Sunday, 27 February 2011

Liberalism with "Muscles".

 The Multicultural Dream?

In Britain the debate over multiculturalism has once again been jump-started by David Cameron, while the EDL protested against Islamism in Luton and just after the Oldham by-election was secured through flat out race-baiting on the part of Jack Straw. Notably Jack Straw was on Question Time, alongside Sayeeda Warsi, the same night as Nick Griffin and the programme quickly degenerated into a hour of narcissistic anti-fascism on the part of the establishment which gave Griffin a soap box to stand on and rail against the elites. No mention of the glass ceiling in the Lib-Lab-Con establishment which maintains it as a predominantly white, male and wealthy Parliament. It was Jack Straw who began the debate over "Britishness" and has since brought other xenophobic worries into the mainstream media. Warsi was also given a pass for her homophobia. The political class ought to ask itself why the BNP exists in the first place, for it is in part a creature of social deprivation which has been spawned by the economy and raised by a debauched political discourse.

David Cameron has called, presumably in the place of multiculturalism, for a "muscular liberalism" which does not tolerate extremism but has room for the Other. This comes from the neoconservative wing of government embodied in the presence of Michael Gove and Liam Fox. The intolerant brand of liberal values peddled by this wing is similar to the platform of the UKIP, which might be best summed up as a right-wing fruitcake of conservatives and ultra-nationalists brought together by Euroscepticism. Individual freedom is important to this kind of liberalism but with strict limits, which come in the form of bans on specific clothing in the case of UKIP. As for Cameron's "muscular liberalism", we have seen it has room for control orders in all but name which would make it no different to the supposedly "state-imposed multiculturalism" of New Labour. In this sense liberalism is being put on a pedestal as a neutral framework for all other cultures, but in order for this to work we must all be liberal and not impose our values on others.

The Conservative Party have long stood for a kind of liberalism that adheres to an idea of freedom which is tied to free-market principles. For the Tories, freedom is to be guaranteed by stripping away all constraints on the individual - but only in economic terms. So away with regulations and taxes for the sake of individual freedom. In the Thatcher years we saw the rise of unconstrained freedom in the market place along with Victorian moralising about permissive society.  We might describe this as a division between the private vices and the public benefits reaped through such vices, private meaning the market place and public meaning society as a whole. Freedom is acceptable so long as it is an economic doctrine, but in society as a whole it can be curtailed for the sake of "nationhood", "security" etc. So there are calls to "Ban the Burka" for the sake of "English values". The Tory rhetoric against multiculturalism should be understood in this context. A nationally defined leitkultur, as the Germans would say, which would constrain the multiple cultures in Britain whilst individuals are granted greater freedom in the market place.

In the 1970s the Tory alternative to the post-war settlement could be summarised as a restoration of national competitiveness through liberal economic reform, defence of British sovereignty in Europe; maintenance of national identity and the national state through a rigid public order. The Atlantic alliance with America was justified as a way of maintaining the standing of Britain in the world, though the alliance is certainly contradictory as the position is supposedly nationalistic whilst also a liberal hack for the Washington Consensus. Instead of providing a welfare state the Party would provide a nationhood for the masses. This is the tradition of which David Cameron is a representative and that would put his beliefs at odds with the consistently illiberal conservatism of Phillip Blond, the origins of the "Big Society" idea. As that vision adheres to a view of Britain as an organic society, in which socio-economic change ought to be slow for the sake of cohesion, held together by community and cooperation as opposed to the state or the market. Cameron has opted for a "muscular liberalism" as an alternative to multiculturalism because it doesn't exclude the economics of dispossession.

Relativism versus Chauvinism.

The right-wing commentariat have been cheering on Cameron for his critique of "state-sponsored multiculturalism". Multiculturalism, like political correctness, has been abandoned the established Left formerly known as the Labour Party and now it is openly attacked by one and all. The hard Right defining the rules of the game and positing the Left as a spectral source of a "cultural Marxism" determined to erode our freedoms. Now we hear David Cameron talking of "British values" as he invokes the failures of multiculturalism. This is nothing unusual and we have heard the same from the Blairites about tackling "militant Islam". The debate over "Britishness" and the veil are symptomatic of this type of discourse. The reactionary press have an agenda and there's plenty of room to pander to it in Cameron's hollow pragmatism. New Labour pandered to the 'little Eichmanns' in a similarly shameless display of opportunism and a deep contempt for the public.

It is no coincidence that the most dedicated exponents of US-led globalisation, from the Blairites to UKIP, have also been critical of multiculturalism along chauvinist lines, which might be summed up as a covert form of racism, positions itself as the working-mans' voice against the Establishment. It is a liberal elite posited as the engineers of multiculturalism out of a destructive experiment with cultural relativism. This elite of "do-gooders", often conjured up by the chauvinists, as the enemy of the working-man is an invention of the right-wing media. Supposedly there is an elite who want to see Shariah courts in Britain and halal meat in the supermarket, when in actuality the elites of this country are deeply critical of multiculturalism. The Conservatives and New Labour have both criticised multiculturalism over the years. Immigration has always gone on, there have been openings but always with enormous opposition along racist lines. There was even opposition to letting Jews come to Britain as the Nazis came to power, our reason was that Jews are too "left-wing". After the Jews and the Irish it was black people from the West Indies and then it was Asians.

It was only last year that the conservative German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Man-Woman of Hamburg, declared that multiculturalism had "utterly failed". Months before the Rat Man banned the veil in France in a disgraceful display of poujadism and went on to expell the Roma from the country. Even before that a state of emergency was established in Italy in 2008, partly to defend the country from illegal immigration as well as sexual deviancy and organised crime. Before that a spate of racist attacks against the Roma in Northern Ireland shocked the public. These are not the cure to a state-sanctioned disease, multiculturalism was never been implemented as an official state doctrine in Britain and in a sense we have merely flirted with a particular kind of multiculturalism in Europe. In Eastern Europe we can see the Roma are still waiting for equal standards of education and remain the subject of frequent abuse. The liberals condemn this as racism, and rightly so, whilst the nationalists reflexively play the freedom card.

In the postmodern nationalism of today there is a "You may!" quality which presents itself as permissive in the sense of "You may use the n-word because they use it!" Freedom of speech and expression become umbrellas for racism, misogyny and homophobia. Meanwhile the liberals who actually defend multiculturalism are found "guilty" of trampling on such freedoms for the sake of "anti-British" agenda. The origins of this permissiveness can be seen clearly in history as the "Know Nothing" movement of the US campaigned against Catholic immigration, particularly from Ireland, on the grounds that it could undermine American democracy and lead to the rise of a Catholic state run by the Pope. This nativist movement called for severe limits on immigration from Catholic countries and restrictions on languages other than English. This is not so far away from what the EDL are doing to "defend" the country from Islamisation. Though the EDL, like the Tea Party and UKIP, are all effectively hacks for neoliberalism and globalisation led by the US through war. All under the guise of defending the values and sovereignty of Britain.

We are One!

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is not so much a name for a country as indicative of an expired compromise. There is no such thing as a "British nation", the tribes of the United Kingdom are English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh. So we should know what to think of the talk of "Britishness" and we should not be surprised we have no idea what it means to be "British". We know that "Britishness" is the sense of nationhood and culture shared by all. But the best we can do to define British identity is to make a risible list of football teams, brands of tea and take note of widespread binge-drinking. The words "Britishness" and "anti-British", or even "anti-English", are in the "blut und boden" lexicon of totalitarianism. Only in states like the Soviet Union were such concepts, e.g. anti-Soviet, used to stifle debate and clamp down on dissent. Only demagogues with a quasi-fascist agenda speak in such terms to divide and conquer the white working-class by pitting it against the minorities, who are in the same boat as white working-people. 

The real danger of multiculturalism is that it is a "benign" form of apartheid in itself. The official ideological justification of apartheid in South Africa was that it was necessary to put the African tribes into bantustans in order to prevent them from being "drowned" in the white civilisation. Of course the racism of the regime was barely concealed by the "official reason" for this separation of the African tribes, Indians and "coloureds" from the white Afrikaner. This is the logical conclusion of multiculturalism in it's liberal form, it is hegemonic as liberalism is itself and it clouds a whole array of inequality and prejudice. So the claims by nationalists that multiculturalism is racist to white people are utterly absurd. For the liberal defenders of multiculturalism the Other should be included, but only so long as the Otherness is strictly non-invasive and can be easily contained into a community. Note that the cultural chauvinists make a similar point, that the immigrants who integrate into our society are not the problem and it is just radical Islamism which is the "problem".

It is not that the EDL only targets Islam in it's most reactionary and violent manifestation, it is simply the old school rejection of the Other on the behalf of Western values. This is the reason that the EDL oppose Islam, which they constantly remind us is not racial, but actually only target Asian Muslims and chant things like "We love the floods!" in reference to the recent floods in Pakistan. The likes of Stephen Lennon, Nick Griffin and Nigel Farage latch onto the failure of the Left to adequately condemn homophobia and misogyny in the Muslim community to strengthen a reactionary platform. In the Netherlands nationalists have tapped into the anger of the gay community against homophobia among Muslims. In defence of freedom, women's rights and gay rights etc. the EDL calls for bans on veils, halal meat and mosques all the while chanting "We've fucked all of Allah's wives!" While it is true that homophobia is prevalent within the Muslim community, the EDL are not giving the answers and the Left must step in to take the side of the victim. 

For the alternative to cultural relativism, as manifested in multicultural rhetoric, which is actively opposed to racist populism we should turn to the recent events in Egypt. We have seen mass protests across the Middle East and the fall of Mubarak in Egypt where hundreds of thousands poured into Tahrir Square. Not only was the movement secular and democratic, it was grass-roots based and called for social justice. The most sublime moment of the protests in Tahrir Square were when Muslims and Coptic Christians were brought together in prayer and chanted "We are one!" In a common struggle against tyranny the oppressed came together regardless of religious and ethnic "divisions" to fight together. The "muscular" liberality offered by Cameron would have been insufficent, as would the liberal variety of multiculturalism. A common project is what is needed to bring us together, it ought to be constructed along the lines of universalism and militant egalitarianism. Of which the liberals and the fascists are both ideological enemies.

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