And its decomposition is only going to get worse, writes Richard Elliott.
The Chief Rabbi of Britain, Lord Sacks, made the front page of The Times on Monday (19th August) for declaring in an interview with the newspaper (printed in the same edition) that multiculturalism “has had its day and it’s time to move on”. Comparing the concept of multiculturalism to an ownerless, isolated hotel, where “so long as we don’t disturb the neighbours we can do what we like” is the mentality of all guests, Lord Sacks, stepping down from his position next month, urged for stronger communitarian bonds under one common culture for all ethnic groups. Noting the self-imposed segregations of large groups of ethnic minorities with cultural values different to those of others, Lord Sacks suggests an abandonment of multiculturalism in an attempt to unite groups under a single framework for social cohesion and unity.
I do not doubt for one second that the Chief Rabbi’s recommendations are made with the greatest integrity and sincerity. However, I cannot agree that multiculturalism can just be abandoned as if a failed school project to be put in the cupboard of British history. To say that the failure of multiculturalism can be brushed aside so swiftly is, in my humble opinion, naive; we cannot just move on towards a new goal of finding singularly shared values. The slippery slope towards complete cultural relativism is not just irreversible; its future portents appear ominous.
The notion of multiculturalism was introduced and largely promoted by the New Labour government led by Tony Blair, in a utopian vision that C of E schoolchildren would soon be eating curried goat and enjoying Gamelan music, whilst children brought up in Islamic traditions would like nothing more than singing William Blake’s Jerusalem and waving flags at Princess Di. The dreamy picture of the Blairites has, as is all too obvious now, fallen away to expose the brute reality; multiculturalism, the idea that many cultures can harmoniously overlap to strengthen social bonds, has led to cultural relativism, where atrocities are allowed to occur unpunished for fear of causing cultural offence, and bizarre customs and traditions are perpetuated in the name of political correctness. The self-imposed ‘ghettos’ (a loaded word, I know, but it’s has been used before in reference to multiculturalism) which Lord Sacks spoke of are not necessarily ethnically divided, despite the understandable correlation with ethnic groups. Instead, these ghettos are motivated by differences in culture. The brute fact we must face is that there is a multitude of cultural activities which are inherently incompatible with the values of Britain and indeed the West at large.
Some may scoff at the idea of ‘British’ values, and I can understand why. Perhaps a little clarification is required, since it is easy to satirize the very concept of a British value, what with morons like the BNP and the EDL hi-jacking the phrase to promote some less than tasteful messages. I am not a traditionalist, looking to some far green fiction of past English hills, cider and a muscular Anglicanism; but one need not be a traditionalist, or even a conservative, to notice that certain values which Britain and the West at large hold are simply superior to certain parts of other cultures we have been told, since the original Blairite initiative was announced, to not just tolerate, but respect.
Democracy is always better than theocracy. The empowerment of women is always better than the burkha and/or female genital mutilation. The ability to publicly show affection to a member of the same gender if you are so inclined freely is always better than being called a pedophile for it, or persecuted, or worse for it. You can think of more examples, I know you can. It is also worth noting that it is more often than not only the West which exhibits the degree of tolerance for other cultures that it does in the very first place.
Now, I am fully aware of the future sounds of certain ears pricking up even as I type this, that some will assumed that I mean that other religions are not included in these so-called ‘Western’ values; perhaps some will even suggest that by my criterion, other ethnicities are ruled out as well. Although this argument is obvious nonsense, you’d be surprised by how many educated people fall for it. The only rebuttal necessary to it is that ethnic, political and religious pluralism are not and never are in any way the same as multiculturalism. It would rather be that the true definition of pluralism is that in which differing religious, ethnic and political ideologies are united under common values to attempt to make life better for those who share those values.
A trivial example to illustrate; after using my local library, I often go for a coffee with an acquaintance, a staunch Marxist (some would say that the Platonic meets the dialectical on these occasions). The difference between what is obviously political pluralism and multiculturalism is that our two vastly different political ideologies are intended by both of us to influence the one culture we both share in order to make it better. If you can’t see the difference, then you can’t see the difference; but I hope you can.
Lord Sacks in the aforementioned piece encouraged abandoning multiculturalism for the sake of pluralism, in order to unify differing objectives under common themes and values; I do not know how possible this will be. Towards the end of a human life, frailty, fatigue and decomposition kicks in. If we were to analogise multiculturalism with this kind of human life, multiculturalism is already pissing itself, perhaps hasn’t washed in a while, cannot shave or fully dress itself. With the coming superannuation of multiculturalism shall come the decomposition of the utopian notion that cultures can share all of their values with each other for the better. The Blairite dream of multiculturalism, empirically indefensible and yet propagated by every major political party since it was first instigated, will die, slowly but surely. What will be left, after the dream has finally gone, for those who feel displaced by a lack of values to hold in common with those they share the land they live in with and indeed abandoned by those who sold the multicultural myth to them in the first place? I fear the consequences.