Wednesday, February 09, 2011

If multiculturalism is dead, what do its critics propose to replace it with?

-- by Dave

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Britain's new Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, joined in what is becoming an increasing right-wing chorus in Europe proclaiming the failure of multiculturalism, coming shortly on the heels of German chancellor Angela Merkel's similar proclamation in October.

This, of course, pleases the cultural warriors at Fox News, especially John Bolton, who was on Greta Van Susteren's show last night proclaiming how right Cameron is.

For the sake of argument, let us concede at least that multiculturalism has developed some important flaws over the years, some of which the conservatives have identified. What none of these critics have explained, however, is what system of racial ethics they would champion in lieu of multiculturalism.

If multiculturalism is dead, what do they propose we replace it with?

Remember: As I've explained many times, multiculturalism -- a concept first proposed by the father of modern anthropology, Franz Boas -- was specifically a direct reaction against white supremacism, and eventually overthrew it as the dominant American worldview. Most American critics are coy about what they would replace it with -- though of course, there are some Nativists who are not: they want to resurrect the white-supremacist ethos that was dominant in America for much of the first half of the 20th century and before.

Nonetheless, it was a concept tailored for America -- in part because of the national "melting pot" that has been our history, and in part because Boas saw it as a specifically democratic ethos. This may go a long way in explaining why the Europeans are continuing to struggle with it.

Consider, for instance, Cameron's chief rationale invoking what he calls "state multiculturalism":

"State multiculturalism is a wrong-headed doctrine that has had disastrous results. It has fostered difference between communities," the Conservative leader said in a speech.

"And it has stopped us from strengthening our collective identity. Indeed, it has deliberately weakened it."

Cameron defined "state multiculturalism" as "the idea that we should respect different cultures within Britain to the point of allowing them – indeed encouraging them – to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream."

But that's the root of the problem, isn't it? Arriving immigrants in Europe are never treated -- either legally or culturally -- as real citizens, full participants in the society and culture. You can claim French citizenship, but if you're Muslim, no one in France treats you as a Frenchman.

Europeans have been distinctly slow -- indeed, expressly reluctant -- to assimilate their arriving immigrants, and this has ultimately driven the arriving cultures into insular enclaves, for their own self-protection and sustenance.

It's not so much that multiculturalism has failed in Europe as that Europeans have distinctly failed at being multicultural -- in many regards because of their own deeply embedded racial and cultural attitudes about arriving immigrants and their own native ethnic identities. And now, they're blaming that failure on the arriving immigrants instead of taking a good hard look in the mirror.

Sort of like the people like John Bolton, who made similar remarks about American immigrants. He also made a claim typical of revisionist right-wing jingoes:

BOLTON: I think it's absolutely fundamental in a country like ours, where we have always welcomed immigrants, we have insisted that they all go into the melting pot.

That's simply historically false -- at least, prior to the arrival of multiculturalism after 1950. Look, for instance, at how we treated Asians for years: We denied them citizenship and the right to naturalize as citizens until after World War II, forcing thousands of Asian immigrants to exist here in a kind of political limbo that only their children were able to climb out of, thanks to birthright citizenship (and yes, the Nativists of that era worked to deny those Asian-American immigrants that right, too, back then).

Moreover, it was a commonly held belief that Asians could never become "real Americans" -- "oil and water never mix" was the oft-heard explanation for this belief -- because they were deemed too "alien" to ever become full-blooded Americans and full participants in our society. Indeed, the term "illegal alien" was devised to describe Asian immigrants after the passage of the 1924 Immigration Act -- an expressly racist piece of legislation dubbed the "Asian Exclusion Act" (it forbade all further immigration from Asia) and the foundation upon which our modern immigration laws rest even today.

These views were based on the prevailing racial ethos of those times. It has been only since the rise of multiculturalism after 1950 as the gradually prevailing ethos that America began not only recognizing but welcoming immigrants of all races and ethnic backgrounds -- and actually assimilating them. Before multiculturalism, all immigrants faced real difficulties, and nonwhite immigrants in particular were kept out of the "melting pot" almost entirely.

So this again begs the question: If David Cameron thinks multiculturalism is a failure, what does he propose to replace it with? Does he favor the right-wing approach that ultimately favors white supremacy? Or does he have some hithero-unknown system of racial ethics in mind?

The rest of the world would like to know.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

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