Saturday, December 02, 2006

Does multicultralism work?

Earlier today I made a rather bold and frankly flippant remark that I didn't feel multiculturalism has worked in Britain. When I was being challenged on this, I found myself becoming quite defensive and a little concerned about some of my comments because there seems to me, at least, to be very little real debate on this issue. All too often, the issue of multiculturalism is tainted with the completely unrelated view that to pose a challenge, is being racist. I fundamentally disagree with that view however I feel that my comments were being measured and because I don't believe in the principle of multiculturalism, that I am perceived as racist.

It is quite interesting looking at different nations and comparing their societies with ours. I am particularly fascinated by America in this respect, which arguably is the most diverse nation on the planet, yet it emphatically does not embrace multiculturalism. American society and values are very much White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) in nature, even though there are significant minorities for example of Latin Americans and Jews. The American cultural model for many years was one of assimilation. Other cultural identities were absorbed into the prevailing WASP culture, thereby preserving perhaps the homogenity and integrity of national identity. There has in more recent years been a move against assimilation and the emergence of hyphenated identities such as Italian-Americans, Jewish-Americans and Japanese-Americans, for example. These hyphenated identities then promote further questions about where the loyalty of these individuals rests. For example in the case of Jews, is their allegience to Israel first and America second? For the Japanese-Americans, questions of their loyalty were starkly addressed in WWII, when tens of thousands of legitimate Americans of Japanese origin, were detained at what were effectively concentration camps for the duration of the war. Also the more important issue and one which I think equally pertains to Britain, is that if you accept multiculturalism and allow other cultures to assert their values and individual identities, where does the core of national identity come from?

I firmly believe that our society is enriched by people from diverse cultures, ethnicities and religions. Together they provide a vibrant and inclusive society but there is a risk, I feel that multiculturalism has gone too far. That in effect, our sense of national identity has become too diluted or somehow lost in the noble aim of making society welcoming and equal to all. It is perhaps an unresolvable problem - how do you embrace diversity while retaining unity? Can you have both? Should everyone be equal because quite fundamentally we are not all equal - for example we are not all of equal intelligence.

My own view is that multiculturalism damages both our national identity and does not do justice either to maintaining that diverse and vibrant society that I feel is so important. Rather it creates differentiated identities, people who do not necessarily see themselves primarily as British. Being British doesn't mean that you surrender your own culture, language or religion. You can still have those things but I feel it is important that people should identify themselves firstly and primarily as British. More importantly they should feel proud of that shared identity and want to be part of a rich, diverse and inclusive society where they feel they belong. I think all to often multiculturalism and the differentiated identities it creates, leaves groups cut off from the prevailing culture and unable to integrate. This of course is not a one way street; to my mind it is an inherent responsibility of all of us, as members of the host society to help others integrate, share and enjoy our culture.

1 comment:

jamie said...

that all went over my head.