Awash in multicultural mishaps

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The Article

The most pressing issue in the West at the present time relates to culture and not the economy.

The issue has emerged in American politics in terms of immigration, and elsewhere in the West as to how far must liberal-democracy bend itself to accommodate immigrants from non-Western cultures without undermining its own cultural identity.

This cultural identity was derived from and evolved out of the immense struggles for individual freedom and democracy spread over several centuries since the Age of Enlightenment unfolded in Europe from the 18th century onwards.

At the core of this culture is the affirmation that an individual irrespective of gender and colour represents the centre of the liberal world’s ethical foundation. This was a radically altered vision of humanity rejecting the view that an individual is an appendage of the collective – tribe, caste or class – into which he or she is born.

The triumph of the West as the second millennium ended was a confirmation of this liberal idea, however incomplete and with distance still to go, of freedom and democracy.

But the liberal West is never quite at a standstill, and it is given to relentlessly experimenting with change or self-questioning arrangements made in human affairs.

It was in the circumstances of an end to Europe’s overseas empires and with it the beginnings of a remarkably new movement of peoples from non-Western societies to the West that the new politics of multiculturalism took shape.

Since the early 1970s the movement of population grew from less developed to developed economies, from broken and poor societies to rich societies, and mostly in one direction from non-Western countries to the West.

Also during this period the West – resulting from the mix of the long and sometime frustratingly self-doubting conflict with the former Soviet Union during the Cold War, the civil rights struggle in the United States, the internal quarrels with ethnic or linguistic based nationalist movements as with Quebec in Canada or the Basque in Spain, the rise of Western feminism followed by demands for equal treatment by homosexuals, and the need for immigrants to meet the declining birth rate and changing demography – increasingly conceded to the relativist argument that all cultures are of equal merit and deserving of equal treatment.

Multiculturalism became attractive under these circumstances, and the politics of multiculturalism eventually amounted to making concessions to the newcomers on the grounds that such accommodation would lend itself to greater harmony among people of diverse cultures cohabitating together.

But the worm inside the multicultural apple was the mistaken view that the West could extend equal treatment to other cultures based on group identity without concomitant erosion of its own cultural value of individual freedom.

Multiculturalism weakened the argument that newcomers should adjust to the cultural values of the West by adopting the guilt-ridden notion that any such demand smacks of imperialism.

It became a one-way concession in which the West did the conceding and non-Westerners made rising demands.

This was untenable, and then Islamist terrorists with their fellow travellers and apologists struck their fatal blow to multiculturalism.

The West is now exposed to the paradox of how self-generated loss of cultural identity is politically weakening in a global village, and the task ahead is for its recovery from multicultural delusion by reasserting once again values that made it strong and appealing to the rest.

Salim Mansur
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