Carl Packman says over at Libcon that the left hasn’t developed an effective response to multiculturalism:
There have been very many areas of distraction where the left seem to have been weak, and it has been an almost impossible task to try and square this circle, about immigration, about Islamism and extremism, about right wing groups such as the EDL or SIOE.
Let me try and develop a response to this because I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately. But it’s worthwhile pointing out that concerns around immigration and far-right movements aren’t new. Even during the 70s and 80s the Tory right used the spectre of the National Front and BNP to say that more immigration would lead to increasing community unrest. That underpinned Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech and it has been echoed repeatedly since, though in different guises. Even now it’s fashionable on the right to say that the BNP’s growth has been entirely due to immigration, even if the evidence doesn’t hold up (it certainly didn’t in the last election).
Politically active minorities in Britain have gone through evolutionary cycles of identity politics: from ‘black unity’ to more fragmented secular Asian politics to even more fragmented religious politics by community leaders. The last paradigm is now also fading away as 9/11 starts becoming a distant memory. Of course, if a few major terrorist attacks in the UK happen then hysteria about Islamists could rise again and you could be back to people clinging to their religion to defend it.
Let me emphasise that last point again: the rise of religious communitarianism was largely a response to the hysteria against Muslims: it made them defensive of an identity they didn’t pay much attention to earlier. They had mostly ignored the religious fundos and were then damned with them by loose religious association. I talked about this evolution a few years ago in this article for The Times.
And where does the future lie? I think, in the breakdown of religious and race-based structures and a focus back to the biggest British identity politics of all: class/poverty differences.
What’s needed to respond to the point by Carl, I think, is to lay out principles that lefties should be able to agree on, that govern how issues relating to ‘diversity’ and multiculturalism’ are treated.
Free speech and neo-cons
I was at a round-table on free speech last week with the excellent writer/think Kenan Malik who made a good point: that a diverse society not only needs free speech but actually relies on that principle. It’s easy having free speech in a relatively homogeneous society because people mostly think the same. It’s diverse societies that stretch those free speech principles to breaking point because suddenly people are confronted with views they find abhorrent.
Over the last ten years a curious alliance developed between Conservatives (generally against ‘abhorrent views’ and diversity anyway) and lefties we can label as ‘neo-cons‘ in favour of restricting civil liberties and suppressing free speech.
And so they turned a blind eye to falsified evidence (in support of war), torture, extraordinary rendition, locking up ‘enemy combatants’ etc. They start looking for potential terrorists everywhere and started smearing them as Islamists and sympathisers. They wanted “hate literature” banned while simultaneously demanding that Muslims adhere to their ‘enlightened’ values of free speech.
They cried about how great civil liberties were while simultaneously calling for students to be spied on at universities in the name of national security.
That isn’t to say minorities helped their own cause. And so we need to establish some first principles: in favour of free speech, civil liberties, secularism and basic individual freedoms of religion, the right to marry who they want etc. (partly why I argued against demands for BNP / EDL marches to be banned – they go against basic principles of civil liberties).
Anyway, those are some initial thoughts. This is how you could contribute: tell me in the comments what such a list of ‘first principles’ should look like. A list of 5-10 thoughts maybe.
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Filed in: Civil liberties,Islamists,Terrorism