Alana Lentin & Gavan Titley, Criza multiculturalismului: rasismul în era neoliberală (Alana Lentin & Gavan Titley, The Crisis of Multiculturalism: Racism in a Neoliberal Era)

Alana Lentin & Gavan Titley, Criza multiculturalismului: rasismul în era neoliberală
(Alana Lentin & Gavan Titley, The Crisis of Multiculturalism: Racism in a Neoliberal Era[1])


Abstract: In their recent book, Alana Lentin and Gavan Titley are analyzing the complex relation between those criticizing multiculturalism and those criticizing minorities. Among the most famous “recited truths” of the moment is the claim stating that multiculturalism is a failed experiment and must be abandoned. In favor of what exactly – one may ask. The first problem with multiculturalism is that it makes it impossible to even talk about racism since in Western societies this type of problem has been, theoretically, already solved. The second one is that it offers the perfect opportunity for the development of all sorts of racist discourses trying to replace multiculturalism.
Keywords: crisis, multiculturalism, racism, neoliberalism.

The Enemies of Multiculturalism and the Enemies of Minorities
For the last 50 years multiculturalism has been largely accepted as a way of making sense of a space where people with entirely different cultural backgrounds could live together peacefully. Minorities could find it very easy to live in countries where no political party is founded on race and where they found themselves respected as representatives of equally important cultures. This is the general framework of discussion about race and minorities. The current state of multiculturalism becomes very important in the present political and social context. Globalization as a pure economic phenomenon is a very naïve perspective on the current cultural and social developments in Western societies. The migration of the labor force in the free-market capitalist economy is revealing very important problems in the social and cultural spheres of the everyday life.  It must be stated right from the beginning that there is an actual lived multiculturalism (that we are all experiencing in our daily life) but also a theoretical multiculturalism (based on the “fundamental” assumptions of cultural relativism). This type of perspective although theoretically inconsistent (the only absolute truth is that there is no such truth) has been adopted for the last decades as the starting point of dialogue among representatives of different kinds of cultures. The book published by Alana Lentin[2] and Gavan Titley[3] reveals two important aspects about multiculturalism. The first one is that multiculturalism served as a way of covering racism in western societies. The racial problem is thought to be solved and already dealt with so there is really no need to further investigate this issue. The authors are fighting this type of hypocrisy insisting on the fact that multiculturalism is a way of making racist discourses legitimate and acceptable: “Our particular extension of this approach is to examine the conjunctural importance of multiculturalism in providing a site in which the politics of race can be legitimized and laundered” [4] The second aspect is that all the recent attacks on multiculturalism as a naïve way of resolving inter-ethnic communication problems also pave the way for very dangerous populist and nationalist discourses. In other words, because the multiculturalism is such a failed experiment the “logical” conclusion would be that we must go back to a time of more secure certainties of the national state. As Alana Lentin and Gavan Titley are showing, multiculturalism was doomed right from the beginning since it managed to gather a very wide range of enemies. Nowadays, when the attacks such as those of 9/11 released all sorts of fears in Western societies multiculturalism itself is under attack from countless theoretical positions: “Competing to deliver multiculturalism’s the coup de grâce are liberals convinced of the weakness of  cultural relativism, nationalists threaten by the inassimilable, progressive intellectuals for whom “liberal multiculturalism” has weakened and divided leftist critique, and so-called race related professionals refashioning “diversity and “integration” as the new paradigms of their daily graft”[5] As we can see if you want to harm multiculturalism these days you have to stay in line and wait for your turn. Still, the wide variety of “sins” currently attributed to multiculturalism is obscuring the most significant one. This is why Lentin and Titley’s theoretical contributions are so important. They are insisting in revealing a crucial aspect about multiculturalism: it is criticized for all kind of reasons but not for the fact that it fosters racism. In other words multiculturalism, dead or alive, gives the perfect opportunity for all sorts of racist discourses, the dominant one being that of political liberals: “First, liberalism – and the ‘liberal cultural agenda’ – has become a popular modality of nationalisms that are primarily grounded through attacks on the illiberalism of minority and Muslim populations, and on the ‘relativist’ licence multiculturalism has accorded them”[6]

Did Muslims actually killed multiculturalism?
A rely confusing aspect in the dominant political discourse of Western societies about multiculturalism is that while taking for granted the cultural relativist assumptions it talks about the great need of investing in the “integration of the minorities”. One may ask why are huge amounts of money  granted for the integration of those belonging to equally important cultures. This is a very controversial aspect that is indeed threatening the weaken construction of multiculturalism. We are representatives of equally important cultures but, since we live in the same space, we must find ways of sharing this common space. This cannot be done without a common set of shared values. But since there are no absolute values but only relative ones (the basic assumption of cultural relativism) who can assume the role of choosing the “right” set of shared values in a multicultural community? Alana Lentin and Gavan Titley are insisting on the fact that abandoning this inconsistent multicultural theoretical construction leads us to an equally controversial situation where we have good diversity and bad diversity. “Rejecting multiculturalism has become the proxy for the rejection of lived multiculture, the alibi of experimental failure justifies the ordering of good and bad diversity.”[7]The authors are insisting on the fact that the last decade terrorist attacks pushed Western societies to find a safety net in racial homogeneity. The neoliberal political regimes offered no guarantee for minorities since it favors a very strong type of individualism: “[…] complex social problems and political-economic disjuncture can be blamed on ‘migrants’, and the solution, in a neoliberal era, located in an increased individual responsibility to become compatible and integrate.” Just think on how many occasions we hear the phrase “he doesn’t want to integrate”! In 2004 the British columnist Rod Liddle declared that “it is Muslims who ‘killed multiculturalism’”. The 2005 reaction of the Muslims on the publication of the famous caricatures of the Mohamed prophet made Brian Mikkelsen, Danish minister for cultural affairs, declare ‘war against the multicultural ideology’ because ‘a medieval Muslim culture can never be as valid as Danish culture here at home […][8]. So, did Muslims killed multiculturalism? Surely one cannot bring such hilarious accusations to the Muslim minority. It can only be said that they functioned as the revealing element of multiculturalist hypocrisy. In analyzing some of the recent declarations of Angela Merkel the authors are insisting on the good diversity and bad diversity. She was very pleased to see the (good) diversity in the German football team, but very disappointed in the ‘dis-integrated’ subjects. The Muslim minority is indeed a very important one since it poses such dramatic questions about all the dominant neoliberal political discourse. It is indeed very hard to explain to a Muslim women the good values of Western society while accepting the egalitarian multiculturalist assumption that she is belonging to an equally important culture: „Is interesting to note that the multivalent rejection of multiculturalism traduced by Merkel involved not only conservative culturalist formations, but also civil society movements concerned that multicultural ideas were an impediment to ‘teaching the “migrants” German “core values” of sexual freedom and gay friendliness’”[9]. It is indeed very hard to imagine how such good values could be shared by a Muslim, for example, since the very idea of teaching such values must abandon the relativist perspective.
The cultural intolerance and racism is nevertheless present in Western political action and discourse and the authors are revealing this fact by providing very important examples:In 2009 in Switzerland a national referendum bans the building of minarets in a country that has only four; in 2010 70 per cent of voters in the state of Oklahoma support the banning of sharia law even though Muslims comprise less than 0.1 per cent of the population; in the Netherlands parliament seriously considered banning the burka – a garment believed to be worn by fewer than fifty women in the entire country.”[10] Those disproportionate reactions are by no means the vivid expression of the fact that racism cannot be covered neither by multiculturalism nor its enemies.

Alana Lentin, Gavan Titley, The Crises of Multiculturalism: Racism in a Neoliberal Age, Publisher: Zed Books, 2011.
[2] Alana Lentin  is a Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Social Analysis at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She worked for six years in the Department of Sociology at the University of Sussex, UK.
[3] Gavan Titley is lecturer in media studies at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth.
[4] Alana Lentin, Gavan Titley, op. cit., p. 24.
[5] Alana Lentin, Gavan Titley, op.cit., p. 18.
[6] Alana Lentin, Gavan Titley, op.cit., p. 30.
[7] Alana Lentin, Gavan Titley, op.cit., pp. 17-18.
[8] Alana Lentin, Gavan Titley, pp. 22-23.
[9] Alana Lentin, Gavan Titley, op.cit., p.10.
[10] Alana Lentin, Gavan Titley, op.cit, p.72.