Opinion

John Lloyd

Multiculturalism: A blasphemy or a blessing?

John Lloyd
Jan 31, 2012 14:42 UTC

Multiculturalism is a Western ideal, amounting to a secular faith. Every Western government at least mouths its mantras – that a mix of peoples in one nation is a social good, that it enriches what had been a tediously monolithic culture, that it improves (especially for the Anglo-Saxons) our cuisine, our dress sense and our love lives. Besides, we need these immigrants: In Europe at least, where demographic decline is still the order of the day in most states, where else will the labor come from? Who else replenishes the state pension fund? Even where leaders criticize multiculturalism’s tendency to shield communities from justified criticism – Angela Merkel of Germany and David Cameron of the UK have both spoken out on this – they touch only on its more obvious failings. As a process, they agree it is welcome.

Forgotten, or at least suppressed, in this narrative is religion and the animating force it still gives to many groups. Animating – and also divisive. To believe deeply in a religion had been, in the West as well as elsewhere, to believe deeply in the error of those not of the same faith, and to shun them. It has been one of the remarkable transformations of the past century that in the West, those of religious faith, or none, should accommodate the faiths of others. Indeed, they should even honor them. Those societies where that did not happen — say, until very recently, Ireland — the culture was seen as aberrant.

The reverse is true in many strongly Islamic societies. And that’s causing a problem for the Christians still living in them.

In Pakistan, the Christians number around 2.5 million. At 1.5 percent of the population, it is the largest minority in an otherwise wholly Muslim country, its origin as a community stemming entirely from the missionary activities of the British colonialists and the small number of Christians who stayed on after independence came in 1947. Promised complete equality, the progressive Islamization of the state has put increasing pressure on Christians, who face both official discrimination and periodic popular violence. The latter increased in the past decade: Last year claimed two prominent victims.

Shahbaz Bhatti, 42 years old, was the federal minister for minority affairs, a Catholic and a strong opponent of the country’s blasphemy laws: In March, his car was sprayed with bullets. By the time he got to the hospital, he was dead on arrival. The group Tehrik-i-Taliban claimed responsibility, citing Bhatti as a “known blasphemer.” The murder came two months after another, of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. Although not a Christian, Taseer had also strongly opposed the blasphemy law and offered support to those caught in it. He was shot in January by one of his bodyguards, Malik Qadri, reportedly associated with the Dawat-e-Islami group.

A yacht not fit for a queen

John Lloyd
Jan 25, 2012 21:28 UTC

Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith … is in want of a yacht.

She had one, the Royal Yacht Britannia, which she loved very much. When the Labour government of Tony Blair said it was too expensive and decommissioned it soon after assuming office in 1997, she was seen to weep at the ceremony. Last year, Blair was reported as saying he regretted the decision, pressed upon him by the then-chancellor, Gordon Brown, and inherited from the previous, Conservative administration. It cost £11 million a year to run, and a necessary refit would have cost some £50 million. So it was put out to the nautical equivalent of pasture. It’s now on show at a dock in Leith, the port of Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, where it’s in much demand as a venue for “occasions.”

If in want of a yacht, Queen Elizabeth has never lacked for gallant courtiers. Michael Gove, the secretary of state for education, earlier this month wrote to the prime minister suggesting that for her Diamond Jubilee, to be celebrated in June this year, she should be promised (the event is too near for her to be “given”) a replacement yacht, to express the love her subjects bear her. After a little to-ing and fro-ing, Gove clarified that he had not meant that the expense – which might be some £80 million to £100 million – should be borne from the public purse, but rather would be raised from her (presumably better-heeled) admirers. The prime minister said he was all for it, on that basis. The deputy prime minister, Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, made a not-too-bad joke, saying the world was divided into the “yachts and the have-yachts.”

Why doesn’t unemployment create more crime?

John Lloyd
Jan 17, 2012 17:09 UTC

With so much unemployment about, and more to come, it seems reasonable to fear that more crime will come with it. The devil, after all, finds work for idle hands, and that English proverb finds echoes everywhere. The French and the Finns say that “idleness is the mother of all vices” (the Italians think the same, except that it’s the father); the Portuguese, that “an empty head is the devil’s workshop”; the Egyptians, that “the idle hand is impure.” Who can gainsay such an accord of folk wisdom?

The U.S. crime statistics, for one. The big rise in U.S. unemployment (it’s going down a little now, but it’s still high, at around nine percent) hasn’t been accompanied by a surge in crime. The stagnation of working- and middle-class incomes hasn’t sent the sufferers out onto the street in orgies of thieving or robbery with assault. Although Americans – bamboozled by super-violent films and TV’s concentration on murder and rape – fear crime as much, if not more, than ever, still the real decline in most crimes is large, and has continued.

The reasons for rises and falls in crime are always contested, but one reason commonly cited – though not universally agreed upon – is the high rate of incarceration in the U.S. And it’s not just that the U.S. locks up people more willingly than other countries – the UK sends about the same percentage to prison. It’s that the prisoners spend longer, often much longer, inside. Research by Steven Levitt and William Spelman points to these sentences as reducing crime by a lot – about one-quarter. Other researchers say it’s much less (though still accounting for a measurable decline) and that the social effects, especially on young black men without college degrees or even high school diplomas, who are disproportionately incarcerated, outweigh the gains.

Expect worse for the working class

John Lloyd
Jan 10, 2012 17:12 UTC

Organized workers of the world are united on at least one big thing: that the recession which has settled over much of what was once called the developed world (and if we are not wise and active, may soon be better called the “undeveloping world”) should not load more onto the burdened backs of the working class.

But it will. Politicians everywhere see little choice.

In the United States, right-to-work laws are being pushed hard in those states with Republican leadership. The laws stop unions from forcing non-union workers to obey union decisions in plants where they have contracts. And when these laws are on the books, the unequivocal result is that union organization and membership slump. More controversially, those who support these laws claim that investment in the state grows – thus increasing the number of jobs and sometimes the level of wages.

In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy is preparing a package of measures, due to be outlined on Jan. 18 at a meeting with employers’ and union leaders, that he hopes will allow companies to reduce working hours and pay in slack times, with increases at a time of full demand. No one expects an agreement soon (if ever), and since the President faces a re-election battle in the spring, he is politically vulnerable to disruption. But even if Socialist candidate François Hollande, ahead now in the polls by some 10 percent, were to win, he would be trying something of the same, since French companies’ competitiveness is tending to fall.

  •