It's not easy to dislodge a trendy fad, particularly among the public intellectuals and the aspiring sophisticates of the chattering class, but "multiculturalism" may be getting an intellectual re-examination. The strivers so easily captured by the hula hoops of academic imagination have a long way to go, but the signs are there (and not a moment too soon).
"Multiculturalism" is the notion that all cultures are inherently equal; the notion should not only be tolerated, but encouraged. The Judeo-Christian values that undergirded the founding of our country and inspired the moral rules that bound us together in a common culture, honored even when honored in the breach, are to be held in doubt and suspicion. When these values were deconstructed, so that they no longer held us together, the literary, philosophical and historical canons of Western civilization changed.
Young people, naturally given to critiquing anything and everything their parents believe, became easily indoctrinated with the fashionable notions of multiculturalism. Disarmed, they could not defend the culture that produced their freedoms and the good life in which to enjoy those freedoms. They were soon not even capable of perceiving the consequences that flow from an inability to make distinctions. Instead of appreciating the self-correcting freedoms growing out of the common culture -- leading to the end of slavery, the relief of oppressed women, and the civil-rights revolution that propelled blacks into the mainstream -- the young were encouraged to focus on the negatives of Western history. The manifest shortcomings of other cultures were cheerfully ignored.
The great contemporary fault line of multiculturalism is the tolerance of Islamist barbarity that passes for understanding. This has led to the conspicuous inability to recognize the dark side of Islam that politicizes authentic religious faith and produces the terrorism that stalks the civilized world. Though only a small number of Muslims actually perceive murder as a religious duty, millions of Muslims support those who do, and many millions more conspicuously refrain from criticizing the evil-doers, either from fear or from a desire to see their faith became dominant across the world.
As a result, "multiculturalism" has become ideology that menaces a culture unable to defend itself. This multiculturalism undercuts assimilation and fosters an anti-American bias in favor of cultures determined to destroy our own. The British example says it all. Multiculturalism in England was shaped not only by academicians, but by civil servants, think tanks, minority pressure groups, center-left politicians, and what John O'Sullivan calls with irony "the Great and the Good." In The New Criterion magazine, he argues that certain government institutions, together with the popular media, created an ideology of "institutional correctness" of condescending anthropology. The British government, unrestrained by constitutional guarantees of separation of church and state, subsidized ethnic, religious, and linguistic ghettoes by supporting "faith schools," where minority children were encouraged to maintain the cultures their parents fled. In the interest of tolerance, men and women who knew better rationalized the suppression of women, genital mutilation and even "honor killings" by Muslims. Better to let the natives keep their quaint customs rather than impose common values that smack of "Britishness."
The bombings in London, however, changed the debate. When the British learned that their suicide bombers were home-grown, recruited from minorities who were not marginalized -- the bombers had grown up playing cricket -- multiculturalism as a guiding ideology was suddenly suspect. The Dutch before them had begun to rethink multiculturalism as well, when a radical Muslim murdered the filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in Amsterdam for his criticism of Islamic suppression of women. The killer left an Islamist manifesto spiked to his breast.
Though not as daffy over multiculturalism as the Netherlands or Britain, America has been moving that way. The melting pot of assimilation, which has nurtured the American dream for more than two centuries, has become ever more suspect. A poll for the Pew Hispanic Center finds that 55 percent of Americans of Mexican descent consider themselves Mexicans first. A similar study of Muslim immigrants in Los Angeles finds that only 10 percent think of themselves as Americans rather than citizens of the countries they abandoned for new lives here.
Multiculturalism has become both masochistic and condescending. Born of good and generous intentions, it inevitably led to cultural amnesia, sapping the strength of the common bond. "An unintended and beneficial consequence of the London bombings," writes John O'Sullivan, "is the transformation of the debate in Britain over multiculturalism." The clock is ticking here, too.