Saturday, August 06, 2005

Multiculturalism

Tory shadow home secretary David Davis inaugurates a debate on multiculturalism with his piece in the Telegraph earlier this week, arguing that multiculturalism as practised in Britain - 'allowing people of different cultures to settle without expecting them to integrate into society' - is not working; the American version supposedly works better, inculcating greater pride in the nation's values among minorities. (But public culture in general (schools, workplaces, churches) in the US pays much greater fealty to the 'nation's values', both in times of war and peace, than in Europe. Indeed, this difference is frequently a matter of disdainful pride for West Europeans who think they have successfully and rightly buried the genie of nationalism. The real difference between both sides of the Atlantic isn't so much in their policies towards minorities, but in the place that nation and nationalism occupy in everyday public culture at large.) Then there are Davis' precarious distinctions between good imams and bad imams, the 'true Muslim faith', etc. Time to read Mahmood Mamdani, perhaps.

Hanif Kureishi: 'Religions may be illusions, but these are important and profound illusions. And they will modify as they come into contact with other ideas. This is what an effective multiculturalism is: not a superficial exchange of festivals and food, but a robust and committed exchange of ideas...When it comes to teaching the young, we have the human duty to inform them that there is more than one book in the world, and more than one voice, and that if they wish to have their voices heard by others, everyone else is entitled to the same thing.' There is much wisdom in this short piece, particularly the observation that political and social systems have to define themselves in terms of what they exclude, 'and conservative Islam is leaving out a lot' - 'not only sexuality...but the whole carnival of culture that comes from human desire'. That's why Mohja Kahf's Sex and the Umma column is not just enjoyable reading, but a vital act of resistance.

Julian Baggini's poppadom paradox reminds me of the annoyance I felt on this trip when, dining at a restaurant in Selcuk only minutes from the impressive ruins of Ephesus, I was subjected to Madonna, the complete works. Oh why can't they play Turkish music, I thought, after we've come all this way.

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