The dark side of multiculturalism
In the shadow of Sept. 11, it is time to confront the unsettling truth that radical multiculturalism creates tribes that could destroy the society that produced it
The Ottawa Citizen
Sunday, September 10, 2006
“The day will come when we will rule America. The day will come when we will rule Britain and the entire world.”
— Sheik Ibrahim Mudeiris, speaking on Palestinian Authority TV, May 13, 2005
It is a still a surprising sight on a North American street: A woman covered head to toe in a chaddor, with only her eyes showing above a black veil. Even here, in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn, where many recently arrived Muslim immigrants have settled, the chaddor remains comparatively uncommon.
At least that's my conclusion after a day wandering up and down Fifth Avenue, poking into kiosks, halal stores and Middle-Eastern restaurants. It is more common to see Muslim women wearing a hijab, with jeans and a blouse to match the scarf. But even they are outnumbered by the Hispanic and Chinese girls in their short skirts and high-soled shoes.
Maybe that's why I was surprised by the sudden sight of a woman walking alone in a full-black chaddor. I wasn't the only one. I was coming out of a Mexican restaurant on Fifth Avenue when I saw her. The four men on the bench in front of the restaurant stopped talking and followed the woman with their eyes. I was no better. I watched her walk away, the long black cloth flapping gently behind, revealing the figure of what I assumed was a middle-aged woman. Beyond that hint, there was no way to guess her age or appearance. I glanced at the men. Curiosity, hostility, and, maybe, even a tincture of fear; all those emotions seemed to flicker across their stiff faces.
Arabs have settled in New York as far back as the 1870s, many of them from Syria and what is now Lebanon. They settled around Washington Street, not far from where the World Trade Center would be built. They were bankers, manufacturers and importers of fine lace and linen. The majority were not Muslims, however, but Catholics. There were also Syrian Orthodox and Syrian Jews. “This community was an entrepreneurial community, it wasn't an educated community. It had been influenced by French imperialists,” says Philip Kayal, a professor at Seton Hall University and the author of New York: The Mother Colony of Arab-America, 1854-1924. “They thought like Western Europeans for the most part.” They learned English quickly and many married outside the community.
The 1970s saw a new wave of immigrants. They were predominantly Muslim and from various Middle Eastern countries. Muslims from south Asia and Africa have added to the mix in recent years. Today, according to Louis Abdulatif Cristillo, of the Muslims in New York Project at Columbia University, there are about 600,000 Muslims in New York, of whom 200,000 are of Arab ancestry. There has been a major expansion of mosques since the late 1970s, with close to 140 mosques now in New York.
I had read that Bay Ridge contained one of the heaviest concentrations of Muslims in New York. Maybe so, but along Fifth Avenue, I saw a mix of cultures. There were churches for Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses. But there was also a mosque and a couple of Islamic community centres. A newsstand sold both English-language and Arabic papers — Al-Ahram, Al-Hayat and Al-Quds al-Arabi. Along the avenue, from Senator Street to 77th Street, jewelry and shoe stores, bakeries and beautician shops, laws offices and real estate firms, all catering to Arab Muslims, mixed haphazardly with liquor stores, Mexican restaurants, Chinese herb stores, Dunkin' Donuts, Baskin Robbins and a Bank of America branch. The Tarboosh Cafe was near a German schnitzel restaurant. The Halal Food Market was down the street from a Salvation Army thrift store. The Alpine Cinema was showing the World Trade Center movie, while next door the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge displayed posters extolling the virtues of the Islamic life, in English and Arabic.
The only hint something was not quite right was a smashed window at the Islamic Society's community centre.
One broken window does not tell much of a story, of course. And my one-day visit to a single neighbourhood certainly didn't make me an expert on relations between Muslims and mainstream American society. Yet what I saw appeared to confirm what I'd read. Where Muslims in European cities have been ghettoized, effectively set apart from the non-Muslim population, Muslims in American seem to be more integrated into the larger community. On the surface at least, they seemed to be no more “apart” from mainstream American society than, say, the orthodox Jewish community in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, which I also visited. Indeed, it's probably fair to say that until the Sept. 11 attacks, New York's Muslim communities were regarded, by and large, as just another immigrant group, another ingredient in the great American melting pot.
In the aftermath of the terrorist strikes, however, that notion no longer holds sway. Muslim communities have received a lot more attention, none of it welcome. Brooklyn, for example, was the focus of several post-Sept. 11 sweeps by police and federal investigators. Many of the borough's 120,000 Pakistanis chose to leave the United States. And according to Geneive Abdo, author of Mecca and Main Street: Muslim Life in America After 9/11, the notion that the six million Muslims in the United States are well-assimilated and accepting of traditional American values and contemporary lifestyle is false.
In a recent article in the Washington Post, Abdo recounted the results of spending the past two years travelling the country, visiting mosques, interviewing Muslim leaders and speaking to young Muslim in universities and Islamic centres from New York to Michigan to California. “I found few signs of London-style radicalism among Muslims in the United States. At the same time, the real story of American Muslims is one of accelerating alienation from the mainstream of U.S. life, with Muslims in this country choosing their Islamic identity over their American one.”
Political scientist Samuel Huntington would not find Abdo's conclusions surprising. In his 2004 book, Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity, Huntington looks at the effect of mass immigration from non-western cultures on the United States. The American political order, as he notes, was largely founded by British settlers who brought with them particular cultural values — individualism, the rule of law and religious faith, to name a few. Subsequent immigrants generally accepted this pre-established culture and assimilated into what Huntington refers to as “America's Anglo-Protestant” system. Even waves of Muslim immigrants in the early decades of the 20th century were able to assimilate without sacrificing their faith. More recently, though, says Huntington, the American Creed — as he calls it — has been eroded by the unwillingness of many immigrants, particularly those from Arab countries, to assimilate and accept the traditional notions of American national identity.
“Sept. 11 brought a revival of American patriotism and a renewal of American identity,” Huntington writes. “But already there are signs that this revival is fading, even though in the post-Sept. 11 world, Americans face unprecedented challenges to our security.”
It hasn't helped, he says, that cultural and academic elites promote a radical version of multiculturalism that undermines and effectively “denationalizes” the country. Indeed, nothing better exemplifies contemporary elite assumptions than multiculturalism.
Multicultural theory asserts that assimilating immigrants from non-western countries is wrong because it presumes western culture is superior. Assimilation, in other words, is coercion. Liberal societies must accept not only the immigrants but also their cultures. Thus, the maintenance and even the assertion of cultural values becomes a fundamental right. Originally, of course, the elites that promoted this theory thought multiculturalism would amount to immigrants celebrating their native cultures while gradually adopting prevailing liberal principles of political order. Immigrants might hang trinkets from rearview mirrors, cheer soccer teams from the old country and hold festivals displaying the native cuisine and artifacts of their homelands, but they would, as it were, be good liberals.
Not surprisingly, multiculturalism was pushed beyond trinkets and restaurants. The original idea of multiculturalism as a way to promote tolerance and open-mindedness was kidnapped by the radical left and inflated to produce a variety of notions — postmodernism, poststructuralism, postcolonialism — all of which are essentially anti-western. So today, as Huntington remarks, multiculturalism is “basically an anti-western ideology.”
Contemporary multiculturalism, at its most fundamental, is an appeal to and promotion of what historian Vincent Cannata has called “native nationalisms.” In effect, the imposition of multicultural policies in liberal western countries resulted in the importation of cultural ascriptions and practices that are, in some cases, inimical to liberal traditions. Behind this is the assumption on the part of western cultural elites since the Second World War that nationalism is almost the equal of fascism. This, of course, ignores the context of nationalist expression. To wave the flag in Canada or the United States is not the same as waving the flag in Nazi Germany. To “stand up for America” is not necessarily a demonstration of xenophobia. For the elites, however, nationalism demonstrates one of the great sins of liberalism — exclusion. To apply “nation” to a group or set of values is to exclude others. In today's globalized worlds, say the cosmopolitans, the nation-state been superseded by the realities of mass immigration, multi-ethnic populations and telecommunications.
This makes multiculturalism much more than a feel-good policy to make immigrants feel more comfortable in their new surroundings. Roger Kimball, a respected cultural commentator in the United States, summarized the situation in an essay earlier this year in The New Criterion: “We are now beginning to reap the fruit of our liberal experiment with multiculturalism. The chief existential symptom is moral paralysis, expressed, for example, in the inability to discriminate effectively between good and evil … The large issue here is one that has bedeviled liberal societies ever since they were liberal: namely, that in attempting to create a maximally tolerant society, we also give scope to those who prefer to create the maximally intolerant society.”
Joseph Rhea, in his book Race Pride and the American Identity, offers an illuminating example of just how far the cultural elites will go in denigrating western civilization by comparing poems recited at two presidential inaugurations three decades apart. At President John F. Kennedy's inauguration in 1961, Robert Frost referred to the “heroic deeds” that marked the founding of the United States in 1776. America, Frost proclaimed, was established with God's “approval” and ushered in “a new order of the ages.” “Our venture in revolution and outlawry/ Has justified itself in freedom's story/ Right down to now in glory upon glory.” The United States, the poet concluded, was embarking on a new “golden age of poetry and power.”
Thirty-two years later, at President Bill Clinton's inauguration, Maya Angelou's poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” portrayed a badly tarnished America. In fact, Angelou didn't once use the words “America” or “American.” Instead, she identified 27 racial, religious, tribal and ethnic groups — Muslim, Arab, Asian, Hispanic, Pawnee, Ashanti, Jews, Irish, Scandinavian and even Eskimos (Inuit, for politically corrected Canadians), among others. She denounced the repression these groups suffered at the hands of the United States' “armed struggles for profit” and its “bloody sear” of “cynicism.” (How, you might ask, has the U.S. oppressed Scandinavians?) The United States, Angelou concluded, may be “wedded forever to fear, yoked eternally to brutishness.”
Clearly, multiculturalists like Angelou see national identities as threats to peoples' tribal identities. You have to wonder what the dead white males — Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Hamilton, Washington, mostly of Anglo-Celtic extraction — who established the American republic, drafted a constitution and wrote its Bill of Rights, would think of Angelou's intellectual shallowness. They wanted to establish a political order whose principles would help people overcome the tribal identities that had caused so much bloodshed throughout history.
But then Angelou's sentimental distortion of history is typical of the multicultural agenda, as anyone who's been on a North American campus in the past 30 years will recognize. The demands of multiculturalism have corrupted the curriculum, particularly in the arts and humanities and social sciences. As historian Keith Windschuttle says in his essay The Cultural War on Western Civilization: Until recent decades, most people raised in a western culture were taught that “Its art and its music were glories of its civilization.” Literary critics, he says, once extolled the genius of western writers and their contributions to the betterment of the human condition. Nowadays, says Windschuttle, “much of the academic debate about western literary heritage claims that it is politically contaminated: Othello is ethnocentric; Paradise Lost is a feminist tragedy; Jane Eyre is both racist and sexist. Similarly, the teaching of western history has, in many cases, been reduced to a denunciation of the West.
Philosophers from Socrates to Hegel are regarded as “old, dead, white males” with nothing to say to the modern world; never mind that it was those dead, white men who articulated the concepts of freedom and tolerance that the new barbarians distort in perpetuating their anti-western program.
These distortions gradually infiltrate the public mind, saturating it with a particular understanding of the world that is then translated into political and social action. The promotion of hyphenated identities — say, Muslim-American or Lebanese-Canadian — is a good example. As Roger Kimball observes, hyphenated identities are not merely descriptive, but also prescriptive. That is to say, they intimate a divided allegiance, a hesitant loyalty. “The multicultural passion for hyphenation is not simply a fondness for syntactical novelty. It also speaks of a commitment to the centrifugal force of anti-American tribalism.” Substitute “anti-American” for “anti-western” and you have the long-term consequence of radical multiculturalism.
In this regard, the elites who promote multiculturalism are betraying one of the essential purposes of the liberal creed — the creation of “citizens” who, in their capacity as rational human beings, are able to sublimate their tribalist instincts and derive their primary public identity from the larger political order. Australian philosopher David Stove explains the matter this way: The contemporary liberal West has attempted “to achieve a society which would be maximally tolerant. But that resolve not only gives maximum scope to the activities of those who have set themselves to achieve the maximally intolerant society. It also, and more importantly, paralyses our powers of resistance to them.”
Modern liberalism, as historian Arthur Herman recounts in The Idea of Decline in Western History, is rooted in the 18th-century Enlightenment effort to emancipate people from religious and theological dogma. It was, in large part, a response to the religious warfare that had devastated Europe in the previous century. In pre-modern times it was assumed a person had meaning and purpose according to his or her place in the “great chain of being.” Your “identity” was established by gods, kings and nature, and that identity was more often than not imposed by authoritarian powers, whether kings or bishops.
Enlightenment thinkers rejected this formulation, arguing that having a pre-determined position in life imposed on you without your informed consent because of your race, sex or religious heritage is a form of tyranny. As Herman says, “The classical liberal view originally sprang up precisely because its adherents recognized the dangers of insisting that individuals have significance only if they are part of a larger whole.”
Enlightenment philosophers — Descartes and Spinoza, Leibniz and Locke, Kant and Hegel, to name a few — championed human reason as the means by which men could overcome unjustified political and social authority. The great idea of classical liberalism — and only in the West did this idea emerge — was that the individual could raise himself above his determined status, could overcome his given circumstances by means of his powers of reason. Through reason a man could subdue the tribalist passions that enslaved him and thereby become free.
Thus, the capacity for reason is the hallmark of the free, mature, socially responsible individual. The true liberal recognizes that the institutions of civil society — laws and constitutions, parliaments and universities, churches and social clubs — serve the ultimate purpose of providing the conditions by which individuals can live the most fulfilling material life available. At the same time, the individual is rationally aware that those institutions are necessary for his well-being, and he therefore willingly supports them, sometimes at the sacrifice of his life.
This understanding of liberalism has shaped the political and cultural institutions of the West for the past two centuries. Admittedly, the modern project has been less than perfect. Colonialism and imperialism, fascism and communism, nationalism and anti-Semitism; all are perversions of the modernist thrust. Even the desire for freedom has produced horrors. The French Revolution began as a demand for liberty but degenerated into a campaign of terror in the name of freedom. The liberal revolution also prompted a counter-revolution that helped give birth to fascism and now influences the Islamists.
But modernity has also been challenged by various postmodern theories, including radical multiculturalism, that challenge the core concepts of western civilization — reason and freedom. Postmodern theory asserts that appeals to universal reason are merely ethnocentric, a racist appeal to the superiority of western culture. Reason, therefore, is an excuse for repression and the imposition of power, and to expose it as such is to reveal the dark heart of the West. If Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn can be analysed as a white-supremacist tract, as postmodern literary analysis contends, then maybe the entire western literary canon can be exposed as an ethnocentric expression of imperialist power.
In such a manner does the “postmodern virus,” to borrow a phrase, infects social and political life, providing the theoretical basis for the anti-western slant now popular in academe. It regards the western literary and philosophical tradition canon as just so many dead white man imposing their values on women, minorities, gays and all the oppressed of the world.
Even our narcissistic obsession with self-esteem, the trivial pursuits of celebrity worship, the debasement of high culture and hedonistic rejection of tradition morality — the institution of marriage, for example — can be traced to the influence of postmodernist teachings that preach the relativistic gospel that there is no right or wrong, no “high” or “low” culture, only opinions, none of which are inherently any better than another.
Thus, says political theorist Richard Wolin, postmodernism rejects western-style rationalism, liberal institutions (constitutional democracy, the rule of law, etc.), language, and even the western idea of man, as a cultural dead end. Liberal bourgeois society is regarded as rationalistic, oppressive and, of course, imperialist and racist, he writes in his book, The Seduction of Unreason. “Paradoxically, whereas a visceral rejection of political modernity (rights of man, rule of law, constitutionalism) was once standard fare among counter-revolutionary thinkers, it has now become fashionable among advocates of the cultural left. Postmodernists equate democracy with 'soft totalitarianism.' They argue that by privileging public reason and the common good, liberal democracy effectively suppresses otherness and difference.”
Paradox, indeed. Under the postmodern banner, liberal concepts such as freedom, equality and tolerance have been distorted by political correctness into their opposites. It is OK in the name of free speech to attack Christianity (Catholic or Protestant), but say anything critical of Islam and you risk being charged with hate speech. Multicultural policies intended to encourage people to honour their cultural heritage have been inflated to the point where immigrants reject assimilation in the wider society, thereby creating de facto cultural ghettoes that are many cases hostile to the host culture. As Roger Kimball says, “What we have witnessed with the triumph of multiculturalism is a kind of hypertrophy or perversion of liberalism, as its core doctrines are pursued to the point of caricature.”
The great danger of multiculturalism, when taken to extreme, is that people think they can achieve a sense of identity, a sense of belonging, not as rational creatures capable of transcending the limits and restrictions of biology and geography — which was the Enlightenment ideal that gave birth to liberalism — but as members of a particular “tribe” or community and a particular history. This is a reversion to the kind of tribalism that produced centuries of warfare in Europe, and still plagues much of the rest of the world. Indeed, the idea that as a consequence of being born into a certain ethnic group you assume the duty of having to maintain and even promote the ancestral culture and its creed smacks of the same kind of ethnic nationalism that is fundamentally at odds with liberalism.
There is considerable irony in this. Multiculturalism was born out of liberalism's belief in diversity and tolerance for difference. But like all utopian illusions it has fostered the kind of societal and cultural conditions that undermine liberal order. Which is to say that multiculturalism's reversion to tribes will, if taken to the extreme, destroy the society that produced it, in same way that an infection wreaks havoc on the body's immune system. Radical multiculturalism, in short, constitutes an enemy within liberal society. As Arthur Herman says: “Radical multiculturalism implies that American (read: Western) society systematically produces race hatred and social inequities, while cultural pessimism's various other offshoots and branches insist that our society is irredeemably racism, sexist, imperialist, homophobic, phallocentric, greedy, and proto-totalitarian; or alternatively (for those of the political Right), corrupt, decadent, mindless, hedonistic, apathetic, morally bankrupt, as well as proto-totalitarian. In effect, the very things modern society does best — providing increasing economic affluence, equality of opportunity, and social and geographic mobility — are systematically depreciated and vilified by its direct beneficiaries.”
Even a staunch multiculturalist like Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen has recognized that the “sunny days” of multiculturalism are over in the wake of the terrorist threat. “The French and the Germans are very doubtful of the wisdom of the (multicultural) approach, and Denmark and the Netherlands have already reversed their official policies,” he wrote recently in the Financial Times. “Even Britain is full of misgivings.”
Some countries are already toughening their security arrangements — without violating constitutional rights and freedoms. In Europe, for example, the Netherlands vigorously prosecutes mullahs who indulge in hate speech. The Dutch also limit immigration from the Middle East and deport Islamic extremists, including those with Dutch passports. Last year, French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy introduced new anti-terrorism laws that allow the government to summarily deport residents and strip extremists of their naturalized citizenship. The British government introduced legislation that would make it a crime to associate with Islamic radicals, as well as allow the government to more readily deport those who support terrorism. As British Prime Minister Tony Blair put it. “Let no one be in any doubt that the rules of the game are changing.”
Sen, too, seems to recognize multiculturalism took a wrong turn. In a nutshell, the multiculturalists forgot that in liberal societies freedom must take precedence over communitarian impositions. Considering his prominence as a supporter of multiculturalism, it is worth quoting Sen in full: “The history of multiculturalism offers a telling example of how bad reasoning can tie people up in terrible knots of their own making. The importance of cultural freedom, central to the dignity of all people, must be distinguished from the celebration and championing of every form of cultural inheritance, irrespective of whether the people involved would choose those particular practices given the opportunity of critical scrutiny, and given an adequate knowledge of other options and of the choices that actually exist in the society in which they live. The demands of cultural freedom include, among other priorities, the task of resisting the automatic endorsement of past traditions, when people — not excluding young people — see reason for changing their ways of living.”
Perhaps, though, the most vivid example of multiculturalism's incoherence in the face of terrorism is an essay Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor wrote in 1989 about the Iranian fatwa against Salman Rushdie after he published his novel The Satanic Verses. In The Rushdie Controversy, Taylor acknowledges that writers cannot be expected to avoid dealing with sensitive religious symbols without betraying their own understanding of the world. Nevertheless, he maintains that in adopting the anti-religious and secular perspective of western liberal society, Rushdie ignored how religious symbols and dogmas mean a great deal to those who espouse them. To mock those symbols is to mock those existential supports that provide people with meaning in their lives.
“Rushdie's book is comforting to the western liberal mind,” Taylor says, “(because it confirms) the belief that there is nothing outside their worldview that needs deeper understanding.” In other words, Rushdie engaged in a deliberate act of “misrecognition,” which, according to Taylor, amounts to doing damage to an individual or group.
Taylor's argument implies that even fundamental principles of liberalism such as freedom of expression have to bend to accommodate the feelings of others. “Any regime of free expression has limits which are justified by the possibility of harm on others,” he says, noting the existence of libel laws and the taboo on shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre. In a world in which international migration is making societies less culturally homogeneous, he concludes, “the liberal mind will have to learn to reach out more.”
Using the analogy of libel laws to challenge liberal principles is questionable. Libel laws offer redress to individuals — not groups –who think their reputations have been harmed. What individual Muslims did Rushdie libel? How do you libel an entire religion? Taylor's standard, if taken to its logical conclusion, would forbid any criticism of religion since whatever you say is sure to offend some believer somewhere. As for the crowded-theatre comparison, that is a matter of self-preservation, not principle.
Taylor's one-sided insistence on tolerance and understanding suggests liberal societies must violate their most fundamental principles to accommodate a cultural “value” — a fatwa, after all, asserts some kind of “value” — that denies those very principles. Why is Rushdie supposed to be tolerant of how some Muslims see the world, but they are not obliged to be tolerant of his views?
The question points up an essential conflict between liberalism and radical multiculturalism. Why is western civilization required to dilute or deny its basic principles when confronted by cultures that reject those principles? More pointedly, what does a society do when confronted by even a small minority within an immigrant group that rejects the liberal principles of tolerance and diversity that inform multiculturalism? It is doubtful that liberalism can compromise on its most fundamental principles without becoming illiberal. As political theorist Brian Barry writes in Culture and Equality, “a liberal cannot coherently believe that liberal principles should themselves be compromised to accommodate the demands of anti-liberals.”
– – –
The Rushdie controversy, like the more recent controversy over the Danish cartoons, exposes the dark side of multiculturalism. While it is commendable for western societies to be open to other values, it is self-destructive to carry that effort to the point where you have so little regard for your own civilization.
Pope Benedict considers this strange self-loathing on the part of westerners in an essay titled The Spiritual Roots of Europe. “Multiculturalism, which is so constantly and passionately promoted, can sometimes amount to an abandonment and denial, a flight from one's own heritage. At the hour of its greatest success, Europe seems hollow, as if it were internally paralysed by a failure of its circulatory system that is endangering its life, subjecting it to transplants that erase its identity.”
According to some observers, it is this self-hatred, and the doubt and uncertainty it engenders, that is at the root of West's hesitation to acknowledge the Islamist declaration of war. Italian philosopher Marcello Pera, for example, warns that the “winds of Munich” are blowing across Europe. He regards the opposition of European elites to the war in Iraq as a replay of the appeasement mentality that gripped Europeans in the 1930s and made them unwilling to confront Hitler and the Nazis until war was inevitable.
Pera attributes this self-hatred to the “guilt of the West” over the “horrors” of its past — everything from colonialism and imperialism to Nazism and communism. Nonetheless, this self-loathing presents the greatest danger to the West in the conflict with Islamism, because it “weakens our cultural defences and prepares us for, or inclines us toward, surrender. Because it makes us believe that there is nothing for which fighting or risking is worthwhile.”
Thus, “the West is paralysed twice over. It is paralysed because it does not believe that there are good reasons to say that it is better than Islam. And it is paralysed because it believes that, if such reasons do indeed exist, then the West would have to fight Islam.”
Obviously, war would not be necessary if there could be a reasonable and respectful dialogue between the West and Islam. But that would of necessity require the Islamists to “respect” western values, even if they don't wish to adopt them. But peaceful coexistence is exactly what the Islamists reject. As Hussein Massawi, a former Hezbollah warlord put it, “We are not fighting so that you will offer us something. We are fighting to eliminate you.” Osama bin Laden has been equally warlike: “The rule to kill Americans and their allies — civilians and military — is a sacred duty for any Muslim,” he said in February 1998.
They don't speak for all Muslims, of course. But even so, as recent events attest, a considerable number of Muslims are sympathetic to his views. In July 2005, a British poll indicated that of the approximately two million Muslims in Britain, about six per cent 120,000 people thought the London suicide bombings were justified, while another 24 per cent that's 480,000 sympathized with the killers. Moreover, 16 per cent 320,000 say they have no loyalty to Britain.
So, most Muslims aren't terrorists, but if the British polls are anything to go by, way too many are sympathetic to the terrorists' goals.
One Canadian sociologist estimates there are more than 300,000 Muslim youth in Canada. Even if only one per cent sympathize with Islamist terrorism, that's 3,000 whose views, potentially at least, are a threat to Canada's liberal democracy. Sociological surveys of Muslim students might suggest most are tolerant and open-minded, but that doesn't deny the reality that a tiny minority can, as it were, ruin things for everyone else.
Which raises a point made by Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington: Muslims increasingly see America as their enemy. If that is a fate Americans cannot avoid, their only alternative is to accept it and to take measures necessary to cope with it. In other words, how long can a liberal democracy tolerate the presence of a substantial number of those who regard themselves as a distinct and potentially hostile body? Surely, if this group refuses to reciprocate the basic principles of liberal democracy and, indeed, declares jihad against those principles, then that group constitutes an enemy within.
As historian Victor Davis Hanson writes in a recent edition of City Journal, The continued presence within our borders of so many who seek to destroy us suggests that we still haven't squarely faced the problem that Islamic radicalism poses to our domestic security. He's referring to the United States, but surely the idea applies equally well to other western countries, including Canada.
There's no guarantee another terrorist attack can be prevented. But you would think an all-out effort would be made to do so. So what should the nations of the West do? Suspending most legal immigration from Middle Eastern countries known to tolerate or even subsidize radical Islam, particularly when it calls for the destruction of the West, would be a sensible place to start. Another would be the institution of profiling. It makes no sense in terms of security or economics to search the bags of a Glaswegian grandmother when you know that the most likely terrorist candidate is a young, Arabic-looking male.
Most western countries already have laws against hate speech. Those laws should be extended to include radical Islamic doctrines that routinely denigrate westerners, Jews, women and gays. Those convicted of promoting Islamist hatred and of being involved in plotting terrorist actions should receive stiff prison sentences. Other countries should be told that their sponsorship or funding of charities, madrassas and mosques that become sources of Islamist promulgation will no longer be allowed. Finally, and perhaps most crucially, western nations need to foster a public culture that demonstrates to their citizens that Islamism is no less a threat than were fascism, Nazism and communism.
I found no enemies during my visit to Bay Ridge, no evidence of hostility beyond the broken window. After an afternoon's wandering I had a late lunch in the Damascus Gate restaurant on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 73rd Street. The Syrian woman who ran it served a delicious shawarma chicken wrap, thick with meat and stuffed with pickles and peppers. Afterward, I nursed a cup of Turkish coffee and I watched the passing traffic on the sidewalk. That's when I saw my second chaddor of the day.
Earlier, I'd visited Williamsburg area of Brooklyn with a friend who'd grown up in the area when it was populated largely by orthodox Jews. It still is, but in recent years there's been a big influx of Hispanics. My friend, Sally Heinemann, the former editor of Bridge News, pointed out how many of the Williamsburg streets Hewes, Lee, Rutledge, Penn, Heyward, etc. were named after the men who signed the American Declaration of Independence in 1776. For some reason, when I saw that second woman in the chaddor I thought of the orthodox Jewish women on the streets of Williamsburg. While they they were nowhere near as extreme in their dress as fundamentalist Muslim women, they, too, wore scarves and dressed modestly according to their faith. Suddenly, I thought I'd been offered a glimpse at the secret of America's success, and what threatens that success.
The American founders asked themselves: How can a democratic and multi-ethnic state be organized? What are the political principles necessary for reconciling competing interests? Canadians like to think our constitutional monarchy and our motto of peace, order and government provides for greater political stability than does the republican system of the United States with its motto of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. History, however, suggests something different. For all its dynamism, the United States has been a remarkably stable country, at least since the Civil War. Where Canadians still puzzle over their identity, Americans long ago figured out who and what they were.
While Canadians have tied themselves in knots over constitutional questions for 40 years, the United States got on with defeating the Soviet Union and expanding its commercial empire. All of which suggests the American founders did a pretty good job figuring out how to organize a democratic, multicultural state. There's no denying that the United States is one of the most stable nation-states in the world, as well as the most prosperous. So what is the secret?
Clearly, geography played a part. Having oceans on either side of you and non-threatening neighbours to the north and south does wonders for your sense of security. Likewise, vast resources and an enterprising and growing population played their part. Nevertheless, it seemed to me that the success of the United States as a multicultural, multi-ethnic democracy was bound up with its allegiance to a particular ideological claim, a notion that resides at the core of the American constitution, politics and culture the concept of freedom.
It is the devotion to individual freedom and the long commitment by generations of Americans to that concept that has provided the glue for the American national identity and allowed the United States to maintain itself as a democratic, multi-ethnic state. Everyone, regardless of race, creed or colour, has been expected to set their American identity over all other identities in exchange for living in a country that allows them to pursue their individual freedom (including religious freedom) to its rational limits. It is this ideological pillar that radical multiculturalism threatens to topple. If that pillar falls, if the American national identity fragments into tribalist attachments, well, arguably, so will the United States as a united nation-state.
Will Muslims in the United States accept the principle of freedom and all it implies in the same way as, say, orthodox Jews? Geneive Abdo says a new generation of American Muslims living in the shadow of the Sept. 11 attacks is less likely to embrace the nation's fabled melting pot of shared values and common culture. She links this phenomenon to the resurgence of Islam over the past several decades. But the Sept. 11 attacks have also made American Muslims feel isolated. From schools to language to religion, American Muslims are becoming a people apart, Abdo concludes. Despite contemporary public opinion or perhaps because of it Muslim Americans consider Islam their defining characteristic, beyond any national identity.
I was thinking about that question as my second chaddor-clad woman walked past. I'm pretty sure it wasn't the same woman I'd seen earlier. This one was slimmer. And she was talking on a cellphone through the black veil. I noticed something else, too, showing beneath the chaddor: she wore open-toed sandals and bright red toenails. In Saudi Arabia, where police strictly enforce religious dress codes, such a display would get a woman a harsh reprimand, if not worse. Here, in the United States, along Fifth Avenue in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn, I'd like to interpret that small bright flash of vanity as an expression of individual freedom, however minor.
Maybe, I thought, the melting pot can still work its alchemy.
Robert Sibley is a senior writer with the Citizen. In a concluding essay in tomorrow's paper he looks at the virtues the West must recover to prevail in the Age of Terror.