Cultures Aren't Equal
Anyone who has been keeping up with British opinion since the July 7 bombings will have noticed that "multiculturalism" is under sharp attack. Multiculturalism preaches that we should allow and encourage immigrants and their children to maintain and celebrate their own culture apart from the national culture. Society should be not a melting pot but, in the phrase of former New York Mayor David Dinkins, "a gorgeous mosaic." That mosaic, of course, looked less gorgeous as people surveyed the work of the British-born-and-raised bombers.
In the past, Tony Blair has spoken favorably about multiculturalism. But on July 7, he struck a different note. "It is important, however, that the terrorists realize our determination to defend our values and our way of life is greater than their determination to cause the death and destruction of innocent people and impose their extremism on the world" (italics added). Sadly, the multiculturalist policies of Blair's Labor government and its Conservative predecessors gave refuge to preachers of Islamist hate in what some have called "Londonistan." Even before the bombings that prompted second thoughts, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality said, "We need to assert there is a core of Britishness," and the former home secretary introduced English-language tests for citizenship. Now the Blair government has moved to expel Muslim clerics who preach hatred and terrorism, and the left-wing Guardian fired a writer who was a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a radical group that advocates a "clash of civilization" and urges Muslims to kill Jews.
Imbalance. Writers in other tolerant countries have been noticing the blowback from multiculturalism. The Dutch novelist Leon de Winter wrote that as traditional Calvinist discipline frayed and Muslim immigrants rejected Dutch tolerance, "the delicate mechanism of Holland's traditional tolerant society gradually lost its balance." In The Age, the Melbourne, Australia, newspaper, Pamela Bone wrote, "Perhaps it is time to say, you are welcome, but this is the way it is here." The Age 's Tony Parkinson quoted the French writer Jean Francois Revel's Cold War comment: "A civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself." Tolerating intolerance, goodhearted people are beginning to see, does not necessarily produce tolerance in turn.
The conservative Telegraph of London ran a series of articles on extolling Britishness and placed on its website the contributions, positive as well as a few negative, of dozens of citizens. The nonagenarian W.F. Deedes, a journalist since the 1930s, perhaps summed it up best: "The reputation we have in distant lands, I have learned in my travels, is higher than we give ourselves. They admire us for our social stability, our parliamentary and diplomatic experience, for fair play, for tolerance, for a willingness to help lame dogs over stiles, as well as for some of the qualities Shakespeare sang about in his plays." When I was in Britain for the election in May, I was surprised to hear nothing from Tony Blair (or other politicians) about Britain's positive contributions to the world. Now they are being heard.
Multiculturalism is based on the lie that all cultures are morally equal. In practice, that soon degenerates to: All cultures all morally equal, except ours, which is worse. But all cultures are not equal in respecting representative government, guaranteed liberties, and the rule of law. And those things arose not simultaneously and in all cultures but in certain specific times and places--mostly in Britain and America but also in other parts of Europe.
In America, as in Britain, multiculturalism has become the fashion in large swaths of our society. So the Founding Fathers are presented only as slaveholders, World War II is limited to the internment of Japanese-Americans and the bombing of Hiroshima. Slavery is identified with America though it has existed in many societies, and the antislavery movement arose first among English-speaking evangelical Christians.
But most Americans know there is something special about our cultural heritage. While Harvard and Brown are replacing scholars of the founding period with those studying other things, book buyers are snapping up first-rate histories of the founders by David McCullough, Joseph Ellis, and Ron Chernow. Multiculturalist intellectuals do not think our kind of society is worth defending. But millions here and increasing numbers in Britain and other countries know better.
This story appears in the August 15, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.