Friday, February 15, 2008

Multi-culturalism, the latest Moral Panic?

I have just read Paul Walter's excellent post on multi-culturalism. Paul hits the nail on the head "Oh dear. "Multi-culturalism" is another one of those code phrases. It means 29 different things to different people and to a large number it means "too many foreigners". Just like the word "immigration". Absolutely! It is one of those words that we all decode in our heads according to our own beliefs and values.

My take is to look at what may be the opposite to "multi-culturalism", "mono-culturalism". How boring is that? My only reference point for mono-culturalism is the United States, aaah yes, the kind of mono-culturalism that expresses itself in the dark corners of Abu Ghraib, or the quiet streets of Fallujah. The Royal United Services Institute report, that has lead to this issue being raised suggests deference to multi-culturalism is to blame for the terrorist threat. This morning, one of their spokespeople on Today suggested that we had the evidence in the 7/7 bombings. But he failed to explain this logic in relation to 9/11. There was also a suggestion that immigrant Muslim communities were at fault for not integrating. Well, integration is a two way street.

I know a little about this having spent a good deal of my working life working within the Muslim community. I also know from personal experience how difficult integration is, I was estranged from most of my family for many years because I married an Asian. I also witnessed the discrimination he suffered, for example when he was looking to buy a house in Luton the estate agents only ever sent him houses in Bury Park, the Asian area of town. When we were looking to buy a house in Stockport, if I went to estate agents on my own I would be told about areas which were very nice, no foreigners............I used to enjoy going back in and introducing my husband! So, as I say, to crack this nut we need a little more honesty about the underlying racism that still impacts upon our ability to truly build community cohesion. We cannot insist that people adhere to this or that culture, that way lies facism. And yet, to hear some of the commentators one would be forgiven for thinking it was just a question of Mr Brown announcing that from now on we were to be a mono-culture nation and that would do it!

So, let's have some honesty. It is not multi-culturalism (the existence of a number of cultures?) that is the issue, it is the nervousness about Muslims who appear to live in closed communities, with an idea that out of them springs an anti-western anti-Christian discourse that feeds the minds of the young who then become suicide bombers. But, we have one important missing factor. The young people who get radicalised are often on the surface very well integrated, or, if not, they are estranged from their own community as well. So, what are we saying? As a former youth worker I am well versed in the idea of "moral panic" - it seems to me this is exactly what we are witnessing. A notion that distorts and exaggerates reality, fuelled by a sensationalist media. Yes, there are young people, disaffected and angry, driven to become involved with terrorism, but I think that has more to do with the idealism of youth, the power of a strong religious belief and, dare I say it?, frustration at our foreign policy. It has little or nothing to do with a notion of "multi-culturalism". This nonsense would be amusing if it were not so dangerous. All the time we are being deflected by a misplaced moral panic about multiculturalism we are unlikely to begin to even scratch the surface of a solution.


Paul Walter said...

What a superb post Linda! I am going to nominate it for the LibDem Voice Golden Dozen.

Linda Jack said...

Thanks Paul,

Inspired by you!