A twentysomething visitor from Britain brings us the message that there should be no special rules for Muslims, writes Janet AlbrechtsenOctober 18, 2006In another sign of predictable cultural capitulation, a check-in employee with British Airways is banned from wearing a small Christian cross but Muslim and Sikh employees may wear turbans and the hijab. Little wonder,


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Multicultural madness needs such antidotes

In another sign of predictable cultural capitulation, a check-in employee with British Airways is banned from wearing a small Christian cross but Muslim and Sikh employees may wear turbans and the hijab. Little wonder, then, that Munira Mirza is so refreshing. This young woman, reared as a Muslim, says it's time to scrap multiculturalism and to stop defining people as members of a minority group. Specifically, it's time for our political leaders to stop engaging with Muslims as Muslims. They are citizens; no special rules apply.

Mirza pulls few punches when exposing the West's cultural surrender. We all know the problem. Free speech in the polite West is a little clogged up these days. A Dutch film-maker, Theo van Gogh, is slain for making Submission, a movie critical of Islam. The scriptwriter, Dutch political activist Ayan Hirsi Ali, is forced to live under threat of death. Amateurish Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed unleash orchestrated madness across the globe. A nun is killed in Somalia because local Muslims don't like the Pope musing about Muslim attitudes to violence. A French teacher is hiding, under police protection, after describing Mohammed as a "merciless war leader". And so it goes on.

When it's easier to stay quiet for fear of provoking violence from some Muslims or attracting accusations of racism from Western appeasers, then the West is already living under the shadow of Islamic fascism. We're stuck with silent feminists who prefer cultural rights and the burka over women's rights and the silly noise of some on the so-called progressive side of politics marching to the tune of "We're all Hezbollah now".

Which is why, in the battle of ideas, Mirza is a much needed and perhaps most unlikely warrior. This twentysomething petite British woman who visited Australia last week says multiculturalism has caused the West's cultural timidity. She isn't talking about the simple acceptance of diversity originally sold to us as multiculturalism and embraced by Australians. Multiculturalism has gone far beyond whether to eat Thai, Indian, Italian or Chinese food.

Particularly in her native Britain, but also across large swaths of the Western world, multiculturalism has become a far bigger and more insidious concept during the past three decades. Its basic proposition is cultural relativism: that all cultures are of equal value, none can be criticised (except for the majority one), and that encouraging integration is racist.

In Mirza's Britain, this has delivered a tribalised society in which identity politics reigns supreme.

In this world, victimhood is especially prized. Mirza told The Australian that multiculturalism "encourages groups to claim exclusion in order to get attention. In order to get resources, you have to prove your weakness." In a competitive multicultural marketplace, groups vie for most victimised status. This political culture disenfranchises people as individuals, rejecting that they are moral agents responsible for their own future.

At a Centre for Independent Studies lecture last Wednesday, Mirza told her audience that when she was at school in Britain a decade ago, few Muslim girls wore headscarves. Now Muslim girls, even those whose mothers don't wear the scarf, are choosing to put it on as an identifier of difference and oppression, the oppressor being the West.

Multiculturalism makes the private part of you - your religion - your most valuable public asset. And it's off bounds to criticise any part of it.

Just ask Jack Straw, the leader of Britain's House of Commons, who was recently dubbed a terrorist guilty of inciting religious hatred for raising the problem of interacting with veiled Muslim women.

That powerful multicultural concoction of separateness and victimhood has left the West fractured, neutered of a confident and united identity. The consequences have been far ranging, according to Mirza. Most acutely, it has fuelled home-grown terrorism.

Young Muslim boys such as the London bombers - born, reared and educated in the West - have gone looking for meaning elsewhere because, Mirza says, "being British is so discredited in this country ... The most compelling thing about the al-Qa'ida identity is its victimhood status; it is the ultimate logic of multiculturalism, with its claim that it represents an oppressed minority."

The multicultural message has wrought other disastrous consequences documented by Mirza. Culture Vultures, a book she edited earlier this year, showcases how the arts have been subsumed by an ethnocentric emphasis that promotes wasteful projects with little artistic merit. In the workplace, multiculturalism has spawned diversity training because difference needs to be micro-managed. The premise is that without expert training in how to deal with difference, pudden-headed workers will succumb to their inherent bigoted, racist tendencies.

But, as Mirza points out, emphasising difference through diversity training ends up dividing us more. The ostensibly different ones are reminded of their difference, encouraged to treat every slight as an exhibition of racism. And the rest, their fellow workers, are left paralysed in their interactions for fear of being labelled a racist.

Australia has not yielded to the levels of multicultural madness infecting Britain and Europe, which is why Mirza's message is both a warning for Australia and a sign that perhaps the intellectual tide is turning in Britain. She says the answer is to stop the politics of tribalisation and start being unashamedly proud about the Enlightenment values that lie at the core of Western liberal democracies, values such as freedom of speech.

Where Mirza is less than convincing is in her tendency to ignore Islam as part of the problem confronting the West. When asked whether there was something about Islam that explained the rise of Islamic terrorism, she said all religions could be twisted to suit warped agendas of violence. Perhaps. But disaffected Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs are not plotting jihad: a point the Pope wished to raise in his speech at a German university before being pummelled into apologetic appeasement.

Following that fracas, Marcello Pera - who in 2004 co-wrote with the then cardinal Joseph Ratzinger a book titled Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam - told the International Herald Tribune it was legitimate for those in the West to ask if jihad is a necessary part of some interpretations of Islam. It's not a comfortable topic but it goes with the terrain of free speech. And on that score, as Mirza said at a lunch last week, "we could all do with a little more courage, frankly". Amen to that.


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