All entries for Saturday 13 August 2005

August 13, 2005

What Is Multiculturalism?

To read one section of society, it is the end of all we hold dear. It's going to breed terrorism and hate, breaking down western democracy from within and making us an oppressed, violent and divded people. Or is it the future? The quickest and easiest way to a rainbow, liberal paradise where we all live in perfect harmony, understanding and celebrating our differences? Well it could be either or neither or both. There's just one thing that annoys me about the whole debate - what the hell is multiculturalism?

First stop: From here we get the following little nuggets:

  1. Of, relating to, or including several cultures.
  2. Of or relating to a social or educational theory that encourages interest in many cultures within a society rather than in only a mainstream culture.
  3. the doctrine that several different cultures (rather than one national culture) can co-exist peacefully and equitably in a single country

with nationalism given as its antonym.


The first definition is vague but accurate, the word's linguistic purpose stripped of all the shit that's attached to it. A nice pure example of latin words mangled, via Norman French, middle English, etc, to modern English. Just a word with a calm definition.

Clearly ain't what people bang on about then, is it? Just a word? No chance!

Alright, the second and third definitions are more like the ones which cause blood pressure to rise in both Left and Right, so what's the answer there? Ambiguous. Or not. In fact both are quite reasonably clear definitions, the trouble is that they are both quite different, and both liable to get different people's pulses racing.

Now the Right wing press's grievance appears to be with the third definition, the many cultures in one place. Now obviously the dictionary definition appears to stress the word peacefully in it's description of the co-existance. So surely this begs the question, does a situation with British men blowing themselves up on trains really conform to an idea of multiculturalism? Surely this violence shows that multiculturalism is not the enemy because it has already, by definition, failed? I suppose (and I don't believe this myself, I'm playing devil's advocat) that you could call multiculturalism the new appeasement, an attempt to stop the inevitable which only made one side view the other as weak.

I'm not convinced. I think that it may even have been a dam, delaying the problems we now face though not stopping them. In any case I prefer to use the second definition of the word as I believe that in that form multiculturalism has been around for centuries and is an inevitable good thing. It is this that we should reposition multicuturalism as, an acceptance of non-mainstream allied with the mainstream itself. The success rate on this island is ridiculously high! Who, apart from a few stupid racists, really wants to get rid of all the fantastic things that mixing cultures has brought here?

So why are we trying to repel something that isn't even restricted to one definition? It unfortunately appears to be just another lazy buzzword, another victim of a lack of imagination on all sides. I guess we'll throw it on the heap with 'political correctness' and 'liberalism' as words so mangled by their meanings (multiple) that it's almost impossible to debate them.

Damn semantics. I'm off to learn Greek.

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