Rebuttal to an Anti-Multiculturalist.

Via on Sep 14, 2010

The following is a rebuttal to Victor Hanson on Multiculturalism. I urge you to read the original article, lest I be accused of taking Dr. Hanson’s remarks out of context.

In your article, Dr. Hanson, you contrasted the “misdemeanors” of America with the “felonies” of other countries.  Following your lead, I here address a few of the charges you have brought against Multiculturalism and its presumed codefendant, Liberalism.

Only in Europe, and some Westernized areas of the Asian world, do women achieve the same sort of legal and social equity that is taken for granted in the U.S. Yet in discussions of, say, the Arab Middle East we are mostly silent when it comes to a gender apartheid that is practiced throughout the Muslim world.

As tempted as I am to say that I cannot recall conservatives ever becoming exercised over the rights of women before September 11, 2001­–I do not, for instance, remember conservatives ever trumpeting the The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women as liberals did– I will refrain from making an admittedly dilatory issue of that.

I will, however, draw your attention to the Indian, Bangladeshi, Syrian, Turkish, Iranian and Palestinian signatories of A Declaration of Women’s Rights in Islamic Societies, which you may view at the Council for Secular Humanism website.

I also venture to point out that, as much as we might wish to engage the Islamic world on the issue of women’s rights, the present moment—when we are trying to deal with Muslim anger over American support of Israel, the Shah of Iran, and the ill-conceived invasion of Iraq—might not be the best time to begin. But yes, we are not doing all we could or, arguably, ought, so if you press the point, I must plead

GUILTY WITH MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCES.

Worrying about getting our own house in order while being polite enough not to judge others is one thing; it’s quite another to magnify our own misdemeanors while downplaying the felonies of others.

You and I are obviously not on the same mailing lists, Dr. Hanson.  I belong to both Christian and secular organization that work hard to eliminate such evils abroad as female genital mutilation, homophobia, child marriage and “honor killings.”  But once again, in our efforts to avoid opening up conflict on one front while already engaged on another, I confess that we may not be doing all we should, and therefore enter a plea of

GUILTY WITH MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCES.

(L)ogical problems arise with (the presumed) moral equivalence (of cultures):  whereas it fiercely attacks any supposed enemies of tolerance at home, it oddly finds all that inconvenient when looking abroad… Most nations of the world…are not very racially diverse. Many see religious or racial unity as a plus—not a drawback. And to the extent they are diverse, most tend to promote one caste over another.

I presume, Dr. Hanson, by virtue of your ideas and the venue in which I encountered them, that you are an American Exceptionalist–that you believe that America has a special place among the nations of the world.  So do I. America has the exceptional destiny of being open to anyone, of whatever race, creed, color, religion or national origin who is willing to subscribe to and defend the core principles enshrined in its Constitution. If you are charging us with being less chauvinistic than other countries, I plead

GUILTY AS CHARGED.

Should 12 million Smiths and Joneses cross the southern border into Mexico and obtain amnesty for their illegal entry, they would never be seen as fully “Mexican” citizens. Mexicans’ self-identification includes the racial concept of “La Raza,” in which looks likewise are integral to membership in the body politic—perhaps in the manner that Germany at one time defined Germanness as looking the part of the “Volk”.

Concepts like La Raza or Das Volk presuppose the equivalence of nationhood with a “people,” just as concepts like Heimat or “homeland” equate it with a bounded geographical entity.  America is neither; rather, it is an idea–or if you prefer, a constellation of ideas, values and systems.  That’s why so many shades and hues of people have come here to start over: we don’t have to all look alike, or even speak the same language, to be Americans. Though I can see the practical wisdom in encouraging immigrants to learn English, speaking English can never be a prerequisite to American-ness, just as looking like a “Smith” or a Jones” (I presume you were not referring to the descendants of slaves kept by people of those names) can never be an American shibboleth, either.  There is nothing in the United States Oath of Allegiance about belonging to any particular racial or ethnic group. If you are attacking the very nature of American-ness, then I must move that the charge be

DISMISSED DUE TO LACK OF STANDING.

On the face of it, Israel is a liberal utopia: women enjoy complete equality. Gays do as well. There are a million Arab citizens of a supposedly Jewish state that vote in free elections that are rare elsewhere in the Middle East. In Israel an Arab woman enjoys more rights, as they are defined under the law in the West, than she does in an Arab country…

All true.  It isn’t Israel’s policies on women’s and gay rights that liberals object to–it’s their continued building of illegal settlements, bulldozing of Palestinian homes and burning of Palestinian olive groves; it’s Ariel Sharon’s stated determination to “make a pastrami sandwich” of Palestine.  Not the same thing.

We liberals have long held up Israel as a positive example, particularly in the struggle to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” If the charge is ignoring Israel’s positive record on human rights in that area, I plead

NOT GUILTY.

In reaction to undeniable racial prejudice and sexual discrimination in our past, white Christian heterosexual males of the West were seen almost exclusively as purveyors of privilege based on rank exploitation. Therefore to the degree that one distanced oneself from that profile—both in physical and cultural terms—one was deemed likewise to be freer from its pathologies and so exempt from Western criticism. For many privileged elites, loud advocacy of mulitculturalism squares the circle of still enjoying the good life that accrues from some 234 years of American freedom and capitalism, with being released of the supposed burdens of past American racism, sexism, colonialism, imperialism–and all the other –isms that supposedly gave white males singular privilege.

There is truth in what you say here, so I will enter a plea bargain: any time you are ready to start a PAC in support of meaningful reparations to the descendants of the slaves upon whose forced labor much of the wealth of this country was built, email me and I will join you.  If you agree, I will plead

GUILTY TO A REDUCED CHARGE.

Multiculturalism at once warps our sense of judgment abroad while preventing us from appreciating the uniquely tolerant nature of a multiracial United States at home…Middle Eastern Muslims imported as many slaves as did North Americans…the most racially and ethnically diverse nation in the world is often self-condemnatory of its supposed shortcomings at home. And yet we are uninterested in applying similar harsh criteria abroad where the cherished concept of diversity either does not exist or is openly opposed…Religious and class discrimination in India or Saudi Arabia today trumps anything in America’s recent past. Japanese and Chinese prove extremely xenophobic, often in blatantly racial terms. Yet  only in the West and the United States do the traditions of  self-criticism work to suppress these unfortunate and innate human tribal passions.

This part of your article, Dr. Hanson, reads like a grownup version of things I hear from my five- and seven-year-old children every day:  “Well, she started it!”  “What she did was worse!”  “But what about what she did?”  When it comes to determining what our own standards of behavior should be, I am not interested in anyone else’s behavior, Dr. Hanson–I am only interested in how we behave in this house. I move that this charge be

DISMISSED AS FRIVOLOUS.

About Scott Robinson

Scott Robinson taught college music at a Christian university for ten years before leaving to pursue creative work and fatherhood.  He has written for Sojourners Magazine, PRISM, Cross Currents, Minnesota Parent, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.  He currently composes, records and performs original kirtan with his band Mandala mandalaband.net. Scott is a professed member of the Third Order of St. Francis,  and lives in Philadelphia with his wife, two children, and two incessantly shedding dogs. 

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5 Responses to “Rebuttal to an Anti-Multiculturalist.”

  1. [...] Why is this happening so openly? Who is looking out for the safety, freedoms and rights of those who aren’t “white”? What about my right for peace and happiness while not being bombarded by such negative messages? [...]

  2. [...] Why is this happening so openly? Who is looking out for the safety, freedoms and rights of those who aren’t “white”? What about my right for peace and happiness while not being bombarded by such negative messages? [...]

  3. [...] I have petitions to sign and demonstrations to attend, calls to make and blogs to read and articles to rebut.  It would be irresponsible to carve that chunk of “me time” out of a day in which I have so [...]

  4. Kara N says:

    "On the face of it, Israel is a liberal utopia: women enjoy complete equality. Gays do as well…"

    "All true. It isn’t Israel’s policies on women’s and gay rights that liberals object to. . ."

    Jeez, have either of these ppl even BEEN to Israel? Wtf are they talking about?

    • Scott Robinson YesuDas says:

      I couldn't say about Victor Hanson, Kara; I have not been to Israel, so I can speak only about official policies that are a matter of public record. It sounds like you're saying there is a disconnect between official policy and day-to-day life, and I assume you base this on your own personal experience in Israel. I personally have no basis for an opinion about that, but it wouldn't surprise me, people being what we are.

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