The problem with a lot of discussion around current affairs is a misunderstanding of identity politics. Identity trumps everything – it covers religion, race, culture, nationality, citizenship and a whole lot more. Understanding it not only makes us better at understanding the context of people’s actions, but also predicting their behaviour.
It is also a given that people have multiple identities and each matters more in different situations. Sometimes it is important to be able to transcend those identities and join with others on a common cause, without necessarily compromising your morals. For some a particular form of identity becomes so important (their race/religion usually) that they not only see everything through that prism but it becomes a mark of separation.
In February 2003 I marched in London against the Iraq war in fear that George Bush would royally screw it up (and make terrorism worse), because he previously showed little regard for the lives of non-Americans. I marched because I was against the death of innocent people, thinking that he would ultimately lead to more deaths in the Middle East than Saddam Hussain could get away with killing. The fact that I was marching to protect Muslims was immaterial to me or, I suspect, most of the approx 2 million others.
Of course many Muslims (and Muslim organisations) were there only because other Muslims were involved, and to many it didn’t matter. (I was there with Arif who is a pacifist anyway and in the latter camp). This is understandable – there was blanket coverage of 9/11 but little mention of the millions of Congolese who have died in recent years. Identity matters to journalists too.
But the primary point of the New Generation Network agenda was to say we need to go back to the basics of anti-prejudice – pushing universal progressive values instead of getting caught up in identity politics.
That meant not tolerating prejudice against black or white people; not accepting the demonisation of Muslims en-masse, and not turning a blind eye to the demonisation of Christians, Hindus or homosexuals; standing up against violence against women regardless of their race or religion.
People who want to oppose this agenda, on the left funnily enough, do so because they are so caught up in identity politics that they only want to promote their ‘tribe’ at the expense of others. The others don’t matter, only their own personal agendas do.
That, as I’ve said earlier, is a fool’s game in our current climate. Most of the big issues: institutional racism, terrorism, economic inequality, women’s rights, immoral foreign policy, the demonisation of Muslims en-masse, the assault on our civil liberties and free speech – require broad alliances and mass movements if they need to be tackled. They cannot be tackled with people following narrow agendas.
There were two good examples yesterday when people got this, beautifully. 1) Conor Foley, writing on Comment is free, and 2) Dave Hill, writing on Temperama, got it too. Both short articles are highly recommended.
Let’s all celebrate multiple identities. But we should not let them limit the extent of our compassion.
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Filed in: Race politics,Religion,Sex equality