06 July 2007

America, Britain and Multiculturalism

American culture, most will agree, is the dominant face of world culture, and America has become by far the most influential culture in the world. Hollywood films are shown in cinemas everywhere. Only in Russia and Scotland does any soft drink, Irn Bru, outsell Coca-Cola. Jeans and a t-shirt are worn across the world. The federal systems in Germany, Austria, India, Brazil and many others are based on America’s. Whatever one’s views on American-style capitalism, it has recently become rather popular in Eastern and Central Europe. The USA has imposed its republican/democratic system of government on Japan, India and most of Europe so successfully that not only do the locals not mind and even ridicule and fear all other systems, but even dictators go to great lengths pretend to use it. Yet it is peculiar to Britain that the tireless warriors against the corrupting forces of Multiculturalism actually see the USA (as well as Spain and the South of France) as the refuge for their Indigenous Culture. Their obsession with foreign cultural influence, unlike French, Arab or Czech national identity crises, does not include American culture. Perhaps we have become so accustomed to borrowing from America, we fail to notice it or even to see it as a different culture, perhaps we simply do not count other white Anglophones as foreigners. But whatever the reason, we don’t seem to mind America eroding our national identity nearly as much as say... Blacks and Muslims.

Here lies the rub – America is very, very multicultural, yet its values are all but unshakeable by outside forces and its culture totally infectious. Naturally, clever marketing and economic power are factors, but other industrial powerhouses did not have the same success. What American multiculturalism seems to have achieved is a system and culture that, by (admittedly, often very reluctantly) accepting and incorporating foreigners and their cultures, is more flexible and universal and in turn more easily accepted and incorporated by foreigners, both at home and abroad. American culture is a one of affluence, but it is also one of cultural diversity and cross-influence. The lesson should be clear to insular Brits – used correctly, multiculturalism can strengthen our culture and values and prepare them for export.

Like much of modern politics, Islam both in Britain and the Middle East will be the battle-ground. Monoculturalism, especially coupled with Islamophobia or compulsory Christian dominance, excludes Muslims, and forces them to choose between their countrymen and their God. God will win. Every time. If we want to integrate Muslims, multiculturalism is the way. Show them they, as citizens, have a valid say on our culture and values and they will join them and take them on board. Order them to assimilate and they will refuse. Inevitably, the clash of cultures will destroy many weaker British traditions – the slightly un-Islamic pastime of binge drinking may lose out – but the stronger values will survive and be more widely accepted, and the fallacy that the Western values worth defending – individual rights, representative government and the rule of law – and Islam are incompatible will be made laughable.

The goal would be Western schools of Islamic thought. Not Islam in the West, but British Islam, French Islam, American, German, Dutch and even Israeli Islam. While these, naturally, would have their extremists, kicking against the values of the culture they grew up in, there will also be those that, having benefited from Western ideas, apply them, tailor them and mix them into their faith. The more we accept foreign cultures and include them in ours, not by assimilation but by making them an integral part, the more we will have of the latter. The more we alienate our Muslims by expecting them to assimilate at the expense of their faith and religious identity, the more we will have of the extremists that feel hated and that hate back. Excluding Muslims from secular British identity and making it known that even our secular values are opposed to them will bring about more London bombings. Including Muslims, by developing a secular ideology of tolerance, individual rights and freedom to follow private religion, will grate with the non-Muslim, “indigenous” assimilationists and ultimately benefit minorities more than the privileged, established majority. But it will, given time, consolidate and spread our values. If we can produce a school of thought in Islam that is tolerant, egalitarian and respectful of basic human rights, especially those of women, it will undermine the absolutist, misogynistic and brutal governments that exploit people’s religious beliefs to consolidate power.

But this will require sacrifices. Islam contains as much, if not more, justification for peace as for war, and if we want to persuade them to emphasise this we will need to stop declaring war on Muslims, in every sense of the word. Secondly, we need to establish a European intellectual tradition within Islamic theology. If our Universities can run courses training Christian clerics, we should encourage, or if necessary, force them to extend the same privilege to other religions. Doing so would also give us more home-grown Imams and end our dependence on Saudi-trained Wahabbists even more dangerous and bigoted than the loud-mouthed silent majority of Britons. Let’s not think of it as trampling our own indigenous culture by kow-towing to the “ethnics”. Think of it as stamping it down to consolidate it. If multiculturalism, tolerance and immigration destroy and weaken indigenous cultures, then why isn’t the whole world farklept of listening to rap in jeans while drinking Coke in front of Friends?

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