Inhibitions from confronting social attitudes

Al Razi, an Ex-Muslim and member of the CEMB forum, has a piece about the Rotherham mess at Left Foot Forward.

…we must ask if ideological multiculturalism as a political, social policy leads to a situation in which a cover up of uncomfortable issues becomes inevitable. When this happens, suffering and abuse occurs, and rather than dealing boldly with it, what results is a pattern of denial, obfuscation and continuance.

Multiculturalism concerned exclusively with communal religious identity politics, pursued as a social policy, is deeply reactionary and leads to the oppression of women who feel its effect most acutely. It dehumanises us all, because it asserts that we are not individuals, but members of religious or ethnic groups who must be dealt with according to the mediated authority of ‘community leaders’. It creates inhibitions from confronting social attitudes that must be addressed urgently, and in doing so, it allows social problems to flourish.

It’s an issue with the Catholic church, too, especially in the US, where many Catholics are recent immigrants or the children of less-recent immigrants, and subject to the usual outgroup-ostracism and attendant disadvantages. That can make some people leery of being critical of the church…and you know the rest.

The taboos that this form of communalist identity politics engender lead to the perpetuation of reactionary attitudes and effects. The damage it can do to our social fabric, trust, and individual freedoms is an attack on everything that the Left should be defending.

The time has come for the British Left to actively defend the secular space and oppose the assumptions and practise of reactionary communalist identity politics as a social policy, and truly cosmopolitan values that reject cultural and moral relativism must be central to our movement.

It can be difficult, and tricky, but it’s the only way to go.


  1. quixote says

    “It’s the only way to go.”

    Absolutely. 100%. I have a hard time understanding why that even needs explaining to anyone with pretensions to fairness.

    Communalist identity politics only work if you’re sure all other groups should be wiped off the earth. If you call yourself multicultural, you must defend secular public space. If not, what’s your argument when I say my religion/culture/whatever is to kill yours? Say, “Sure. I’ll go annihilate myself right now”?

    (Well, that is what they require of women, but you know what I mean.)

  2. RJW says

    Yes, indeed, we need to ask.

    There was never any need for multiculturalism as an institutionalised ideology, liberal democracies are intrinsically multicultural. Multiculturalism is not the business of governments.

    Al Razi makes an excellent point about the contemporary Left’s apparent abandonment of secular liberal values in favor of ‘identity politics’.

  3. Shatterface says

    One problem is that the term ‘multiculturalism’ is used in two different ways: there’s cultural diversity – the coexistence of different cultures within a parent culture – and the political organisation or administration of this mix.

    When people complain about multiculturalism it’s usually the first meaning of the term they are addressing; this comes from a resentment of the existence of other cultures within what is considered the ‘authentic’ or ‘traditional’ national culture, and fears about the ‘dilution’ or ‘mongrelisation’ of that national culture.

    Because this ‘critique’ of multiculturalism is largely xenophobic it tarnishes attempts to address the second meaning of multiculturalism: the political and economic administration of different cultures within the wider social body.

    This second critique of multiculturalism addresses the problem of creating or exacerbating social divisions according to ethnicity as a deliberate administrative tool. This is the assignment of people to cultural or ethnic boxes, each of which is seen as ‘authentic’ to that culture; the funding of community projects rooted purely in ethnicity (rather than, say, class or locality); and above all the promotion of (usually self-appointed) ‘community leaders’ to represent those communities, usually drawn from the most privileged and conservative branches of that community.

    The problem is that anyone attempting to address this second notion of multiculturalism is automatically assumed to be attacking ‘multiculturalism’ in the first sense of the term, either by liberals and left wingers who don’t want to face up to the reality of divisive policies, or right wingers who think you are on their side because they are too stupid to understand your actual argument.

  4. johnthedrunkard says

    ‘That can make some people leery of being critical of the church…and you know the rest.’

    If so, why did the US lead the world in reporting on Catholic abuse of children? Where they church has enjoyed more of the unquestioned power that it demands; e.g. Ireland, Mexico, Holland, Germany, The Philippines, it has taken years longer for the ugly truth to come out.

  5. Dan says

    The report is specific about what exactly was wrong the the “multicultural” structures in Rotherham, which is that when the Council/agencies wanted to “engage” with the “Asian community” (a knotty shorthand), it dealt with the mainly male religious/community establishment. It didn’t seem to talk, or talk enough, to groups such as Pakistani-heritage women’s groups – who complained about their concerns not being heard. Now, it also says that a current leader of the local council of mosques had tried to improve representation on the council by women – but still, this is a community where abuse is even more under-reported than in the majority community, and where there is even more of a conspiracy of silence and very conservative views held which combine to make the problem invisible – taboo even. That doesn’t mean it’s approved of, but that it’s too shameful to discuss. The point being that where “multiculturalism” as a structural means of managing separate communities within a diverse society, it’s going to fail to recognise diversities within those communities. It’s in the interests of women to break down those structures, to find ways through them.

    I shouId add that the majority “white” community has little to feel superior about: it’s evident that the “shame” reaction is not confined to the Asian community, to judge from the attitudes of the police.

    I should also add, and others have said much the same, that there are plenty of people out there whose problem with multiculturalism is not the “ism” but the “multi” – they oppose diversity (or what they see as a left-imposed ideology of mass immigration), not the political structures by which different groups (constructed as different groups anyway) have been managed and “represented”. It is, as others have said, important to be crystal clear on this.

  6. sambarge says

    If so, why did the US lead the world in reporting on Catholic abuse of children?

    The US didn’t lead the world in reporting on Catholic abuse of children.

    Don’t mistake the US not noticing the reports of child abuse until it was reported in the US with the US leading the way. To be fair to Americans, the Vatican ignored it until it got attention in the US too. Pope John Paul II only apologized when they tithe base from the US was threatened. The rest of the world noticed that.

    The Vatican didn’t give a damn when it was Canadian, Irish, Italian, Peruvian, Brazilian, Filipino, Kenyan, Austrian, etc. children. But Americans are rich and litigious. When the lid came off the pot in Boston, New York and Chicago, it suddenly became an issue to be addressed.

    I’m not minimizing the American experience but, if anything, it supports Ophelia’s statement. There are a lot of Americans (compared to the other countries I’ve listed) and a lot of Americans are Catholic, particularly in urban, immigrant neighbourhoods. Child sex abuse in the Church was repeatedly, consistently hushed up by people (including victims and parents of victims) who felt an allegiance to the Church that both allowed the abuse and covered it up. That allegiance was borne from the belief that the Church and Catholicism as a whole, were more important than this isolated incident. It was only when there were too many incidents and they proved to not be so isolated did people abandon that allegiance.

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