In Defence of Multiculturalism

17/04/2012 14:33 BST | Updated 17/06/2012 10:12 BST

With the trial in Norway of mass murderer Anders Breivik now underway, a man whose complete lack of remorse and indeed evident satisfaction over the slaughter of 77 people was a sickening sight to behold, it is time for progressive forces in the West to make a stand in defence of multiculturalism.

More, a fresh offensive is required, both at the level of ideas and on the ground, against the rise and spread of Islamophobia, which thanks to the various policies of western governments and the poison spouted daily by right wing commentators in the pages of the mainstream press, has become the accepted form of racism among a growing section of polite society.

In the UK newspapers such as the Daily Star, Daily Mail, Daily Express, and any of the Murdoch titles, have in my opinion, competed with each other over who can wage the most concerted campaign of demonisation, mischaracterisation, bigotry and slander against Britain's Muslim community.

This has arguably helped to create a culture in which racist ideas have been able to incubate and gain traction, resulting in a brief upsurge in support for the BNP at electoral level, but even more worrying the appearance of the self styled English Defence League, a neo-fascist organisation committed to fomenting a race war between whites and Muslims.

The inference drawn is that Islam is a regressive religion, practiced by people of an alien culture, wherein fundamentalist ideas are the norm and where terrorist acts carried out against the West are not only accepted but supported by Muslims at home, the enemy within.

9/11 came as a shot across the bows of the received truths that had prevailed in the West for so long. The North-South hemispheric divide had seen the consumer boom enjoyed in the West paid for in the despair and unremitting poverty suffered throughout the developing world. The West's role in supporting and subsidising corrupt regimes throughout the Arab world, the continuing injustice and humiliation suffered by the Palestinians, the years of suffering of the Iraqi people as a result of the sanctions, had resulted in the growth of fundamentalist ideas motivated by a growing sense of grievance throughout the region.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that followed 9/11 resulted in a further increase in radicalisation throughout the Muslim and Arab world, and the concomitant emergence of Islamophobia at home, with terrorist attacks such as 7/7 producing a wave of revulsion by many non-Muslims towards Islam and its adherents. This has been aided by governments across Europe, which seeking to distract from the causal link between waging war against Arab and Muslim countries overseas and terrorist attacks at home, have instead pointed to an inherent tendency towards radicalism within Islam, drawing the conclusion that the regressive impulses within the religion and its culture are incompatible with western society, ergo rendering multiculturalism a failed concept.

What has failed is not the concept of multiculturalism but a body politic that has sought electoral advantage in fanning the flames of fear and suspicion towards Muslims and immigrants, pandering to a right wing populist press that views its role as the gatekeeper of 'British values', a concept that carries with it a strong undercurrent of racism and which has succeeded in drawing an association between Islam and terrorism.

Breivik it should be recalled was motivated by a perverse belief that the dilution of European conservative Christian (in other words 'white') cultural values, due to the predominance of cultural Marxism and the liberalism, multiculturalism and the Islamisation of Europe it has led to, is underway. Scandinavian countries as a whole, with their strong traditions of social democracy and social cohesion, have experienced a sharp rise in anti immigrant sentiment and political support for Islamophobic far right parties over the past decade.

Norway's Progress Party, of which Breivik is a former member, won more than one-fifth of the national vote in parliamentary elections in 2009. In 2010 the Swedish Democrats became the first far right party to enter the Swedish Parliament when it captured nearly 6 percent of the vote despite the furore that erupted when local candidate Marie-Louise Enderleit posted a comment on Facebook that migrants should be shot in the head, put in a bag and sent back to their home countries. Denmark's Folkparty is the country's third largest party, securing 14 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections in 2007 and just over 12 percent in 2011. Meanwhile the True Finns became the third largest party represented in the Finnish Parliament after winning 19 percent of the vote in elections in 2011.

There is no doubt that the absorption of immigrants across Scandinavia has posed a problem in a part of the world that had long been able to protect its citizens from the vicissitudes of the global economy due to the size of their respective states' economic footprint. But with the recent phenomenon that has seen both mainstream left and right wing political currents moving to contest the centre ground across Europe - in the UK exemplified by the convergence of New Labour and Conservative policies around welfare reform, crime, and the economy - space has opened up on the far right and left, with the far right proving more successful in filling the resulting vacuum.

Multiculturalism is the only progressive adaptation to the transformation of western societies by the process of mass immigration that began after the Second World War. But as has been shown with the rise of the far right, the concept is prisoner to the consequences of the West's continued determination to maintain a balance of power globally which reinforces the view of the peoples of the developing world as belonging to lower civilisations and cultures than our own.

Whenever the mainstream political discourse begins from the standpoint that immigration, asylum seekers and Islam constitute a threat to society, the far right gains traction. Multiculturalism, the concept that all cultures should and can exist in equality and harmony, has come under attack by those who support the wars waged throughout the developing world to maintain a global status quo as barbaric as it is unjust.

As for Brievik, watching him bubbling with tears on his first day in court as he watched his own racist propaganda being shown as part of the evidence, it was hard not to imagine him sitting in a bedsit dressed only in his underpants playing with a Hitler doll. If this is the human material forged out of centuries of European civilization, the term itself is an oxymoron.