Monday, February 21, 2011

Multicultural yet single-minded (Sunday Reflections for February 13, 2011)

Persian rap (this and picture below)

Last week, in a speech to world leaders, British Prime Minister David Cameron declared that multiculturalism has failed. From a report on MSNBC:

“Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream,” Cameron said during a panel discussion attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.”

Merkel had expressed similar views last fall. Cameron went on to say that such cultural separation was partly to blame for the development of domestic terrorists in the UK.

“Multiculturalism” is a hot-button issue around the world, including here in the US. One of the problems with discussing it, however, is that it means so many different things. Cameron and Merkel are right in some of what they say—and very wrong in others.

The whole issue has arisen because of the recent and historically unprecedented movement of peoples around the globe. This has been made possible by the revolutions in both transportation and communication of the past fifty years. For the same reasons millions of people left Europe for North America in the 19th and early 20th centuries, millions of people are migrating from so-called Third World countries to the developed nations in search of economic opportunity.

While in the US most concerns have been economic (e.g. the effect of immigration on wages and jobs), in Europe the concern has been more cultural and primarily with Muslims. Immigrants are not integrating into European society, say these critics, but are living separately in cultural if not physical ghettos. Being disconnected from mainstream British society, Cameron believes, leads disgruntled immigrants to more likely act out their frustrations through terrorism.

One response to Cameron has been to question how culturally disconnected Muslims in the UK actually feel. Surveys have shown them to actually have a high regard for the country’s institutions, three-quarters saying they strongly identified with their British homeland. The terrorist connection also seems more complicated on closer examination. Several of the most prominent British Muslim terrorists actually were well educated, wore Western clothes, and had culturally mixed friendships. Their families were often as shocked as anyone at their involvement.

At the height of the US immigration wave over a century ago, concerns were similarly expressed about lack of cultural integration or even threats to American culture. Immigrants then, too, were chided for not learning English or adopting American dress or habits. Many Protestants were concerned about the numbers of Roman Catholics entering the country. Business and political leaders feared immigrants were bringing radical European labor and socialist ideas. Despite that, most everyone today agrees America’s immigrants proved to be one of the country’s greatest assets.

The Muslim world is in an increasing state of unrest, and not for the reasons people have often assumed. The domestic protests and demonstrations of recent weeks have shown that much of its people’s dissatisfaction is due to economic issues, rather than ideological or cultural ones.

For some time, extremists have taken advantage of that frustration and used it to pursue their own political or religious agendas. It has been said all along, for example, that the West never really understood al-Qaida or how small its base of support really was. Lacking other options, millions of impoverished and oppressed Muslims cheered some of its attacks as ways to vent their anger at whoever was bigger and more powerful than they. In many of the recent protests, the familiar Muslim extremist groups have largely found themselves on the sidelines. At long last, and ignoring most recognized anti-government leaders (many of whom live outside their countries in exile), people have spontaneously and on their own brought down governments which were doing little or nothing for their welfare. This is truly remarkable.

There is no real evidence that Muslim immigrants are more resistant to cultural assimilation than any other group. Instead they seem to be following the same pattern as immigrants of previous eras. Those who actually make the move from one country to another are typically least likely to adopt the customs of their new land—as we all know, old habits die hard. Where real change comes is in the following generations. The children of immigrants almost always learn the native language and are much more likely to adopt local dress and other habits. Childhood, and especially adolescence, is an enormously leveling experience.

There is a big difference this time, however, but it has nothing to do with any unique traits of Muslims. What’s different now is the rise of a genuinely global culture. Just spend a little time watching some international TV or other media. Never have the world’s youth looked and acted more the same. On every continent you see the same uniform: t-shirts, jeans, baseball caps, athletic shoes. Music is truly the global language with almost every style having some international influence. Rap has become the universal music of the underprivileged. You can Facebook, Twitter, Google, and game online in every major language and many minor ones. And the list goes on and on of franchised or syndicated TV shows, restaurants, stores, magazines, clothing lines, electronics, cars, and much more that now have a global presence.

Multiculturalism really can’t be said to have failed. It simply is what is happening. It is what our world is becoming. It can be disruptive and make us uncomfortable. Yet those who are finding it most uncomfortable are those who have it coming. The ideas inspiring, and technology enabling, the overthrow of Muslim despots are very multicultural—but it’s the Muslim world that is shaking and benefiting.

On the other hand, the mass migration of people is also challenging the economic domination of business and political oligarchies around the world. Is it a threat of multiculturalism for people to decide that poverty is no longer an option—anywhere? Yes, a threat to some but a means to hope and empowerment for far more. And as for a multicultural source, we need look no further than the ancient Near Eastern world of the biblical prophets and of Jesus.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Outstanding post! Genetic differences within our spices are too insignificant to discuss, cultural differences, quite the opposite; and that's just fine. We can still be certain that there are common desires of all individuals irrespective of culture. The freedom, for example, not to be beaten, to take a walk, visit one's family and friends, enjoy a cup of coffee, or tea. Just what kind of people wouldn't agree to these.

In the history of mankind there has never been a successful society in which lying to one another is deemed a virtue. So when God say's do not bare false witness, I'm confident he knows of which he speaks.

The Gospel, in my experience, has been the best guide in assuring that we don't presume that different cultures don't enjoy safety, comfort, love, hope, and an occasional dinner with close friends.

A good place to start