If Multiculturalism has failed – than we are back in the Dark Ages
David Cameron is taking a lead from the German chancellor Angela Merkel who last year declared multiculturalism as being dead – and calling for a stronger “national identity”, something that was coined as being the “lead culture” in the German debate. And just as Angela Merkel last year, David Cameron is confusing multiculturalism with ignorance, or living in “parallel societies”.
Taking a leaf out of Wikipedia, multiculturalism is “the appreciation, acceptance or promotion of multiple cultures”, this is equated by Cameroon and Merkel as meaning having no dialogue between the various cultures. This, however, is absolutely not the point. Multiculturalism is emphasising that no one culture is perfect “leading” or “superior” and therefore every culture must engage in a critical dialogue with others. This may not be an easy stance, as it means that many basic assumptions almost certainly will be challenged. But ultimately, learning to see the same issue from a different point of view and engaging in a critical, self-reflective argument is the cornerstone not only of multiculturalism but also of advancement – in terms of knowledge, society and science. In fact, it is the cornerstone of modern society itself. Rejecting this in favour of an overarching principle (or culture), means stifling critical self-reflection and giving an easy way out to those whose idea of an intellectual dialogue is to dismiss other views simply as stupid. Granted, it’s the easy way out – but it fails to deliver a more refined argument and a clearer view. Take a practical example: It’s easy to say women should have the same rights as men and claim a superior stance on this. It’s more difficult to argue the case and engage in a critical dialogue about women’s rights. Not that I would ever argue that women’s rights are wrong, but engaging in the dialogue brings about critical reflection exactly why I think they are so right. It moves my argument from an “I think” argument to something I have truly engaged with. In a sense, far from weakening the point, it will refine my point and help me to make the case stronger. Actually, I’d go a little further, and argue that if we accept the notion of a “lead culture”, then we are back in the dark ages – where knowledge could be advanced only as long as it did not challenge religious principles ( the lead culture of the time). Of course, David Cameron might say, we have advanced a lot since then. And he would be right. But we have advanced not because society accepted the lead culture – but because individuals have challenged the lead principles and basic assumptions of at the time. Simply claiming supremacy isn’t a way to achieve further, future advancement, it isn’t just stifling democracy – rather it is return to something equating to theocracy with theology, and – and that is the worst part of it, it means weakening the dialogue about what we as people are all about, less opportunities to be sure about what we think and a culture that is leading by making hollow claims, rather than embracing critical dialogue.