April 7, 2013 § 1 Comment
I am away for a week, so I thought I would unearth some more old material from the vaults, this time debates in which I have been involved. This first is an exchange of letters with the human rights activist Tanuka Loha, currently the Human Right to Housing Program Director at America’s National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, on questions of race, identity and political representation. It is a debate that touches on many of the themes in the contemporary discussion of multiculturalism, as well as obliquely addressing some of the issues raised in the current debate about immigration. It was first published in Catalyst magazine in November-December 2006.
Liberation movements throughout the world have long argued that without the meaningful participation of those who are facing systematic discrimination, society cannot become more equal. Whether we look at suffrage movements or anti-colonial struggles, the right to have one’s own voice, and that of one’s community, heard and represented is an emotive and complex issue but also a necessary precursor to the eradication of inequality. « Read the rest of this entry »
March 30, 2013 § 39 Comments
At the heart of the current debate about immigration are two issues: the first is about the facts of immigration, the second about public perception of immigration.
The facts are relatively straightforward. Immigration is a good and the idea that immigrants come to Britain to live off benefits laughable. Immigrants put more money into the economy than they take out and have negligible impact on jobs or wages. An independent report on the impact of immigration commissioned by the Home Office in 2003, looked at numerous international surveys and conducted its own study in Britain. ‘The perception that immigrants take away jobs from the existing population, or that immigrants depress the wages of existing workers’, it concluded, ‘do not find confirmation in the analysis of the data laid out in this report.’ More recent studies have suggested that immigration helps raise wages except at the bottom of the jobs ladder where it has a slight negative impact. That impact on low paid workers matters hugely, of course, but is arguably more an issue of labour organization than of immigration. « Read the rest of this entry »
September 26, 2012 § 58 Comments
Salman Rushdie’s memoir, Joseph Anton, has hit the bookshelves just as the world has become embroiled in a new controversy over Islamic sensibilities. The extraordinary violence unleashed across the Muslim world by Innocence of Muslims, an obscure US-made video, has left many bewildered and perplexed.
Rushdie was, of course, at the centre of the most famous confrontation over the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad. The publication in 1988 of his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, launched a worldwide campaign against the supposed blasphemies in the book, culminating in the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa on 14 February 1989 condemning Rushdie to death, and forcing him into hiding for a decade.
Joseph Anton is Rushdie’s account of the fatwa and the years that followed. So, what does the battle over The Satanic Verses tell us about the current controversy over The Innocence of Muslims? « Read the rest of this entry »
September 16, 2012 § 5 Comments
Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton is published tomorrow. (Joseph Anton, for those who don’t know, was the name that Rushdie adopted during his years in hiding, a name borrowed from two of his favourite writers, Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekov.) Joseph Anton is not simply a memoir; it is a vital piece of social history. It is Rushdie’s first real account of the years under the shadow of the fatwa, the story from the inside of a changing world.
I will review the book next week. In the meantime, here are four interviews from my book From Fatwa to Jihad which explored the Rushdie affair and its legacy, and in that sense treads across some of the same ground as Joseph Anton, though peering in from the outside, as it were, rather than narrating from the inside. (And, yes, I know, this is the second batch this week of extracts from the book; think of these interviews as complementing the previous extracts.) The interviews (some of them slightly shortened from the original) are with four people intimately involved in the life of Joseph Anton: Peter Mayer, CEO of Penguin at the time of the fatwa; Sher Azam, chairman of the Bradford Council of Mosques at the time, in an interview I conducted shortly after he helped torch Rushdie’s novel in an infamous demonstration in Bradford in January 1989; William Nygaard, the Norwegian publisher of The Satanic Verses, who was shot and left for dead; and Rushdie’s close friend, the novelist Hanif Kureishi. « 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 14, 2012 § 3 Comments
My name is Mo, short for Mohammed,
I’m a second-generation immigrant cliché:
Twenty-eight, disenfranchised, well educated.
My mother is white, but I’m all Paki.
My father owns a corner shop where I work,
And I owe my allegiance to global Umma.
My nation’s the Republic of Islam.
So sings Mo, one of four would-be suicide bombers in a new opera Babur in London. Opera it may be, The Marriage of Figaro it ain’t. Babur in London explores issues of culture, identity, terrorism and history by interweaving the story of four contemporary Muslim would-be suicide bombers with that of Babur, a sixteenth century warrior from Central Asia and the founder of the Mughal Empire in India, a famously brutal commander as well as a stylish poet. Babur returns as an apparition to haunt one of the four, Saira, who alone can see him. Through her, Babur enters into a debate about terrorism and violence, Islam and belongingness. The myth of Babur becomes a means of casting light on contemporary terrorism, while contemporary terror becomes a means of rethinking the myth of Babur. « Read the rest of this entry »
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 »