Thursday, February 01, 2007

# Posted 6:20 AM by Patrick Belton  

Whenever I hear the word multiculturalism, I reach for my dictionary. When that's no help, I go to my library and the web, and find there such a total confusion of woolly definitions that I conclude the term is now virtually useless. The critics of multiculturalism say we need a stronger sense of shared Britishness. I agree - and constructing heated arguments around abstract isms of uncertain meaning is a deeply un-British activity. Let us, instead, say what we mean and mean what we say. Call a spade a spade, rather than attacking it as a manifestation of the dangerous ideology of gardentoolism.

'I mean the doctrine that seeks to Balkanise people and communities according to race and background.' Well, I'm glad we've got that clear. Multiculturalists are people who have a doctrine that leads them to seek to Balkanise Britain - meaning, presumably, to separate into ethnically based communities in a state of violent hostility to each other. Livingstone is the Slobodan Milosevic of Greater London. Readers will instantly recognise in Cameron's "absolutely clear" definition that oldest of politician's friends, the straw man. Set him up so as to knock him down.

The "multiculturalism" slogan of the right is crude shorthand for the worrying facts of separation. These are the "parallel lives" identified in the 2001 Cantle report, which memorably quoted a British Muslim of Pakistani origin: "When I leave this meeting with you, I will go home and not see another white face until I come back here next week." Ghettoes is the less polite term. This separation, which is cultural and psychological as much as physical, was not originally created by policies of multiculturalism, but what went by the name of multiculturalism in some British cities in the 80s and 90s did reinforce the separation. It privileged group identities, defined by origins or religion, over British or individual ones. It did not bring home to the children of Muslim immigrants any strong sense of shared Britishness. And it sometimes allowed the oppression of women to continue under the cloak of cultural respect.

If leaders of the right merely squawk "multiculturalism", some readers of the Daily Mail will understand them to be saying "these people should adapt to our ways or go back where they came from". If leaders of the left merely squawk back "Islamophobia" and "Iraq", Muslims and city councils will not be compelled to ask the hard questions they need to ask about some of their own community representatives and policies. And both the Tories and Labour will be tempted to nourish these misunderstandings in the run-up to the election, lest those voters turn elsewhere. But this battle is too serious to be reduced to a battle of straw men.
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Straw men are actually intended to be scary critters, descended from the Celtic wicker man, of which a remnant was burned at the last night of medieval English fairs in market towns. (Guy Fawkes, the original Guy, perhaps took his place in our - chillingly anti-Catholic - hearts.) The stiffy in the middle of all the naked people at Burning Man is a more modern relic.
Well, to continue the digression and at the risk of posting far too much to Oxblog, I attended many of these as a child (see link to Zozobra at bottom), which has the feel of a combo of religious and secular tradition. I can tell you, for young boys who invariably like to blow things up and light things on fire, this was spectacular (see picture at bottom):

"But he doesn’t remain placid long. As the hour of doom nears, Zozobra’s arms slowly begin to move and he emits the first menacing growl. He begins waving his arms more ominously at the crowd and the threatening growls increase.

When the flames at the base begin to roar, the red-clad figure of the Fire Spirit springs into view. He dances wildly up and down the steps at the base of the angry giant and takes a pair of red flares and threatens the flailing monster.

Old Man Gloom’s growls become agonizing screams as the Fire Spirit hurls the flares at him. Zozobra roars, his eyes glow with red flares, smoke pours out of his twisted mouth and rockets burst overhead as the fiery finish signals the beginning of a centuries-old celebration - Fiesta de Santa Fe - and everyone is free from suffering and woe which might dampen the spirits of Fiesta. Or at least they’re free until the classical mornings after which follows the festivities. Then they may wonder if Old Man Gloom doesn’t have a day or two of revenge, himself"

oops, quote link above, pic link mentioned here:
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