Sunday, 21 April 2013

America's refusal to accept multi-culturalism

Back in the UK, a standard Conservative talking point is the "failure of multi-cultural ism." This is essentially a rejection of the previous Labour government's suggestion that there might just be room in the country for other cultures, beyond a boiler-plate model of "Britishness" that looked more like the 19th century than a modern complex nation. But for all that multi-culturalism was thrown around as a political football, it is the reality in both my home country, and the country I now live in.

The United States is built on waves of immigration from all over the world. Often these groups of immigrants would gather together, usually forced to by the economics of the time, leading to concentration of their culture. Despite this the US seems deeply uncomfortable with the idea of these other cultural identities, in fact despite being formed from an impressive patchwork of backgrounds, the US seems wholly allergic to multi-cultural ideas. There is a determined effort to demand all Americans adhere to a template of "Americanism, " and to therefore classify all those who do not fit that mold as other.

With this in mind I think it is important to see the way the US is processing the Boston bombing. Honestly I think it came as a relief to many that they could identify the suspects as "foreign" despite the one they now have in custody being a naturalized US citizen who came here as a small child. Despite these young men spending their most formative decade in the United States, it is comforting for people to point at their Chechen  background and say "there it is, that's what was wrong. They weren't really american." Because Americans don't do things like this (except when they do, do, and certainly do.) While they may have been living in America, they may have legally been American, they did not conform to the cookie-cutter format, and thus are not allowed to be American.

I was discussing this with my wife the other day, and she remarked that when the7/7  bombings happened in London the real crisis within Britain was because they were British. Were were upset because we thought we were doing it all right. We had tried so hard to not do what the US is doing, to reject a broader definition of our nations culture, one that included many different distinct cultures. We were upset because every one of us had gone to school with a boy named Muhammad. We were inclusive of the people who carried out the bombings, and proud of it. So unlike the US, it was harder to neatly "other" them, they were Brits. Really we had to lean on a religious angle, but even then only by putting emphasis on the world "radical" whenever said alongside islam. We had to distinguish them from that nice Muhammad we all went to school with, because they were like "those" muslims, those muslims were British. No the attackers were those "other" muslims, the radical ones.

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