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December 01st 2015 print

John O’Sullivan

The Myth of Multicultural Amity

Malcolm Turnbull is fond of proclaiming that Australia is a multicultural society, but this is loose talk. A multicultural society is a contradiction in terms, since common cultural understandings are the glue that holds a society together. Just look at France and the way its very fabric is ripped asunder

We were about thirty hours from sending this issue of Quadrant to the printers when the news broke that terrorist attacks in Paris had killed more than a hundred people. It seemed an important enough event, throwing light on both European and Australian concerns, to justify commissioning serious commentaries on it. That in turn pushed us into re-shaping this Quadrant around the concept of France’s emerging civil war.

Chance favours the prepared mind, it is said, and that concept had been planted in our minds the previous week when we received an article from our perceptive cultural critic Michael Connor titled “Paris, at Five Minutes to Midnight”. On a visit to France, Michael was struck by the unstable jostling blend of joyful cultural entertainments, car-burnings in resentful anti-white suburbs, the smart bookshops running out of republished Occupation-era fascist novels, all within a few stops on the Metro. “Nowhere in Paris is far from possible danger,” he writes. “The theatres and museums operate under strict security. Armed soldiers punctuate the street outside the Shoah Memorial, as they do outside Sacré Cœur.”

THE MASS MURDERS in Paris took place following a summer that had seen a vast non-military invasion of Europe, mainly by young men from the Middle East and Africa sweeping over Europe’s external and internal borders under the guise, not false in all cases, of refugees from the Syrian civil war.

Europe’s political class had accepted this human wave on humanitarian grounds but with varying degrees of enthusiasm; Mrs Merkel went beyond that and issued a general invitation to all refugees who wanted to live in Germany. Hundreds of thousands from a pool of potential millions began to move over sea and land towards Germany and Sweden. What few anxieties were expressed by Berlin and Brussels through the summer did not include concern that this influx of young men might include terrorists or otherwise threaten security.

Europe’s peoples had been more sceptical from the start. A handful of political leaders, notably Hungary’s Viktor Orban, expressed disquiet, puzzlement, opposition. They were promptly denounced as, in effect, neo-fascists, and the EU voted to impose mandatory refugee resettlement quotas on them and everyone else. Mrs Merkel had the extra-legal authority to invite millions of people to live anywhere in the twenty-six countries of the Schengen zone.

Or so it appeared. But this firm imposition of open borders, justified by multicultural pieties, began to break down even before the Paris murders. Not only Central European countries such as Hungary, but also Denmark, Sweden and Austria imposed border controls. The new Polish conservative government announced that it would refuse to accept refugees under the “mandatory” resettlement program. The German government announced that refugees would have to leave for their country of “first arrival” after a brief period for registration and recuperation (though apparently Mrs Merkel learned of this change through the media). And her Finance Minister, the powerful Wolfgang Schauble, mused loudly that sometimes an avalanche can be inadvertently started by the recklessness of a “careless skier”.

Since the murders, France and Belgium have closed their borders, and the EU Commission President, Donald Tusk, has warned that the Schengen Agreement might collapse entirely. Mrs Merkel herself no longer seems immune to political mortality. Early reports claim that one of the terrorists is a “Frenchman of Algerian origin”, that another had a Syrian passport, and that he and a third entered the EU through Greece where their passports were checked in accordance with European rules.

Everything was in order but 127 people died.

What were the politicians thinking? Well, they were slightly afraid of thinking, especially of thinking any thoughts that might conflict with the orthodoxies of a borderless Europe and multiculturalism. Multiculturalism in particular makes politicians nervous because there isn’t much agreement on what multiculturalism is except it’s a Good Thing.

Various definitions are available—eating fusion food or listening to Asian jazz; publishing official documents in minority languages; treating all cultures as equal, including those cultures that deny human and sexual equality; and ensuring that social groups are hired, fired, paid, promoted, elected to parliament, and much else in line with their percentage of the population. That last definition involves a lot of complicated policies such as affirmative action, bilingualism, protected classes, and so on. But the fuzzy general attitude underlying it is that it’s always wrong to show preference for your own kind of people but occasionally right to do so for the Other. Legitimate preferences for the Other seemingly include not asking them questions about security that might embarrass them.

That’s very firmly, if vaguely, the attitude of European (and especially German) political elites. Its technical term is “idealism”. Curiously enough, most ordinary Europeans (like ordinary Australians or Americans) tend to reverse this preference. Without being hostile, they tend to think that if distinctions are to be made, they should favour their own countrymen. The technical term for this is “xenophobia”.

For obvious historical reasons, the elite attitude has usually won out in post-war German politics. Just lately, however, the elites have swept aside all sceptical opposition. After a recent visit to Berlin, Adam Garfinkle, editor of the American Interest, wrote:

Even the Chancellor, who by German standards is far from a raving leftist, appears to firmly believe that everyone must be a multiculturalist for moral reasons, and that all people who want to preserve the ethno-linguistic integrity of their communities—whether in Germany or in Hungary, Poland, and elsewhere—are acting out of base motives … [But] that is not racism … It is simply preferring the constituency of a high-social-trust society, from which, social science suggests, many good things come: widespread security, prosperity, and a propensity toward generosity being prominent among them.

That contempt for the desire of ordinary citizens to feel comfortable and safe in their own society has dominated German and European politics since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Multiculturalism will now be going out of fashion. And since atrocities like those at the weekend are likely to continue—or so the intelligence authorities warn us—it will stay out of fashion a long time.

Mr Turnbull is fond of proclaiming that Australia too is a multicultural society, but this is loose talk. A multicultural society is a contradiction in terms, since common cultural understandings are the glue that holds a society together. Australia is really a multi-ethnic liberal society with an English-speaking common culture (like almost all other Anglosphere countries) and exotic tastes. Hindus, Sikhs, Italians, Greeks, Chinese, Vietnamese and other non-Anglo groups meet in an Australian public square and address their difficulties and each other in English. They conform without difficulty to the law and they operate inside common institutions. They either are or become Australians with only the faintest touch of hyphenation. Their ethnic cultures (language, food, religion) they employ and celebrate at home or on ethnic feast days along with—increasingly—their neighbours. And where they seriously differ—on blasphemy, for instance—they don’t try to enforce their beliefs on each other. They follow the ur-liberal principle: live and let live.

The exception is when a minority has settled political or religious beliefs at serious variance with the political institutions of the country—with the Constitution. If there were widespread support among Muslims for the imposition of sharia in Australia, for instance, that would be a serious problem because sharia treats women as inferior beings while Australia’s political culture is rooted in sexual equality. Leading Australian Muslims deny any such conflict and argue that those Muslims who see one misunderstand their own religion.

Plainly, however, those Islamists who have decamped to ISIS have a quarrel with Western liberalism—along with those remaining in Australia who support and sympathise with them. What they want is to impose an Islamist puritanism on Western society that includes slavery and the murder of apostates. Killing random strangers as if in a war is how they try to break the West’s will. It is Australia’s good fortune that they are still very few in number and as yet constitute a local police problem rather than a political or a constitutional or a national security one.

That’s no longer the case in France or in much of the rest of Europe. Mark Steyn summed up France’s situation following the Paris murders as, “The barbarians are inside, and there are no gates.”

The Islamists are growing in numbers, in part through immigration, but they are still a minority within a minority. Yet they have succeeded in reducing freedom of speech throughout Europe, and in local areas where the Islamists dominate they impose rules such as “no alcohol” and a “modest” dress code for women through threats and beatings. By contrast liberal governments tell Muslim pupils that they need not sing the national anthem if it offends them, and neurotically avoid giving the slightest offence to supposed Muslim sensitivities.

What is needed above all else is a recovery of moral self-confidence and an assertion of the liberal values that attracted Muslims and others to Western societies in the first place. But will that come from the political elites? Douglas Murray thinks not in his powerful polemic in this issue of Quadrant. He echoes a remark made two decades ago by Jean-Francois Revel: “The Left may sometimes be wrong, but the Right can never be right.”

But there are only so many times that you can be wrong, even in politics.

John O’Sullivan is the editor of Quadrant. This essay is taken from his Chronicle column in the magazine’s upcoming December edition