Friday, March 4, 2011

David Round: Multiculturalism and Diversity - part 7

Pansy Wong, New Zealand’s first Cabinet Minister of Asian descent, was not a Minister for long before she was obliged to resign, after revelations that her husband, travelling to China with her on a trip paid for by the taxpayer, had conducted private business at the taxpayer’s expense. I cannot remember now precisely what her excuses were; it would be hard to believe that an astute lady like her, a Member of Parliament for several terms, was actually ignorant of or had forgotten the rules; but no excuses are satisfactory. If stupidity is not the explanation, then the only other explanations are worse. Be that as it may, the Christchurch Press of the 20th of November 2010 contained an interesting letter to the editor from Ray Spring of Huntsbury Hill which made a very valid point. I observed several weeks ago that the understanding of most multiculturalists as to what culture actually is a shallow one. I am amazed at the number of times I have had offered to me, as a serious and major reason for the continuation of present policies, the utterly frivolous defence that immigration has given us an increasingly wide range of ethnic restaurants. ‘Culture’ seems to mean no more than exotic food and a few other splashes of colour for the jaded urban sophisticate; and as long as they can get really good fodder, who cares about anything else?

Mr Spring, like Pansy, came from Hong Kong, where Westerners ‘frequently adopted Asian habits such as a bit of tea money. One chap had his freezer stuffed with more cash than his wages. Allow 10% for bribes was how it worked. That was the system.’ Pansy Wong, he argues, was merely operating by the rules of her own culture. She ‘should be congratulated on using her Chinese contacts and Chinese way of doing things for the benefit of both her family and New Zealand….[She] should be reinstated as a Cabinet Minister. She has done nothing wrong.’

He gives another example. ‘Make female circumcision legal.’

Well, if we are to be genuinely multicultural, then he is absolutely right. Multiculturalism is not just a wide variety of ethnic restaurants. Exotic foods are a very minor cultural manifestation. I am not accusing Mrs Wong herself of being a party to bribery ~ but if personal contacts, bribery, what we would generally call corruption is part of a culture ~ as we must acknowledge is undoubtedly the case in many parts of the non-European world ~ then, if we are to accept that culture, we must accept the corruption. It is clearly the case that university students accused of cheating are disproportionately from Asian countries which have very different standards of acceptable behaviour in public life. The imitation paper money which the Chinese burn and thereby send to deceased ancestors and kindred has among its purposes the bribing of the various gate-keepers in the underworld. Back-handers are so much a part of life that they exist even in the afterlife. Even ghostly palms must be greased. This is clearly a very deeply ingrained part of Chinese culture. Again, certain religions require animals to be slaughtered in ways we consider inhumane. The oppression of women, and the mutilation of young girls with a broken bottle and some very nasty sewing, is a fundamental part of the culture of certain groups already in this country. Already, it seems, our country may have seen its first ‘honour killing’ of a woman by her husband. This, too, is part of another culture. Are we to accept these things? Or is our attitude to be only ’Yes, we will be multicultural, but we will only accept the parts of your culture which we find acceptable’? That, surely, would be a very high-handed arrogant attitude unacceptable to any true multiculturalist. It would be ‘cultural imperialism’. In fact, it would not be multiculturalism at all. It would be mere cherry-picking of the picturesque bits which are compatible with our own culture. It would be an admission, in fact, that real, genuine multiculturalism is out of the question.

And that admission would be right. A genuinely multicultural society is a contradiction in terms. A society must have a common culture. That is what a society is. We do not have to agree about everything, but there has to be widespread agreement about basic things. There can be no ‘society’ if some of us believe in the equality of the sexes and others believe that women should spend all their lives mutilated, uneducated and imprisoned at home. There is no society where most of us work from Monday to Friday and have Saturday and Sunday off, but others insist that Friday is to be their holy day. There is no society where some of us believe in freedom of expression but others believe that any statement about their own religion which they decide they do not like may be punished by murder. There is no society where some of us believe in freedom of religion and others believe in the absolute superiority of their own and, again, are ready to kill in its service. There is no society where some of us believe in the equality of all citizens and others believe that a Maori ancestor entitles them to eternal privilege. There is no society if some of us were to speak one language, some of us another, and there were only mutual incomprehension between us. There is no society where some of us believe that decisions should ultimately be a matter for the people and others believe that their own race or religion or culture trumps anything else. There is no society where some people believe in impartial government and the rule of law and other people consider cronyism and corruption acceptable. There is in fact, and can never be, such a thing as a truly multicultural society. There can be, certainly, and often have been in human history, lands and empires where more than one social group has existed. But in such a land there has not been a multicultural society; rather, there have been many different groups or societies. A society does not exist merely because all sorts of different peoples live in a particular land. All sorts of peoples may live somewhere, yet ignore and despise each other, putting the interests of their own particular group first and considering themselves as having no commitment to any larger social entity. That is not a society, though; that is just groups of strangers occupying the same territory. Society is more than just people living in the same place; it is all the people living together and considering themselves as parts of a greater whole. A nation’s inhabitants may have all sorts of different origins, but they become a nation, a society, only when they put their new identity first and relegate their origins to second place. They may still treasure their origins, in their own time and at their own expense, but if they are to be part of society they must put their social common identity first.

The United States of America has accepted migrants from all over the world; but its policy towards them is encapsulated in the motto which it originally adopted to describe the union of the first thirteen colonies ~ E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. The United States is a melting-pot, where all citizens salute the flag, sing the national anthem and speak English. Europe now is, probably too late, waking up to the error of the opposite multicultural policy. France has banned the burqa, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands now require of new citizens a knowledge of local customs and attitudes, but it is all probably too little too late. Angela Merkel has recently dared to say ~ and good on her for doing so ~ that ‘we kidded ourselves for a while’, but that it was now clear that the attempt to build a society where people of very different languages and cultures could live side by side has ‘failed, utterly failed’. And, I add, not for want of trying, but because it is against nature .

Ray Spring observes, quite rightly, that ‘if we are not willing to accept [corruption, genital mutilation and the rest], then we should let in only people with a heritage of Germany, Scandinavia and the British Isles’. Well, I would be inclined to cast the net a little wider, to include Catholic as well as Protestant Europe, the old British Commonwealth and even North America ~ but his point is a valid one. What are we trying to do here? Is the purpose of our immigration policy the benefit of our country or the massaging of the egos of sanctimonious apostles of diversity? We have enough people in our country already; if we want more, then we should very calmly select those, and only those, who will be of benefit to us. They should be educated, speak English, have skills we need and be able to fit in without any trouble. Yes, that does mean that they will be mostly of Western European descent and culture. I think that would be a good policy. It is most certainly not one requiring any apology.
(To be concluded)

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