January 10, 2013 § 1 Comment
I recently gave an interview for the Open University course on ‘Why is religion controversial?’. The interview is actually not about religion but about multiculturalism. It is somewhat oddly edited in places (a number of times, for instance, part of the answer to one question interpolated into the answer to another in a way that seems confusing), but still, I hope, it makes sense. Here anyway is the interview.
Check out also my Milton K Wong lecture that I gave in Vancouver last year and that probably best expresses my critique of multiculturalism. There is an audio of the CBC broadcast, and a transcript in two parts, here and here. Other discussions of multiculturalism include ‘Conflicting credos but the same vision of the world‘, From streetfighters to book burners, How to make a riot, Making a difference: Culture, race and social policy, Multiculturalism at its limits?, A Merkel attack on multiculturalism, How to become a real Muslim, Shadow boxing, Shadow of the fatwa and Offending the audience.
The image is of the painting ‘Multicultural’ by the American artist Robert Daniels whose work can be found on Fine Art America.
January 3, 2013 § 4 Comments
If 2011 brought the promise of democracy to the Arab world, in 2012 democratic change appeared to founder on political reality. In Egypt, democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi has tried to gather into his own hands powers far greater that that held previously by Hosni Mubarak, and is railroading through a constitution that many fear will undermine the gains of the revolution. In Libya and Tunisia Islamist-influenced governments are promoting laws restricting rights, constraining speech, and maintaining social inequality. In Bahrain a movement for democratic change has been brutally suppressed by the government. In Syria, the struggle for democracy has degenerated into a bloodbath, and one to which there appears to be no end.
From the beginnings of the so-called Arab Spring many people worried that democratic change would bring about the ‘wrong’ kind of governments to power, and would create social instability and entrench political reaction, fears that in many ways have materialized. So, how do those who advocate democracy respond?
November 21, 2012 § 2 Comments
Jacques Berlinerblau has responded to my review of his book How to Be Secular. He thinks that, unlike his conservative Christian critics, I have not ‘take[n] the time to understand what [his] arguments actually are’ and have made instead a series of ‘misleading claims’ about them. I disagree with most of Berlinerblau’s list of what he regards as my misleading claims. I don’t want to go line by line through that list refuting each and every claim. I do, however, want to take up two issues, which I regard as the most important in the debate that we are having: the question of democracy and that of how to build a constituency for secularism.
There are, in How to be Secular, two parts to Berlinerblau’s argument about democracy. The first is a political claim about how to build a coalition to promote secularism. The second is a more fundamental claim about the relationship between secularism and the democratic will. « Read the rest of this entry »
November 6, 2012 § 1 Comment
Back in September, I wrote an essay about Judith Butler and the controversy over her winning the Adorno Prize. It touched off a debate in Pandaemonium, less because of my defence of Butler’s right to win the prize than my criticism of her work and, in particular, of her poststructuralism. I noted then that I have written little directly on Butler’s main theme, gender, but much, in the context of the debate about race, on poststructuralist / postmodernist conceptions of difference, identity, equality and agency. That critique is scattered across a number of books – in particular The Meaning of Race, Man, Beast and Zombie and Strange Fruit. I promised to delve into the archives, as it were, and publish some extracts from those books. The first – on Edward Said, Michel Foucault and the concept of the Other - I posted last month. This second extract, also from The Meaning of Race, is not so much a critique of poststructuralism as part of an explanation of how certain key themes in poststructuralist thought – in particular hostility to humanism and to Enlightenment ideas of rationalism and universalism – that once had been seen as the province of reaction came to be major currents in radical thought.
One of the problems in republishing extracts is that while essays and blog posts are generally self-contained, book extracts rarely are. In a book the argument runs through the whole work. Any extract necessarily assumes familiarity with arguments that have already been set out and builds up to conclusions that arrive only later in the book. At the same time, The Meaning of Race is now almost 20 years old. Many of the ideas that may have been barely formulated or ill-constructed in the book I have developed much further since then; some have changed quite considerably. I have, for instance, reworked the arguments about Frantz Fanon, the tradition that he represents and the legacy that he left. My forthcoming book on the history of moral thought contains new perspectives on humanism within both the liberal and Marxist traditions. Nevertheless, despite these shifts and changes, I hope that an extract such as this is still useful, both because I still stand by much of what is here and because it is, as always, a good starting point for debate.
October 15, 2012 § 31 Comments
Mehdi Hasan, political director of the Huffington Post UK, has an essay in the current issue of the New Statesman, of which he was until recently the political editor, arguing that the progressive stance on abortion is to oppose it. The article inevitably created a storm on Twitter and elsewhere on the web, a storm at which Hasan took umbrage. ‘Time to add abortion to the list of issues – Islam, Iran’s nuclear programme etc – that can’t be discussed on Twitter’, he tweeted. He added that he was ‘v disappointed that lefties have confirmed every rightwing prejudice today: we close down debate, we enforce orthodoxies etc’. I will return later to the response to Hasan’s argument, but first a few words on his pro-life argument: « Read the rest of this entry »
June 24, 2012 § 1 Comment
My Milton K Wong lecture, ‘What’s wrong with multiculturalism?’, that I gave in Vancouver earlier this month, was broadcast on CBC on Friday. I have already posted the transcript of the talk, in two parts, here and here. (The broadcast has been slightly edited to fit the CBC schedule; the transcript is in full.) There is a Milton K Wong website dedicated to discussion and debate around the themes of the talk.
June 7, 2012 § 6 Comments
This is the second part of the transcript of my Milton K Wong lecture that I delivered in Vancouver last week. I posted the first part earlier this week. The talk will be broadcast in full on 22 June on the CBC’s Ideas strand.
The story I have told so far is of a Europe that is not as plural as many imagine it to be, and of immigrants less assertive of their cultural identities than they are claimed to be. Multicultural policies emerged not because migrants demanded them, but primarily because the political elite needed them to manage immigration and to assuage anger created by racism.
Why, then, have we come to imagine that we are living in particularly plural societies, in which our cultural identities are all-important? The answer lies in a complex set of social, political and economic changes over the past half century, changes that include the narrowing of the political sphere, the collapse of the left, the demise of class politics, the erosion of more universalist visions of social change. Many of these changes helped pave the way for multicultural policies. At the same time, the implementation of such policies helped create a more fragmented society. Or, to put it another way, multicultural policies have helped create the very problems they were meant to have resolved. I want to demonstrate this through two examples. The first is a riot in Britain, of which you may not have heard, the second a cartoon crisis in Denmark, about which everyone has heard. « Read the rest of this entry »