On Feb. 5, while attending a security conference in Munich, Germany, British Prime Minister David Cameron made a speech attacking multiculturalism. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was present at the meeting, applauded Cameron’s speech. In an age in which democratic countries, corporations and universities have all embraced multiculturalism, it comes as a shock to see mainstream politicians launching such a critique.
Multiculturalism means support for the idea that, within a community people can be open about their different identities, including gender, sexual preference and ethnic identity, instead of hiding and having no chance to participate in society or express themselves.
When visiting public places in Taiwan, one often sees posters on display that promote the happy coexistence of different social groups and remind people to respect the elderly and the disabled. The people portrayed on such posters are always smiling and apparently friendly and accepting of one another. These posters are a product of multiculturalism. It is almost as if carrying out the tasks portrayed in them could transform Taiwan into a multicultural society — a progressive and democratic society that respects differences and promotes fairness and justice.
The multiculturalism that posters seek to encourage has its critics, and this is true in Taiwan just as it is in other democracies. Truth be told, posters like this are just a show, and the same can often be said of political propaganda. They pay lip service to various subjects of the moment, but for the most part fail to deliver. Just as with posters, Taiwan’s ubiquitous evening galas often highlight the faces of the underprivileged and disabled. This may offer moral encouragement, but in no way do such activities guarantee that when the fireworks are over, the disadvantaged will be any better off.
Their real needs, such as the right to work and study, healthcare and free interaction with mainstream society, will not be advanced by such events.
From a leftist political view, the problem with multiculturalism is that it does not offer people, especially disadvantaged people, enough benefits.
If multiculturalism is seen as evidence that a society is progressive and democratic, this progress and democracy is like cotton candy — it might be sweet, but it is almost devoid of nourishment.
In contrast, European leaders’ critique of multiculturalism was based on different considerations. In their view, multiculturalism gives people too much. Cameron says Britain has been letting Muslims settle for decades, but that as a group, they have not integrated with mainstream British culture. Rather, they closed their doors and stuck with their own culture — one that outsiders (meaning those who belong to the cultural mainstream) do not understand.
Cameron wants to use economic means to force Muslims to drop those values in their own culture that differ from the values of mainstream Britain. He wants them to join with mainstream culture and accept its values. In Cameron’s view, that is the way minority people can show their love for a united Britain. His aim is to replace multiculturalism with the economically dominant mainstream culture — which is right-wing in nature.
The left is dissatisfied with multiculturalism, but the right wants to demolish it. The effects of multiculturalism may be limited, but without this card in their hands, people belonging to non-mainstream cultures will have a tough time standing up to the mainstream. In addition to keeping a tight hold on the multicultural card, we need to look for new cards to play.