April 08, 2004


k-punk's attempt to answer Polly Toynbee's article on Trevor Phillips and Scott's qualified defence of it in the comments to the England Expects post.

Scott: the first four paragraphs are pretty much just establishing the facts so that's OK.

Well, what worries me about what Toynbee says here is the import of her claims that it 'was never about objective facts' and that '[t]he hard political task is to calm the way people feel.' Granted, she's right that the anti-immigrant mania was never rational, was never based upon objective facts, but what troubles me is the implication that we should abandon facts rather than insist upon them more than ever. It's only by making hard economic arguments - about the need for immigrants, about the vibrancy immigrants produce in a culture - that we'll persuade many of the sceptics (if indeed they are persuadable; that's obviously questionable, to say the least).

para. 5: "but the most dangerous divide now is in culture - and that means Muslim: ask the BNP" from the POV of the BNP supporter, that is agreeable in itself. so i admit you can argue about that til the cows come home.

Well, the distinction between 'race' and 'culture' isn't a given. After all, as Gilroy argues, race isn't a biological category, it's a cultural enforcement. Besides, in effect, muslims have been racialized, castigated as a racial other, in the BNP imaginary.

'British Muslims arrested last week as terror suspects had families as British as Meera Syal's - yet culturally they inhabit another universe.' That's precisely the reason that immigration needs to be teased apart from the 'cultural'/ religious question. The relationship between the two is tangential, indirect. If 'we' stopped all immigration tomorrow, the Islamist terror threat would remain. Maybe that's what she's saying... but 'race', 'culture', 'religion', 'immigration', they're connected in complex ways; this is where the rational arguments, the objective facts, need to insisted upon.

para. 6 mebbe you think sounds a bit fogeyish but aw shucks.

Yeh, not much to contest there.

para. 7: "Embrace modern British values that include laws on equality for women....No, it doesn't mean tearing off schoolgirls' headscarves"; well, this is nice, surely.


para. 8 seems fair play. you can't pick who's going to pick up and run w' you, even if you believe that what someone is saying means - inevitably - only some ppl will run w' them, and not others (in Toynbee land, this means not minding Tebbit praising him whilst Vaz stamps his feet). there's nothing too bad about this is there?

No, but Tebbit's support does one give some pause ...

para. 9 makes me feel a bit queasy, granted. but "...the context has changed" sounds reasonable?

Yeh, but the idea that the union jack is 'our collective symbol' is not very convincing; partly for the reasons Toynbee enumerates.

the last two paras. admittedly leave a lot to be desired. confusing whatever bad points she sees in certain strains of multiculturalism with the Islamofascist project per se is a bit dodgy (well, more than a bit), i guess.

Yeh, it's a disastrous equivocation. Plus both Toynbee and Phillips are begging the question of what multi-culturalism means, or could mean. Toynbee seems to follow Phillips in thinking that multi-culturalism has to mean separatism (or multi-monoculturalism). What is a better example of multi-culturalism: a muslim-only school in Bradford or grime?

final analysis though, i'm just quite grateful that Toynbee (who i don't normally feel, i admit), writes "There will be no surprise, either, if the Tories use any minor immigration scam to stir ill-founded fear of chaos on the borders, especially as May 1 EU expansion day approaches" at the end. frankly, i'm liable to let lots of really dodgy things sweep past my radar in my haste to embrace ppl that are just generally ready to shout at certain tabloids in the whole economic migrants/asylum seeker debate.

See where your coming from, absolutely. But this is not the time to be conceding any ground to the far right. I know Toynbee doesn't intend to do that, but the rhetoric of 'the end of multi-culturalism' plays into their hands, I think.

Posted by mark at April 8, 2004 05:35 PM | TrackBack

excellent points, completely see what you mean.

i think the only time you're a tad unfair on Toynbee is with Granted, she's right that the anti-immigrant mania was never rational, was never based upon objective facts.

i know from personal experience (months of arguments with co-workers in a factory i was once at for a long time in a particularly whitebread part of mcr) that facts are not needed, and - even when presented with actual facts - the kind of people i was discussing these issues with didn't care. they still ranted on.
so admittedly that's a pessimistic sop on my part, and maybe it looks like i'm saying some people have closed minds, but i am a bit less than my usual optimistic self re. parts of the whole asylum seeker debate.
mind, you yourself grant if indeed they are persuadable; that's obviously questionable, to say the least.

that Lib Dem i quoted in your comments box is a genuine friend of mine, nominally much more to the left than i am, an actual Lib Dem voter, a reader of the Index of Censorship, a lover of Orwell, impeccably anti-racist in pretty much all respects you can think of but i've heard unsettling remarks about, say, Afghani youths as a whole in his bit of Birmingham, where he's extrapolating from the behaviour of a few Afghani boys in his 'hood.

sorry to sound so down, you're right, you need to take debates to people, not get apathetic about it.

Posted by: scott at April 8, 2004 05:59 PM