The White Working class disconnect – Multiculturalism, Antisemitism, Islamophobia, Immigration, and the economic elephant in the room.
Recently, I have been working my way through Anthony Julius’ monumental “Trials of the Diaspora”, which is a history of anti-semitism in the UK. A very good, and worthwhile, book. In several instances I may disagree with Mr Julius – for example, several times, a defence is offered of Zionism as not being in any way the same as other European nationalisms because it is in essence a reaction to the fact that Jewish people were oppressed. Well, the end point of that is indisputable – anyone with any inkling of history would rightly grant Mr Julius that (as an aside, the current prevalence of Holocaust memorial days and the like, the drowning of the history book market with titles related to the Nazis and WWII, I think to a degree actually helps to hide that. The idea may sound counter-intuitive, that the focusing on the greatest mass genocide in modern history – and I mean modern history, by the way, it’s arguable, for instance, that the actions of someone like Tamurlane were comparable in scope and relative size, to say the least, without the technology that the nazis used – helps hide European anti-semitism, but the point is, the narrative is pretty much always focused on the exceptionalism of German crimes – to take merely 20th century examples, what A Level history student knows much, if anything, about the pogroms in Tsarist Russia? Who knows about the anti-semitic and authoritarian nature of the pre-war Polish state? The crazed anti-semitism that Stalin succumbed to? The anti-semitism of Poland in the 60s? Very few, I would contend), however, the idea that a nationalism differs because the ethnicity or nationality suffers oppression is a fallacy – Polish Nationalism was still nationalism. Zionism is a product of the 1800s, and can trace it’s roots to the same wave of nationalisms that the French Revolution encouraged. It’s a blood and soil nationalism. End of. In fact, one could argue that it’s the last surviving Western blood and soil nationalism, but to do so would be ignoring, say, the Balkans. One could also argue – a lot more convincingly – that of those nationalisms, it’s caused (comparitively) the least pain and hurt and here – looking at the mess such movements made of most of Europe for at least the latter half of the 19th, and first half of the 20th century, one would be on firmer ground, but at the same time, one must concede that any nationalist project generally does cause suffering to someone. Most “soil” is under disputed ownership. To argue otherwise is to ignore reality.
Other points he makes regarding the subject of Zionism – for example, the curious prevalence that it plays in political narrative – are less disputable. There is, undoubtedly, a healthy dose of anti-semitism in our obsession with the Israel/Palestine situation (and indeed, the philo-semitism of supporters of Israel is pretty much just anti-semitism reversed. Rather than taking Jewish people as individuals, instead, they are examplars of morality and nobility, of ethics – in it’s own way just as patronising and false a viewpoint – although, obviously, not as menacing – as the anti-semites), which, on a realistic level, affects a very small proportion of the planet. Of course, one can offer other reasons for our media and popular fixation with the situation – the legacy of Empire being one, after all, the UK held control of the region for a vital period of time. Or the cultural fixation with “The Holy Land”. The (in)convenient placing of the place at the meeting point of 3 continents. The west/east clash of civilizations thesis that goes back to at least the Ancient Greeks versus the Ancient Persians. The racist overtones (and, again, racist overtones on both sides. The fact that here are some pretty white, European looking fellows in dispute with some not quite as white, not quite European looking fellows colours both sides of the equation – on the anti side, it feeds into post colonial guilt, and they practice transference – the jews become scapegoats for the sins of Imperialism. On the pro Israel side, here is “democracy” fighting “barbarism”. Both these most definitely feed into the media representation of the situation). The idea that the conflict is the major obstacle to world peace, which is a constant trope throughout European society, is another example of an anti-semitic fixation. If you step back a step or two, you’ll see the Middle East policy of the west is not dictated by Israel/Palestine. The Middle East policy of the west is dictated by our reliance on several regimes there who supply us with oil. It’s dictated by our craven acceptance of them, our unwillingness to challenge them, and it’s dictated by the tricks they play to hold on to power.
(That’s all said by someone, by the way, who thinks there should be a solution, not one of those “hatfield and mccoy, it’ll never be solved” types. I’m just saying idealism and ethics can also have a sense of proportion about them)
What’s equally fascinating (and I say “equally fascinating” because firstly, I want to make the point that the subject of anti-semitism is completely and utterly worthy of studying on it’s own, but at the same time, it’s what we could call the “Urtext” of racisms. Pretty much the first, and pretty much the template for most that follows) about the book is the way it informs a reading of other, current debates and disputes. The similarities between it, and the dreaded “Islamophobia” being one.
Now, I’m not a fan of the word Islamophobia. For a good number of reasons. The first, and perhaps to me most pressing, being that as a secular individual, I believe we have the right to criticise any religion whenever we like. I’ve got no time for being told that I’m not allowed to do so, that a belief set that dictates how we should live our life is not open to criticism, that it is akin to racism to critique it. This is ardent bollocks. I object to all religion, and I object to all religion equally. Am I going to demand you stop believing in it? Make it illegal? Mock you for believing in it? Not in the slightest. You believe what you want, chums. But should your religion set itself up as the supreme authority on law, morals, ethics, behaviour – from the repressive sexual elements of all religion, to the quite frankly bizarre dictats on what you can and cannot eat – then I have the right to say “hang on”. So I am always going to be wary of being told that my rationally arrived at critique at what I Believe at best to be comforting fairy stories (and key words there are “what I believe”, again, re-iterate my point, you believe what you want, I believe what I want, my critiques can be critiqued, your beliefs can be critiqued, quid pro quo, innit?) is a phobia. It really isn’t. I was not scared as a child by a hell and damnation preacher. I was not frightened in my pram by an imam. No priest molested me, no rabbi circumcised me when I was young and scared, no guru took my money and bought a rolls-royce. I have no phobia. Sorry.
But, larger than that, beyond my own personal beliefs, is disquiet at the way it blends three seperate strands of thought together. The first strand – and, despite the various jeremiads delivered against yer Hitchens and yer Dawkins – the least malign of these is the secular tradition – the secular state, the democratic secular belief system is the best friend of religious freedom the world has ever seen. Not for us, the pogroms. Not for us, the Inquisition. Not for us, the cleansing, the crusade, the jihad. We believe whole-heartedly in your freedom to believe. We just want our freedom to believe and criticise, as adults do, in healthy, grown-up debate. However, this is now blending – in the case of “Islamophobia” with two other traditions, namely, the sectarian, and the racist.
(I’ll make the point here, by the way, that this is not just the case with Islam. It’s most constant, and pressing, with Islam. But it’s also noticeable with other religions. What we have in the UK at present is a strange mix between secular critique, sectarian – Protestant, or Church of England – assaults and racism. The reactions to the papal visit of 2010 are a very good example. On the one hand, some valid criticisms were made. On the other hand, some facile criticisms was made. And, also, this tied into a – small P – protestant anti-clericalism; lots of sneering remarks about priests and small children which – whilst informed by certain undeniable historical events – were often beyond the pale. And beneath it, a contender for England’s oldest racism with anti-semitism, anti-irish feeling, mixed with one of our more recent hates, anti-german feeling.)
Now, leaving aside the sectarian, because you essentially know what it means (“our god is bigger than your god”), people are going to look at the racist part, and make the obvious, and oft made retort “but Islam is not a race, it’s a religion”. Yes indeedy, well spotted sherlock, it is indeed a religion. A religion that – I think I’ve made perfectly clear already – I dislike and that I believe people should be both free to follow and free to criticise. And the reactions of certain elements within Islam to those criticisms are entirely beyond the pale. Let’s not pretend, however, that they are new and unique. The long trail of auto-da-fes and witch trials and inquisitions and the like stretching back to (hah) god knows when disprove that notion pretty conclusively. Yes, fatwas and mobs demanding the burning of cartoonists and asassins and etc etc etc – wrong. There. Should be stood up against. There, Should not be pandered to. There. This is a point I will return to when I address multi-cult, but, let’s move on to the racist element, shall we, just for a while?
It’s an unfortunate truth that the racists have – on several levels – assimilated the language of the secular, and on a greater level, the language of the sectarian (Nick Griffin and his language about Britain being a Christian nation spring to mind…that’s the Christianity originally devised by your Jewish pals, Nick? Because you really like the Jews don’t you? Always have, and never ever been a Holocaust denier, have you?) and are using them. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen anyone making a song and dance about white muslim converts. Nobody, really, is up in arms about Chinese muslims (of which there are a healthy number in the world, and, undoubtedly, a number in the UK). It’s not really been an issue about Indonesian Muslims, either. Not really. I’ve very rarely heard remarks about Muslims from the Balkans, but that was more to do with their alleged criminality.
I’ve encountered racists who use the language of being anti-Islam and no doubt you have too, and we all know what they mean. They mean, predominantly, the individuals who come from a span of land from North Africa to Pakistan. With their primary fixation, given the whole seeds of empire thing, being those from the Middle East and the Indian Sub-continent. Now, an extremely charitable reading of this would be that there are more of them here than the other sorts, and that’s why the focus is on them. That is, however, an extremely charitable reading. The actuality is, there is racism, lurking underneath the discourse (or, often as not, right there, front and centre, IN the discourse).
And there’s no point claiming, firstly, as is the wont of certain elements, that it is only Islam the issue is with. Because I have no doubt that you and I know a person whose skin colour approximately matches the above indicated targets but is in fact a Hindu, or a Sikh, or even (in the case of some of my relatives) a Roman Catholic. And the same insults have been, no doubt, shouted at them. As well as, basically, everyone who is from that enormous spread of land being a fucking Paki, they are also, often as not, a fucking Muslim.
So, cloaking their racism in universalism, in talk of human rights, in talk of how women, or homosexuals are treated under Islamic societies (because of course, there is never homophobia or sexism in the makeup of the racist), they have – to a great degree – turned a secular discussion about religion into one about race and immigration. And they have turned a very important discussion – the discussion of how a society exists with many different cultures in it, how you match liberal values with viewpoints that often challenge or seek to replace those liberal values without losing what makes your values liberal in the first place – into one about race.
A lot of this is down to the press. This, by the way, is when one of the most glaring similarities with the Julius book hoves into view. A number of newspapers – the guiltiest party by far being The Express (which after nigh on a decade having Diana on the front page every day, and after a year or so of Maddy McCann replacing her) has been consistently misinforming a section of the population about the threat of the Muzzies.
See also, stablemate The Daily Star (both owned, by the way, by pornographer Richard Desmond, who made his fortune with titles such as “Asian Babes”. One could argue that there is a degree of hypocrisy in this, or one could say he is being consistent in protecting his business, and look at market demographics for pornography – when there are a few hundred thousand brown skinned people in the country, a porn magazine filled with semi naked lovelies from the Indian sub-continent is sufficiently exotic to corner a large market. When there are several million brown skinned individuals, on the other hand, the exotic nature begins to wear off. I’d be interested to see the sales for the title, and seeing whether there has been an increase or decline as the “asian” population of the country has increased. That may sound facetious, but there is the undeniable fact that a lot of porn is based around taboo or exoticism, and glimpsing the occasional brown face may give you a fetish and a yen for that skin colour, but when you live cheek by jowl with a reasonable number of people with that skin colour, the exotic element will most definitely wear off, as you start to lose the orientalist viewpoint and just appreciate people as people…).
But mention must also be made of The Mail, The Sun (shockingly, “only to a degree”, the Sun’s real enemy in the past ten years or so has more often as not been our “bonkers” response to immigration than to immigrants itself, certainly the language used has been less demonising than that of the Express, Star and Mail), and The Telegraph (with, often, the same caveats as The Sun, but read the online comments beneath a Telegraph article and you’ll find the target audience out in force). Quite frankly, if you compare and contrast turn of 1900 articles in The Mail, with turn of the Millennium articles in the Mail, and replace the word “jew” with “muslim” (or, often as not, the words are not used, and some non-specific phrase such as immigrant put in it’s place), the language and imagery is pretty much the same. The concept – Olde Englande is under attack from foreign hordes – remains the same. The elite remain pandering to them, the honest working man is being done down by them etc etc etc
Ah, the elite pandering to them. Which brings us back to multi-cult, and the white working class disconnect.
A point was made in argument a while back, the same point I have been arguing quite vociferously for at least a decade. The “multi-culturalism has failed” trope has been kicked around at least for twice this length of time, maybe even longer. There is a two fold thing going on here. The first is, quite simply, again, racism. Make it about immigration or make it merely about race, but I have heard that phrase used by racists for the best part of 20 years.
Back in the good old days, when they were more front and centre about what they meant, they used to say “the multi-cultural experiment has failed”. Which language implied…an experiment? Therefore, there is an experimenter. And shock horror, wouldn’t you know it, the experimenter always used to turn out to be the Joooos. Sometimes it would take them another level of prevarication to get there – “Marxists” was usually the fig-leaf they used to cover it with – but given sufficient questioning, the marxists were all revealed to be of a certain ethno-religious grouping…quelle surprise there, eh kids?
Before you knew it, it was all Zionist Overgoverment and International Marxism/Finance and you were in some bizarre mash-up opinion piece, about how the country has gone to the dogs, and it’s the hidden hand, half written by Hilaire Belloc, and the other half a mix between Peter Hitchens and Peter Sutcliffe, for all the rationality that was displayed. But then there’s the second part of the equation. The second part being, to a degree, what has been sold to us as multiculturalism has failed.
Now, here’s where I got overly atheistic, and possibly stridently left wing on your asses. Sorry about that. But…the working class of this country have always lived alongside immigrants. Going way back when. Generation after generation would come in to poorer areas, be assimilated to a certain degree (and we can’t say it was never without any problems, because it quite obviously was, as the history of race riots and the like shows us), and then spread out and join the wider populace at large. Within a generation, generally, those “immigrants” would be British (or English) to a larger or greater degree. My friend from Uni, Matt, is a frightfully English boy, despite his forefathers having come over here from Holland. But when the immigrants had a different skin colour…
When the immigrants had a different skin colour, their adaption to the general populace was halted. Not in the sense that the poor areas didn’t have them come in and they didn’t become part of the community there. But…the less poor types didn’t want them moving in next door. A combination of subtle and not so subtle methods of keeping them out emerged. So after a generation, there was far less dispersal from the ghettos that had formed. Instead, there was more concentration. And more. And what do we do, to keep the immigrants happy in their ghettos? Well, we keep well out of discussions of their religion, we turn a blind eye to cultural practices that are antithetical to laws of the land, we hand over control to self appointed community leaders (one of the most ignorant, and racist tropes is the constant referral to some preacher of whatever god as a community leader – you see it in the States with the urban black community as well, ignoring the plurality of voices and viewpoints and cultures that are within any community). And this goes on and on, with the embracing of faith schools (well, it worked with the catholics, didn’t it? But then the catholics could disperse into the general population, being on the whole white, which as I have just pointed out, makes a bastard of a big difference).
But that isn’t multi-culturalism is it? That’s mono-cultural thinking. That’s saying – instead of “we welcome you here and we will adapt to you and you adapt to us, and sooner or later we are living in a nice plural democracy where people’s views and cultures are respected and allowed but there are no – apologies to hindus hah – sacred cows” – rather “you keep over there and don’t come into our area and you can do what the hell you want. That way, we don’t have to change one iota, we can bleed anything nice from your culture we want – hello cuisine, hello fashion, hello musical styles – but we don’t have to live with you. We’ll leave that to the poor, thanks. Which, by the way, by and large you will be because you’ll be living in their areas which have been starved of investment and jobs for decades” (Oh, and the kicker, remember those corrupt dictatorial regimes in the Middle East that we support with our dependence on oil? They channel money into certain areas, mosques, faith schools, so their – not representative – version of Islamic thought becomes the dominant strand in thinking. That’s what religion does. Push the faith. “Nasty” religion and “nice” religion. That’s why faith schools should never be built, why religious education should always only be about religions and not for religions, why I have as much disquiet about Islamic faith schools as Born Again Christian academies, catholic schools, jewish schools et al).
No. That isn’t multi-culturalism. That’s ghettos. That’s the same thing that happened to the jews for centuries (see how it all ties together, I wasn’t just using the Julius book to go off on one you know).
It’s inherently stupid, and inherently illiberal. It’s racist and it’s demeaning. And it’s culturally backward – look at the impact Jewish people made on the rest of European culture in the century after they were “emancipated” by Napoleon, and the control of their culture by the forces of religion fell away. This isn’t – sorry my semitic and philo-semitic friends – proof of the innate superiority of the jewish race. It’s proof that once multi-culturalism is properly applied, that great moral, intellectual and economic strides can be made, both in the individual communities and the wider community at large. Our language of human rights may have come from the Enlightenment, for instance, but often as not, since the Jewish emancipation, the most strenous and forthright activists for it have been from the Jewish community. Which benefited both the jews of the world and the cultures they lived in.
Finally, the white working class disconnect? This seems to be a big issue with newspaper columnists. Often newspaper columnists who for the past 30 years who have been at least mildly “yay capitalism!” to quote Austin Powers…Well, for 30 or so years, the governments of this country have been practicing economic practices completely antithetical to the needs and – more often than not – desires of the working class. And whilst doing so, that same working class has seen the number of brown faces around them grow (and, indeed, watching the party that is meant to represent all their class only really make any strides in winning the argument on race – and sexuality, to be completely fair to the poor derided Labour party – to a degree where even racists pretend not to be racist anymore. That’s not to say they shouldn’t have fought and won those battles, but a little more consideration for the wider picture, for the fact that a poor black or brown skinned individual is still, at heart, a poor individual, just like his poor white neighbour, would maybe have helped a fucking bit there, you know? Instead of making all the noises and none of the actions, maybe lifting people out of poverty is as much of a priority and inextricably linked to the battle on race. Rather than, say, jumping on board the neo-liberal express and announcing “we are all middle class now”. Which – sorry? to say – we aren’t). It’s understandable that a proportion of them wrongly interlink the two. Wrong, but understandable.
You want to connect with the working class, perhaps stop shitting on them economically from a great height and then pandering to the bigotry they are fed by feckless tabloids. Stop telling them they have “justifiable fears” about immigration whilst taking away their rights at work and making their life more and more insecure financially, all so a very small proportion of the population can live in gilded splendour unseen since the late 1800s.
Maybe then, they’ll stop getting misled by the – very small – proportion of actual, full on racists within their class. Just as maybe, if you stop treating a broad mass of people as though they are somehow unique and different because they believe in a different version of a sky fairy than you do (and, as a bonus, make constant societal noises about how it’s wrong to question the sky fairies, even when their sky fairy says something remarkably horrible and silly, just as your sky fairy used to, before you told off the people in charge of the sky fairies messages and they realised “hang on a bit, because i said this, nobody is interested in my sky fairy any more, perhaps I should change what my sky fairy says”), perhaps those people will act like people and individuals and not be a huge scary mass of muslims you are able to be scared shitless of.
Just an idea.
The answer is secular, egalitarian, multi-cultural plural democracy. Always has been, always will be. The problem is, we haven’t been practicing it. And we really should.
(ps: yes, the sky fairy stuff was offensive to religions. Sue me, I’m a religionophobe)