Saturday, July 28, 2007

Mohammed-in-a-box

I am writing this on Friday afternoon when making my way back to Amsterdam after an inspiring session in Stockholm. Since last year I have been on the Advisory Board for a British Council project called Network Effect which investigates young leadership in Europe and strives for building cross-border collaborations amongst people in Europe who have already shown potential in making things happen.

Today we revised the focus of the future events. The main working method of Network Effect are the conferences bringing together some 35 young professionals from all parts of Europe. We have learned a lot from the previous sessions and realised that the best results are achieved when the event has a tight and provocative focus and the main argument put across is somewhat divisive. The future events will most likely concentrate on Europe’s relationship with its neighbouring regions.

We had good debate on Big Issues such as market logic and on the ways Europe is seen from the outside. Most of us admitted not to be that knowledgeable for instance when it comes to the main views on European Union in Russia. When it comes to Americans we recognised that Europeans are often perceived as self-congratulatory, arrogant and self-obsesssed. Quite often for a good reason if I may add.

In my work I have very often heard remarks that Western Europeans very seldom show genuine interest towards the political and social agenda in countries like Turkey. We tend to come with our themes well prepared – with Eau de Colonial sprayed all over.

The link to my work in the European Cultural Foundation is very clear. One has to remain critical towards one’s own work, the way one builds partnerships and one's approach especially when dealing with issues such as intercultural dialogue and cultural diversity. The risk of boxing people in is constant.

On the plane I read a speech from British diversity intellectual Kenan Malik who I consider to be an interesting and radical thinker when it comes to freedom of speech and multiculturalism. He criticises both multiculturalists and assimilationists for mixing diversity of values and peoples.

He says – rightly so – that multiculturalism creates undemocratic structures where governments ignore their responsibility for connecting directly to all citizens as they address minorities via community leaders. This is the approach which has often been described as the even tribal Take Me To Your Leader strategy. What governments seldom forget to do is check whether the people these organisations say they are representing actually want to be represented by them.

At the same time Malik points out how assimilationists ignore clear cases of racism due to their obsessions with equal treatment. He takes France as the obvious example of this.

”Immigration, in other words, has not caused the fraying of a common set of values”, Malik writes and continues:”Rather multiculturalism is itself a product of such frayed values. Multiculturalism was the official response to the identity crisis within Western societies, as attempt to provide a positive sheen to this crisis, representing the lack of common identity as a new cultural pluralism, and the fragmentation of communities as an enriching kind of diversity.”

All and all, an intellectually stimulating Friday.

1 comment:

JO said...

You wrote
"He says – rightly so – that multiculturalism creates undemocratic structures where governments ignore their responsibility for connecting directly to all citizens as they address minorities via community leaders"

You could be describing the EU.