Racial Euphemisms at the Telegraph

Here’s a euphemism laden sentence from a Daily Telegraph editorial:

[The research] shows a continuing pattern of “white flight” from areas where indigenous Britons find themselves surrounded by new minority communities.

Where they say ‘indigenous’ they mean ‘white’, and when they say ‘minority communities’ they mean not-white (Aisha Phoenix called this out in The LIP Magazine, a decaded ago).  The posh language dresses a racial issue as a cultural one.

And the research in question is questionable.  I found the Telegraph editorial via a blog post by Jonanthan Portes of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.  Portes was taking on the grand claims for “white flight” by David Goodhart in his book The British Dream.  If people in the ‘White British’ group are leaving London, they are doing so in relatively small numbers.

The LIP Magazine Round-up

The latest issue of our magazine, The LIP, was published in August.

From the editorial:

The LIP bucks the trend of expecting young contributors to offer their work for free in order to get a ‘foot in the door’. At the LIP, we hold the door open…

I admit I’m not sure just how old Young Master Worstall actually is… but the theme of the issue was ‘Media’, and who better to discuss the blog-hype than the editor of 2005: Blogged?

Other hightlights include interviews with Times War correspondent Anthony LLoyd; columnist Giles Coren (“I won’t write anything for less than a thousand quid”); maverick publisher Pete Ayrton; Al Jazeera’s Head of International and Media relations, Satnam Matharu; and a fascinating insight into the BNP mentality, courtesy of a chat with their press officer, Dr Phil Edwards (not the same as the homononynous author of Actually Existing). You can read the full articles by buying a copy online. We would appreciate your support and feedback.

Although only excerpts are available for the latest issue, we have full archive of the previous six issues online. Throughout, we have asked what it means to live in a smaller, more globalised world, and what (if anything) multiculturalism actually means. For the Dalai Lama, it is as much a project of stressing similarities between peoples, as it is about celebrating diversity. Ziauddin Sardar takes a more militant approach, and sees multiculturalism as a force to “transform and subvert the power of western civilisation.” For Roger Scruton the concept is “a toxic product of postmodernism that dissolves the ties that bind society together”. Nigerian novelist Helen Oyeyemi, thinks multiculturalism is “a big old fallacy.” While Paul Boateng MP agrees that it is “a word that people interpret to suit their own ideological purpose,” he nevertheless still values “the reality of a multi-racial society – vibrant and exciting, [and] enriched by cultural diversity.”

So far, author Hanif Kureishi’s definition of multiculturalism is my favourite. He says “multiculturalism is the idea that one might be changed by other ideas”. It is a movement based on the dialogic exchange of ideas, even traditions, based on “the idea that purity is incestuous”.

My conversation with the Dalai Lama

The LIP Magazine has undergone a substantial re-design, and a set of new articles have been published there in recent weeks. The write up of my questions to the Dalai Lama is the latest offering:

“Actually, my rough impression is that in the UK, ‘multiculturalism’ means a society where there are people from different backgrounds: Multi culture, multi racial, multi religion. In this sort of society, it means we need harmony, respect each other, and recognise others rights.”

The Dalai Lama suggests that most cultures and the morals that underpin them are based on religious faith, so to talk of multiculturalism is really to talk of ‘multi-religious faith’… What is important is finding the common ground between religions and therefore cultures, identifying those common morals that can unite us all. Multiculturalism, then, is not so much about celebrating differences, but emphasising our similarities.

Please head over to The LIP Magazine to read the full thing.

update

Here, as backup, is the full article.

A man at ease. Six million Tibetans and 380 million Buddhists look to Tenzin Gyatso for political and spiritual leadership. He seems to carry this burden lightly. As the 14th incarnation of the Dalai Lama, raised from the age of seven to be not a man but a symbol, perhaps this is to be expected. Rooms fall silent when he enters, and entire concert halls rise to their feet when he appears. Politicians and journalists alike hang on every word. Being treated as immortal must do wonders for your confidence.

So, too, must the very earthly fact of having been a Head of State for fifty-six years – nine years longer than Fidel Castro. Since his formal inauguration soon after China invaded Tibet in 1950, the Dalai Lama has established and run a government in exile, welcoming thousands of his weak and bitter countrymen who have arrived in India after a treacherous journey over the Himalayas to join him. He has met Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Popes, and debated with Chairman Mao. He has campaigned for peaceful justice in Tibet before a comprimised and slothful United Nations. If this was not enough, he has the moral trump card of a Nobel Peace Prize on his mantle-piece.

Not an arrogant demi-God, his manner is more that of an ex-President, the easy nature of a man with nothing left to prove. This is not so far from the truth. “We now have a fully elected Tibetan Government-in-Exile,” he says. “They handle many negotiations, so I am in a position of semi-retirement.” Some retirement: the Dalai Lama continues his arduous diplomacy and fact finding missions, such as his recent visit to the Scottish Parliament to assess its success in operating autonomously from its big brother in Westminster.

The comparison between Scotland and Tibet is perhaps forced, but there are pertinent points. The Dalai Lama repeats the need for ‘justice’ in Tibet, by which he means the need for genuine autonomy in the region, especially over cultural matters. Chinese immigrants in Tibet now outnumber the traditional Tibetan population, leading to the erosion of native customs. Perhaps these could be preserved through Devolution, rather than full Independence? So far as governments are concerned, the foundation of a solid ethical system to underpin the administration is most important, rather than the type of democracy in place. A country and culture may flourish, he says, when a people take responsibility for their democracy. This is what the Tibetan people desire.

For those campaigning for Tibetan liberation, this is hardly a universally accepted solution, and many are critical of the Dalai Lama’s essentially fundamentalist adherance to peaceful negotiations, over any kind of armed response. He has never endorsed any of the various groups of resistance fighters that have grown and withered over the years, some of whom received support, for a time, from the USA.

“Violence always creates more problems than it solves. It always has side effects. The alternative is indeed a compromise through negotiation and dialogue.” Few people have the patience for this approach, which is probably why he won the Nobel Prize. It is as if the achievement of a partial goal, or a goal achieved piecemeal over a long period is preferable to a quicker and more violent solution with untold side-effects. If you have been reincarnated fourteen times, it’s easier to play the long game. Everything the Dalai Lama says suggests he considers himself just a part of an ongoing historical narrative – a chapter in a longer story, not a whole book.

An answer to the problem of Chinese occupation of Tibet is, he says the first of three main focal points in his life. The second is the promotion of human value. If we see the whole of humanity, indeed, the whole living world as one body, then violence is merely violence against oneself. These are common values which underpin all cultures and religions, and a focus on human value is gaining ground.

“Compare the world today, with the world during the two world wars and the cold war. Although there is a problem with terrorism and despite the war in Iraq, there is more peace than in previous years”, he says. “War is the mobilisation of large numbers of people to violence. It legitimises and legalises violence.” He notes the anti-war protests that arose in 2003, and suggests that the ideal and philosophy of peace and negotiation is gaining ground. He suggests the promotion of peace, negotiation and non-violence from kindergarten upwards: “the spirit of dialogue” could invigorate societies in which neighbourly compassion is on the wane. Indeed, by being loyal to humanity as the whole, then conflict becomes not only an appalling way to operate, but also a ridiculously inefficient way to organise things. What he is saying (and what there is not enough acceptance of in the world) is that since we have a shared humanity, then any war should be considered a civil war between humans. The concept of wholeness and unity within Buddhism, and especially within the Dalai Lama’s writings, is probably his most important message for the rest of us.

What advice does he have for The West? Do we begin by adopting a more Buddhist way of life? “Not necessarily,” is the surprising answer. “Different people find different religions and spiritualities effective. Religion is like medicine for the mind, and not everyone needs the same medicine. So there is no particular need to be Buddist.”

“My opinion is that the West has its own religious tradition, which is Judaeo-Christianity (and to some extend Muslim). So I always say it is better to keep your own religion, it is not easy to change your own religion. So I say that westerners should be sincere Chrisitians.”

What if you are not Christian? Even if there is a strong Christian tradition running through our culture, many people do not have faith and it could not be said that they practice any religion at all.

“Of course, if you have no interest in a particular religion, then OK, but be a good human being.” Most ethics and values, he says, come from common sense, not religious text or religious leaders. It is therefore possible for everyone to adopt the idea of secular ethics. “The meaning of secular has two different interpretations. My understanding of the English word is that ’secular’ means the rejection of religion. But in Indian, secular means the respect of all religions, including the non-religious approach.”

“People everywhere want a happier life, a happier family, a happier community and society. Our inner values, such as a sense of responsibility, a sense of compassion and the oneness of the entire humanity, are values that you can reach without religion as such, and I think these are the basis of values that will bring about a happier humanity. So, with secular ethics, we do not talk about God or the next life or salvation, but just about making this life a happy one.”

These ideas of a co-operation, and examining all faiths, seem to be the basis of interfaith dialogue, and in turn ideas of multiculturalism. What, I ask the Dalai Lama, does multiculturalism mean to him, and what should it mean for us? He says it is a difficult question.

“Actually, my rough impression is that in the UK, ‘multiculturalism’ means a society where there are people from different backgrounds: Multi culture, multi racial, multi religion. In this sort of society, it means we need harmony, respect for each other, and to recognise others rights.”

The Dalai Lama suggests that most cultures and the morals that underpin them are based on religious faith, so to talk of multiculturalism is really to talk of “multi-religious faith”. A religion has its own unity and consistency, offering different ways of live, so religion and variety of religion is important, providing a diversity of ‘medicines for the soul’. What is important is finding the common ground between religions and therefore cultures, identifying those common morals that can unite us all. Multiculturalism, then, is not so much about celebrating differences, but emphasising our similarities.

For the Dalai Lama, arguing over religion is pointless. “From a Christian view-point, I have a Godless religion, so strictly speaking, I am a nihlist. And from my view-point, since the Christian value system does not accept the concept of nirvana (among other things), I may call them nihlists. I might as well argue with you over whether to eat spicy food or not. There is no use in arguing like this. They have been doing so in India for three-thousand years and have not come up with an solution!” Religion is personal, and cannot be imposed on a plural society which has a heritage of many different religions. Multiculturalism is the acknowledgement of this pluralism. It is denying that other cultures are a threat, and instead seeking the earthly, secular common ground, on which we can all agree. And it is in the concept of secular ethics that we can find this commonality of purpose.

The Dalai Lama is fortunate that his fame has ridden the wave of advances in global communication. In his claret and saffron robes and thick glasses, he is a highly visible figure. The index specimen of a wise old eastern sage, he has written several books on self-help and spirituality. One half expects expects him deliver life changing words of wisdom with every breath. Perhaps it is inevitable then, that his sentences seem to finish early, before the life changing bon mot has been delivered. This is, of course, an unfair expectation on the part of the listeners – the Dalai Lama never claims to have answers, just guidance from a the perspective of Buddhist philosophy. Nevertheless, the broadness of his approach has drawn criticism. The oneness of humanity and the need for unconditional peace may be self evident for a monk who has studied nothing else. But convincing other people, especially those who have been born into suffering under occupation, is a somewhat harder task.

This sort of persuasion may be beyond the Dalai Lama. In any case, it is probably not his goal and not the point of his office. His symbolical nature stands for something longer. He is a cypher for the long-term. When he invokes ideas of unity, the Dalai Lama is very aware that he is advocating a paradigm shift in our thinking. These ethics, he says, must be impressed upon children from a very young age, so a new generation of leaders will be born with “the ideas of peace and human value at their heart”. He, and we, will not live to see these ideas bear fruit. As it is with Tibet, so it is with lasting peace – a long term project.

Has Democracy Failed?

First published in The LIP magazine, February 2003


 

Democracy should be the champion of diversity. The word conjures in our minds the image of a Greek city state, where each citizen has his own, considered and educated opinion. They talk, they listen, and then they vote. A decision prevails, and we progress.

However, some things have happened to our world over the past thousand years. First, the democratic system has been clogged by the powerful and the ignorant, who are often the same people. The economic system, however amoral, has allowed some people to buy louder opinions. Second, we have created an education system that manages to yield citizens who have no discernable opinions of their own, nor the tools of imagination, inquiry and logic that will allow them to form some.

Now, then, the ‘tyranny of the majority’ has become manifest. Instead of a constant stream of dialogue between people and between groups, we have a partially-elective oligarchy that itself exists only to influence the opinion of a single mind. If that mind is already made up, all dialogue is pointless.

Other opinions are voiced, but even if they are heard the very nature of the system ensures they cannot be heeded. Democracy has switched sides, and instead of being the shield of diversity, it has become the tool of homogenisation. We have a rubbish excuse for democracy, and it is not something to be valued, or fought for.

The politics surrounding the war in Iraq, and the protests against it, illustrate these points—if we have to resort to massive direct action, why have democracy? Our opinions count for nothing, because those who didn’t have an opinion at election time are happy to let the oligarchy think for them now.

What has been forgotten at every level of the debate is that democracy should be more than just voting for a president. ‘Democracy’ in Zimbabwe means just that, and it has created grotesque results. In Iraq we send our brothers and sisters to kill and to die in their thousands, in the name of that same confused ideal. We do not know what we are fighting for, and so our humanity is eroded in the deserts of Arabia.

What is to be done, then? Democracy should be reclaimed. Once again, it should be about engaging in rational, critical and political discourse at every level, not just in Westminster and Washington. Debate should not be run by the national media but by every group of people in the country. The group of souls who label themselves students are not doing this, despite being seeped in the diverse and many subjects they study. This is shameful. Only when democracy has be reclaimed, and real plurality of thought is really considered, can true diversity flourish.

We cannot ask for a simple paradigm shift. Such a change in the way we conduct our lives, our interactions, will take generations. But the seeds must be planted now, for our grandchildren will reap what we sow. This is our project, and with this modest offering it begins.

Humane Being?

The asylum issue has been marred by groups of people who simply have a narrow perspective on the nature of the world. They see the problem in a typically Anglo-centric fashion, never stopping to consider what is happening in countries that are not their own. It is this narrow-mindedness that is damning the human race as a species.

We can talk about the economic implications of the asylum problem all we like. Critics of the government, and indeed those actually making the decisions, consider only the ‘pull’ factors, the reason people come to this country. They suggest we are a soft touch, that we house them, give them benefits, and this is damaging the economy of this green and pleasant land.

No-one ever stops to consider the ‘push’ factors, the reasons people bother to emigrate in suffocating containers or freezing cargo trains. Why on earth would anyone endure thousands of miles of hunger and abuse to live in an alien place where language, customs and culture are hostile? The reasons are obvious, and many. Widespread poverty, soaring violent crime, economic mismanagement on the part of their own government, stellar inflation, institutional corruption, natural disasters, sub-standard water, zero health-care, zero social security, zero secondary education, low life expectancy, poor civil rights for women, sexual assault, AIDS. And these are in ‘stable’ countries without a civil war.

Why do the selfish anti-immigration campaigners not perceive the wider world? We humans must accept our embarrassing truth, that most countries are shit-holes for most people. Until we, fellow homo sapiens of the West who have won the birth lottery, make serious efforts to help the developing world industrialise, economic migrants will try and get into our country by any method they can. And who can blame them? Who can deny them that essential human trait—of desperately trying to make your life bearable. Would you not do the same?

In the meantime, we have to accept that dealing with immigrants will cream a percentage of our taxes off the top of the Treasury pot. And gee shucks, the trains might well be late, again. That is the price we must pay for living as privileged, Platinum-Plus humans.

The Case For War

If your opponent creates the rules of the game, he will win and you will lose. If you let the opposition frame the debate, the argument is all but lost.

War looms. The troops have been shipping out to the Persian Gulf for months. Now we wonder whether to provide Turkey with the protection it will surely need. The US Secretary of State asks for a second resolution that will sanction war, apparently blind to the fact that the institution he addresses, the United Nations, has its days as an effective organisation well and truly numbered. Our Prime Minister attacks us for marching against him.

The tide turns in their favour because the diplomats who matter all play the Hawks’ game by the Hawks’ rules. Only one rule matters: It is up to the anti-war lobby to prove its case. Unless a decisive and watertight argument against the war is presented, Iraq gets levelled by the twenty-fourth.

We all know how terrible a war is. We have seen the pictures on TV, in our newspapers. War truly must be the last resort, the action we take when we know that beyond reasonable doubt, all else has failed. War is so terrible, the burden of proof must always rest with those who wage it. This must be a fundamental of human politics.

As soon as the ball returns to their court, the confusion of Hawks’ case is apparent: The link between Al Q’aeda and Saddam is hearsay. The link between the CIA and both is not in question. The weapons of mass destruction have not yet materialised. Hans Blix criticises Colin Powell’s attempt to mimic Stevenson. Hans asks for more time to carry out his task.

UN sanctions have strengthened Saddam. Sanctions have killed children, and war will kill some more. Anti-Americanism (however misplaced) will increase in aftermath of an invasion which is seen as blatant imperialism by many. And at the back of our minds, we know that Bush and Cheney are both ‘oil men’ waging war against the country with the fourth most abundant supply of oil in the world.

Finally, they shout Fourteen Forty-One, and we retort with Two Forty Two.

There has been no vote in the House of Commons. The case for war has not yet been proven. We are not just on shaky ground – we are sitting on the moral equivalent of the San Andreas fault.

Despite this, we have been watching our soldiers head Eastwards, and we have come to realise that none of this matters. We are incredulous, that with so many questions to be answered, a decision has already been made… last summer. This amazement, at the complete lack of mature dialogue, is what inspired hundreds of thousands of people to walk down Piccadilly on 15th February.

We are angry that our government has not addressed any of the issues, which buzz around this war like flies around a corpse. And just like the corpse, the case for war stinks.

But somehow, we find ourselves in a situation where it is up to the peaceniks to justify their case, not the governments who wish to attack! George Bush has led the debate, and formed the rules in his own image: irrational, and leaning towards revenge. We will go to war, and it will be terrible.

How to be multicultural?

It is very easy to say that you are pro-multicultural. Politicians, religious leaders, journalists, all declare that they are in favour of diversity. And yet, they all, each and every one, have their own personal faith, that is almost always at odds with everyone else’s. How can we respect and tolerate someone, if our own beliefs are contradictory to theirs? If this question is not answered, then all talk of cultural diversity is meaningless.

Imagine three guys sitting around a table during freshers’ week (that’s shouldn’t be too hard). During their opening chit-chats, it becomes apparent that they have different faiths. One is Christian, another is a Jew… the third declares he is an atheist. During their discussions, the following beliefs emerge:

The Christian believes that Jesus Christ was the Son of God; The Jew believes that God exists, but Jesus was not His son; and the atheist believes that there are no gods.

These are three mutually exclusive viewpoints. They cannot be held simultaneously. No one knows who of the three is right, but we can be certain that at least two of them are wrong. Two of the eager students are embarking on a university career, their entire belief system based on falsehood. Is it not doublethink to respect faiths and religions, when we know that the great majority of them (including, probably, our own) must be completely wrong?

The problem with this stance, trivially correct though it may be, is that it focuses on the central tenets of a particular belief. This does not advance our understanding, nor does it help us when we realise we have to live next door to these people. We must recognise that everyone has to put blind, illogical faith in something. Even the atheist has to bridge a gap of logic if he is to believe that no gods exist. These beliefs have the same status in logical argument as the parents who shout, “Because I said so!” at their children.

What is open to discussion, however, is how those tenets effect the way people lead their lives. For example, to Christians, the most important thing about Jesus Christ is that he died and was resurrected for the sins of humanity. For non-Christians, i.e. most people, the love and forgiveness Jesus is said to have preached, and that their Christian neighbours try and do the same.

There is a challenge therefore, which extends to any group of people and not just the religions used in the example above. The challenge is to show the rest of the world how they approach life, how they treat fellow humans, based upon whatever traditions and tenets they subscribe to. (This is a particular challenge for atheists, who have to explain how they live without recourse to an ancient text). Explaining your moral system to others is interesting, rational, and most importantly it allows us to form a consensus with other cultures, on what exactly those morals shall be. Mutual respect all around the table.

Simon Schama suggests how we should conduct our political discourse:

Put another way, the fight is between power based on revelation (and thus not open to argument), and power based on persuasion, and thus conditional on argument; militant theocracy against the tolerant Enlightenment.

Competing groups may follow their own traditions and code as they interact with others, but at no point must they use their own articles of faith as a reason for political action. “We have the right to do this, because God says so” is an irrational argument and will not wash in polite debate. Sadly, many politicians on the international scene use this sort of rhetoric, over and over again. We know who they are and we should ask them to stop, because then we might be able to have a proper conversation.