Sunday, August 07, 2005

Question Authority

Johann Hari advises fellow British citizens to question authority -- even if the authority's issue is multi-culturalism, and even if you don't trust the motives of some of the other people who question it. Hari speaks from a particular perspective:

I am the child of an immigrant myself, and I believe we should take more immigrants and refugees into Britain, not fewer. But it is increasingly clear that, forged with the best of intentions, multiculturalism has become a counter-productive way of welcoming people to our country. It promotes not a melting pot where we all mix together but a segregated society of sealed-off cultures, each sticking to its own.

In the summer of 2001, Bradford, Burnley and Oldham ignited into some of the worst rioting in recent British history. Streets were trashed, shops were looted, cars exploded after being set on fire, and clashes between Asian and white youths went on for days. In the aftermath, the Home Office commissioned the distinguished academic Ted Cantle to investigate what had happened. He discovered "shockingly divided communities", where ethnic groups lived "parallel" and "polarised" lives, never mixing, never meeting each other, living in "almost complete segregation" based on race.

Why? Cantle found that funding for local projects - from community centres to schools - was invariably conducted on ethnic lines: a "Muslim" school there, a "white" community centre here. Nobody could bid for cash unless they were appealing to a particular "community" - rather than the community as a whole. Faith schools made the problem even worse. Places where different ethnic groups could meet and become friends, develop sexual relationships or have rows, simply did not exist. Since it was official multicultural policy that different cultures should be preserved rather than blended, spliced and interwoven, this all seemed rational.

But there is another dysfunctional aspect to multiculturalism. In practice, it acts as though immigrant cultures are unchanging and should be preserved in aspic. This forces multiculturalists into alliance with the most conservative and unpleasant parts of immigrant communities. For example, what would you do if, in your block of flats, there was a white family where the women of the house rarely left without the patriarch's permission, and - on the very rare occasions when they did - they covered their face so only their eyes were visible? What would you do if, in the same family, there was a gay son who knew he could never tell his relatives, because he would be beaten and then ostracised from everybody he has ever known?

The answer is easy (I hope): you would be disgusted, and you would try to help them. But there is a family just like this in the building where I live, and there is only one difference - they are Asian. So I do nothing, and nor do any of the other nice liberals who live here, even though this family is as British as we are. Isn't there a word for treating people differently because of the colour of their skin?