Sunday, May 7, 2017

KENAN MALIK - Living in diversity: On the fear of the Other and anxieties about the Self

Text of a speech by Kenan Malik at the launch of Gisèle House at Castrum Peregrini in Amsterdam
...we need, not so much new state policies, as a renewal of civil society

The fundamental importance of free speech is that it is the very material of social engagement. When we restrain freedom of expression what we are really restraining is the capacity for social engagement. But social engagement has to be a two-way street, or it is nothing at all. Double standards undermine the very possibility of real engagement. So, finally, let me return to the question that is the title of this talk: how should we live in a diverse society?

First, we need to recognize how narrow a view of diversity we have today. And that our narrow concept of diversity is at the very heart of many of our problem. If we look upon our differences in political or moral terms, they are often negotiable. If we see them in ethnic or cultural or religious terms, almost by definition they are not. Our peculiar perception of diversity has therefore made social conflict more intractable.

Second, we need to combat the pernicious impact of identity politics, and of the way that social policies have accentuated that pernicious impact. The combination of the two has ensured that social solidarity has become increasingly defined not in political terms – as collective action in pursuit of certain political ideals – but in terms of ethnicity or culture. The answer to the question ‘In what kind of society do I want to live?’ has become shaped less by the kinds of values or institutions we want to establish, than by the group or tribe to which we imagine we belong. From this perspective, diversity becomes a prison rather than the raw material for social engagement.

Third, we need to recognize that the issue of social fracturing is not simply an issue of migration or of minority communities. One of the features of contemporary Europe is the disaffection that many have with mainstream politics and mainstream institutions. It is one of the reasons for the rise of populist and far right groups, a disaffection fuelled by a host of social and political changes, that have left many, particularly from traditional working class backgrounds, feeling politically abandoned and voiceless, and detached from mainstream society....There are certainly issues specific to immigrants and minority communities, but they are best understood in the context of the wider debate about the relationship between individuals, communities and society. Societies have become fragmented because these relationships have frayed, and not just for minority communities.

Finally, a guiding assumption throughout Europe has been that immigration and integration must be managed through state policies and institutions. Yet real integration, whether of immigrants or of indigenous groups, is rarely brought about by the actions of the state. Indeed , the attempts by the state to manage diversity has been at the heart of many of the problems.

Real integration is shaped primarily by civil society, by the individual bonds that people form with one another, and by the organizations they establish to further their shared political and social interests. It is the erosion of such bonds and institutions that has proved so problematic and that explains why social disengagement is a feature not simply of immigrant communities but of the wider society, too. To repair the damage that disengagement has done, and to revive what I call a progressive universalism, we need, not so much new state policies, as a renewal of civil society.
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