Sunday, August 10, 2008

"On The Violence of Multiculturalism"

Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek: Without common, shared customs - what George Orwell called "everyday decency" - and a larger, encompassing community identification that is deeper than our individual and particular identities, then you can't have multiculturalism, and you won't have democracy, either. We should fight for universal values, and a common civility. "This is the lesson the Left has to learn." Here:

On the many ideological problems of what is known as "tolerance," which is in fact "an impossible liberal blackmail":


Blogger Neb said...

Thanks very much for posting this!

11:26 AM  
Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

Have you see this:

12:11 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Thanks, Contentious one. I think it immediately raises the question you posed last time around: "Is he for serious?"

How many of those questions, if any, do you think he answered seriously?

1:29 PM  
Blogger James O'Hearn said...

I came across an article just now that seemed to touch a bit on the question of multiculturalism and its impact of civil society.

How do we manufacture a coherent response to the contradiction of multiculturalism, where the forces for and against certain forms of discourse are always at odds? The Canadian response, as far as I have come to understand it, requires a certain level of circumspection, a willingness to refrain from causing a disturbance in the public sphere. Self censorship, yes, but not necessarily in the pejorative sense. Yet is not this same polite, self-effacing nature, in the end, self defeating? Does one side lack conviction while the other is full of passionate intensity?


Link -

2:59 PM  
Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

"How many of those questions, if any, do you think he answered seriously?"

4:08 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...


Not sure where that link of yours was supposed to go, but anyway. . .
I'd say you've got it about right, and you also correctly identify the contradiction. Multiculturalism will not work if one of the cultures within the polity is aggressively hostile to the foundational precept of pluralism arising from a common understanding of laws and basic shared "values." That is very much the conundrum in Canada, where it is difficult, at the best of times, to articulate a shared "identity." Canada is, after all, a thinly populated constitutional monarchy spread out aloing the northern borders of a far more populous, dynamic and powerful republic, and our history cannot be properly understood except in the context of our differences with the United States. We're also officially bilingual, and we're one of the most decentralized federal states in the world. Multiculturalism, for us, isn't just a boast or a claim or an affectation or a conceit. It is a problem yes, but it is also entrenched in the Canadian constitution, and our laws have to be read against that conception of ourselves.

I have rarely seen the problems posed by a flaccid "liberal" misconception of multiculturalism better expounded upon than in this declaration, co-authored by 11 progressive Canadian Muslims, in the context of a certain fury that erupted a couple of years back:

"A curtain of fear has descended on the intelligentsia of the West,
including Canada. The fear of being misunderstood as Islamophobic
has sealed their lips, dried their pens and locked their keyboards.
With hundreds dead around the world in the aftermath of the now
infamous Danish cartoons, Canada's writers, politicians and media
have imposed a frightening censorship on themselves, refusing to speak their minds, thus ensuring that the only voices being heard
are that of the Muslim extremists and the racist right.

"Emboldened by the free rein they have received, Canada's Muslim
extremists and their supporters flexed their muscles at Queen's Park last week, with speakers promising to drown the Danish people "in their own blood".

"A protestor carried the sign 'Kurt Westgaard - countdown to justice
has begun ... it's just a matter of time.'

"Elsewhere, in Pakistan, a Muslim woman was pictured carrying a sign, 'God Bless Hitler,' and a Muslim
cleric placed a $1 million reward for the murder of a Danish cartoonist. Embassies were burned,
churches ruined and hundreds died in different Muslim countries.

"Undoubtedly, Muslims were angered by the insulting cartoons. But the overblown reaction was partly
due to their pent-up frustrations, and partly the result of orchestrated mischief by certain Islamist leaders.

"Islamic societies, run by variances of autocratic regimes, are in turmoil. Ravaged by rampant
corruption, a widening gap between rich and poor, and suppression of dissent, the people in these
societies have lost hope in their own futures. The U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, the unending occupation of the Palestinian territories
and the quagmire of the Kashmiri dispute, have led many Muslims and non-religious peoples of Islamic
origin, to view the West as the source of their countries' problems.

"The growing popularity of the extremists in Muslim societies, the electoral success of the likes of
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran, Shia radicals in Iraq, and Hamas in the Palestinian territories, rather
than signifying the growing religiosity of the peoples of the Middle East, reflect political despair in the region.

"In the West, people of Muslim origin, be they religious or secular, are facing growing racism,
Islamophobia and discrimination reflected in immigration policies and anti-terrorist legislation.
The cartoon crisis was the straw that broke the camel's back.

"The Muslim extremists seized the opportunity and added fuel to fire. The calculated role played by the
two Danish Muslim extremists, backed by Islamic fundamentalist regimes, is a case in point. They not only aggravated an already inflammatory situation, but added their own infuriating images, never
published in the West, as they took their case to clerics in the Middle East.

"Both, Imam Abu Laban and Ahmad Akkari have escaped the attention and scrutiny their acts
deserved. These two men, who now sit in the comfort of their homes in Denmark, should be held
accountable for their criminal actions.

"For too long the media have created an image that portrays communities from the Muslim world as a monolith entity, best represented by extremists. The media have created a false dichotomy that pits these Muslim extremists against the West. The fact is that in all Muslim countries, progressive citizens are trying to break loose from the tyranny of the autocrats and clerics and wish to develop a civil society where citizenship is based not on inherited race or religion, but the equality of all, irrespective of faith, race, sexuality or gender.

"In Tehran today, the city's bus drivers are on strike. Thousands have been arrested; entire families
have disappeared. Yet, this has not made a blip in the western media.
If the same bus drivers were burning books or embassies, this would certainly be on the evening
news. This is an appalling example that only outrageous, violent expressions of faith by Muslim
extremists are taken as the aspirations of people from Islamic societies.

"It is time for Canadians to stand up for the hard-won democratic values that the Muslim extremists
oppose. By rejecting the agenda of the extremists, Canada's intelligentsia would be standing shoulder to shoulder with the Muslims and secular individuals from the region who reject both Islamophobia and Islamism. Islamism is not the new revolutionary movement against global forces of oppression, as a section of the left in this country erroneously perceives.

"Today, the religious right and autocracies in the so-called Islamic world are united in their call for passing legislation to make any discussion on religion a criminal offence. This, at a time when many writers in Jordan, Iran, Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan are rotting in jails, facing charges of apostasy and blasphemy.

"We call on Canadian politicians and intellectuals to stand up for freedom of expression.
Our democratic values, including free speech, should not be compromised under the garb of fighting hate.

"To fight Islamophobia and racism, we do not need to sacrifice free speech and debate."

Not bad, eh?

4:51 PM  
Blogger Kurt Langmann said...

Not bad, actually very good.

9:31 PM  
Blogger James O'Hearn said...

The link didn't work? Just copy and paste it.... It goes to a story in the Times about The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones, and how Random House has put the preemptive kibosh on it. Based on the comments from one reader who was sent a proof copy, RH has decided that discretion is the better part of valour.

This incident basically underscores the fears of many of the writers and bloggers in Canada who have been up in arms about the possible future negative effects of this form of self-censorship. Thus the vaguely articulated fear that has surfaced in Canadian blogging and media as of late, most prominently on the right, as result of the HRC trials, pretty much reaches it's logical conclusion in this action in the UK.

10:18 PM  
Blogger The Plump said...

I am with the argument on multi-culturalism, but am worried about the blackmail line on tolerance.

I am on dial-up at the moment and so I haven't listened to the You Tubes and may be doing him a disservice.

There are two sense of the word tolerance. The proper one is a willingness to endure. This does not imply a duty to propagate, encourage or to approve of a sentiment or practice. It does not mean that you have a duty to host a fascist in your local library. It actually does imply, and this comes from J S Mill, a duty to contest and confront these views and practices. It is not a passive concept.

However, it also requires a duty not to criminalise those words or acts in most circumstances. There is also a clear provision where criminalisation is appropriate. Mill's definition of preventing harm to others is a useful, if vague, starting point. Therefore hate speech can clearly not be tolerated by this definition, neither can female genital mutilation. This is most properly the liberal definition of tolerance.

What has crept in recently is a post-modernist conception of tolerance as acceptance. This defines views and practices not by absolute conditions, such as harm to others, but as relative to the society or community in which they are said and practised. This is not the liberal view; I would argue that it is profoundly illiberal as it means accepting the right to practice noxious activities, which conflict with liberal values, uncontested and, where this would be appropriate, un-criminalised. It is essentially a passive concept.

There is a problem here of equivocation. People slip between the two meanings and thus a critique of the post-modernist concept (better known by its technical name as bollocks) can be confused with one of the liberal, active concept. In this way you can end up with a critique of intellectual liberty, which is one of the great bastions against totalitarianism.

I like the active concept and think that it is vital to a free society. Whatever position we do take we need to be clear about definitions to avoid the trap of equivocation.

1:37 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...


I'm with this:

"Random House had the guts to admit their decision was largely because of fear."

8:09 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

"I like the active concept. . ."


First, a shared sense of community, as Zizek (and those 11 Muslims) assert, but we are left with "tolerance" as the concept tends to get employed in the context of Canadian multiculturalism, which is a problem, because just for one thing it implies that in making sense of one another's cultural traditions, we are not entitled to be anything more than neutral, unless it is to have a happy and accepting opinion of, say, one another's folk dances.

The admonition "Be tolerant of one another!" implies a pre-existing, inherent condition of hostility, aggravation or annoyance about one another's cultural traditions, a condition it is necessary to suppress, tame, regulate, and enforce against. I don't believe this is our "natural" condition at all, and my reading of Canadian history in the context of multiculturalism suggests a preponderance of evidence that bigotry, prejudice, racism, sexism and so on are pathologies that have to be pounded into most people, and require an enormous effort, in the deployment of propaganda, the construction of discriminatory laws, etc., to sustain over time.

"Tolerance" is like "acceptance" in this way, as in, "You don't have to like Johnny Foreigner over there, but you have to be accepting of him." The problem with tolerance in this respect is that it presumes that a person IS his or her ethnicity or language.

I don't want people to be "tolerant" of me, and I want more of myself than to be merely "tolerant" of my fellow citizens. One is tolerant of blackflies in the Skeena Mountains in the summer because there's not much you can do about them, and you have to be "tolerant" of raucous five year olds because they are raucaous five year olds.

I want an active, enthusiastic and engaged "multiculturalism" (the best kind is the practice that was once called "miscegenation"). My missus says if multiculturalism isn't for providing ourselves with opportunities to get into one another's liquor cabinets, it's no use at all.

I agree with my missus on this point.

8:36 AM  
Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

A-propo tolerance and Canadian multiculturalism, have you read this?

Compare and contrast with another book reading event at the Vancouver public library.

8:55 AM  
Blogger The Plump said...

if multiculturalism isn't for providing ourselves with opportunities to get into one another's liquor cabinets, it's no use at all.

Not if they are Muslims :-)

8:56 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Herself and I must be socializing with "the wrong sort" of Muslims. They prefer Johnny Walker Black Label. When we stoop to drinking Scotch, we're Red Label people, ourselves.

10:19 AM  
Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

I watched the videos (finally) yesterday and I have to say, I found very little to disagree with him about, in the way he analyses multiculturalism and tolerance. Especially useful was his explanation about the difference in the perception of difference by the different groups... It's an important parameter.

Think of the way a Jew and a Christian watching Merchant of Venice playing on the stage. The Jew connects the dot of the information provided by the author in a very different pattern that the Christian does. Derrida called it the untranlatability between the two ethoses. My position is that the "untranslatability" is a choice, not an inevitble necessity.

Do you know if there is transcript of the videos I can find somewhere?

11:13 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

"My position is that the 'untranslatability' is a choice, not an inevitable necessity."

To the extent that this kind of untranslatability exists (remember there will be Jews who would not connect the Merchant of Venice dots, and Christians who could), I agree completely that it is by no means an inevitable necessity, but I'd go further and say "choice" is not the only thing that can make one ethos so different from another. While I am by no means a misanthrope, I'd be the first to admit that some people are just assholes, and some people are just bereft of the capacity for empathy, and on and on.

Dunno about transcripts, sad to say.

Cheers, Centrist.

11:56 AM  
Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

""choice" is not the only thing that can make one ethos so different from another."

My point was that the untranslatibility is the choice, not the ethos.

1:07 PM  

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