In the wake of the continued terrorism attacks and quagmire [oops – not supposed to use that word] in Iraqi, I am picking up an increasing backlash against multiculturalism due to the fear factor. The most recent example showed up in a subtle way in Joel Kotkin’s comment on the London attacks in Sunday’s Washington Post “City Of the Future”.
Last Tuesday, we had an interesting event with Richard Florida, who argues that multiculturalism and the openness of American society is our greatest economic advantage and one of the drivers of our innovation and creative economy. Besides including a gratuitous slap at Florida’s idea of the creative class, Kotkin’s piece takes direct aim at multiculturalism:
Now, cities may have to face a different menace. Sadly, many metropolitan leaders seem less than prepared to meet today’s current terrorist threat head-on, in part due to the trendy multiculturalism that now characterizes so many Western cities. Consider London’s multiculturalist Mayor Ken Livingstone, who last year actually welcomed a radical jihadist, Egyptian cleric Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi, to his city.
Multiculturalism and overly permissive immigration policies have also played a role here in North America. Unfettered in their own enclave, Muslim extremists in Brooklyn helped organize the first attack on the World Trade Center in the early 1990s. Lax Canadian refugee policies have allowed radical Islamists to find homes in places like Montreal and Toronto, where some might have planned attacks on this country, like the alleged 2000 plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport.
In continental Europe, multiculturalism has been elevated to a kind of social dogma, exacerbating the separation between Muslim immigrants and the host society. For decades, immigrants have not been encouraged or expected to accept German, Dutch or British norms, nor have those societies made efforts to integrate the newcomers. Not surprisingly, jihadist agitation has flourished in Hamburg, Amsterdam, Madrid, Berlin and Paris as well as London.
If cities are to survive in Europe or elsewhere, they will need to face this latest threat to urban survival with something more than liberal platitudes, displays of pluck and willful determination. They will have to face up to the need for sometimes harsh measures, such as tighter immigration laws, preventive detention and widespread surveillance of suspected terrorists, to protect the urban future.
In other words, multiculturalism and openness (and the implied permissiveness of “others”) is one of the roots of our lack of security.
This is disturbing, especially coming from someone who years ago argued in The Third Century “that our entrepreneurial ‘open system’ and the human diversity of America as a unique ‘world nation’ ensures the long-term strength of our economy” and in 2000 in The New Geography, “midopolitan [older suburban areas] communities increasingly must draw their strength, as the great cities before them did, from the energies, skills, and cultural offerings of their increasingly diverse populations.”
I agree with Kotkin’s statement in the Post piece:
Militant anti-Western Islamist agitation — actively supportive of al Qaeda, for example — also must be rooted out; it can be no more tolerated in Western cities today than overt support for Nazism should have been during World War II.
But, at what point does this crackdown on overt support (which I agree we must do) spill over into a general roundup of “dangerous types”? I’m not suggesting that the backlash is approaching anything like what resulted in the Japanese internment camps of World War II. I am suggesting that we must be careful not to go over the cliff.
This is the other side of the danger that the terrorist poise – undermining our strength by installing a climate of fear and distrust. After all, isn’t that what “terror”-ism is all about. It is not about the number of people killed but the effect on the morale and psychology of the targets. Kotkin some what recognizes this when he says:
The kinds of policies needed to secure their safety may pose a serious dilemma for great cities that have been built upon the values of openness, freedom of movement, privacy, tolerance and due process. Yet to survive, these same cities may now need to shift their primary focus to protecting their people, their commerce and their future against those who seek to undermine and even, ultimately, destroy them.
Unfortunately, this sounds too much like the old story of “we had to destroy the village in order to save it.” Kotkin is arguing that we must shift away from all the things that have made great cities great in order to protect them. This is a lose-lose situation. Surely we can do better.
I would also take issue with Kotkin’s argument that the gospel of “multiculturalism” promotes isolation and separation.
One of the reasons why immigrants in many European countries have not accepted local Europeans norms is that they have been constantly reminded that they are not Europeans, that they are “immigrants.” For all the protestations of tolerance, there is still a gap between the locals (Europeans) and immigrants (non-Europeans). As Kotkin’s colleague at the New America Foundation, Peter Bergen points out, “many British Muslims are young and poorly integrated into society and therefore vulnerable to extremism.” Tolerance is not the same as welcoming and mixing. Done right, multiculturalism results in a shared community – not isolated enclaves.
On this subject, my hope stems from another story in Sunday’s Post (in fact, a front page story – “Finding the World in Loudoun County”) about how regular pick-up soccer game is uniting a diverse community in Northern Virginia:
The matches had been going on for a few years now. Self-conscious jokes about couscous, or gringos, or the Somali army had been told, beers shared, hellos exchanged in the aisles of the Food Lion. Mustafa had become Moose. The novelty of differences had largely worn off, in other words, leaving something more ordinary, perhaps, and yet no less significant to the people who live there.
Here seems to be an example of true multiculturalism at work. Someone should write another piece. Rather than “City of Fear” that is the true title of Kotkin’s piece, I would like to see more on the “City of Hope.” That would be the true “City of the Future.”
By the way, Kotkin – who is a respected commentator on urban affairs (see his new book, The City: A Global History) seems to have set himself up as the anti-Richard Florida. For an interesting background on the argument – see Christopher DeWolf’s excellent essay Creative Class War: The Debate over Richard Florida’s Ideas.
I must confess that I share some of Kotkin’s critique of Florida’s ideas — but had the same critique of Kotkin’s similar arguments when he made them in his 2000 book The New Geography.