Friday, November 16, 2007

The politics of assimilation

Comment is free: The politics of assimilation
Keith Kahn-Harris' wise words on the Chief Rabbi's attack on multiculturalism.


The Contentious Centrist said...

"So "white" and largely middle class had Jews become, that they tended to be ignored by advocates of multiculturalism."

I thoroughly abhor this argument. I cringe when I read such phrases as “white skin previleges”. It automatically invokes the age old suspicion about Jews being the masters of hypocrisy and double face.

And de-facto, Multiculturalism has become a code word for favouring the concerns of Muslim immigrants over Jewish concerns about antisemitism.

The Multiculturalists do not promote brotherhood and better relationships. Multiculturalism has taken a very different direction from the one originally envisioned by its Canadian conceivers. It has caused communities to shut in upon themselves, to view with malice and suspicions any concessions made to other communities. It has led to a competition between rights to victimhood: whoever is deemed the greater victim is the greater benefitter from the multiculralist ethos.

Under these arrangements, Jews are always the losers, because Jews don't like to make waves. Here is an example: a couple of years ago, my son's Jewish school was firebombed by two young Palestinian immigrants. The library was burned and destroyed. The two criminals were apprehended by the police and charged with arson, not with a hate crime, not with terrorism, arson. The local Jewish community piled much praise upon the RCMP and the justice system. No one even mentioned that it was a hate crime par-excellence.

It has come to a point where the police cannot accuse members of an ethnic group of hate crime because such accusation might show the community in a bad light and reward the community on the other side of the harm. This approach only encourages stereotyping and works against genuine solicitude. Multiculturalism is a moral failure. If Jews feel that this system contravenes their well-being and safety, people should be paying attention, not criticize them for having grown fat and too "white".

Bob said...

Part of the problem here, I think, is around the definition of "multiculturalism". Do we accept the definition put forward by its conservative opponents (including Sacks) and its most barmy advocates, or do we accept the definitions put forward by the majority if its (less barmy) advocates? In short, there are lots of versions of multiculturalism, and only some of them let hate criminals off the hook in the name of cultural difference. For this reason, I find both attacks on and defences of multiculturalism unhelpful, because of the lack of clarity around what is being debated.

On the more specific issue of whiteness: I agree completely with Keith KH. The official Jewish community leadership in the UK spent a century persuading the community that they were normal, secure, white British citizens and should always act as such. The community leadership did everything it could to stamp out Yiddish culture, for example. This was, perhaps, a sensible strategy in an age when Britain was officially monocultural.

Now that Britain is officially multicultural, British Jewry have a choice: jump on the multicultural bandwagon (as Sacks did in Dignity of Difference) or jump on the anti-multicultural bandwagon (as Sacks is now). I think either path is dangerous for British Jewry - the first for reasons your comment makes clear, the second for reasons Keith outlines.

I think Jews need to assert Jewish difference and assert the value of diversity (this is cetainly something Theodore Bikel does, at least implicitly!), while also insisting on our rights as citizens, including rights that are infringed by liberal pandering towards identity politics.