General Topics



Everyone seems to be attacking multiculturalism nowadays. It is true that different groups of immigrants in Europe are huddling together in voluntary ghettos, but there have always been enclaves of class, region, and background.

Matters are worse at the moment because so many Muslim immigrants oppose Western ideals whilst living off of them. Indeed, there are plenty of Orthodox Jews and fundamentalist Christians who also think liberal Western values are corrupt. But thankfully, they do not normally resort to violence. The real problem is that, for the first time since Guy Fawkes, a significant minority of extremists actively want to violently destroy open and free societies.

But that is no reason to throw the baby out with bathwater. We didn’t tell ourselves our society was flawed, or bring in laws against the Irish because of the I.R.A.

I have lived in Britain before multiculturalism came into vogue and after, and I feel a lot happier and more relaxed as a Jew since we stopped feeling the pressure to become good little English clones. The Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogue of Britain has just published a book in which he argues that multiculturalism has failed, and that it threatens liberal democracy. He contrasts the Jewish experience in the United Kingdom with that of minorities who have come into the UK since the Second World War and suggests that we Jews did a better job of integrating and our example should be followed. He is completely wrong on so many levels it’s hard to know where to begin.

Anglo Jewry suffers from a Diaspora Inferiority Complex. Far too many British Jews are still so insecure that they try to hide their Jewishness. The contrast with Israel, on the one hand, or New York on the other, where even the non-Jews are “Jewish” is such that you actually feel a sense of relief and normality when you come from Britain. It is true the assimilation levels in the USA are almost the same, but the experience of being Jewish is felt less as a handicap. There is not the same feeling that we ought to lie low and not make waves, the old German Jewish “delusion” of being a Gentleman in the street and a Jew at home!

For hundreds of years, Jews in Britain were encouraged to play down their Jewishness. Their heroes were the assimilating “Jewish” aristocracy. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, even Jewish charitable institutions actively connived in denuding new arrivals of their religious differences. A lot of what happens in Britain, specifically, had and has to do with the relics of the class system. As much as this has changed, it still remains a profound influence on the British psyche.

But it also has a lot to do with the history of Jews settling in Britain. We were made to feel unwanted guests. We were the butt of constant anti-Semitism, overt and covert, in institutions and the street. We put up and shut up and got on with it. Slowly making our ways as best we could, down whatever channels were open to us, because however bad it was, it was better than where we came from.

The result? I used to be the rabbi of a venerable and long established Orthodox synagogue in London called “The Western”, founded in 1799. It owned a cemetery in the Fulham Road that was closed when it was full, nearly a hundred years ago. At one stage it considered moving the bodies to Israel and redeveloping the site. To do this it had to trace the descendents of the 300 bodies that were there. Do you know that in 1975, when they did it, there was not one fully Jewish descendent alive? Is that an example we should recommend to other religious minorities?

The US is a good example of multiculturalism. It, too, has changed and evolved. Racism and anti-Semitism were still rampant fifty years ago, and continue today in isolated pockets. It is not a melting pot. It’s rather like a stew in which here are identifiable pieces of different kinds of food that resist disappearing, and at the same time there is plenty of dissolving matter that goes into the general gravy.

The American culture recognizes and values differences, from Amish and Hassidim, to Scientologists and New Age Kabbalists. So long as you abide by the law, you are left alone to do, think, and live as you please. Change comes from democracy (or, alas, pork barrel and lobby politics). But no one feels the need to apologize for difference. And everyone feels they have a right to belong and succeed.

This is crucial–the potential for success. In Europe this is much harder for the under classes, and in some circumstances it is effectively squashed by the entitlement mentality of overprotective and massively abused social welfare. In this world people are conditioned to expect, rather than earn. As a former mayor of Antwerp told me recently, “You know why there are no race riots in Belgium, like France, even though proportionally we have as many young Muslims? Because we start paying them unemployment benefits at 17, whereas in France they have to wait till they are 25. Sure, it costs–but it keeps them quiet.” Whether he’s right or not is irrelevant. It’s the attitude that is so instructive and ultimately destructive!

It is not multiculturalism that is at fault, but the fundamentalist attitudes of those in all religions who fear outside influences and fight against them. The answer is not to strip them of their differences, but to encourage them to feel confident enough to relax and reach out beyond their castles’ keeps.

We Jews had several hundred years to adjust, to make serious mistakes, and then to adjust and come back from the brink. Minorities in a multicultural world do not have to go through the debilitating humiliations we did, the refusal of Parliament to pass bills giving us equal rights for hundreds of years and even then against massive religious, commercial, and social opposition.

Nowadays immigrants can, and do, and should fight for their rights. What is wrong with Europe at the moment is that the majority, and indeed the state, is not fighting for its rights. It is capitulating. If one wants to live in Britain, or wherever, one needs to accept certain a priori principles. This, after all, was the Biblical condition for giving equal rights to non-Jews living under Jewish government. Accept the Seven basic Noachide principles and, Bob’s your uncle…equal civil rights. Learn the language, find out about its culture, and accept its democratic processes.

But this takes time. It is a shame that Islamofacism has muddied the waters, and the natural tendency of Europe is to appease instead of standing firm for what it requires. It is not multiculturalism that has failed, but political will. But that has always been the case.

Recognizing and valuing differences does not mean you have to lose your own. But to go back to a society in which general values are specific religious values, or cultural norms are imposed, is to return to the Bad Old Days. We need patience and determination and, above all, good governance, not retreat.

11 thoughts on “Multiculturalism

  1. Hi
    I had a look at the link posted by anonymous and I think what it shows is how insecure he is.
    I’m British but dislike having my ‘Britishness’ dictated to by organisations like the BNP… National Front etc…..
    Being British can mean whatever we choose it to mean IMHO and I hope it never means the very narrow view represented by things like the BNP, National Front etc or that link.
    British people can be Jewish Muslim Christian or any religion or none.

    I always think that when someone is happy and secure with who they are…….. then they are able to appreciate other people who have a different path in life or different customs, dress etc.

    I want to live in a country where we can all live side by side and people accept differant paths and customs and all our families are safe to walk down the street.

    Needless to say I shall never vote for any of these so called Nationalist parties……….

    I’m not Jewish but often read your writings and find them interesting and they often make me think about issues.
    I think as a country we don’t stand up for our rights enough and it concerns me that one day we will turn round and find we have lost them…… I think we are too complacent.


  2. Julie,
    I completely agree with you and I am delighted you read me sometimes. It’s a feature of Jews in England that many of them tend to feel insecure. It’s a hangover from a time when being British (that really meant English) was much more clearly and rigidly defined. I too think our more open society nowadays is healthier, despite the difficulties. And please don’t feel shy about criticizing me if you ever disagree!!

  3. To be honest with you, brother, I feel that’s a bit rich! Like you, I’m British. But unlike you, I’m of South Asian origin and am a practicing Muslim. I was born in this country and am proud to be British. Indeed, my parents are even prouder to be British as they CHOSE to be British. I was merely born here.
    As a British citizen, I should have the same rights as any other fellow British citizen. But, increasingly, I feel I do not. I am labelled as an extremist, terrorist etc.
    I’m scapegoated because of my religion AND my skin colour. A real double whammy!
    There’s a violent reactionary minority in Islam as there is in all communities. However, it is a gross generalisation to see all Muslims in the same light. I don’t see Islamic extremism as any worse than Jewish extremism. Remember the multitude of Jewish terrorist organizations involved in the creation of Israel. Terrorism that was directed against Britain. Did that mean that all Jews are terrorists? Or violent extremists? I think not. Also, before the issue of Israel, Muslim and Jewish communities did not really have a quarrel. I think it’s wise to get our own house in order first, before we start pointing fingers at others.

  4. Hey, me bucko, where do you find any basis for extrapolating what I wrote into a condemnation of all Muslims? Meanwhile, I think it’s a bit rich of you to compare Muslim extremism to Jewish extremism, both in the comparative numbers of innocents killed and the fact that the mainstream Jewish and Zionist Communities, lay and religious, have all unequivocally condemned it! Where is the voice of the moderates in Islam? Why no public protests? Scared of something?

    Oh, and I forgot–how come some religions want to foist and force their ideas on others? We don’t!

  5. Your most recent post begins by suggesting that you do not condemn all Muslims. Yet it ends, tellingly, with vast, condemning generalisations. So, you SAY that you do not paint all Muslims as extremists, yet you DO imply that the vast majority of Muslims, ‘moderates’, condone terrorism. Just in case you somehow managed to miss the vast multitudes of condemnation of terrorism by Muslims of all nationalities and backgrounds, I have included a large, but not in any way exhaustive, list at the bottom of this post. You couldn’t really miss ALL of these public speeches and statements if you tried. Unless, of course, you tried very, very hard indeed!
    Another point you raised, bizarrely, was that of the number of innocents killed. Are you serious?! If I take the example of Israel, I can clearly see that Israeli military actions kill far more Palestinian civilians than the other way round! Or are you suggesting that the actions of Israel do not amount to terrorism while the same actions, when carried out by Palestinians, somehow become terrorism? Why’re you not counting the destruction of family homes, blockades, detentions, assassinations, lack of basic medical amenities, food, water, not to mention the entire generation of Palestinians who’ve known nothing other than Israeli occupation and oppression?
    Let’s not forget that the single most violent event in that part of the world, resulting in the highest loss of life, was the bombing of the King David hotel. Which was carried out by JEWISH terrorists. The 60th anniversary of this terrorist act was actually CELEBRATED in Israel with the Israeli Prime Minister attending the celebration!
    You say that Jewish/Zionist communities condemn all terrorism. Where is this condemnation when it comes to the bombing of the King David and to people like Begin and Shamir? Israel didn’t condemn them, Israel elected them to government! Today, we again see no condemnation of a Chief Rabbi endorsing group punishments and calling for the hanging of a Palestinian terrorist’s children for the crimes of the parent!
    Where’re the ringing condemnations??? Why’re Jewish terrorists so much better than other terrorists?

  6. Fact. Ben Gurion, the Jewish Agency, the WJC and every representative Jewish body completely totally and unequivocally condemned the King David bombing which was carried out by the Stern Gang, political opponents.

    Fact. More Muslims have been killed by internecine killing, Sunni of Shia and vice versa . More Palestinians have been killed by Jordanians, Syrians and Lebanese than by Israelis.

    Fact. Public Opinion polls taken throughout Europe of Muslims indicate more support terrorism than oppose it.

    Fact. Public Opinion polls show that the majority of Muslims approve of killing Israeli civilians

  7. Your presentation of these carefully selected points reminds me of the infamous ‘Iraq dossier’: containing selected facts but painting a wholly fictitious picture.

    You use statements from Jewish organisations to make your point, but ignore the huge list of statements made by Muslim organisations. Strange.

    Suppose the organisations you mentioned did oppose the King David bombing. Does this negate the fact that the bloodiest terrorist bombings in this conflict were carried out by Jewish terrorist organisations?
    Why not quote opinion polls here? If you’re saying that most Jews opposed these actions then how did the very people involved in these terrorist groups get voted into office by Israelis? And why do Israelis celebrate these bombings even today? Definitely suggests a pro-terrorist opinion to me.

    And while you’re quoting stats, more Americans are killed by Americans and British by British than by Islamic extremists. Yet we have British and American tanks on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Fact: Jews have been victimised in the West and by Christians far more than in the East and by Muslims. Yet we have very one-sided criticisms coming from Jewish organisations.

    Opinion polls are probably the most misleading and utterly unreliable method for statistical use. You can get an opinion poll to say whatever you want it to say, depending on how you word your questions, gather your results etc.
    As a European Muslim, who is quite active in his community and liaises frequently with other Muslims (European and non-European), I can categorically state that I have NEVER come across a pro-terrorism opinion, nor have I ever met anyone who has stated to me that they’ve ever come across any such opinion. This is backed up by the multitude of statements Islamic organisations have continuously made about terrorism. I’m sure negative opinions do exist in a tiny minority of people, but as I said before, this is true of all societies.

    I’m not trying to defend the atrocities committed by Jordanians, Syrians, Lebanese etc., just reminding you that Israelis too are among the guilty. I’ve never said other Mid East countries don’t have their fair share in the blame. But just their fair share! I just wonder why you’re in such denial about terrorism when it’s carried out by Jewish extremists.

  8. To answer your points as you raised them:

    The Muslim statements you referred me did not make any mention of civilian deaths in Israel and so I assumed them to be for Westrern PR consumption only.

    The supporters of the right wing extremists you mention were elected into office in Israel forty years after the King David atrocity. Indeed, they were elected primarily because, as the only pro-capitalist party, they were the only alternative to Socialist Command Economy governments of Eastern European origin who had ruled Israel since its inception. Secondly, they won because Begin cultivated the Oriental vote of refugees from Arab lands who felt they had been ignored by left wing governments for too long. Thirdly, they had all by then repudiated violence. When Kahana tried to set up a blatantly anti-Arab party in Israel he was banned and excluded from the Knesset.

    I am delighted to be in contact with a moderate European Muslim. I have close friends amongst British Muslims who paint a very different picture of prevailing attitudes in their communities to the one you do. Until I either meet you or learn your identity I can be forgiven for preferring their opinions to yours.

    I am not at all in denial of Jewish terrorism. I have consistently condemned it and applauded, for example, Ben Gurion’s assault on the Altalena where Jew killed Jew to stop arms reaching extremist Jews. I am in favour of peaceful settlement and a fair resolution of the Middle East conflict without resort to violence.

    I simply recognize degrees and variations. There is no equivalence in intensity between the two terrorisms in numbers, damage, support, or popularity. Still to this day, 60% of the Israeli population want a peaceful resolution. Not one poll (and I agree polls are not always reliable) gives vaguely similar figures for any Arab or Muslim state amongst the tens that exist.

    Arabs in Israel for all that they may not yet have achieved social equality, which I deplore, can vote in Israel and sit in the Knesset and hold ministerial positions. This cannot be said of Jews in Palestinian territory or Arab lands. Hamas, on the other hand, still have in their charter the total destruction of the Jewish state.

    Now, tell me where the equivalence is?

    I do not enjoy this mudslinging. I want to live in equality and high regard with those who have an equal right to the same home. I recognize Israeli wrongs, errors, and faults. I have supported Deir Yassin memorials and other attempts to recognize Palestinian suffering, even where it is self inflicted. But still, sadly, I see no reciprocity.


  9. I appreciate your sentiments, brother. But like a lot of Muslims, I’m frustrated. How can we criticise Hamas when Israel clandestinely supported them to counterbalance Fatah and support the ‘Muslims vs. Jews’ view in western media. Now that this has become reality, Israel supports Fatah against Hamas! I can’t see how having a few token Arabs in the Knesset makes up for this engineered conflict and occupation. If anything, it seems to cater to the Western PR consumption you mentioned.

    I’m British and proud of my country and its accomplishments. But I’m also not blind to its faults. Our media doesn’t mention the large numbers of British Muslims in the military who battle institutional racism while serving their country, specially in this Islamophobic climate. But the media falls over itself when reporting on some twisted individuals trying to kidnap and murder those same British Muslim soldiers. Now all of a sudden those same British Muslim soldiers are newsworthy.

    Although the vast majority of British Muslims are model citizens, I do feel that there’s a growing frustration amongst certain sections of my community. We hold to the democratic ideal yet see our governments supporting regimes like that of the Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein and the Saudis. Apart from not being totally undemocratic, we know these regimes are heavily corrupt and terribly brutal. But we’re happy to crawl into bed with them when it suits us. Being their allies, we supply them with intelligence and military aid which they then use against their own people and others.

    Whatever happened to the democratic principle here?

    Tony Blair forced the Serious Fraud Office to drop their investigations into the shady Saudi arms deal. Why? Whatever happened to the principles of honesty and legality?

    And if democracy is the ideal then it should be supported regardless of the views of the government concerned. But we opposed democracy in Algeria and in Gaza. I found it interesting that the Qatari government (another close ally) recently voiced its support for a democratic Iraq. What ridiculousness! What about a democratic Qatar??!
    We support the increasingly fascistic junta in Turkey simply because it suits the need of the moment. The result is that the desperate citizens of these brutal regimes resort to desperate actions and become recruits for terrorist groups. Before the invasion of Iraq, al-qaida and its extremist allies were almost non-existent. Now Iraq is a huge al-qaida recruitment camp. Since the invasion of Afghanistan, we’ve seen more and more people joining the Taliban and al-qaida. Not only did the action in Afghanistan add to the chaos there, it destabilised a stable Pakistan which is now experiencing its own bombings from extremists. Courtesy of Uncle Sam and Tony!

    Once the $&!% hits the fan, our governments step back and tut tut the violent Muslims.

    I know that for the majority of history, the east dominated the west. Now it’s the other way round and that’s the way the world works. But to hope for the peaceful coexistence in the east that we today enjoy in the west, we the richest, most developed nations of the world have a duty to use our influence to cause this beneficial change based on our principles. Not sell our principles for short-term gains.

  10. Yes, I think I can agree with you completely on that post including the criticism of Israel for supporting Hamas initially (sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind).

    I believe all political entities are corrupt. I haven’t come across one yet that isn’t. Its just that some are less corrupt than others, some have a freer press and some are more congenial to live in particularly if you are a minority but still they are all corrupt. ‘Don’t play politics with me’ means ‘Don’t lie to me.’ QED

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