About 'Alpha+Good'

Alpha+Good (sort of a bad wordplay on Orwell and machismo) is a side project that belongs to 'Onklare taal' ('Unclear language'), the umbrella of several of my literary projects in Dutch. This section is almost exclusively in English and comprises my ongoing thoughts on progress, gender, politics and various other social themes. Are you a little lost? This link will take you right back to my home page.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

White Whine #3: Multiculturalism has failed

Multiculturalism is a fact. Just like gravity can't suddenly 'fail' to exist on earth (barring quantum fluctuations), so have cultures been living side by side for as long as cities have existed. To paint multiculturalism as a left-wing, happy go-lucky hobby project is completely ridiculous. What the right actually means to attack is the tensions between immigrant communities and their descendants with the communities that were around before their arrival.

By the way, I am going to talk mainly about North African and Turkish immigrants. Whenever a European person says 'multiculturalism has failed', they're not talking about any immigrant group other than Muslims. There have been occasional fears about Polish plumbers, but I'm quite sure that discussion wasn't as deeply mired in mutual prejudice, racism and cultural presuppositions.

No doubt that tensions exist. While I am very wary of making general assumptions about one culture, ethnic group or religion, there's no denying that the cultural distance between, say, a family with roots on the Moroccan countryside and native West-Europeans will be greater than between someone who's moved from Athens to Brussels. It is also true that for far too long, the left has looked the other way when the theme turns to crime among immigrant youth, how girls report feeling unsafe or getting harrassed by them, or how some young Muslims attack openly gay or Jewish people. That is seriously not cool at all and frustrates a lot of people.

The right, again, is also right in pointing out that bad social integration lies at the root of the problem, but it is completely wrong in putting the onus only on the immigrant communities themselves. Research has indicated that Flemings and Walloons are among the most racist people of Europe. Time and again, employers get outed for having a secretive policy of not hiring people who look too brown or are of North African or Turkish descent. This is a big, big problem because it foments frustration.

Traditionally, Mediterranean cultures are patriarchal. Their very overt patriarchy bothers a lot of Europeans (and Americans too, I am sure). To pick a less controversial example, if you've ever been to Southern Europe, you might have seen how from an early age, boys are sometimes treated as princes, and the bad apples among them act like impossible little Mussolinis with a huge entitlement complex. Now put little Mussolini in a context that simultaneously tells him that he's a prince, but the wider society he lives in considers him a backwards savage and oh yeah he's pretty sure he won't be able to find a job and never get to have all the fancy stuff or any sign that says he's made it.

Then, people he sees as 'naturally' inferior to him ascend beyond his social position: rich gay men with nice designer clothes, confident women who go out alone at night, or Jewish people who have always been stereotypically associated with financial success. Top it off with his confrontation with racism on an everyday level that you and I (I am pretty sure 99% of my audience will be white) never have to face, and yeah, you can sort of understand why a young man like that would be an explosive cocktail of anger. So they run back to their safe space: their culture, their traditions, their religion, the place where they meant something. The fact that snooty whites come around and tell them that their culture is backwards only strengthens this belief.

The left has generally remained silent on this issue. That's too bad, because I think that these problems can be successfully tackled from a very real socio-economic angle. Here's a few thoughts:
  • Workplaces where there's a healthy mix of sexes and ethnic backgrounds will decrease racism. You realise you're all in this together.
  • It is absolutely crucial that employers who are found to be discriminating get named, shamed and hung out to dry.
  • Concentration schools and ghettoes need to end.
  • Emancipatory initiatives from within immigrant communities should be supported, but the state shouldn't make its own - you can't force people to emancipate.
Other issues that could help advance the position of ethnic minorities more or less fall in line with other initiatives to create a more egalitarian society. I'm specifically not addressing homophobia and sexism within the Muslim community because I have a keen sense that these feelings are not altogether dissimilar of those in native, white underclasses in the West. They're just not as exacerbated by a sense of 'Kulturkampf' or racism.

Getting back to the idea of multiculturalism as a surefire mechanism to doom a society, I would say that this is simply not supported by history. The Roman Empire's might and power grew expansively as it absorbed other cultures and those cultures impacted Rome's. It's funny to note that even then, there were backwards, staunch defenders of Rome's "rural values". Genghis Khan built one of the world's most impressive armies (a questionable feat in itself, obviously) with a meritocratic structure, regardless of ethnic background.

No, rose-tinted glasses are a bad thing and stuff like this doesn't solve itself. But there is no alternative, and any serious solution can't be explained in a political slogan. Except, maybe, this one: we all suffer from various forms of oppression. Instead of snarling and guarding jealously whatever we have think we've got left, we need to make a stand together and solve this mess.