CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Whither Multiculturalism?

Jan 25, 2010

Multiculturalism, like so many modern nostrums, was always better in theory than in practice. Indeed, it can work when it is simply allowed to happen, as was the case with the American melting pot. There social cohesion was possible despite all the diversity because people came to America wanting to become Americans. They wanted the American dream.

But when multiculturalism is enforced by governments, it usually ends up backfiring. Indeed, the hoped for integration usually ends us in disintegration. Equality by decree, or community by government fiat, will seldom work. Unless people agree to a common social vision, the various disruptive and divisive pulls will be too strong to overcome.

So in much of the Western world, attempts at imposed multiculturalism have only ended up in greater disunity and polarisation. Instead of various peoples from various cultures living together as a harmonious whole, we tend to have the ghettoisation of society. Too often incoming groups do not want to blend in, but prefer to remain separate and distinct.

There are plenty of examples of this. A quite recent one was reported in the press this week. It seems that the Kraft food company has jumped on the PC bandwagon by introducing a halal version of Vegemite to appease Muslims.

As I told a journalist who interviewed me about this, if a commercial company wants to do this, that is one thing: they are not really interested in community relations, they are interested in making money. The real worry comes when governments get involved in enforced political correctness.

Recently here in Melbourne councils have banned ham sandwiches for example, in order to keep Muslims happy. Plenty of other examples can be produced to show that what is happening is not integration but further separatism. The lines of division are only being more sharply drawn.

Britain is well advanced in this regard, as is most of Europe. Multiculturalism there has failed big time, with whole sections of urban areas – especially in major European cities – becoming Islamic ghettos. Plenty of social commentators have remarked on this.

One slightly older piece (penned in October 2007) is still worth noting here in this regard. Written by Commonwealth Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, his piece is still relevant, even though his case is even more needed several years on. He begins this way:

“Multiculturalism has run its course, and it is time to move on. It was a fine, even noble idea in its time. It was designed to make ethnic and religious minorities feel more at home, more appreciated and respected, and therefore better able to mesh with the larger society. It affirmed their culture. It gave dignity to difference. And in many ways it achieved its aims. Britain is a more open, diverse, energising, cosmopolitan environment than it was when I was growing up.

“But there has been a price to pay, and it grows year by year. Multiculturalism has led not to integration but to segregation. It has allowed groups to live separately, with no incentive to integrate and every incentive not to. It was intended to promote tolerance. Instead the result has been, in countries where it has been tried, societies are more abrasive, fractured and intolerant than they once were.

“Liberal democracy is in danger. Britain is becoming a place where free speech is at risk, non-political institutions are becoming politicised, and a combination of political correctness and ethnic-religious separatism is eroding the graciousness of civil society. Religious groups are becoming pressure groups. Boycotts and political campaigns are infecting professional bodies. Culture is fragmenting into systems of belief in which civil discourse ends and reasoned argument becomes impossible. The political process is in danger of being abandoned in favour of the media-attention-grabbing gesture. The politics of freedom risks descending into the politics of fear.”

He notes that the breakdown in notions of universal truth and absolute morality is much to blame for the end of the multicultural dream: “What happens when we lose moral consensus? Morality is reduced to taste. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ become like yum and yugh: I like this; I don’t like that. Imagine two people, one of whom says: ‘I like ice cream’; the other: ‘I don’t’. They are not arguing. Each is simply declaring his or her taste.

“We have lost the basis of morality as a shared set of values holding society together. We are living ‘after virtue’; that is to say, in an age in which people no longer have roles and duties within a stable social structure. When that happens, morality becomes a mere façade. Arguments become interminable and intolerable. The only adequate answer to an opposing viewpoint is: ‘Says who?’ In a debate in which there are no shared standards, the loudest voice wins. The only way to defeat opponents is to ridicule them.

“If there is no agreed moral truth, we cannot reason together. All truth becomes subjective or relative, no more than a construction, a narrative, one way among many of telling the story. Each represents a point of view, and each point of view is the expression of a group. On this account, Western civilisation is not truth but the hegemony of the ruling elite. Therefore, it must be exposed and opposed. Western civilisation becomes the rule of dead white males. There are other truths: Marxist, feminist, homosexual, African-American, and so on. Which prevails will depend not on reason but on power. Force must be met by force. Lacking a shared language, we attack the arguer, not the argument.”

The result of all this is bucket-loads of political correctness, the introduction of “hate crimes” laws, the diminution of religious freedom and freedom of speech, and a new intolerance. Says Sacks,

“One example: in 1957 the Wolfenden committee, then the cutting-edge of liberalism, declared that homosexual behaviour was a sin, but should not be a crime. In 2004, Rocco Buttiglione, a minister in the Italian Government, was chosen by the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, to be its justice commissioner. During questioning, he acknowledged that, as a Catholic, he believed that homosexual behaviour is a sin but should not be a crime. He was then disqualified from taking up office as his private moral convictions were ‘in direct contradiction of European law’. He described this as the ‘new totalitarianism’. Right or wrong, one thing is clear: the new tolerance is far less permissive than the old intolerance.

“So a series of events that began in the 1960s fundamentally changed the terms of society and moral debate. Until recently, serious thinkers argued that society depends on moral consensus. Without that, there is no such thing as society, merely the clamour of competing voices and the clash of conflicting wills. This view began to crumble with the rise of individualism. People began to see morality in terms of personal autonomy, existential choice or the will to power. If morality is private, there is no logic in imposing it on society by legislation.

“But if there is no moral truth, there is only victory. The pursuit of truth mutates into the will to power. Instead of being refuted by rational argument, dissenting views are stigmatised as guilty of postmodernism’s cardinal sin: racism in any of its myriad, multiplying variants. So moral consensus disappears and moral conversation dies. Opponents are demonised. Ever-new ‘isms’ are invented to exclude ever more opinions. New forms of intimidation begin to appear: protests, threats of violence, sometimes actual violence. For when there are no shared standards, there can be no conversation, and where conversation ends, violence begins.”

The current trial of maverick Dutch MP Geert Wilders on charges of fomenting hate against Muslims is simply the most recent expression of all this. A movement that promised to bring disparate groups together has only succeeded in driving them further apart.

Policies of multiculturalism are now destroying Western societies, not healing them. Whether it is too late to reverse the trends and turn things around remains to be seen. But unless we heed the remarks of people like Sacks, and stand up and resist the attack on freedom as in the Wilders’ trial, things will only get worse.

www.heraldsun.com.au/news/national/vegemite-gets-politically-correct/story-e6frf7l6-1225822912030
www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article2697772.ece

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25 Responses to Whither Multiculturalism?

  • I don’t know about the Vegemite bit…is putting a small (it’s very small-have a look) symbol on the jar of Vegemite being too politically correct? It just lets Muslims know that it is safe to eat.
    I think the other examples you have brought up here and in other articles are multiculturalism gone too far, but this doesn’t affect me at all. Why should I be upset?
    Christie Ewens

  • Thanks Christie

    Yes if this were the only example, it may not be much of a big deal. And as I said, it is a commercial outfit simply wanting to increase profits, so it is to be expected. But one can ask how far all of this is going, and whether it is leading to more social cohesion or more division. And when governments get into the act, then it does become more serious.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • As the likes of Milton Friedman have pointed out, immigration would probably be absolutely fine if it weren’t for the enormous welfare state that supports unproductive and anti-social behaviour that tends to rear in different cultural segments of society.

    For example, if there were no, or very little welfare state, there would be greater pressure to leave social security and work and there would be very little minimum wage to price unskilled minorities out of a job.

    Additionaly, it would take away the platform of bureaucrats and do-gooders from preaching and pushing segragation and multiculturalism in the first place.

    If the state was kept more to a minimum then the immigrants would be more like the Irish, Italians and Jews in places like New York, whom eventually settled down and were a great blessing to the country.

    The same occured in Australia in the earlier part of the last century were those on welfare or diability pensions were a fraction of today. Immigrants like the Italians settled in well and were of great benefit to the country.

    Damien Spillane

  • I have a theory on “why” multiculturism and PC attracted so many people. To some degree large sections of western society have become godless. They’ll often admit to you “We’re not religious”. There is no singular reason for this shift but one contributing factor is that many of these people believe in the truth of the 10 commandments up to a point, but find that adhering to them is inconvenient. However they don’t want their peer groups and others to think they don’t have standards, so they have constructed their own 10 commandments revolving around such things as feminism, homosexuality, global warming and not offending muslims, although it’s quite OK to offend Catholics and Evangelical Christians. In fact that’s a commandment in its own right or rite.
    Frank Bellet, Petrie Qld

  • What ‘multiculturalism’ boils down to is that you can praise any culture in the world except Western culture — and you cannot blame any culture in the world except Western culture. — Thomas Sowell
    Jonathan Sarfat, Brisbane

  • Further to your remarks concerning PC, today I read (“West Australian”, 25.1.10, p25) of an Iraqi immigrant, convicted of manslaughter and facing deportation, who won the right to stay in Britain after a judge ruled that he would be a danger to the public in his homeland! Killers and paedophiles regularly use the Human Rights Act in the UK to avoid deportation. And, to add insult to injury, the Rudd government has commissioned the Australian Human Rights Commission to give Australia a similar Act.
    Dunstan Hartley

  • I agree with Frank Bellet’s observations here totally.
    May I also add that multiculturalism as a religion has happened as part also of the downgrading and ridicule shown towards metaphysics and scholarly philosophy at our secular universties from the 1960s era onwards. This has created a couple of generations now of graduates with no memory and no knowledge of our spritual and philosophical heritage.
    Michael Webb

  • Hello Bill and others,

    With respect, I’m only seeing one side of this argument in this article and attached comments. Of course heavy immigration programs and cultural diversity create challenges for societies and western democratic governments. And to be sure aspects of Islam present many such threats. But these are issues that can be and have been successfully managed if people use cool heads and don’t scramble to the far ends of a very flawed poltical system.
    There’s also a flip side that needs to be considered – if you want to see the reverse challenges look at Japan with its depopulation problems and a stifling cultural homogeneity. That is not a healthy society. A bit closer to home, look at Tasmania – a pleasant enough place to visit but void of people, diversity and pretty well dependent on federal welfare as a state. I’ve lived in rural Australia and I know that towns that are resistant to cultural change are the ones end up becoming dusty outback ghettos.
    The other important point that mutlicultural skeptics miss is the threat of domestic extremism is often greater than the threat of foreign extremism. The imperatives of good citizenship are all too often shoved down the throats of newcomers – most of whom already pay taxes, obey the law and contribute positively to their host society – while locals face no such values-thumping. How else do you explain the as yet unchecked rise of anti-social behaviour in Australia that so often takes place in the name of so-called Aussie Pride? To me this is a much more visible threat than Islamic extremism. Personally I think everyone in Australia should be required to take the citizenship test.
    Also worrying for me as a Christian is the rise in reactionary politics taking place as an apparent defence of Australia’s Christian heritage – in other words nationalists who never held much regard for Christian beliefs or values all of a sudden hiding behind the Bible in their rhetoric.
    As for Vegemite – to be honest I see the outcry (as small as it is) against the halal stamp to be more of a case of “political correctness gone mad” than the actual stamp itself. Anyone who is offended by the halal stamp – something that appears on many products in Australia – really needs to get some perspective. If Kraft were to remove the stamp, it would only be doing so to please a small but shrill minority. PC stupidity works both ways.

    Kind regards,

    Sam Hol

  • We can only lament the fact that multiculturalism became the fashion. Most thinking people realised where this would lead.
    It was fanciful to think that encouraging people in their indigenous cultures amongst our Australian culture was not going to become problematical.
    If anything we are a multi-ethnic society, the expectation is that migrants come to our shore to fit in with us, not us with them.
    The current distressful situation in the Netherlands with the trial of Geert Wilders for daring to speak his mind is deplorable. Perhaps in a small way we can do our bit by signing on to this petition to the Dutch government – http://www.internationalfreepresssociety.org/take-action/petitions/
    Gerry Van Hees

  • Thanks Sam

    I have no problems with immigration, as long as those coming to the host country seek to integrate into the host country and culture. If they wish to remain in separate ghettos however, that spells trouble for any nation. Social harmony depends on a shared set of social values and social goods. If that social glue does not exist, then no nation can long remain cohesive and united. Someone just sent me this written by Sir Edmund Barton in 1907, which seems pretty much right:

    “In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an Australian and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an Australian, and nothing but an Australian… There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an Australian, but something else also, isn’t an Australian at all. We have room for but one flag, the Australian flag…. We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language… and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the Australian people.”

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Bill – can I then ask, in light of Barton’s comments do you see yourself as American, Australian or both?
    Sam Hol

  • Thanks Sam

    My particular nationality or preference is not really the issue here. (For what it is worth, both America and Australia share a common set of values and social goods, and I am happy to live in both nations.) The question is how free, democratic nations can survive when common values are no longer accepted and embraced. Without an agreed to set of shared convictions, beliefs and values, the forces working to pull a nation or society apart will be stronger than the forces working to keep it together. That is the concern here.

    The second issue is whether the ongoing Islamisation of the West is a good thing or a bad thing. I happen to think it is the latter. The issue of halal Vegemite is not too important, but the issue of the gradual promotion of sharia values and laws in the West is.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • BTW Sam, if proper integration into Australia meant I had to love Vegemite, then I would have to return to the US immediately. I can’t stand the stuff!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • When it comes to multiculturalism and integration I wonder how most Australians would behave if they had to live a new life in foreign land with a very foreign culture and religion? I’m sure we would choose to live in a circle of safety as many migrants have done here. Think of it this way, we are unable to go to them to preach the gospel so God has brought them to us. Don’t whine too much about its problems, just praise the Lord our God and be happy.
    David Visser

  • Is that Barton quotation genuine? Better known is the exact same quotation from Teddy Roosevelt in 1919, except about Americans:

    ‘In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American…There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag… We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language.. And we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.’

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Yesterday, our town’s Australia Day Ambassador actually said, “…united by our diversity…” in his speech.

    United by our diversity.

    Ridiculous. A group can be united in diversity, united despite diversity, united by our love of diversity, but not united by diversity.

    Diversity must only divide. Diversity is about differences. We can learn that some differences are not a big deal and we can learn to overcome some differences that would divide us, but differences in themselves can only divide. There must be a greater unifying factor that overwhelms the diversity.

    Bill, you have hit the nail on the head. A country can only be united when there is an overarching identity that overcomes those differences. America was never a melting pot, never multicultural in the backward think of today. Any older immigrant will tell of the pressure they were under to leave the old country and become American, of the common dream that brought them there. I am all for welcoming immigrants and particularly refugees, but I would insist they embrace the new country ans make a commitment to its ways and fundamental values.

    Think about the words: “united by diversity”

    Enlightened by stupidity.

    Michael Hutton, Ariah Park

  • WRT the taste of Vegemite, I agree with you Bill in that I prefer Marmite… (-:

    WRT authorities of the state banning ham… well… Noah knew about clean/unclean animals (Genesis 7:2) a very long time before either Moses or any of the children of Israel were born, so the clean/unclean rules are definitely not limited to the Law of Moses; nor have those rules ever been formally dismissed by God so avoiding pig (whether in the Earl of Sandwich’s style or not) is pr?m? faci? a good idea, but I also agree with Rabbi Sacks that having state authorities ban it on religious grounds is an exceedingly poor plan, a “new totalitarianism.”

    Leon Brooks

  • Thanks David

    Yes it is a good thing when non-Christian peoples come to the West, so that we might more easily evangelise them. But that was not the point of the article. To think carefully about and discuss important social issues like immigration and multiculturalism is not to “whine” about them, as you suggest. And I am not too sure that the main purpose of Christians is to sit around and be “happy”!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks for that Jonathan. I had not checked closely that email which had just been sent to me.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Leon

    Actually the NT does make it clear that clean/unclean distinctions among both animals and food are now done away with in Christ. See for example, Acts 10; Col 2; 16-17; etc.

    And sorry, but Marmite is to Vegemite what 30-weight motor oil is to 40-weight motor oil: both are equally unpalatable!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill,
    Have you tried Promite?
    Steve Davis

  • Thanks Steve

    No, but it sounds just as scary and uncivilised as the other two!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Michael, (united by our diversity). Thanks for the laugh very funny. But after i stopped laughing i felt a bit sad. To think someone, a Ambassador
    no less, is saying this in public.
    Daniel Kempton

  • Islam is also notable in its intention to have cultural and religious exceptionalism imposed by political means. This is happening particularly in Britastan, but is also happening in other parts of Eurostan. Ps Daniel Scot has been warning for a decade at least that this will occur in Australia if Christians are not vigilant. He and Ps Danny Nalliah know this ‘Islamic legal incrementalism’ from their personal experience.

    Wikipedia’s definition of ‘exceptionalism’ fits Islam very well. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exceptionalism
    Islam will NOT fit into democracy, and so democracy must either change to accommodate Islam, or blatantly reject Islam knowing that attacks will follow. Islam will always be seperate from the host community of infidels or kafirs (us).

    Islam does not tolerate non-Muslims, so it imposes jizya on them to subjugate them or to cause them to leave Islamic communities. Our taxes ( http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/rudd_pays_the_taliban_25_million/ ) and airport duties to screen all people as though we are all Islamic terrorists are passive examples of us paying jizya.

    As for Halal foods. The NT looks at acceptable and unacceptable foods.

    Peter’s vision in Acts 10:10-has God directing Peter to kill and eat unclean animals (symbollic of ‘unclean’ uncircumcised men now being acceptable to God). It does not condone us eating food or meat which someone has prayed to Allah as it is slaughtered or prepared.

    Halal foods (foods offered only to the idol ‘Allah’ of Islam) see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halal , are an offense to Christians. Halal symbols on food packaging signify to Christians that the food does not comply with the Council of Jerusalem’s requirement in Acts 15:29 “You are to abstain from foods sacrificed to idols…” Note that this is after Peter’s vision, and Peter is at the Council (Acts 15:7) when they stated it was necessary to abstain from food offered to idols.

    Therefore, abstaining from IDOLATROUS foods is banned, but all foods are permissable, if it is not offered / sacrificed to idols.

    Also see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divisions_of_the_world_in_Islam#Dar_al-Islam to see how the Islamic world sees itself as seperate from the non-Islamic world.

    Shalom. Michael Evans

  • As an old migration officer I feel it reasonable to comment. One of the tenets of the acceptance of migrants by Australian migration officers when interviewing prospective applicants overseas was cultural integration. This was in anticipation that newcomers would become Australianised. We were looking dtrectly at children of migrants. Another expectation was that they would move into the community and live as family groups as do most Australians. A part of the process was through our education systems. And I believed this worked well until comparatively recently. What has changed is that certain groups have congegated in specific geographic areas and have been authorised to set up their own schools. This may be a good thing for the cultural group but it delays or deters the possibility of moving away from their cultural group to the greater culture. However, we believed eventually movement away would occur as young people spread their wings and look for higher education avenues and life partners outside their groups. These processes take time and we should be prepared to wait.
    Peter Rice

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