like something from Britain’s popular sitcom of the time, Dad’s Army. The sitcom told the story of a platoon of the Home Guards in the Second World War, local volunteers ineligible for military service, usually because they were too old, whose job it was to protect the British mainland from invasion. The humour of Dad’s Army came from came from the pompousness of the platoon’s leader, Captain Mainwaring, and the incompetence of the volunteers at any task set them.  ‘Don’t panic!’, the elderly corporal Jones would shout, flapping as the platoon blundered into yet another mishap. In 1981 the spirit of Cpl Jones stalked the committee rooms of Bradford town hall.  ‘They were shit scared’, remembers Hussein. ‘They were staring at the possibilities of widescale riots and they were looking for people to talk to. Anyone, anywhere. They pulled people off the streets and said, “Come and talk to us”.’

The council drew up equal opportunity statements, established race relations units and threw money at minority organizations.  A twelve-point race relations plan declared that every section of the ‘multiracial, multicultural city’ had ‘an equal right to maintain its own identity, culture, language, religion and customs’.  The first aim of its ‘race relations initiative’ to ‘bring about social justice’ by ensuring ‘Equality of esteem between different cultures’.

To create its ‘new channel of communication’ the local authority helped set up and fund the Bradford Council for Mosques in 1981. The six founding members of the Council represented various Islamic traditions and sects such as the Deobandis, the Barelvis and the Jamaat-i-Islami.  But the Council for Mosques was not primarily a religious organisation. It was designed rather to present itself as the true voice of the ‘Muslim community’ and to be the conduit between that community and public bodies in the city. With the singular exception of Pir Maroof, the Sufi mystic, none of the prime movers behind the Council were ulema, or religious scholars, nor has one ever become the president. It was not imams but businessmen that pulled the strings. The most prominent of these was Sher Azam. He had been president of the Howard Street mosque, the first in Bradford, was one of the founders of the Council for Mosques, became president for more than half its original decade and was the man who helped torch The Satanic Verses. He was also one of Bradford’s leading businessman, running the Al Halal Supermarket and Cash & Carry, an Islamic cooperative with a turnover, in the 1980s, of more than £2 million.

One of the myths around which much policy has revolved (and not just in Britain) is that of the all-powerful imam. The ‘preacher of hate’ has become a potent image in both media and policy makers’ discussions about how Islamic terrorists get ‘brainwashed’.  An important strand of British policy has been about ‘taming’ the imam, ensuring that he speaks good English and has been trained in the virtues of liberal democracy. There are certainly firebrand preachers such as Abu Hamza who is said to have converted the 7/7 London bombers to terrorism through his incendiary sermons at the Finsbury Park Mosque in north London.  But these are the exceptions rather than the rule.  Most imams in most British mosques are timid creatures, badly paid, treated not particularly reverently, and whose lack of English is likely to make them not more fiery but less assertive.

In The Islamist, Ed Hussain’s account of his descent into radical Islam, he tells of how he and his fellow radicals in the Young Muslim League took over Stepney Mosque in east London. Hussain was, at that time, estranged from his father, who was hostile to radical Islam. The imam at Stepney was a friend of Hussain’s father and equally opposed to radicalism. Yet he felt unable to challenge even 16-year old Hussain. Imams, Hussain observes, ‘tend to be meek’ and ‘very rarely rock the boat. The YMO was perceived in Stepney as a well-connected, educated group of young men, outside the domain of a mosque imam. He humbly led the prayers, then left us to listen to the lectures of Sami [an university graduate and supporter of the Jamaat-i-Islami who was training the YMO radicals].’ The real power in a mosque rests with the mosque committee, and the real power in the mosque committee rests with the businessmen who hold the purse strings both in the mosque and in the community. Men like Sher Azam.

In Bradford, the local authority backed the Council for Mosques with an initial grant to help it buy the semi-detached Victorian house that was to serve as its headquarters. But its real gift was the funding it provided for mosque-based social projects, including two centres for the elderly, a variety of advice workers and a service for women in hospitals and clinics.  It also funded a series of Muslim youth and community centres.

Such funding provided mutual benefits. Bradford Council was able to define the needs of the Asian community without having to think about the political changes necessary to ensure real equality. What the community needed was a bit more of its own culture, a lot more of its faith and a good ladle of welfare. And it was not council leaders that said so, but Muslim men of faith. ‘What we wanted from the council’, Sher Azam told me, ‘was their support for our efforts to make sure that our children were not lost to our culture or Islam. We were worried that they had become so Westernised that they no longer saw themselves as Muslims or wanted to practice their faith. We had lots of problems with no jobs, lots of drugs, even fighting. We told the council that the best way to help us was to restore pride in our culture and our religion.’

Because such arguments came from Muslim leaders, Bradford Council did not even have to accept responsibility for the new strategy. This was not the only responsibility of which the local authority washed its hands. By subcontracting its mandate for providing welfare services, the local council expected the Council of Mosques not just to attend to the wellbeing of Muslims in the town but also to maintain peace and decorum within its community. Council officials saw Islam, rather than any secular ideology or political policy, as the best way to keep angry young men in check. As Dervla Murphy put it in Tales from Two Cities, her account of 1980s Bradford and Birmingham, ‘The prospect of thousands of jobless young Muslims, untamed by Islam, adrift in the inner-cities alarms me much more than that other problem – at present attracting so much attention – of thousands of jobless young Blacks on the loose. The virtues of the Muslim community – industry, forward-planning, group-loyalty, agile thinking, efficient teamwork, puposefulness – could, if deprived of a legitimate arena, produce a law and order problem that would make the Black’s sporadic outbursts of despairing violence seem trivial.’ Mohammed Ajeeb, then a Labour councillor who was later to become Bradford’s first Asian Lord Mayor, had noted in a radio interview that ‘our children are bound to be influenced by the values of their British counterparts’ and may not be able to ‘withstand… Western values and culture’. Murphy was appalled. ‘If Mohammed Ajeeb’s forecast is proved correct’, she warned, ‘then my forecast is Big Trouble Ahead’.

Why should Islam be a panacea for the social ills of young men of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin, but irrelevant to everyone else? What is it about Western values that would poison the souls of young Muslims, and seemingly only of young Muslims? Why would it not have been more rational to provide jobs and equal opportunities for the alienated young and treat them as one would treat everyone else? Murphy does not say. Nor did the myriad policy makers whose views she echoed. They simply accepted that ‘Western values’ were a form of virus within Asian communities and that the best inoculation was a good dose of Islam. Over time what became subcontracted out was not simply the provision of welfare but political authority too. Rather than appeal to Muslims as British citizens, and attempt to draw them into the mainstream political process, politicians and policy makers came to see them as people whose primarily loyalty was to their faith and who could be politically engaged only by Muslim ‘community leaders’. It was a policy that encouraged Muslims to view themselves as semi-detached Britons – and which inevitably played into the hands of radical Islamists.

The Bradford Council for Mosques, of course, seized its opportunity with great zeal. The local authority had effectively installed it as the custodian of the Muslim community, a community that did not exist until council policy had parcelled it up and given it as a gift to the Council for Mosques. Few – apart from a handful of religious leaders and mosque officials – had thought of themselves as ‘Muslim’. They might have seen themselves as Pakistani, or Bengali, or Kashmiri or Sylhetti or Asian or, perhaps, British, but very rarely Muslim.

The first mosque in Bradford was opened in 1959, in the back room of a Victorian semi in Howard Street. It was run by the Pakistani Welfare Association and trustees included both West and East Pakistanis from a variety of sectarian traditions. It was used mainly on Sunday afternoons not just for religious, but also for more practical activities. English speakers among the gathering would translate official documents for their peers and address their letters home. Over the next half-century, another 43 mosques were built in Bradford, and the various Muslim communities and traditions all created their own places of worship. The Howard Street mosque was taken over by Pathans and Punjabis from the Chhachh region of the Punjab. In 1968 they installed a Deobandi as their first full time alim.  Yet, as one academic study has observed, migrants in the 1950s and 1960s ‘suffered an almost total lapse of religious observance.  It was not that they were not pious; it was more that did not see Islam as an all-encompassing philosophy.

The writer and director Pervaiz Khan, whose family came to Britain in the 1950s, remembers his father and uncles going to the pub for a pint. ‘They did not bring drink home’, he says. ‘And they did not make a song and dance about it. But everyone knew they drank. And they were never ostracised for it.’  His family belong to the Sufi tradition – as do the majority of subcontinental Muslims in Britain – and were very easy going. ‘They rarely fasted at Ramadan’, Khan says, ‘and often missed Friday prayers. They did not boast about it. But they were not pariahs for it. It is very different from today.’ His parents had no objection to him attending Christian assemblies at school, joining in the harvest festival concert or taking part in Nativity plays. My parents would not allow me to attend (Christian) religious education classes, but were otherwise very relaxed about their faith. ‘It was’, as Khan observes,’ so different from what Muslim parents are like today’.

The first mosque for Bradford’s Bangladeshi community was not opened until 1970, in two houses in Cornwall Road; it was almost 15 years before a second was built. By 1990 the much larger Mirpuri community had built 18 mosques in the city – but 14 of these had been constructed in the previous ten years. One reason that so many new mosques began sprouting up in the 80s was the growing self-confidence of Muslim communities. But that is only half the story.  For what the pattern of mosque-building in Bradford reveals is that it was not the piety of first generation Muslims that led to the Islamisation of the town.  It was, rather, the power, influence and money that accrued to religious leaders in the 1980s as a result of Bradford City Council’s multicultural policies. Multiculturalism helped paint Bradford Muslim green.

Once the mosques became the voice of the community, then Muslim became the identity stamped upon every individual within that community. People began to accept that identity as their own, because it was the way to relate to the outside world.  Just as the Council for Mosques became the channel of communication between the Muslim community and local organisations, so Muslim identity became the interface between individuals within that community and outside world. In The Satanic Verses, one of the anti-heroes Saladin Chamcha is incarcerated in a detention centre for illegal immigrants. He discovers that, like himself, his fellow inmates have been transformed into beasts – water buffaloes, snakes, manticores. How do they do it, he asks one of the inmates. ‘They describe us’, comes the reply, ‘that’s all. They have the power of description and we succumb to the pictures they construct.’ Rushdie was writing of the way that racism demonises immigrants. He could equally have been talking of the way that multiculturalism imposes identity.

At the same time as the Council for Mosques was installed as the voice of the Muslim community, a new generation of secular politicians was being groomed too. The local Community Relations Council, observed Philip Lewis, lecturer in Peace Studies and former advisor to the Bishop of Bradford, ‘functioned as a nursery for Muslim politicians, where the necessary skills, confidence and contacts were developed.’ The new breed of politicians did not provide an alternative leadership to the mosques as, say, the Asian Youth Movement had done. Rather it turned into the secular wing of the Bradford Council for Mosques. Take Mohammed Ajeeb. He became the first South Asian chairman of the CRC from 1976 to 1983. He was elected a councillor in 1979. In 1983 he became senior supervisor of a council-funded BCM project. In 1985 he was installed as Bradford’s first Asian Lord Mayor. The CRC, Lewis writes, ‘was the main forum where officers of the Council for Mosques and Muslim councillors met and where support for Muslim concerns in the wider community could be tested.’ Ali Hussein takes a more cynical view. ‘There developed a mutual relationship between the religious leaders, the secular leaders and the council’, he says.  ‘The religious leaders delivered the votes. The secular leaders delivered the money. And for the council it has meant a few years of relative peace on the streets.’

As part of its brief to allow different communities to express their distinct identities, Bradford Council helped set up, not just the Bradford Council for Mosques, but also two other religious umbrella groups: the Federation for Sikh Organizations and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, both created in 1984.  As each community fought for a greater allocation of council funding, so new divisions and tensions were created within and between different communities. There had always been residential segregation between the black and white communities in Bradford, thanks to a combination of racism, especially in council house allocation, and of a desire among Asians to find safety in numbers.  But within Asian areas, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus lived cheek by jowl for much of the postwar period.  In the 1980s, however, the three communities started dividing.  They began increasingly to live in different areas, attend different schools and organize through different institutions. New council-funded community organizations and youth centres were set up according to religious and ethnic affiliations.  By the early 1990s, even the Asian business community was institutionally divided along community lines with the creation in 1987 of the largely Hindu and Sikh Institute of Asian Businesses; of the Hindu Economic Development Forum in 1989; and of the Muslim-dominated Asian Business and Professional Club in 1991.

The real segregation, however, was not physical or organisational but took place in the mind. Multiculturalism transformed the character of anti-racism in Bradford. At the end of the 1970s, the main issues that concerned black and Asian communities were largely political: opposition to discrimination in the workplace, organising against racist attacks, preventing deportations and ending police brutality. By the mid-1980s, however, the focus had shifted to religious and cultural issues. What convulsed Bradford now were demands for separate Muslim schools and for separate education for girls, a campaign for halal meat to be served at school, and, most explosively, the confrontation over The Satanic Verses.

Political struggles unite across ethnic or cultural divisions; cultural struggles inevitably fragment. As different groups began asserting their particular identities ever more fiercely, so the shift from the political to the cultural arena helped to create a more tribal city. The Asian Youth Movement, a beacon in the 1970s of a united struggle against racism, split up, torn apart by such multicultural tensions.

[Taken from From Fatwa to Jihad, pp46-47, 72-79; the extract has been slightly edited. Some of the interviews were conducted specifically for the book, some were taken from other sources; full references are in From Fatwa to Jihad.]