It's the end of multiculturalism as we know and despise it

It is not racist to insist that citizenship entails a quid pro quo of obligation. It is racist to argue otherwise
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The Independent Online

So it's been decreed - the Commission for Racial Equality has spoken - multiculturalism is no more. Requiescat in pace. Except that to die you must have once known life, and for that you need a heart and brain. Multiculturalism had neither. It was always a word in search of a definition. A flag acknowledged by no country. Which you could argue was precisely its point. We waved it to say goodbye to the idea of country altogether. By this we stand: we stand for nothing.

So it's been decreed - the Commission for Racial Equality has spoken - multiculturalism is no more. Requiescat in pace. Except that to die you must have once known life, and for that you need a heart and brain. Multiculturalism had neither. It was always a word in search of a definition. A flag acknowledged by no country. Which you could argue was precisely its point. We waved it to say goodbye to the idea of country altogether. By this we stand: we stand for nothing.

We have said it often in this column - you cannot congratulate everybody on contributing equally to the family while you're also proclaiming there is no family. You cannot rejoice at what is happening on the margins if you have no centre. And loving everybody else is not a virtue but a pathology when you cannot love yourself.

Of the various nationalisms Orwell identified as incident to the British intelligentsia, the most germane to our times is what he called "Negative Nationalism", a sub-branch of which he further identified as "Anglophobia". "Within the intelligentsia," he wrote, "a derisive and mildly hostile attitude towards Britain is more or less compulsory... In foreign politics many intellectuals follow the principle that any faction backed by Britain must be in the wrong." "Notes on Nationalism" was published in 1945, but its characterisation of the Anglophobes has not dated. Perhaps "mildly hostile" should be changed to "virulent to the point of hysteria"; otherwise the charge stands. To be a member of the liberal British intelligentsia in matters bearing on national identity is to be in need of a psychologist.

What did daddy do to us that we should hate him with such vehemence? How did we come to feel so worthless in ourselves? Were we not applauded adequately for the productions of our bowels? Did the attention accorded to our siblings shape the shame that crippled us and made us liberal intellectuals in the first place?

And don't tell me this is cheap psychology. Of course it's cheap psychology. But that's our fault for succumbing to a cheap distemper.

It's possible, sick or not, that we could have bumbled along in this manner, disliking our own culture while marvelling at everybody else's, so long as everybody else kept marvelling at ours in return. Historians will one day note that what kept us proudly British for decades was the enthusiasm, not to say the gratitude, for things British shown by generations of immigrants. We might not have cared much for what we had, but they liked it well enough.

A good argument for immigration, would you not agree: that it is a means of importing patriotism. Or at least was. Things are not now as they were. Hence the about-face by the Commission for Racial Equality. Now the children of those who arrived with love in their hearts for us dislike us every bit as much as we dislike ourselves. What is more, our lack of self-esteem is adduced as one of the justifications for their contempt. We don't like us, therefore they don't like us - boom!

So it's back to Shakespeare and Dickens. That should settle things down. Always supposing, that is, that we can find someone who remembers who Shakespeare and Dickens were. Maybe we should try persuading immigrants newly arrived on these sceptred shores to teach us what they know about English literature. My own suspicion is that it will be more than we do.

But already the Commission for Racial Equality is under attack from the usual suspects, not for naivety but for promoting racism. Racism, it would seem, is a one-way street. If they blow us up there must be reasons in our society for their disaffection. If we teach them Shakespeare we are racist bigots. To these absurdities has the concept of multiculturalism reduced us.

In fact it is not remotely racist to insist that citizenship entails a quid pro quo of obligation. Indeed it is racist to argue otherwise. Racist to be indifferent to the culture which houses you. Racist to despise it. Racist not to accept that the act of incoming imposes an ongoing respect even when you cannot manage fealty or devotion.

There used to be a photograph on our mantelpiece of my grandfather and my great-grandfather in army uniform. Their gaiters struck me as particularly splendid, as did the bullet hole my grandfather used to show me, a neat little aperture below his knee, through which I could see the light of day. When people say go back to your own country, my parents told me, remind them that we fought and were wounded for this country in two world wars. As it happened, nobody ever did tell me to go back to my own country, partly, I suspect, because they didn't have a clue which country that was. But we were always afraid they might, and anxious to show that whichever hell-hole we had fled from, we now called England home. For which stroke of tremendous luck we gave a little prayer of thanks each night.

True, some among our parents found it hard to forgive us when we married "out", making it hard for us in turn ever to forgive them. But no one says it is a simple business retaining the essentials of your culture when you are a minority. I hate an over-anglicised Jew, myself, who changes his name from Levy to Baron De Vere Leamington-Lysart and feels at home in the Athenaeum. But I am no keener on the Jew who thinks he should resemble a rhapsodic Polish tinker of the 18th century.

Get it right, boys. A little of this, a little of that. Don't apologise for yourself, but be discreet. Honour those who moved over and made space for you, irrespective of their unwillingness to honour themselves. Be curious. It is as odious to care only for your own culture as it is to care only for other people's. And remember that the racist in the equation might just be you.

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