Ideology is difficult to listen to - because it is so familiar
OPINION:It’s comforting to view Anders Breivik’s horror of multiculturalism as deranged – but it is just an extreme example of what many feel
I KNOW well the line on Anders Breivik and his incoherent ramblings: a mass murderer enjoying the oxygen of publicity for his vile ideas. He should have been shot. He is, in fact, mad. His trial should not be reported. Liberals have said all these things and more. The quiet, almost sterile way in which the Norwegians are listening to him personifies the “muscular liberalism” that David Cameron once spoke of.
Breivik’s ideology may be difficult to listen to, but not because it is incoherent. Precisely the opposite: it is familiar. This is a problem for all of us, right or left. I wish I lived in a world where I didn’t have to hear gross generalisations about Islam and creeping sharia or see an increase in antisemitism, hear fantasies about feminism going too far, and where people didn’t feel their own culture to be “swamped”. I wish the word “war” wasn’t thrown around all the time – the war on terror, the war on drugs, the war on red tape. I wish that everything really was run by “cultural Marxists”. I wish my neighbour, who has lived here for 50 years and whose grandchildren tell me she prays for me, had learned English and left the house sometimes.
I see what fuelled Breivik’s crusader fantasy, his absolute fear of difference. It is not uncommon and it needs to be met head on. Still, any questioning of “multiculturalism” as it functions produces accusations of racism. The left closes in and closes down this debate. The middle class pretend Eid cakes, Diwali lights and a bit of jerk chicken will do. It won’t. Get on a bus and you will hear many a robust exchange about “ethnicity”, which polite and political conversation is afraid of. Not everyone who expresses a less than rosy view of how we all rub along is a fascist. That far-right extremists stalk Europe during a recession is not novel; that this tragedy should erupt in the richest country in the world is a shock.
What does Breivik mean by “multiculturalism”? It is clear that there are many definitions in play. It is surely a response to the model of assimilation, though there have always been communities that deliberately refuse to assimilate. Instead, we are encouraged to see various and different cultural communities as having equal rights. A dialogue is presumed to exist between said communities. But it often doesn’t. Grudging tolerance does. For some time, though, institutionalised multiculturalism has been experienced by some as special pleading. Certainly, in practice, in education it amounts to a mush where children are told that all religions are benign. I never want to sit through another nativity play with no mention of Jesus. Or a dire Kwanzaa in “African”. Historical amnesia does not “empower” any group.
Indeed, as Trevor Phillips, the chairman of Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission, pointed out years ago, well-intentioned multicultural dogma has not pushed more ethnic minorities into the upper echelons of politics, media or business. It changes nothing structurally.
The desire for a monoculture may well be nostalgic but it can be heard from Folkestone to Bradford. The flight from state schools of many middle-class parents is a flight from “diversity”, the fear that dare not speak its name. At its extreme, it incorporates a desire for a kind of re-masculation via the destruction of women’s rights and a simplistic nationalism. The collision of Breivik’s thinking with al-Qaeda’s is a circle of hell. Such thinking is driven by an urge for purity and an absolute certainty. The cultural relativism of liberals crumbles away here. We cannot “respect” those who would gun down our children.
In life, though there may be “passive tolerance”, there is often aggressive confrontation between all kinds of people about who has priority. It is rough. And tumble. The excitement of difference. Edgy, if you are young.
And frightening sometimes, too. Breivik’s fear of being taken over was out of all proportion, obviously, but how are people to express their fear of change? Is voicing concerns about the modern world not part of multicultural discourse?
For to express such a fear is to be labelled racist, uptight, intolerant. Parts of the left are still arguing for a multiculturalism that superficially placates but never involves deep and actual change. Breivik’s “crusade” meant murdering children yet he still sees himself as a victim. He is indeed part of the modern world, after all, where the language of victimhood is paramount.
Surely not everyone who feels unheard or uncomfortable is a defence league headcase or will engage in a Breivik-style jihad. But we do need to listen to our fellow citizens instead of preaching this tired doctrine of cultures all fitting together in a beautiful mosaic.
Multiculturalism too often means a kind of sampling, both musically and gastronomically, which is lovely for the bourgeoisie but leaves behind a huge and indeed ethnically diverse underclass who do not yearn for modernity and indeed oppose it. This is why we all keep talking about culture because we will not talk about class in a globalised economy. Modernity means we live without illusions but do not become disillusioned. Let’s discuss these illusions instead of wishing them away. This is cultural Marxism for you. This is the very thing Breivik feared. – (Guardian service)