Multicultural Melanie

Reading Melanie Phillips [“denouncing multiculturalism”:http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/california/la-oe-phillips20may20,1,4507419.story?coll=la-headlines-pe-california] in the _LA Times,_ an irony occurs to me. Her stuff falls into a very familiar category of bad foreign correspondence: it sounds perfectly credible unless you actually live in the country concerned or speak the language. There is obviously a market in the USA at the moment for Europeans prepared to denounce Europe as weak, spineless, appeasing, practically occupied by the Muslim hordes already. It is an explanation for what is happening that has the merit of casting America as uniquely virtuous.

There’s nothing new about this, of course. Flattering the imperial power is a time-honoured and often successful strategy. It suits both sides. In fact, our rule in India depended on this mechanism, which evolved, over time, into the idea that religious comunities should police themselves and produce their own leaders (dependent, of course, on our favour) to run themselves. This was the matrix from which “multiculturalism” in Britain evolved, and the people most loudly denouncing it in the American newspapers stand, in relation to their American paymasters, exactly as the multicultural specialists like the Muslim Council of Britain stand in relation to the Blair government.

The analogy gets richer than that. It has clearly been the aim of Amercan, and in British terms Atlanticist, foreign policy for the last fifty or so years to weaken the Europen Union and prevent the emergence of anything like a federal states of Europe. Again, this is hardly new. It’s called “divide and rule”. It’s what empires do. So the denunciations of the Dutch, Germans, French, etc as appeasing traitors to civilisation are not in any significant way different to the denunciations that you get from one Muslim sect of all the other ones as “not really Islamic” and so on and so forth. Just as some forms of multi-culturalism within Britain promote distrust and disharmony between communities, which in turn increases the importance of the “community leaders”, so do people like Phillips, and, presumably, AHA, increase their own importance and power in America by making Europe a slightly worse place for everyone else who has to live in it.

Actually, I am ambivalent about Melanie Phillips. If she could inhale without outrage, and exhale without hyperbole, I would listen a lot more. But then, I suppose, she would be poor and obscure.

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6 Responses to Multicultural Melanie

  1. H. E. Baber says:

    In spite of Bush’s remarks some time back about “old Europe” there is no market for the view that Europe is spineless, weak and appeasing. Americans on the ground have no particular interest in dismantling the EU or undermining the prospects for a federal states of Europe that could compete with the US for world domination–whatever the program of the current regime may be. Looking out at this bunch of kids, whose logic exam I’m now proctoring, I would bet that most have never even heard of the EU.

    I can guarantee you that most Americans who read this article would not read it as either an attack on Europe or an affirmation of American virtue. I would bet that most of us–and here I’m not being my perverse self but just speaking as an American–would simply read it as an attack on multiculturalism: “We’ve got it here–gee, whiz, they’ve got it in Europe too!”

    And, c’mon, speaking of hyperbole–the idea that Phillips or Hirsi Ali are Uncle Toms working for “American paymasters” is at least fanciful. Interestingly, though, I now have a better idea of why there’s so much flak about AHA. It looks like Europeans and Americans plug the story into 2 different templates. We don’t see this as a flight from decadent Europe to the virtuous US or as an affirmation of American superiority. Again, guessing: to the extent that Americans pick up this story at all they just see it as a case of a public intellectual–nationality irrelevant–denouncing multiculturalism and “political correctness.”

    That isn’t to say that the current regime, or the American Enterprise Institute, won’t use AHA to promote an agenda–but that the agenda is not going to be American virtue vs European decadence. It’s likely to be the domestic anti-immigration agenda.

  2. acb says:

    So they don’t get the _Wall Street Journal_ in San Diego? I’m happy to believe that there is very little market for any opinions about anywhere abroad, but when things _are_ said about Europe in general or France in particular, they are very often as I described them. Don’t you remember the man on the radio programme with you who was asked for an example of a society which had lost its moral compass and replied — “Well, Frayunce” as if this were the most obvious and natural thing in the world. People like Mark Steyn and the ridiculous Krauthammer and so on are alway banging on like that. It is a gratifying corrective to my European self-esteem to know that people don’t htink they are talking about anyhting important or interesting. But a damn sight less of a market for tales of European success, far-sightedness, courage, etc.

  3. quinn says:

    This is what I call the the Thomas Friedman moment, from when I read the Lexus and the Olive Branch years ago. It all looked very interesting and surprising until I got to the chapter on the computer industry and technology. I read that bit, and said “Hey, this is all *Bullshit!* Wait a second, if this bit I know about is complete bullshit, all this stuff previous I don’t know about…. oh dear.” She really does look like she’s making an interesting point, then suddenly it’s all a pile of leaves.

    Alas, I suppose that’s why I’m poor and obscure: I can’t make a pile of leaves look interesting.

  4. H. E. Baber says:

    Some doctrines of conservative politicos and pundits play to the mass market; others are largely for in-house consumption and mutual grooming. Stories about America as the City on the Hill, about European decadence and American virtue, are amongst the latter. I’m talking about the mass market, as represented by masses of undergraduates who faithfully reflect the views of their middle-class parents on all issues apart from sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

    As far as foreign policy goes their idea isn’t that the US is an exemplar of virtue but simply that we’re exceptionally rich–and that foreigners want to get our stuff or, at least, trash the place and beat us up out of envy and spite, and that we’ve got to get them before they get us. Recall that when W. changed his story about WMD’s the American public didn’t mind–because he consistently and continually told the story that mattered to most Americans: “the Bad Guys are out to get us because they envy our stuff (code words: “way of life,” “freedom”); we’ve got to get them before they get us, and fight the battle in their territory rather than ours.” That’s the War on Terrorism theme, which still plays in spite of the public’s dissatisfaction with how he’s handled Iraq and virtually everything else. That’s why Americans are so keen on guns–handguns, not shotguns to pop off wild geese: we want them to protect our homes and stuff that the local Bad Guys are after.

    If anything the mass market view of Europe is something like this: we’re protecting them from the Bad Guys who want their stuff too, but they’re ungrateful, don’t get it and most don’t help. They’re freeloading. I’ve heard the same line about our lousy expensive health care system: why is it so much more expensive? Because we do all the research, we pay for all that knowledge and technological development, which they take without so much as a thank you, and use to provide socialized medicine on the cheap.

    The theme that plays to the mass market is not American virtue but American wealth and largesse. In a survey in which Americans were asked to guess how much of GDP we spend on foreign aid, the average guess was 23%–when it’s well under 1% (I think 0.13%). We protect, finance and educate the world but get little help and no gratitude.

  5. Sirocco says:

    I just couldn’t be bothered to register for that, or even swing by bugmenot. But here is Mr. Muhammed Cartoons himself making what I presume is a similar point. His argument is not entirely without merit.

    Incidentally, Rose recently interviewed Richard Perle for _Jyllands-Posten_ . For Perle, Europe is both spineless and miserly with development aid, whereas the US is upstanding and generous; and by the way, all power in Iraq should have been given to Ahmad Chalabi. It’s pretty damn amusing actually.

  6. acb says:

    Sirocco: thanks for that Fleming Rose interview. I thought it made a lot of sense, too. It was also delivered in a very level tone. Harriet — whatever you’re paid to teach these people, it’s probably not enough.

    In general, I think that Melanie Phillips is clearly right about some forms of multiculturalism. The trouble with her attacks is that M/C was not foisted on the populace by wicked Hampstead liberals, as she thinks. In the case that I know in any detail, in Bradford it was a _Conservative_ council that made some of the biggest and earliest concessions to Pakistani Muslim sensibilities, partly at least because they didn’t want to interfere with family life. That this family life was twisted and dysfunctional didn’t become apparent till much too late. The spectacle of immigrants who don’t want to integrate is something new in Britain. No one was in the least bit prepared for it.

    If you’re going to do things like break up the oppression of girls in some Muslim comunities, this requires an expensive willingness to dig down into family structures which the British social services haven’t got and won’t get.

    If the state can’t do it, I don’t see that it can be done without co-opting some of the forces within the Muslim communities to this end. And that means doing it in multicultural ways,. It is all a tangled, twisted mess and ultimately I think it will be about the forms of feminism which immigrant communities appropriate.

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