Before the echo of the London bombs had even begun to die away, local pundits had a suspect in their sights, and a headshot-to-kill policy in their minds for multiculturalism. Pamela Bone was one of the first to suggest that this might be a warning sign that we have gone too far. Might it be time for a new policy: ‘couscous yes, child marriage no?’ John Stone went further and suggested that an ethnically based immigration policy and an assimilationist culture should now be on the agenda. Muslim clerics were found who could be called to pledge a commitment to policing the views of other Muslim clerics. In all of this there were two ruling assumptions: that multiculturalism was to blame, and that multiculturalism was nothing other than a specific cultural policy.
As John Hinkson notes in his essay, and as Spiked columnist Josie Appleton observes of the UK scene, the assumption that suicide bombing is something that comes, like a virus, from a medieval ‘over there’ — borne to the west by subversive crackpots, and permitted to flourish by Whitlamite social policy wonks — is a consoling fantasy. Suicide terror comes from the heart of modern global society, as does religious fundamentalism. What allows the most radical and political forms of the latter to flourish in the west is the feature of the west held to be most characteristic of it: a liberal public sphere. Were an assimilationist policy to be re-enacted it would presumably teach that this was the centrepiece of civil life, and that it is assumed to stop at the entry to private life — chief among which is religion. The confusion is exemplified by Bone’s comment above: it already bloody is ‘couscous yes, child marriage, no’. If Bone means that we should take steps to stop the cultural transmission of the (rare) practice of arranged marriage then she is proposing a total intrusion of the state into parent-to-child values formation and/or the restriction of religious education, the latter protected by the Australian constitution.
Stone appears more consistent until you remember that he is a free-marketeer, and that the hypercharged neo-liberal economy he proposes is going to need a variety of global labour flows — Indian computer programmers this year, Nigerian nurses the next — in order to remain competitive. It doesn’t matter whether you have a multicultural policy (as we do), a mandated secular civic culture (France) or rely on guest workers (Germany), people will practice their religion and way of life. Fundamentalism, of any stripe, comes not from these practices, but as an answer to the deep sense of dislocation that people feel in relation to these processes. Multiculturalism is not a policy that leads this global process, it is a cultural technology that adjusts both migrant and recipient society to a new level of mobility and exchange. In this context, a small number of people — usually of the next generation and thoroughly assimilated — feel ‘called’ to commit an ultimate act in a manner that fuses outrage at injustice at what is seen on CNN with a deeper and wholly modern sense of powerlessness and meaninglessness. The most urgent thing to do is to get a less inaccurate picture of what is happening. To judge by the mainstream debate, we have a long way to go.