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Inviting Hindus to play the victim card

A survey of British Hindus reveals the extent to which multiculturalism fosters division and grievance.

Neil Davenport

Topics Politics

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Hindus in the UK feel that not enough effort is being made to include them in anti-racist initiatives, says a report from the Hindu Forum of Britain (HFB).

‘Hindu communities should be supported in playing a fuller role in society through improved capacity for leadership, community engagement and better understanding of Hindu beliefs, cultures and perspectives’, said the report (1). Already, the findings from interviewing some 800 Hindus in the UK have been welcomed by government officials and professional multiculturalists.

The secretary of state for communities, Ruth Kelly, who launched the report earlier this week, believes it raises ‘important issues’ between Hindu communities and the government. Elsewhere, Dr Robert Berkeley of the Runnymede Trust, which supported the survey, believes that ‘recognition’ for Hindus will ‘offer a view of faith-based communities which gives a different perspective’ (2). Whatever happened to finding points of commonality in divided Britain? Aren’t we supposed to be moving away from all this?

The HFB’s report does provide useful insights into the machinations of multiculturalism. For example, even though the HFB found that ‘the UK’s 500,000 Hindus were generally well-integrated into British society’, both it and the government want to invent ‘issues’ where there doesn’t appear to be any. After all, if Hindus appear ‘well-integrated’ in the UK, how come Ruth Kelly believes ‘all of us, including central government and public services, have a role to play in helping Britain move towards an inclusive society’?

It seems such reports are less about tackling genuine social grievances than encouraging petty ones. Apparently, what Hindus objected to was being described as ‘Asian’ instead of ‘Hindu’ or ‘Indian’. No matter what the government’s prejudices are, this is hardly a sign of being under siege from a hostile, wider community. The Hindus interviewed for the report are probably rehearsing lines from the official multicultural script. Indeed, for over 20 years minority groups in the UK have been encouraged to define themselves exclusively along religious or cultural lines. Take, for example, Bradford in the early Eighties.

Back then there were frequent conflicts between Asian youth, racist organisations and the police. Faced with such growing militancy among Asian youth, Bradford council drew up a 12-point race relations plan that declared that every section of the ‘multiracial, multicultural city’ had ‘an equal right to maintain its own identity, culture, language, religion and customs’ (3). As part of its multicultural agenda, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus were encouraged to express their distinct identities. The consequence was to exacerbate divisions from wider society and create them within Asian communities, too. Such a retrograde dynamic was localised to particular racial flashpoints. Today, more or less every ethnic group is encouraged to seek out slices of cultural ‘recognition’. But what exactly is this based on?

A popular misconception of multiculturalism is that it promotes ‘understanding’ of other people’s cultures and thus creates social harmony. Yet the process of absorbing and adopting different cultural expressions has long been a feature of human existence. It’s not something we need instructions for from well-appointed academics. Besides, what official multiculturalism seeks to engineer is ‘recognition’ of suffering rather than any meaningful cultural engagement. It is fundamentally about recognition that someone’s ethnic genealogy has suffered persecution in the past or been excluded from centres of power, or both.

Not surprisingly, the consequence has been an explosion of groups competing in a hierarchy of suffering and exclusion. This doesn’t just include representatives of Muslims and Jewish organisations; anyone with a Welsh, Scottish or Irish-Catholic heritage can claim victim status, too. Hindus are simply the latest group – but they probably won’t be the last – to be encouraged to play the victim card.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, it becomes a rather different matter when ethnic minorities assert economic rather than cultural demands. By the phoney remit of multiculturalism, last year’s strike involving Gate Gourmet workers at Heathrow airport should have been seen as a model of diversity and inclusion. After all, the strikers involved were predominately from Sikh and Hindu backgrounds, and there were many women on the picket lines, too. Yet there were no congratulations from New Labour ministers, no leader articles in the press marvelling at multicultural trade unionism. In fact they were mostly discussed in the same terms as other striking workers – as an irritation.

Yet as inspiring as the strike was for some of us, I’m not suggesting that ‘Hindus-and-Sikhs, unite-and-fight’ will demolish multiculturalism and its attendant divisions. What the strike did reveal, however, was just how infantile and infantilising demands for ‘cultural recognition’ really are. In the course of this action to defend jobs and wages, multicultural blather on appreciating cultural vales and practises became irrelevant – for both the Hindu workers and the government that was irritated by their actions. That is because, whereas multiculturalism sees people as privatised individuals nurturing private grievances, making public demands on society means acting as subjects and citizens.

The HFB’s survey doesn’t reveal any genuine grievances affecting Hindus in the UK. Instead, it simply shows how official multiculturalism encourages competing demands for cultural recognition. And rather than combating any banal prejudices and divisions in society, such reports are designed to entrench and inflame them every step of the way. For all the post-7/7 discussions on creating a united Britain, the divisiveness of multiculturalism is clearly here to stay. It seems that encouraging ethnic groups to act as citizens is one ‘important issue’ that Ruth Kelly won’t be looking into.

Neil Davenport is a writer and lecturer based in London.

(1) Racism debate ‘excludes Hindus’, BBC News, 11 July 2006

(2) Racism debate ‘excludes Hindus’, BBC News, 11 July 2006

(3) Against multiculturalism, Kenan Malik, New Humanist, Summer 2002

(4) Racism debate ‘excludes Hindus’, BBC News, 11 July 2006

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Topics Politics

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