Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
8:00 AM EDT, June 2, 2013
"You people will never be safe. Remove your governments, they don't care about you." — Michael Adebolajo, one of two men arrested in the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby.
Here we go again. Brazen and brutal attacks against British and French soldiers. In broad daylight. At the hands of homegrown Islamic extremists (Mr. Adebolajo is reported to have shouted "Allahu Akbar!" as he struck). European conservatives reflexively clamoring for a crackdown on Islamic fundamentalism. The left reflexing reminding us that the West is not at war with Islam.
This latest horrific chapter of Islamic radicalism brings me back to a topic I have often chronicled over the past 20 years: the specter of multiculturalism.
At the outset, it is important to distinguish between the ethnic and racial pluralism Americans celebrate and the multiculturalism we must reject. It is a distinction deliberately muddled by the progressive left. Accordingly, a vital societal goal is presented to the general public in confusing ways. Fortunately, the corrective is easily identified: re-establish the centrality of pluralism within a uniquely American culture. Failure to do so invites the hijacking of a commonly understood concept by a progressive movement intent on remaking American culture in its own image.
For Americans, pluralism means the co-mingling of different ethnicities and races in one place. Our experience has shown this dynamic environment leads to the assimilation of diverse peoples into a singular culture wherein common values are taught, protected and celebrated.
The American story is poignant in this regard: most immigrants left their native countries to escape religious persecution or seek economic opportunity. Some came to explore a new frontier. Kidnapped Africans arrived aboard slave ships. Regardless of origin, almost all arrived in the new world with little money.
What bound most of these disparate early arrivals together was an expectation (although not immediately available to all) that freedom and opportunity awaited; that economic mobility could be achieved through hard work; that religious tolerance would rule the day; that no king would ever reign over them; and that the rule of law would be supreme, blind to one's formal education, economic status or bloodlines.
In return, the people recognized the laws, language and customs of the new nation. This general recognition became the societal denominator; a commonality of interests emerged including religious tolerance, market capitalism, personal freedoms, baseball and apple pie. A uniquely American culture was born and grew into the most successful democratic enterprise the world has ever seen.
But rapid assimilation is a source of great irritation to malcontents on the left who wish to remake our culture and our self-image. Many reject the notion of the grand experiment itself; the American melting pot is not their goal. Indeed, they vilify the Founding Fathers. They see America as the product of cultural cleansing and forced assimilation. They cultivate victims and demand governmental apologies and reparations. In some cases, they wish to claim independent status — independence from our Judeo-Christian heritage and American culture. And failing such lofty goals, they seek to create a truly multicultural society, where American exceptionalism is assailed and separatism is celebrated.
Fortunately, the forces of multicultural progressivism have lately been forced on the defensive. A 2006 Pew poll explains why: a shocking 81 percent of British Muslims viewed themselves as Muslims first and a citizen of their country second. Hence, British political leaders now acknowledge what (until the last five years) had been regarded as a cultural third rail: governmentally pedaled multiculturalism is a dangerous failure.
Accordingly, in February, 2011, British Prime Minister David Cameron observed "multiculturalism is dead," (thereby echoing views expressed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2010 and Australian Prime Minister John Howard in 2006). These conservative leaders were ahead of the curve in their willingness to oppose the multicultural apologists who have preached (and practiced) separatism within the oldest pluralistic democracies the world has seen. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism certainly sped up British disdain for the anti-assimilation crowd, but it was inevitable that such social separatism would fail: It can only be a brief period of time wherein disparate ethnicities can co-exist (let alone prosper) without the emergence of common bonds and a commonality of interests.
In America, the incremental defeat of the tarnished concept is not easily accomplished. Progressive interest groups have too much invested in a far-reaching guilt trip narrative to simply retreat. They are in business to degrade the concept of a singular American culture. They are determined to maintain identity politics; it is their lifeblood. It is the primary tool in the multicultural playbook. And a proven winner with the mainstream media.
But the murder of a British soldier reminds us of our (cultural) high stakes challenge: continue to expose the emptiness of the multicultural agenda, while recognizing practitioners of the act will not give up without a fight.
Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column appears Sundays. The former Maryland governor and Member of Congress is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding, the author of "Turn this Car Around" — a book about national politics. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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