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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

More on Kenan Malik

Further to the Kenan Malik article on Islamophobia I linked to a couple days ago Norman Geras links to this very interesting interview with the anthropologist Adam Kuper on 'the tyranny of multiculturalism'. Like myself, Kuper has major reservations about the determinist aspect of multiculturalism. It's well worth reading the whole thing, but here's a taster where he's talking about life in Apartheid South Africa, yet it is remarkably similar to much of the purportedly 'progressive'/bureaucratic interpretations of multiculturalism that are seen in North America, Western Europe, and the Antipodes.

LT You talk about the idea of ‘culture’ as being too powerful. In your book you provide a dramatic example of how the word can be invoked for quite sinister purposes. You refer to the way in which your own background in South Africa alerted you to the manner in which the concept of culture replaced that of race as an argument that could be politically employed in support of apartheid and separate development.

AK Well, that’s right. It wasn’t though something that I cleverly perceived. It was something that was hammered into us day after day by government propaganda; this was the story they were telling us all the time. They kept saying, look you’ve got it wrong. We are not racist. We don’t believe that there are these biological differences in the world. But there are real differences between people, differences which are more important than biological differences, which in a way cause biological differences. These are cultural differences and they cause biological differences because cultural groups are endogamous. And they should be endogamous. Those who share a culture should live and breed together. Because preserving culture gives meaning and direction and spiritual richness to human life. So the real differences between people in the world are cultural differences by which they meant things like ways of thinking, ways of believing, but also ways of organising and doing things. So, having chiefs, and always bowing and scraping in front of chiefs, was part of your culture and if you didn’t like it, if you thought that you wanted to be a democrat then you were not wrong, you were rebelling against your culture, you were rebelling against yourself, you were denying yourself. It was almost an impossible situation. The only reason why you might want to rebel against your culture was because you had been got at by some western liberals who’ve put these different ideas into your head. So culture was destiny. But the fact that the cultural groups who emerged from all this were exactly identical to what were once called racial groups, was, of course, as the Marxists say, no accident. I think that in a lot of the multicultural discourse we find people using very vague and meaningless terms like culture because what they really mean, what they really want to say, is race and racial difference. They want to talk about racial groups that necessarily have different ways of life, different mentalities, different cultures. And never the twain shall mix.

|| RPH || 6:36 PM || |