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MULTICULTURALISM AND VIOLENCE February 17, 2011

Posted by wmmbb in Human Rights, Multiculturalism.
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Some of our Federal politicians applying the end justifies the means thinking and in their desire to emulate all things American in the search for various elixirs of electoral success might pause to consider the consequences – and the the differences of our circumstances.

We just happen to live next to Indonesia, a nation with the largest Muslim population in the world. Then again we owe of a duty of care to the minority of our fellow citizens who belong to the Islamic faith who might reasonably be expected to suffer from the propagation of irrational fears created by irrational reasons cultivated in the ignorant majority. For many of us, it is not so easy to get an appreciation of Islam on the level of the ready familiarity we have acquired of Christianity among it many variations. Subtle understanding does not lend itself to crude generalizations and non-reflective attitudes. This is true now of atheists and non-atheists alike, given by one reading as the progress of Enlightenment thought, with  atheists and agnostics (never mind who, and what gnostics might be) cannot readily be characterized as “the other”.

At Crickey, Bernard Keane writes:

It’s extraordinarily hard to believe that a number of Liberals aren’t engaged in a deliberate campaign of blatant Islamophobia, and have been for some time.

Yesterday’s effort by Scott Morrison to politicise the funerals of the victims of the Christmas Island boat tragedy was another example of the barrel bottom standards of the Member for Cook since he was moved to the immigration portfolio and tasked with exploiting asylum seekers as much as possible.

The irony was Morrison was doing so on the pretext of cost, while we’re still waiting for him to tell us how many hundreds of millions of dollars his resuscitated Pacific Solution will cost taxpayers, an issue he ducked in the election campaign and have ducked ever since.

A Pure Poison reader received a pro forma response from Morrison’s office, which concluded “all Australian residents and citizens should be treated equally in these matters” — a fair summation of the blatant appeal to prejudice indulged in by Morrison. But his dog-whistling was in fact the subtlest we’ve seen from Liberal MPs lately.

The broader context for Morrison’s exploitation of the funerals is a steady drumbeat of anti-Muslim commentary that has been coming from sections of the Liberal Party over an extended period.

Just this week there was Gary Humphries’s extraordinary petition, signed by only three people, calling for a 10-year moratorium on “Muslim immigration”. Humphries employed the “just following orders” defence, saying he presented petitions regardless of whether he agreed with them or not. It was a strange thing to say given the petition appears to have sprung from a Baptist church in Earlwood in Sydney, which last time I checked wasn’t in the ACT.

Last week Kevin Andrews lashed out at “extreme Islam” and warned of “enclaves”. Andrews has run this line on “enclaves” before, demanding Muslims “disperse” into the community. Interesting context, of course, for Andrews’s disastrous handling of Mohammed Haneef’s case. . .

In this fetid environment, Joe Hockey’s statement of the bleeding obvious, that “we as a compassionate nation have an obligation to ensure that we retain our humanity during what is a very difficult policy debate”, came as a breath of fresh air.

Guy Rundle for the same publication analyzes multiculturalism recently suggested by Cameron in the UK and Merkel in Germany as a failed policy. Both policy prescriptions in those countries as in Australia, he notes, promote religion-based schooling which is at odds with what is being said. Referring to “the right”, Guy Rundle suggests:

Though they profess to be concerned about the creation of communal sub-groups who have separate values and loyalties, they happily permit the creation of the one institution that guarantees that process — the school. Give me the child until he is seven … Currently, for example, rich Saudi Arabians run a bunch of schools across the UK. It’s already known that some of them teach a fairly, erm, distinctive theory of world history and the role of the Jews within it, but nothing has really been done about it.

Why? Because the Cameron government’s passionate attachment is to the almost rule-free creation of “free” schools, by any group that can get together the scratch — fundamentalist Christians, educational corporations, brainless Grub Street bottom feeder journalists such as Toby Young and his mates, and so on. Though they will have to conform to minimum curriculum standards, the mania for free schools becomes the means by which multiculturalism will become further entrenched, and the notion of bounded communities within a wider society will be given a huge boost.

But that simply leads us deeper into this conundrum, and that is to ask what people are talking about when they talk about multiculturalism. The word has become so overlaid with multiple meanings as to have none at all. No one who criticises it ever seeks to define it, for quite deliberate reasons.

Say what you like about the hard Right, they are at least honest enough to say that they don’t want further immigration — and/or that they want to shape immigration intake with racial/cultural priorities. Such positions have the virtue of being consistent. The soft and centre-Right want to have it both ways. As neoliberals, they want plentiful flows of labour that can be switched on and off as the market demands. But an open statement of this would be unpalatable to much of the electorate. To deal with this, they spruik a myth of the fall, and of assimilation. Gerard Henderson gave an entirely predictable version of it in the SMH last week.

Once upon a time, the myth goes, immigration in the US, Australia and elsewhere, was conducted in perfect harmony. People came in, they left their cultures at the entry port, and a few funny foods aside, they took up the values and beliefs of the host country. Then, in the 1960s and ’70s, bad cultural relativist social scientists designed policies whereby people could keep their own beliefs and cultures when they came, and we would regard all cultures as equivalent. The result, the myth goes, has been chaos, division, hatred, ghettos, etc, etc.

Nothing of this myth is true. The huge US immigration intake from 1865-1924, produced whole communities entirely separate by language, culture, etc, and thoroughly ghettoised. Until the 1940s, most big US cities could support a daily paper in Yiddish, Polish, German, etc. Nor was there ever a single culture that has fallen into division. Until the postwar period, the great division in Australia was between Protestants and Catholics (or Romans, as my grandmother referred to them) — a division that produced riots, sectarian murder, social movements, political split, etc. This division only became sealed over when fresh divisions became possible as “new Australians” flooded in during the ’50s.

Effectively what happened was this: until the 1960s and ’70s, the influx of immigrants with significant cultural difference was so small that their different practices did not register. There have been Muslims, Chinese, etc groups in Oz since the 1860s — no one really gave a damn what arrangements they made in terms of marriage, child-raising, etc, until they became as numerous as to be visible. It is only when people want to build mosques, start community groups, etc, that the question of what a culture is becomes urgent.

In legal terms, we still live in a monocultural society — Muslim men can’t legally marry four women, Albanians can’t legally avenge a vendetta with murder and so on. It’s worth remembering in this debate that there have been genuinely multicultural societies — Istanbul/Constantinople before 1914 is an example — where such things were permitted according to the ethnicity of the people concerned. We are pikers compared to that robust sense of cultural difference, which has ruled cities as diverse as Tangier, Granada. Singapore and the like.

The plain fact is that when you start a process of mass immigration, your society is already multicultural, and it doesn’t matter what policies you propose, the place has become multiple. That’s particularly so because the country taking in migrants is cosmopolitanised, while the country that they’re leaving is usually not so — in effect the people arriving tend to carry with them a set of beliefs that are often exclusive, chauvinist and unique.

So they tend to come from cultures with strong meaning frameworks, to those in which the nihilistic effect of the market has worn away all meaning, leaving simply products and commodities. That’s one reason why the Right gets so antsy about migrants — they show up, and reproduce community, in a society that has been reduced to a cloud of atomised consumers by the Right’s own policies. No wonder they have such a fear of Muslims — they have a living culture with a genuine conception of the sacred, which is essential to any viable culture, and that has been lost to the West.

The anti-multicultural fantasy deployed by the Right presumes that people will simply surrender what they are, because they have taken the advantages of the global economy. Seriously, would you surrender a religion, a way of life, a code of honour, for … Two and a Half Men? Shane Warne? Gangajang? Of course not. It’s precisely because people travel the oceans, the world, that they keep their culture with them. Because it’s the only thing they can hold onto that allows people to remain full human beings, rather than labour units. If you want the products of their hands and brains, you have to accept the contents of their hearts as well.

So there you have one account. Work, as Bertrand Russell observed, means moving stuff around combined with cognitive processing, made increasingly redundant by computerization, is necessary for the full human life unless is used against people ask war for claims of greater goods and noble causes. Perhaps if we ended the dehumanization, we would stop the violence, even the primitive attachment to scapegoating whose consequences history, including recent events, bears testimony to horrifying outcomes? But tell that to some of our politicians, who occupy positions of public trust , and they apparently are prepared to look innocently back in blank incomprehension.

ELSEWHERE:

Looking beyond the bounded rationality of the nation state, the Arab World continues its quest for the social technology of democracy and for the realization of human dignity, while it seems Islamophobes hold privileged positions in the US military which is far from coincidental considering the project unleashed by the war of terror. CAIR demand that those who would be scapegoated be given a voice:

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