Argument: Multiculturalism encourages damaging claims to victimhood

Issue Report: Multiculturalism vs. assimilation


  • Michael Fitzpatrick. “The price of multiculturalism”. Spiked Politics. August 5, 2005 – “…the distinctive character of the identity promoted by multiculturalism [in Britain] is the identity of victim. In the world of multiculturalism, claims of victimhood provide the basis for recognition and status. Thus British Muslims proclaim a litany of persecutions and humiliations of Muslims around the world – in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Israel, in Bosnia – as the justification for their sense of grievance and their claim to a privileged position in the hierarchy of victimhood. (As a veteran campaigner against imperialist oppression in various parts of the world, I have opposed British interference in all these instances, though also in many others, irrespective of the faith of the victims.) But the cult of victimhood in Britain has merely a vicarious relationship with the sufferings of people in Iraq or Palestine – its real origins are to be found in Britain.
In the competitive struggle for prestige (and state resources) unleashed by multiculturalism, every minority must justify its claim by elevating its sufferings. Even established minorities feel obliged to enter the fray: while Muslims inflate every personal slight into a manifestation of Islamophobia, Jews cite the desecration of graves with swastikas as proof of a new wave of anti-Semitism.
While the opportunism of community leaders is shameful, it is important to recognise the origin of this problem in the British establishment itself. If Tony Blair feels obliged to apologise for the Irish famine or for Britain’s role in the slave trade, it is only to be expected that some individuals will take advantage. The elevation of victimhood has a corrupting and infantilising effect: it encourages members of ethnic minorities to exaggerate and parade their sufferings as a means towards personal and communal advancement. The result is to unleash a sense of grievance that is unlikely to be assuaged by the meagre offerings of the state to the local mosque or temple.
Having nurtured resentments, multiculturalism then appeases demands for retribution against oppressors, real or imagined. When in 1989 Islamic fundamentalists issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie over his allegedly blasphemous book The Satanic Verses, the first instinct of the advocates of multiculturalism was to criticise Rushdie for his insensitivity towards the devout Muslims who took offence at his book. A similar response greeted the suspension of a play in Birmingham in December 2004 that upset local Sikh sensibilities. The proposed government legislation on the theme of ‘faith-hatred’ – the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill – seeks to give such censorship of views critical of religion the force of law.
If the law sanctions such repression in the cause of multicultural harmony, no doubt devotees of particular minority cultures will feel encouraged to take further action to enforce what they consider due respect to their particular tribal traditions. Further strife seems inevitable.
The potent forces unleashed by multiculturalism provide the context for the lurch towards narcissistic violence among second-generation immigrants in British society. Young people whose parents struggled to find a place in Britain find themselves both attracted and repelled by the society in which they have grown up. One of the suspects for the abortive 21 July bombings is reported to have been a devotee of gangsta rap; one of the 7 July bombers was a keen cricketer. Other suspects seem to have found themselves on the margins, unemployed, surviving on benefits, with records of petty crime.”