The truly exasperating and irksome thing about Brendan O’Neill’s Spiked article ‘After Cologne’ is not that he is entirely wrong – he’s not – but his jaundiced, cramped impractical view of humanity which uses history as a blunt instrument rather than a reflecting mirror. But let’s begin with what is right in the piece.
I agree with him entirely about the silence of the lambs in the face of horrific sexual assaults by gangs of (mainly it seems) North African immigrants in Cologne and similar assaults elsewhere: it is stupid and counter-productive to deny these problems are happening and to lie about their reality.
These young men must be punished for their crimes, swiftly. They must not be left to believe that such crimes are exonerated in the new countries in which they have arrived. But it must go further than that.
When two world views are in collision, then the authorities as well as punishing must educate. Those whose view of the west has been shaped by a warped and medieval interpretation of Islam and the lurid outpourings of Hollywood need re-education in the values of the west. No argument there. And as many of them have been through the trauma of war, bombardment and terror, they will also need psychological counselling. But Mr O’Neill is blind to the historical background to this behaviour or its consequences on the immigrants.
Firstly, as I’ve written before, Christianity is very lucky that it has a new testament: imagine if our values were shaped by the old one, which is no different to some parts of the Quran in its morality: both are desert religions, and soaked in the values of their times.
But as Mr O’Neill points out, we had an enlightenment. And didn’t that change the way we behave. Nazi Germany. The Balkans. The IRA. Vietnam. The Westboro Baptist Church. So let’s not be too quick climb up on our high horses.
And then there’s the recent history of the Middle East, where the young men came from. Starting with Iran. As then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote in 2000:
“In 1953 the United States played a significant role in orchestrating the overthrow of Iran’s popular Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh. The Eisenhower Administration believed its actions were justified for strategic reasons; but the coup was clearly a setback for Iran’s political development. And it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs.”
Significant role is something of an understatement. The engineer of this coup, which had taken some years and involved collaboration between the British and the Americans was engineered by the wonderfully named CIA officer Kermit Roosevelt. Thus began the long and brutal reign of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi which ended in 1979.
Into the gap raced the arch conservative Mullahs led by Ayatollah Khomeini, whose repressive regime left millions of young Iranians uneducated – and during the long and bloody war with Iraq – dead.
Talking of long and bloody wars with Iraq, the website Iraq Body Count conservatively estimates between 150,000 and 170,000 civilian deaths since the invasion in 2003. The complete devastation of Iraq after the disastrous American effort to rebuild the country as a neo-con version of paradise (read Naomi Klein’s Baghdad Year Zero for the whole story) left millions in poverty and despair.
There’s so much more. Russia’s support for the Assad regime in Syria, the seemingly endless enmity between Israel and Palestine. Not to mention The cumulative effect of incessant drone attacks which kill civilians as well as military targets: since Obama came to power, almost 2,500 people have been killed by overt drone attacks (for the complete story, check ‘Get the data: Drone wars’) It is said that for every one civilian killed by American forces, 100 enemies of America are made. That isn’t scientific, but it rings true. I know if American drones were dropping daily on my city, I would more than likely join a counter-insurgency organisation.
As a result of the accumulated desolation of entire countries, their populations, their economies and their infrastructure, there are now 60 million refugees world wide.
And now, Europe – but not, ironically, the main perpetrator, America – is reaping the crop it helped to sow.
But O’Neill does not address the solution to this unimagined or unimaginable world problem, but only the wrong step of suppression of the truth, what he calls ‘the moral silencing wrought by multiculturalism…suppressing politics itself, in politics’ truest sense of being a free, frank, conflictual discussion about values and the future.’
Seriously? The moral silencing wrought by multiculturalism? A strange place to lay the blame. Multiculturalism I mean. Multiculturalism is the human face of globalisation.
Just as our foods, our goods, our cars and our ideas now come from all around the planet earth, so too do our populations. It is antediluvian to expect there to be pure nationalities: even the Japanese must soon face the inevitability of miscegenation or at least having a variety of non-Japanese neighbours.
Let’s go back to the roots of multiculturalism in Australia, which is easily dated by a reading of Al Grassby’s 1973 paper, ‘A multi-cultural society for the future’
In 1973, Australia’s population was just over 13 million, the world’s 3,919 billion. In 2015, it was estimated that Australia’s population was just under 24 million. And the world’s 7,349 billion. Both Australia’s and the world’s populations have doubled in just over 40 years
In advocating for a multicultural society in 1973 – which to many at the time was as popular as a cockroach in the soup tureen – Grassby said that his ideal was for a society that gave ‘full scope for all to develop their personal potential, no matter how diverse their origins, beliefs, wealth or ability’
But in enumerating the ethnicities of the migrants at the time, Grassby showed what a huge change there has been between 1973 and 2015. Not one Islamic country was represented or mentioned.
Today, integrating those 60 million refugees – most of them Muslim – in Europe, Asia and Australia is a monstrous undertaking that dear old Al Grassby could not have foreseen, as foresighted and enlightened as he was.
O’Neill goes on to say that ‘Multiculturalism is…the sacralisation of moral and cultural relativism. It makes a virtue of the vacuum in the heart of the modern West’ and the failure [of the west] to stand up for the values of Enlightenment by instead saying, ‘All cultures are equally valid’. Which in O’Neill’s world, they’re definitely bloody not. Ours is way ahead.
This is not a good way to handle the problem of 60 million refugees. “Right. The first thing you have to realise is that your way of life, your religion is shit. Ours is better.” He’s beginning to sound like a mid 20th Century Australian assimilationist, assimilation being that strange policy that Tim Rowse wrote in his book White Flour, White Power ‘both wooed and compelled, invited and manipulated.’ We are going to have to be a lot cleverer than that with these 60 million refugees from the wars of the enlightened.
Quite frankly, this little Aussie doesn’t have the answer. And neither does O’Neill. But to attribute to the inevitability of multiculturalism (remember globalisation?) a core instinct that is ‘a driving force …to shush and stifle, to elevate self-censorship and denial of difficult reality of allowing open discussion and, worse, a judgement of and between values’ is a massive distortion, an ugly and closed minded view of an inevitability of the modern world. I much prefer Grassby’s vision looking from 1973 to 2000:
‘My vision of our society in the year 2,000
foreshadows a greatly increasing social
complexity, in which the dynamic interaction
between the diverse ethnic components will be
producing new national initiatives, stimulating
new artistic endeavours, and ensuring great
strength in diversity.’
I hope we’re up to it. Because if we’re not, Hanrahan will be proved right.