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Melanie Phillips on multi-culturalism


by Sunny on 2nd June, 2006 at 5:22 am    

I have on various occasions said that ripping apart Melanie Phillips’ arguments is like taking candy from a baby. But so far I’ve had very little to back that up. Yesterday, on the Today programme, Melanie Phillips was brought into a debate against Gautam Malkani, author of the new novel Londonstani, to debate multiculturalism. (listen here)

As she is a pro and has been doing this for quite a while he didn’t stand much of a chance, despite knowing exactly what to say and having superior arguments. Call it stage fright. As he is a mate, this is a chance to kill two birds with one stone. Call it payback.

In the debate, Melanie Phillips says multiculturalism has been “quite lethal” to British culture for three reasons. I will deal with them in succession.

1) Firstly, she says “multiculturalism is actually engine to destroy national identity. It is an attack on British identity because it says that to assert majority values, i.e. values of the nation, is racist. This means it is impossible to intergrate our minorities because in order to intergrate them, they have to have something to intergrate into.”

This is flagrant rubbish. For a start a how does one go on to define British identity and ‘majority values’? Are we to ignore differences in values between liberals and conservatives, Quakers and Catholics, Atheists and orthodox Jews, Marxists and laissez-faire economists? How much similarity in identity is there between a upper-class arisocrat and a working class miner, apart from an interest in popular culture?

These are arguments that have constantly been regurgitated here so I won’t dredge them up again. Fundamentally, MP is advocating that immigrants are forced into adopting a culture they are not accustomed to, or be deprived of expressing their own culture. The contradiction is that she says Britain is largely a liberal and tolerant society (agreed) but then goes on to advocate intolerant stances.

2) Secondly, she says: “In the past we used to intergrate them into something called British national identity. Now we say - we don’t believe in that anymore. Instead it is everyone for himself. I think that makes us into ‘warring tribes’ if you like which is disastrous for everyone and it keeps immigrants out. So it is profoundly exclusive.”

There has never been a government policy forcing immigrants into something officially sanctioned as ‘British National Identity’. Leaving everyone to themselves is referred to as living in a open, democratic society where the government has no business in taking over people’s lives and telling them how to live it. There is no reason that alone should turn us into ‘warring tribes’ on its own.

Trevor Phillips’ assertion that Britain was “sleepwalking into segregation” was rubbished by Professor Danny Dorling who said the only area with increased segregation was Northern Ireland. Rather than being excluded, second generation immigrants are playing a greater role than ever before in their country.

3) Thirdly, she says it has also given rise to a minority rights culture of grievance, which basically enables people who are in minorities, if they do wrong, to claim they are victims. This has played into the radical Islamist culture of grievance, which is fuelling terror.

It is untrue that ethnic minorities are given wholesale leniency under the law, and there is problem with some with race and faith commentators enveloping themselves in a victim mentality. But that is not what she refers to.

It is undoubtedly true that radical Islamists play the victim card, but this is true of many terror movements. LTTE terrorists in Sri Lanka, Hamas, the BNP, and even organisations such as the Israeli government, British Hindu organisations, Jewish organisations - all play the victim card. That is how they defend their worldview, but that is not a fault of multi-culturalism any more than any difference of opinion is the fault of multi-culturalism.

Race or ethnicity is merely a proxy to air grievances over land, economic status or housing shortages in each case.

Back to the debate, it is a shame that given the short time-frame, Gautam Malkani was not allowed to provide more insight from his book. Londonstani is essentially a positive novel that says the following: these young middle-class British Asian boys are confused about their identity and hence have adopted a masochistic sub-culture to re-assert their masculinity.

But it is also a commentary on intergration. My intepretation is that in facing racism and hostility, some withdraw inwards and find solace in fusioned identity that is somehow Asian-centric. They need time to come out of their shells but on their own terms. This is not mere speculation, this is reality as we British Asians see every day.

On the other hand Melanie Phillips talks of Britain’s liberal and tolerant culture while similarly saying I cannot have multi-faceted identities and must fit into her worldview of how to behave. I cannot think of anything more intolerant than that.

She also says, later in the discussion, that Britain has had a “settled majoritarian culture based on a particular set of customs” for a thousand years, and that Britain has been a liberal and tolerant society for the same time. But we’re back into taking candy from a baby territory.



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40 Comments   |  


  1. Nav — on 2nd June, 2006 at 7:51 am  

    Nice post. I’m looking forward to reading Londonstani when it’s released in Canada later this month.

  2. SajiniW — on 2nd June, 2006 at 8:05 am  

    Immigrants are not ‘deprived’ of expressing their own culture; 90% of material things available in their countries of origin are available here.

    The British don’t have a ‘religion-police’ to stop people building their own places of worship/ worshipping a God other than the state-approved one.

  3. Katy Newton — on 2nd June, 2006 at 9:37 am  

    I’m not sure that all of those organisations you’ve named can reasonably be described as terror movements, to be honest. The Board of Deputies? British Hindu organisations? They seize on issues relating to ethnicity and they do play the victim card - any group which sets itself up is going to do that by definition and it’s horribly counterproductive most of the time - but they aren’t terrorist organisations, are they?

  4. Refresh — on 2nd June, 2006 at 9:54 am  

    Good post Sunny.

    “Race or ethnicity is merely a proxy to air grievances over land, economic status or housing shortages in each case.”

    Isn’t this what all our problems have always been about - economic, from the drive behind migrant labour to the rise in the BNP as an example.

    On another scale - the same applies to the ‘rivalry’ between Scots, Welsh and English. I’ll leave Northern Ireland out of it, being a political construct.

  5. sonia — on 2nd June, 2006 at 12:17 pm  

    “She also says, later in the discussion, that Britain has had a “settled majoritarian culture based on a particular set of customs” for a thousand years”

    yes quite clearly she’s not an historian.

    Celtic /Saxon /Norman ->?

  6. Roger — on 2nd June, 2006 at 12:51 pm  

    Nothing wrong with majoritarianism [except that it’s a bloody ugly word] as long as it is defined negatively, not positively. If we agree about the things we won’t do [like persecuting people for their religious popinions] then we can do as we please otherwise. After all, are we to take it that a majoritarian decision to suppress the Welsh language because of its very evident divisive effects is completely justified? Phillips doesn’t know much about the history of her own people actually. The first immigration laws in Britain were introduced to keep out yiddish-speaking Eastern European jews. They were seen as a serious threat to the majoritarian culture.

  7. leon — on 2nd June, 2006 at 1:08 pm  

    Very good piece. As Sonia alludes to MP seems to be incredibly ignorant of one fact about Britain; the ethnicity/culture of it’s people changes throughout all time and will do so again.

    Nothing wrong with the rich diversity of our country, nothing wrong with encouraging it either in my view.

  8. Gaz — on 2nd June, 2006 at 1:11 pm  

    I find Professor Danny Dorlings conclusion very hard to believe. He can quote all the statistics he likes but one walk around parts of Tower Hamlets, Bradford, stoke or bolton shows up communities in segregation, both in housing and schooling. I personally thought Trevor Philips was spot on.

  9. Arif — on 2nd June, 2006 at 1:42 pm  

    I’m setting myself the task of being sympathetic to Melanie Phillips in this post - so I’m leaving aside any obvious problems I find in her argument to see if it can take us to understand why her approach might be attractive.

    I think Melanie Phillips makes useful points when it comes to talking about the young people who might feel they have no indigenous culture to be proud of. And maybe she has experience which convinces here this is the case and that this makes it harder for such an indigenous culture to be inviting to people who might want to assimilate into it. In this sense she is setting up a bulwark against the exclusivist BNP-type of thinking.

    But then she does have a nationalist point of view - that the State should represent one nation and implicitly that the contract is that you can only be a citizen if you belong to a single national identity. And though this is not the only reason she gives for being against multiculturalism, it is necessary to her argument. Since I am not a nationalist, the way she sets up the argument, I have to be in favour of multiculturalism in some form.

    She then has a second front of argument that multiculturalism leads to conflict and terror, which Gautam argued against, by drawing attention to our mixed subcultures which do provide something for people to be part of beyond (part-imaginary) national cultures. He also pointed out that if conflicts are the problem then democracy is the means of solving them (whether in a multicultural or monocultural society).

    So one thing in her favour is that she wants a British identity which can accommodate people of different races (but not cultures). It could be worse.

    She also does not argue that any culture is inherently superior, but she does want them to be kept separated in different States for reasons of social cohesion. Again it could be worse.

    I am just not convinced even if we forced ourselves to adopt these principles (which would go agianst my conscience at least) it would save us from conflicts. Yet this seems to be the final justification she offers for her vision of Britain.

    I think I can only get drawn to her vision by comparing her views positively against racial supremacist ideologies. I assume if people fear other cultures enough (eg believing them to be supremacists, which I admit religious zealots do seem to be) they would also be drawn to her views.

    Can anyone make a stronger case for Melanie Phillips’ views?

  10. S — on 2nd June, 2006 at 2:18 pm  

    I listened to that interview and I think you slightly misrepresent her.

    1. “The contradiction is that she says Britain is largely a liberal and tolerant society (agreed) but then goes on to advocate intolerant stances.” She said that Britain in the past had been tolerant but when the views of the minority were inconsistent with the majority the majority view was accepted. Most cultural differences don’t clash and were accepted. Not sure what JS Mill would say about that.

    2. “Leaving everyone to themselves is referred to as living in a open, democratic society where the government has no business in taking over people’s lives and telling them how to live it.”
    I don’t think she wants government intervention in peoples private lives. I took her to mean that British people should stop their cultural cringe and embarassment at British culture and history.

    3. yes she pretty much said that. Im surprised you take issue with that though as this grievance culture is one that you highlighted yourself in your posts over the Hussein paintings debacle.

  11. Sunny — on 2nd June, 2006 at 2:45 pm  

    KAty,

    Sorry, you’re right. That was a bit of a mangle with my words… I meant to say they all play the victim card and some are terrorist organisations. Changed now slightly.

    S, you say:
    but when the views of the minority were inconsistent with the majority the majority view was accepted
    Can you give me some examples?

    I took her to mean that British people should stop their cultural cringe and embarassment at British culture and history.

    I think here she mis-represents British history. This modern nation has not been into patriotism the way America has been, or France has been. So even if she wants Britons to be more proud of their culture, how exactly is that the fault of minorities?

    3. She means grievances on an individual level, rather than that of race or faith commentators - this is what I intepreted it as. But even then, people play victim cards all the time, and its not just Muslims - everyone does it over various issues. You cannot stop this terror unless you deal with some of the issues that lead to playing the victim card, rather than simply demanding they stop playing it. One could say the same for BNP voters, but they don’t.

  12. IanLondon — on 2nd June, 2006 at 2:45 pm  

    Fundamentally, MP is advocating that immigrants are forced into adopting a culture they are not accustomed to, or be deprived of expressing their own culture. The contradiction is that she says Britain is largely a liberal and tolerant society (agreed) but then goes on to advocate intolerant stances.

    I think you are blowing hot and cold in one breath here.

    The “culture” of Britain _is_ the “liberal and tolerant society” (in MPs view).

    Therefore, she would say immigrants should be forced into adopting a “liberal and tolerant” culture and be deprived from expressing their (illiberal and intolerant) one, which I think you’d broadly agree with, as would MP.

    Tolerant societies are, by definition, opposed to intolerant attitudes, that is not in itself a contradiction.

  13. j0nz — on 2nd June, 2006 at 2:51 pm  

    Melanie Phillips will have a field day after the terrorism raid on a “deeply religious” Bangladeshi family where a man got shot. Somehow I doubt they are of the Hindu persuasion… But hey, let’s not jump to conclusions!

    Multi-culturalism is dead, thanks to an Islamic fundamentalist resurgence. You can’t run parallel societies within society that despise each other.

  14. Kismet Hardy — on 2nd June, 2006 at 2:58 pm  

    Naive hippy dippy layman’s view:

    If you want to establish yourself as an individual (be that muslim, homophobic, racist, opera fan or whatever floats your lof) regardless of what the society says in the country you live in, fine.

    If you want the society in the country you live in to start adopting your ways, well, you’re just taking the piss

  15. S — on 2nd June, 2006 at 3:09 pm  

    1. “S, you say: but when the views of the minority were inconsistent with the majority the majority view was accepted, Can you give me some examples?”

    I honestly don’t recall that she did give examples. As to whether I can give examples- well you might say that the 17th-18th Century tradition of philosophy in this country is largely about about religious freedom and liberal tolerance. Then again I think that was partly a reaction to earlier anti-catholic bigotry.

    2. “I think here she mis-represents British history. This modern nation has not been into patriotism the way America has been, or France has been. So even if she wants Britons to be more proud of their culture, how exactly is that the fault of minorities?”

    I don’t blame minorities for that, I don’t blame anyone — it’s just a pendulum overswing against the patriotic nationalism of an earlier era. In some ways I think the American immigrant story is admirably egalitarian. We could do worse than say we don’t care who you are or what you look like, if you come to Britain and work hard and pay your dues and you are one of us.

    3. “But even then, people play victim cards all the time, and its not just Muslims - everyone does it over various issues. You cannot stop this terror unless you deal with some of the issues that lead to playing the victim card, rather than simply demanding they stop playing it. One could say the same for BNP voters, but they don’t.”

    I totally agree ‘the victim card’ is ubiquitous. I’m not sure what you mean about BNP voters though? I presume you don’t mean we should really address their dislike of coloured folks.

  16. Ravi Nailk — on 2nd June, 2006 at 3:11 pm  

    “So one thing in her favour is that she wants a British identity which can accommodate people of different races (but not cultures).”

    I do tend to agree with this position, although I don’t see ‘terrorism’ as an argument against multi-culturism. As far as I know, there has been two major terrorist groups that have attacked this country, one being the IRA and the other being Al Qaeda wannabes. And all against british occupation in some country. So it is political, not so much a clash of cultures. Not that a terrorist needs an excuse to kill innocent civilians.

  17. S — on 2nd June, 2006 at 3:11 pm  

    Ooops I meant to say

    “We could do worse than say we don’t care who you are or what you look like, if you come to Britain and work hard and pay your dues then you are one of us.

    which has quite a different meaning.

  18. Sid — on 2nd June, 2006 at 3:17 pm  

    j0nz

    I think what you mean is
    Mono-culturalism is dead, thanks to an Islamic fundamentalist resurgence. You can’t run parallel societies within society that despise each other.”

    Or rather, it should be die, if we want to see the last of monocultural immigrant dislocation living alongside host-cultural isolation. Multicultarism is alive and well here in London, as it always has been for the last 400 years, at least.

  19. j0nz — on 2nd June, 2006 at 3:35 pm  

    Multicultarism is alive and well here in London

    You’re telling me!! All sorts of cults … Not too keen on the more fatalistic ones, though…

  20. Arif — on 2nd June, 2006 at 3:51 pm  

    I think Kismet Hardy, your hippy dippy starting point is way better than Melanie Phillips’. But Melanie Phillips is not happy just imposing her version of British majoritarian culture on herself and wants it imposed on everyone because…..

    Well,according to her radio interview, she thinks

    a. People want to have a culture to join and feel excluded if the majority does not try to impose itself on them.

    b. People will necessarily disagree and feel hostile to each other and they will then create conflicts. (I guess this is a relevant argument if you assume either that cultural difference is the cause of all group disagreement, or the most important one for society to address)

    c. When you (as a member of a minority culture) do something the majority think is wrong, you will claim you are being victimised by the majority and end up (after a few more steps in argument for which she refers us to her book) becoming a Muslim terrorist.

    What do you say to those arguments?

  21. IanLondon — on 2nd June, 2006 at 3:58 pm  

    Sid, I live in London too, but my London is in the UK, which country is yours in, the one with multiple cultures co-existing in peace and harmony alongside each other, sounds like a better place than my London ?

  22. Sunny — on 2nd June, 2006 at 4:09 pm  

    Therefore, she would say immigrants should be forced into adopting a “liberal and tolerant” culture and be deprived from expressing their (illiberal and intolerant) one, which I think you’d broadly agree with, as would MP.

    IanLondon I find this argument bizarre. Any liberal and tolerant society, by definition, incorporprates a whole range of opinions and ideas.

    What about the British whites who define themselves as conservative and traditionalist? Are they to be chucked out of the country? Or forced to adopt liberal values?

  23. leon — on 2nd June, 2006 at 4:22 pm  

    “You can’t run parallel societies within society that despise each other.”

    Why not the Scots and English have been for over a thousand years!:P

  24. sonia — on 2nd June, 2006 at 4:22 pm  

    “(I guess this is a relevant argument if you assume either that cultural difference is the cause of all group disagreement, or the most important one for society to address)”

    yep - that’s the underlying assumption - the oft-quoted clash of civilizations thesis.

  25. IanLondon — on 2nd June, 2006 at 4:27 pm  

    Any liberal and tolerant society, by definition, incorporprates a whole range of opinions and ideas.

    No it does not, because it will not incorporate attitudes that endorse limits on liberal views and promote intolerance, being liberal does not imply you are prepared to accept oppressive politics.

    Take the simple issue of gender equality, which is a cornerstone of liberal society, are you claiming that the same liberal society will happily accept an attitude that oppresses women ? Of course it wouldn’t, and in doing so it is not considered “intolerant”, there is no contradiction.

    I don’t think that argument is bizarre, and I think that is the argument MP is precisely trying to project.

    What about the British whites who define themselves as conservative and traditionalist? Are they to be chucked out of the country? Or forced to adopt liberal values?

    Well, they _are_ being forced to adopt liberal values, aren’t they ? Surely that’s MPs point, and she obviously thinks it needs to apply to immigrants too, why should they be exempt ?

  26. Amir — on 2nd June, 2006 at 4:53 pm  

    Sunny [The counter-Fisk]
    Okay, things got a bit heated between us last night. And that was my fault. I ruthlessly pushed your buttons and got a well-deserved gutter response. Sorry :-) But I do not apologise for my views, and I am going to tell everyone why you are wrong. So here it goes:

    (I.) This is flagrant rubbish. For a start a how does one go on to define British identity and ‘majority values’?

    Sunny, it’s not a case of ‘defining’ national identity or ‘defining’ every value: that would be a futile enterprise, counterproductive, and eerily Utopian. No one is advocating such a position, let alone Mrs. Philips. But still, she (like many others) is in favour of some minimal position: a few values, a few shared cultural practices. You don’t need a degree in rocket science to see where she’s coming from: The teaching of British history, for example, and in particular the history of the empire and of subsequent immigration into Britain, should be a central part of the school curriculum. At the same time, immigrants should be encouraged to become part of the British ‘we’, even while bringing their own very different perspective on its formation. To achieve this, however, we need to create some common ground: language, shared public spaces, historical narratives and a shared political lexicon. Etc.

    (II.) The contradiction is that she says Britain is largely a liberal and tolerant society (agreed) but then goes on to advocate intolerant stances.

    How, may I ask, is Melanie Philips being intolerant? Is she advocating a system whereby ethnic minorities are compelled to wear special uniforms with special badges? Does she, like the BNP, support a referendum on Islam, extending it to Hinduism and Sikhism? No, of course not. In truth, this so-called ‘intolerant’ position of hers is in fact a very sensible proposition: MP, like myself, argues that the state should favour its national culture. That sounds a bit creepy, a bit totalitarian eh? Well no, it isn’t. Here’s a well-known example: Christmas. It’s a national holiday. It’s a cultural bias. But is it intolerant? No: the state is not forcing people to worship Christ, or buy a Christmas Tree, or even lie to their kids about the non-existence of Santa Claus. But it is a national holiday. And ethnic minorities can take it or leave it – or arrive at some compromise.

    (III.) There has never been a government policy forcing immigrants into something officially sanctioned as ‘British National Identity’.

    Yes, precisely… the camaraderie, the language, the culture was always a ‘given’ – there was no need for a government policy to assimilate immigrants (apart from the odd linguistic exception). Today, however, it’s all changed: affluence, mobility, value diversity and (in some areas) immigration have loosened the ties of a common culture. And that’s not necessarily a good thing. [At any rate, Mrs. Philips was referring to ‘British National Identity’ in a anthropological sense – not as a legal axiom.]

    (IV.) Leaving everyone to themselves is referred to as living in a open, democratic society where the government has no business in taking over people’s lives and telling them how to live it.

    Again: you’re putting words into MP’s mouth. She is not saying that we introduce a ‘Culture Police’ with an unchecked right to come into our homes and ‘force’ us to be British by replacing our Naan bread with fish & chips or changing the channel from Zee TV to Coronation Street. What a silly idea!! In a liberal democracy, there is no compulsion for anyone to ‘feel’ British or ‘act’ British or dangle a Union Jack from their window. Nevertheless, I do believe it is in everyone’s interests that there exists an institutional bias in favour of the national culture – our history, our politics, our language, our literature, our national holidays, etc. You can take it or leave it. The ‘hope is’ that enough people will take it, and, in the process, feel more British. If minority groups (Moslems, Hindus, Sikhs) can introduce a few of their own beautiful traditions to our British way-of-life (a process of inter-pollination), it will enrich and diversify and spice up our culture. But – and I repeat ‘but’ – it has to occur slowly and within a British context. A failure to do so, however, will only alienate Middle England patriots and white-working class voters. It’s human nature.

    (IV(b)) Leaving everyone to themselves…

    This, in itself, is a fabrication. A lie. And a myth. There is no such thing as ‘leaving’ sub-cultures to their own devices (or what political philosophers refer to as a policy of ‘benign neglect’). It’s never happened. And never will. The state (i.e. government and its apparatus) is compelled to make fundamental decisions about culture. In the Houses of Commons, for example, the democratic conversation is conducted in the English language. That’s a cultural choice. Our primary national holiday is Christmas – not Ramadan. That’s a cultural choice. And so forth.

    (V.) It is undoubtedly true that radical Islamists play the victim card, but this is true of many terror movements… That is how they defend their worldview, but that is not a fault of multi-culturalism any more than any difference of opinion is the fault of multi-culturalism.

    Complaining and moaning and feeling sorry for oneself are part of human nature. So in that respect, you are correct. And yet, paradoxically, multiculturalism is the reason why the victim mentality is now spiralling out of control. Why? Because it encourages human beings to look at ‘Others’ as homogeneous entities or community drones, not as an individual British citizens. If you don’t understand this, then you don’t understand human nature. Without patriotism and without a strong cultural glue to bind us together, ethnic minorities (and majorities) start retreating into their own enclaves if/when they feel threatened. The cultural/religious/racial/linguistic cleavages can only ever be pacified by actively promoting identities that we share in common. To see this in an Indian context, let me refer you to the following book.

    (VI.) On the other hand Melanie Phillips talks of Britain’s liberal and tolerant culture while similarly saying I cannot have multi-faceted identities and must fit into her worldview of how to behave. I cannot think of anything more intolerant than that.

    Where, oh where, does she say this? I mean,… this is just bullshit. MP isn’t saying that ethnic minorities are ‘prohibited’ from having multiple identities or from practising their own religion, etc. Middle England patriots and public school boys have ‘multiple identities’. White working-class voters and Scottish rugby players have ‘multiple identities’. I’m sure that dolphins and elephants and chimpanzees have multiple identities. An anti-multiculuralist is not against multiple identities. An anti-multiculturalist is in favour of a shared identity which does not encroach (too much) on other identities. Take, for instance, the Asian boxer Amir Khan. The young whippersnapper has a panoply of identities: (a) living in Bolton; (b) living in the North of England (which he shares with non-Boltonians); (c) being a Moslem; (d) boxing on a world-class stage; and,…and (e) feeling proud to be British (which, of course, he shares with many other people: North or South, Bolton or Barnsley, boxer or croquet player, Moslem or Jew). You have failed to appreciate this subtle difference: shared identities, not singular identities.

    Okay, now I really, really need to get back to work: my next shift starts soon.

    Amir

  27. Sunny — on 2nd June, 2006 at 4:58 pm  

    IAnLondon - there is a difference. A liberal society will enshrine in law that gender differences in pay and employment etc should be eradicated. But that does not mean a society can ask people to stop holding the view that women should be paid less than men.

    Immigrants have to follow the law of the land - there is no doubt about that.

    But take another example. In America the conservatives are trying to overturn Roe vs Wade, with the implication that as societies change then supposedly “liberal values” can also be reversed. It works like a pendelum.

    As a liberal I will not accept oppressive practices, agreed. And if they contravene the law I will oppose them. But can I stop people from holding such opinions? In that case, why is the BNP not banned yet along with National Front and other people?

  28. Robert — on 2nd June, 2006 at 5:04 pm  

    I hope you don’t mind if I more or less cut-and-paste earlier comments of mine on the subject of ‘multiculturalism’ in here. Its drum I enjoy beating.

    There is a big argument over definitions here. For many (including, I assume, Melanie Phillips), multiculturalism means allowing importing of other cultures wholesale, and then allowing them to live side-by-side without any kind of exchange. Persoanlly, I think this definition of multiculturalism a straw man, ripe for beating.

    However, many people also take this to be the true definition, and assume they can practice their culture in the same way they did in the country of their ancestors. Conflict arises.

    I reject the notion that cultures are fixed things at all. I reject that a ‘culture’ can be described in a way that it encompasses everyone within it. There are certain shared values, for sure, but people are not a homogenous mass, and cultures change on an individual level. An obvious example is the difference between generations, and how a young British-Asian will have a different culture to their parents. And yet they will all be lumped into the same mass.

    So I have a problem with the defintiond of ‘culture’ and ‘multiculturalism’, and the negative debates these definitions poduce. The language of ‘mass’, ‘clash’ and ‘erosion’ implies a grinding conflict. A more accurate defintion of cultures - one that describes them in terms of fluidity, diveristy, and change - results in a different definition of multiculturalism.

    This new analysis, with ideas of evolution and change at its heart, implies ideas of integration as a given, something that cannot be avoided in this global era. This analysis assumes that the culture of immigrants will change by the very fact of their being here.

    But - crucially - the same definition of multiculturalism means that the majority culture will inevitably change too! Not only is this certain to happen, but it is desirable. Purity is incestuous. When Melanie Phillips talks of ‘integration’ she is speaking a trivial truth. Her implication that the majority do not need to do some of this integrating is where we part company.

  29. IanLondon — on 2nd June, 2006 at 5:23 pm  

    Sunny,

    Immigrants have to follow the law of the land - there is no doubt about that.

    But is that not what MP is saying ? Her perceived theme is that immigrants who set about changing or undermining the law in order to impose their oppressive and intolerant views should be “re-educated”. Is that not what her book is all about ?

    Would you not be inclined to agree with that view ?

    Are you honestly stating that her ire in “Londonistan” is about immigrants who are content to follow their adopted country’s laws, contain their culture to their own home and allow their children to integrate ? I rather think they are the “type” immigrant she is not that too overly concerned about.

    Yes, MP is promoting intolerance, but it is the same intolerance you’d expect from any decent liberal.

  30. IanLondon — on 2nd June, 2006 at 5:28 pm  

    … multiculturalism means allowing importing of other cultures wholesale, and then allowing them to live side-by-side without any kind of exchange. (…)

    However, many people also take this to be the true definition, and assume they can practice their culture in the same way they did in the country of their ancestors.

    And where they endeavour for their culture to become dominant, be it in a local area or nationally, that is called colonialism, and this will ultimately inspire “native” movements to protect their identity under the banner of nationalism !

  31. Sunny — on 2nd June, 2006 at 5:38 pm  

    Her perceived theme is that immigrants who set about changing or undermining the law in order to impose their oppressive and intolerant views should be “re-educated”

    Gimme some examples Ian.

  32. Katy Newton — on 2nd June, 2006 at 5:52 pm  

    MP ascribes the views of a few demented extremist members of one religion to the whole of that religion and then panics about it. That’s what it comes down to. I wish she’d stop. If it wasn’t for England’s generous immigration policies from the 20th century onwards my great grandparents wouldn’t have come here, my grandparents would have been gassed at Treblinka and I’d never have been born. And I think we all agree that that would have been a tragedy both for PP and the world.

  33. Katy Newton — on 2nd June, 2006 at 5:53 pm  

    Oh, and she should stop ranting about working mothers as well.

  34. soru — on 2nd June, 2006 at 8:34 pm  

    ‘one being the IRA and the other being Al Qaeda wannabes. ‘

    Thing is, there were/are two opposing sets of terrorist groups in Northern Ireland, Republicans and Loyalists, who were divided by cultural identity (British versus Irish).

    It really wasn’t about politics as such. Over time Sinn Fein had members all across the political spectrum, from romantic Catholic nationalists to card-carrying infiltrated-on-U-Boat Nazis to revolutionary communists to liberal democrats. No matter what they were, the Loyalists were against them.

    ‘And all against british occupation in some country’

    A declaration of support for one particular cultural view does not negate the existence of the other side. You might as well say ‘it is not a cultural issue, it is just that the other lot are all decadent alcohol-swilling hedonists/primitive headchoppers, so their views obviously don’t deserve to be counted’.

  35. Chris Stiles — on 2nd June, 2006 at 8:36 pm  


    Again: you’re putting words into MP’s mouth. She is not saying that we introduce a ‘Culture Police’ with an unchecked right to come into our homes and ‘force’ us to be British by replacing our Naan bread with fish & chips or changing the channel from Zee TV to Coronation Street.

    No .. but she does very well with playing to an audience of people who feel outraged by any change and vaguely feel that ’something should be done about it’. It’s fairly typical backlash politics, of the sort used by the American Right - and playing into the same LGF crowd.

    She takes existing problems and adds her own political cast to them - she never once speaks of remedies except in the broadest and most vague terms - to address specifics in a rational manner would alienate her from her core audience.

    Try reading her blog - the lack of editing tends to emphasise the true nature of her punditry. In flavour not unlike that of Michelle Malkin.

  36. . — on 3rd June, 2006 at 1:47 am  

    Some of you ought to get off to Comment is Free and take on this skoobydude feller and Nick, the resident BNP supporter. I have the feeling they shipped in from Stormfront, and there’s only so much the guy arguing with them can do… http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/sadek_hamid/2006/06/ted_we_cant_tell_the_differenc.html

  37. Ravi4 — on 3rd June, 2006 at 9:38 am  

    Excellent posts Sunny and Robert.

    IanLondon – “And where they endeavour for their culture to become dominant, be it in a local area or nationally, that is called colonialism, and this will ultimately inspire “native” movements to protect their identity under the banner of nationalism !”

    “immigrants who set about changing or undermining the law in order to impose their oppressive and intolerant views should be “re-educated”.””

    It depends on HOW we immigrants “endeavour for their culture to become dominant” or “set about changing … the law”. If it’s by repressive, illegal, anti-democratic means (or by “undermining the law”) then the Govt, legal institutions and all decent liberals should fight it. If it’s through using the legal mechanisms of British democratic politics, then that’s our/their right as citizens of these Isles. If certain individuals or groups of individuals try to enact changes which others disagree with, then those who disagree should get off their backsides and ENGAGE in that same political process, instead of confining their expressions of unease to anonymous posts on the interweb. That ability to mediate peaceful compromise (most of the time anyway) between those with different visions of the future of the UK, enabling society to evolve and change as a result, is one of the key strengths of British culture and society and is firmly rooted in British history. (And can produce quick as well as slow changes to UK culture – the reform acts of 1832, 1867 changed British political culture almost overnight.)

    Amir – you’re fighting the same “straw man” multiculturalism that Robert describes. Most of us decent liberals who believe that multiculturalism has made a positive contribution (helping members of immigrant communities construct a workable balance between their own and British cultures) would not deny that it can have downsides (excessive communalism, cult of victimhood etc). I can think of very few things which are unambiguously good or bad.

    I agree with you about the need to teach the history of the British Empire – the UK school system should do more of it. But that’s not all the fault of multiculturalism. I did most of my schooling before multiculturalism had fully taken off, and yet was taught almost nothing about the British Empire (a bit about the US war of independence, nothing about the Raj) and its impact on modern day Britain including through immigration. Problem is it’s a complex, politicized, divisive subject to teach – no easy narrative as in the old days of teaching kids to glory in the fact that a quarter of the earth’s surface was British Empire red – so the school system seems to avoid it. (Are schools trying to teach it now? My kids aren’t old enough for me to know.)

    One of the biggest problems I have with Melanie Phillips and those like her is that they by implication paint multiculturalism (or at least its problems) as this enormous and unique existential threat to British society, culture etc. But this is nonsense. WWI, WWII, the Cold War, the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction (even arguably the IRA campaign) – all represented a much bigger threat to the UK than the downsides of multiculturalism. None of them had anything to do with multiculturalism. (unless you count Hitler’s and the IRA’s attempts to impose monoculturalism in “their” bits of the world as somehow the fault of multiculturalism.)

    Ravi

  38. Ravi4 — on 3rd June, 2006 at 10:28 am  

    Meant to say, the other big problem I have with Melanie Phillips is that she’s a rantng, mindlessly reactionary, hate-filled (albeit articulate) demagogue. On the subject of Israel she’s guilty of exactly the kind of extreme cultural communalism and identity politics that she claims to so vehemently oppose.

  39. Indigo Jo Blogs — on 3rd June, 2006 at 12:10 pm  

    Mad Mel soundbite (and book hold-up)…

    Melanie Phillips has latched onto the Inayat Bunglawala / Little Green Footballs controversy in her usual way, with a reference to “the truly demented ‘Zionist conspiracy’ theory emanating from Londonistan (Charles isn’t even a Jew)”. Talking o…

  40. thabet to Amir — on 3rd June, 2006 at 4:19 pm  

    Amir,

    Is it possible you can provide us with policies and practices where you feel a multicultural approach is incorrect and your possible alternatives?

    Thanks

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