Latest Articles


19.09.2014
Tatiana Zhurzhenko

From borderlands to bloodlands

With Russia's annexation of Crimea and the military conflict in eastern Ukraine, the era of post-Soviet tolerance of blurred identities and multiple loyalties has ended. Borderlands, writes Tatiana Zhurzhenko, have once again turned into bloodlands. [ more ]

17.09.2014
E. Khayyat

How to turn Turk?

17.09.2014
Eurozine Review

Independence in an age of interdependence

17.09.2014
Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Jasper Vervaeke

Entering into dialogue with the world

17.09.2014
Irem Inceoglu

The Gezi resistance and its aftermath

New Issues


22.09.2014

Index on Censorship | 3/2014

The future of journalism
11.09.2014

Soundings | 57 (2014)

Spaces of debate

Eurozine Review


17.09.2014
Eurozine Review

Independence in an age of interdependence

"Soundings" is on tenterhooks about the outcome of the referendum in Scotland; "Krytyka" listens to the music and politics of the Maidan; "Osteuropa" debunks both Putin's ratings and western sanctions against Russia; "New Eastern Europe" looks to Moldova to buck the trend in Russian aggression; "Index" marks 25 years since the Wall came down; in "Belgrade Journal", Gil Anidjar asks if the floodings in the Balkans are a natural or political disaster; "Free Speech Debate" questions the West's supply of digital weaponry to repressive regimes; "Dilema veche" seeks to exit the direct route from 9/11 back into the Middle Ages; and "Letras Libres" speaks to Colombian novelist Juan Gabriel Vásquez.

03.09.2014
Eurozine Review

Was Crimea a preliminary exercise?

06.08.2014
Eurozine Review

What are you doing here?

23.07.2014
Eurozine Review

The world's echo system

09.07.2014
Eurozine Review

Courage of thought vs technocracy



http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2011-05-02-newsitem-en.html
http://mitpress.mit.edu/0262025248
http://www.eurozine.com/about/who-we-are/contact.html
http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2009-12-02-newsitem-en.html

My Eurozine


If you want to be kept up to date, you can subscribe to Eurozine's rss-newsfeed or our Newsletter.

Articles
Share |


Multiculturalism and the politics of bad memories

Behind the recent attacks on multiculturalism is a false public memory of stable mutuality disrupted by the arrival of people of other cultures, writes Markha Valenta. A row over the absence of non-white characters in the English detective series "Midsomer Murders" says a lot about our fantasies of "home".

You always know something is up when the leaders of Germany, France and Britain are in happy agreement. Their most recent cheery confabulation is that multiculturalism in Europe has been a failure. In quick succession first Merkel, then Cameron, then Sarkozy seized the limelight and declared diversity's demise. They stated this as a truism rather than as an argument. Equally striking is that these political leaders seem more relieved than troubled: as if, for a while, western Europe had lost its bearings but now is regaining them. Diversity is out, they seem to say, and common sense back in.

Attacks on multiculturalism


David Cameron's attack on "the doctrine of state multiculturalism" at the Munich Security Conference in February 2011 echoed Angela Merkel's comments in October 2010 that "multiculturalism had failed utterly". Nicolas Sarkozy has also jumped on the bandwagon, replying to a question on French TV that "we do not want a society where communities exist side by side" – despite the fact that France has never pursued an official multiculturalist policy. Multiculturalism deserves criticism but Merkel's comments were more an attack on immigrants and immigration, writes Kenan Malik. Claus Leggewie, on the other hand, defends the concept of multiculturalism and argues that policy failures on the part of multiculturalism's conservative critics are the real point of issue. Writing in response to Cameron's comments, Cécile Laborde finds little to criticize in the relatively successful integration policies pursued by previous British governments and argues that the real "multiculturalist" danger lies in a security policy that places citizens under suspicion on the basis of their religion.
But of course, given the diversity of our societies, it is diversity that is common sense.

Even as I say this, it is very much to be wondered if Europe, notably Germany and France (of all places), ever gave multiculturalism a real chance. To paraphrase Gandhi's famous quip on western civilisation, European multiculturalism would be a good idea. With the exception of the Netherlands and Sweden, there have been no serious attempts in continental Europe at implementing comprehensive policies for accommodating the new cultural and religious pluralism. So in fact what Merkel, Cameron and Sarkozy actually are saying is that western Europe's response to immigration has been a failure. This we could perhaps discuss: but in that case as a failure of western European politicians, policies and imagination, rather than of an invented multiculturalism that Europe never tried (if by "multiculturalism" we mean a society that offers full possibilities, membership, and respect to all its members – regardless of cultural and religious differences – yet also creatively accommodating of them – in a fashion that is both morally persuasive and practically effective for the majority of society).

Concord and conflict



This article is part of the Focal Point European histories (2): Concord and conflict.

In recent years, the possibility of a "grand narrative" that includes both East and West in a common European story has been discussed intensely. In this new Focal Point, Eurozine seeks to broaden the question beyond the East-West historical divide. How are contested interpretations of historical and recent events made active in the present, both uniting and dividing European societies?
There is implicit in the current fashion for rejecting multiculturalism a deep wish that immigration had never happened. The political leaders' message in fact carries within itself a deep yearning for an old, pre-immigrant Europe. What is forgotten is that this old Europe had just as much trouble with diversity as it does today. Only back then it had another name: colonialism. In other words, the yearning for the old pre-immigrant Europe is a yearning for a Europe that never existed: a Europe disentangled and distinct from the rest of the world. Too many of Europe's political leaders and too many Europeans are today being swept up in this fantasy.

This brings to mind a talk that the inventor of behavioural economics, Daniel Kahneman, recently gave for the TED foundation, in which he demonstrates how actual experiences and memories of experiences are very different entities. Experience entails an ongoing stream of moments, from which memory then selectively extracts some moments to create a story. The pleasure or displeasure a memory evokes in us particularly depends on how much change there was during an experience and on what the ending is. The ending is so significant that good experiences with bad endings will actually feel like bad experiences. So imagine a man listening to fantastic music, Kahneman tells us, who at the end of the recording hears a horrid screech. The screech will ruin the memory of the whole experience, even though for the entire time before that short screech, the listening man felt glorious pleasure.

Kahneman offers other striking examples of people having painful surgery and pleasurable vacations. These are all very personal experiences. What strikes me, however, is how closely this rather selective relationship between experience and memory relates to our current politics of diversity.

If we take Kahneman's explanations and apply them to the nationalist populism we see arising all around us, what clearly emerges as the driving force is what we might call a "politics of bad memories" or perhaps a "politics of invented memories". This politics of aversion works hard to convince us that we have had bad experiences with other cultures, religions and races. It presents us with a public "memory" of shocking change, where an imaginary life of stable tranquillity and mutuality was suddenly disrupted and scuppered by the arrival of people with values from other civilizations and cultures. This is the immigration-as-rupture memory.

In actual fact, Europe's experiences of immigration have been largely unremarkable, characterized until recently more by indifference and ignorance than by any kind of sustained disruption and conflict. If anything – and notwithstanding the visible divergence of some immigrants from European skin tones, religions and styles of dress – immigrants have played an essential role in enabling what continuity and growth European societies have known over these recent decades. It is immigrants, after all, who do those everyday jobs that are essentially invisible and invisibly essential to our rich countries: cleaning our bathrooms and corporations, picking our vegetables, manning our factories, building our cities, and caring for our parents and grandparents when we are too busy and too autonomous to do so. Without immigrants, we might still have rich bankers, but our countries would fall apart. There is tremendous resourcefulness, ambition and innovation in these immigrant lives: but it makes hardly any appearance in our national debates, public narratives or politics. Certainly the political debates are full of the spectre of immigrants as social degradation, but the majorities' actual experience of immigrants as lived presence is on the whole fleeting and unremarked, more figment than fact.

Rural titillation

The politicians of fear, however, distract and titillate their audience by pasting a bad ending on this experience. Terrorism, conflict, criminality and cultural dissolution, all of these will do the trick. Suddenly, voilŕ, like magic, these fantasies of bad endings turn a largely unknown history of post-war immigration, cultural adaptation and religious innovation in western Europe into vividly bad memories presaging future disasters.

This false memory is deeply dependent on another, which is its mirror image. This is the memory of the idyllic pre-immigrant community of trust and mutuality. Many people appear to be deeply attached this fantasy. Recently the executive producer of one of Britain's most successful detective series, Midsomer Murders, created enormous controversy when he defended the absence of any people of colour from the show. The argument Brian True-May made was two-pronged. On the one hand, a realist one: in real life, he said, there simply are no people of colour in English villages. But strikingly, True-May also made a second argument, a deeply romantic nationalist one, namely: "we're the last bastion of Englishness and I want to keep it that way". In shifting from the realist to the romantic mode, True-May contrasted Midsomer to Slough, the most ethnically diverse area of Britain outside London. Midsomer is not and must not become Slough, just as Englishness is not and must not become racially diverse. True-May is defending what it is to be "English" as a local, racial category that will not go the way of "London" or "Slough", those miscegenous urban hosts of the new and the global.

The irony, of course, is that viewers watch Midsomer Murders for the murders. Taken literally, one might think that the English must be among the most murderous races of people on earth. Yet it is the fact that it has a murder rate far in excess to that of any multicultural city that keeps the village of Midsomer from being dreadfully boring to its viewers (most of whom do not live in English villages). Ultimately, however, the series is not about the murders so much as about the restoration of idyllic harmony. The most important feature of each episode is that the threat to the fabric of the village is overcome. Again and again. In staging the survival of the village, the series stages the survival of "English eccentricity", but at the same time also makes a more general promise: that the local, the circumscribed, and the secure will survive. In other words, it promises to keep intact our false memory of a sheltered world that never existed.

It is perhaps for this reason that both Cameron and Merkel are fans of the series. And perhaps also for this reason that the series is so popular with viewers far beyond England. In fact, it has been sold to more than 40 countries. All through the world this last bastion of Englishness has caught the hearts and minds of viewers who are anything but English. English-identified viewers in British society for whom it is perhaps a vital bearer of "Englishness" may little suspect to what extent the success of the series actually resides in its ability to sell eccentric village Englishness to an international audience. Not only is its "Englishness" up for sale to every buyer who so desires, but the fantasy it sells helps to sustain the international media circuit. Midsomer might well not be still with us, were it not for its international audience – this audience who identifies with it not so much because it is the last bastion of Englishness, but because it offers a fantasy that today is a global one: the survival of home in a swiftly tilting world. Carried throughout the world, Midsomer, whether it likes it or not, has become one of England's most globalized and globalizing villages.

It is precisely this that the politics of bad memories would hide from us. Those who reject multiculturalism as the degradation and rupture of the European social fabric forget not only what immigrants have done for Europe but how intimately so many of them are becoming a part of this fabric. This, for some, is the deepest threat: that within our lifetimes, "England" (or "Europe") may very well become as brown and black as it is pink. If we really want to bring in a bit of common sense, then we should face this second truth: not just that Midsomer is a fantasy of a past that never was but that it is one – just like Europe – that could not survive without the world all around us.

 



Published 2011-03-25


Original in English
First published in Open Democracy 20.03.2011

Contributed by openDemocracy
© Markha Valenta / Open Democracy
© Eurozine
 

Support Eurozine     click for more

If you appreciate Eurozine's work and would like to support our contribution to the establishment of a European public sphere, see information about making a donation.

Focal points     click for more

Russia in global dialogue

http://www.eurozine.com/comp/focalpoints/eurocrisis.html
In the two decades after the end of the Cold War, intellectual interaction between Russia and Europe has intensified. It has not, however, prompted a common conversation. The focal point "Russia in global dialogue" seeks to fuel debate on democracy, society and the legacy of empire. [more]

Ukraine in focus

http://www.eurozine.com/comp/focalpoints/publicsphere.html
Ten years after the Orange Revolution, Ukraine is in the throes of yet another major struggle. Eurozine provides commentary on events as they unfold and further articles from the archive providing background to the situation in today's Ukraine. [more]

The ends of democracy

http://www.eurozine.com/comp/focalpoints/democracy.html
At a time when the global pull of democracy has never been stronger, the crisis of democracy has become acute. Eurozine has collected articles that make the problems of democracy so tangible that one starts to wonder if it has a future at all, as well as those that return to the very basis of the principle of democracy. [more]

The EU: Broken or just broke?

http://www.eurozine.com/comp/focalpoints/eurocrisis.html
Brought on by the global economic recession, the eurocrisis has been exacerbated by serious faults built into the monetary union. Contributors discuss whether the EU is not only broke, but also broken -- and if so, whether Europe's leaders are up to the task of fixing it. [more]

Time to Talk     click for more

Time to Talk, a network of European Houses of Debate, has partnered up with Eurozine to launch an online platform. Here you can watch video highlights from all TTT events, anytime, anywhere.
Dessislava Gavrilova, Jo Glanville et al.
The role of literature houses in protecting the space for free expression

http://www.eurozine.com/timetotalk/european-literature-houses-meeting-2014/
This summer, Time to Talk partner Free Word, London hosted a debate on the role that literature houses play in preserving freedom of expression both in Europe and globally. Should everyone get a place on the podium? Also those representing the political extremes? [more]

Eurozine BLOG

On the Eurozine BLOG, editors and Eurozine contributors comment on current affairs and events. What's behind the headlines in the world of European intellectual journals?
Simon Garnett
Britain flouts the European Court of Justice

http://www.eurozine.com/blog/
The UK has passed legislation on data retention that flouts European concerns about privacy. The move demonstrates extraordinary arrogance not only towards the Court of Justice of the European Union but towards the principle of parliamentary deliberation in Britain, writes Simon Garnett. [more]

Vacancies at Eurozine     click for more

There are currently no positions available.

Editor's choice     click for more

William E Scheuerman
Civil disobedience for an age of total surveillance
The case of Edward Snowden

http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2014-04-18-scheuerman-en.html
Earlier civil disobedients hinted at our increasingly global condition. Snowden takes it as a given. But, writes William E. Scheuerman, in lieu of an independent global legal system in which Snowden could defend his legal claims, the Obama administration should treat him with clemency. [more]

Literature     click for more

Olga Tokarczuk
A finger pointing at the moon

http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2014-01-16-tokarczuk-en.html
Our language is our literary destiny, writes Olga Tokarczuk. And "minority" languages provide a special kind of sanctuary too, inaccessible to the rest of the world. But, there again, language is at its most powerful when it reaches beyond itself and starts to create an alternative world. [more]

Piotr Kiezun, Jaroslaw Kuisz
Literary perspectives special: Witold Gombrowicz

http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2013-08-16-kuisz-en.html
The recent publication of the private diary of Witold Gombrowicz provides unparalleled insight into the life of one of Poland's great twentieth-century novelists and dramatists. But this is not literature. Instead: here he is, completely naked. [more]

Literary perspectives
The re-transnationalization of literary criticism

http://www.eurozine.com/comp/literaryperspectives.html
Eurozine's series of essays aims to provide an overview of diverse literary landscapes in Europe. Covered so far: Croatia, Sweden, Austria, Estonia, Ukraine, Northern Ireland, Slovenia, the Netherlands and Hungary. [more]

Debate series     click for more

Europe talks to Europe

http://www.eurozine.com/comp/europetalkstoeurope.html
Nationalism in Belgium might be different from nationalism in Ukraine, but if we want to understand the current European crisis and how to overcome it we need to take both into account. The debate series "Europe talks to Europe" is an attempt to turn European intellectual debate into a two-way street. [more]

Conferences     click for more

Eurozine emerged from an informal network dating back to 1983. Since then, European cultural magazines have met annually in European cities to exchange ideas and experiences. Around 100 journals from almost every European country are now regularly involved in these meetings.
Law and Border. House Search in Fortress Europe
The 26th European Meeting of Cultural Journals
Conversano, 3-6 October 2014

http://www.eurozine.com/comp/conversano2014.html
Taking place in southern Italy, not far from Lampedusa, this year's Eurozine conference will address both EU refugee and immigration policies and intellectual partnerships across the Mediterranean. Confirmed speakers include Italian investigative journalist Fabrizio Gatti and Moroccan feminist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Rita El Khayat. [more]

Multimedia     click for more

http://www.eurozine.com/comp/multimedia.html
Multimedia section including videos of past Eurozine conferences in Vilnius (2009) and Sibiu (2007). [more]


powered by publick.net