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Multiculturalism is not culture

Phillip Blond (Lancaster, University of Cumbria) & Adrian Pabst (Nottingham, University of Nottingham): Our post on the breakdown of British society and the consequent cultural crisis enveloping our country has elicited responses that range from the mildly confused to the perniciously ill-informed. Our first response will be to Sunny Hundal. He accuses us of defining a monolithic and essentially white notion of British identity against a multicultural recognition of genuine diversity. Hundal disputes the idea of a common organic culture that can bind all races and creeds into one shared British identity. Bizarrely for cricket-loving British asians and black Caribbeans he cites playing cricket as an example of a white sectarian social habit, when he claims that there is no common content to British social life and therefore no shared experiences upon which we can build a mutual future.

As such Hundal, rather than contesting our argument against multiculturalism, confirms its' conclusions: in that he describes a society unable to communicate with itself.

More fundamentally, Hundal fails to grasp that multiculturalism can neither secure unity nor preserve diversity. By denying any common culture, liberal attempts at social cohesion have privatised social codes and communal practices. Deprived thereby of a national collective ethos, communities are denied the sort of civic content that can promote a shared identity and prevent sectarian segregation. What's left is a country of many separate communities, living side by side in mutual fear and ignorance.

To deny this reality is to engage in fantasy. Unfortunately this present state of mutual suspicion is a purely liberal creation. By draining the public sphere of any substantive beliefs, liberal variants of multiculturalism have reinforced the uncritical promotion of an aggressive utilitarian ethic that reduces social diversity to little more than lifestyle choice. For liberals culture is just personal choice – as such they felt justified in abandoning previously existent social norms, viewing them as oppressive limitations on their own individual assertions. As a result liberalism redefines human beings as a-cultural bearers of abstract individual rights. What this means is that cosmopolitan liberals can neither understand genuine cultural difference nor create a political space for its collective expression. In effect liberalism impels whole cultures to behave in an autistic fashion. It forces Britain's many communities into self –enclosed ghettos, where they are unable to communicate with either themselves or the outside world.

That this is so is further demonstrated by Hundal's proposed remedy – a new constitution, a solution that is both ridiculously abstract and potentially dangerous. Historically, a formal assertion of rights between contesting citizens who lack a common culture has never delivered anything except new communal antagonism and bitterness. Look at Iraq or indeed the northern race riots in Bradford, Oldham and Burnley in 2001.

Hundal needs to read more British history. Of course 'this country has never had a homogenous common culture across all strata of society.' Who ever argued that it did? On the contrary, disputes between the four nations of these islands notwithstanding, Britain has always had a contested organic culture where disputes were not over multiculturalism but rather about what sort of universal culture we all should live under. Nobody prior to the 1960's from either left or right would accept as progressive or radical the idea that we should abandon a national civic ethos.

It was precisely the progressives of 1960's who eschewed this contested organic culture in favour of a homogenous and uniform ideology - liberalism – that makes everybody the same.

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