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The Trojan Horse: A Leftist Critique of Multiculturalism in the West

In the preface to the English edition, Swedish academic Göran Adamson of Copenhagen University points out that he had attended a Fri Debat event in Copenhagen but was unable to attend the following meeting – which was attacked by an Islamist in February 2015 that led to his colleague Finn Nørgard being murdered. Some 40,000 people attended the demonstration of solidarity at which speakers advocated interfaith dialogue – but there was not one headscarf in sight. In this sharp polemic, Adamson argues that not only Sweden but the Western world has allowed a Trojan horse into its midst – that of multiculturalism and its subset, diversity.

Adamson utilises the case study of Swedish universities – focusing on the May 2000 report Diversity at the University commissioned by the Social Democratic government. Its purpose was to ‘increase diversity regarding ethnic background among students and teachers in order for the university to better reflect diversity in society’. The assumptions of the report are clear and flow from the politics of the political establishment: that increasing diversity leads to increasing quality and it is a ‘good thing’ because it enables a diversity of perspectives to be provided so that different voices can take part. Furthermore, ‘cultural diversity in higher education leads to multicultural and multisocial understanding and reduces ethnic prejudices’ – the mixing of cultures reduces intolerance which increases societal acceptance.

The Ideology of ‘Diversity’

Adamson robustly challenges these assumptions arguing that the link between diversity and quality is emotional and no evidence is provided for it; moreover, in the ideology of diversity, voices do not refer to individual voices but to the rights of ethnic groups as a homogenous entity. His is a self-proclaimed ‘leftist critique’ because of its stress on the egalitarian principle set out by the British historian Bernard Crick* who, at the LSE in 1963, co-founded the Society against Racial Discrimination. Crick argued that the British public ought to treat immigrants from ethnic minority groups as ‘equals but not as more than equals’. Adamson accuses advocates of multiculturalism and diversity of acting in breach of this principle: by proffering privileges to newly settled ethnic minorities. They have been treated as more than equals, with invidious feelings from the indigenous Swedish population.

He gives the example of the Social Democratic Prime Ministerial candidate Mona Sahlin, who opined of immigrants that ‘you have a culture, an identity, a history that binds you together. What do we have? We have Midsummer’s Eve and ridiculous stuff like that’. Adamson describes this as reflecting decades of self-abusive discourse within the Swedish political elite and a manifestation of what George Orwell had termed ‘transferred nationalism’, a kind of nationalism barred at home but hailed overseas or those who hail from overseas; a case of psychological compensation to salve liberal postcolonial guilt. Whilst this is explicable in former colonial powers such as Britain, it is rather odd coming from those in a country that did not possess third world colonies and which, moreover, has been generous in welcoming immigrants and asylum seekers from the third world.

Perhaps the most robust critique of diversity comes from research conducted by the American political scientist Robert Putnam, with the surprising and uncomfortable finding that ‘across countries in the West, ethnic heterogeneity appears to be linked to lower social trust and less sense of solidarity’, where people appear to ‘hunker down’, that is pull in, much like turtles.
‘Ethno-religious-centric Teaching’

The recommendation of Diversity at the University is to advocate ethnocentric teaching and multicultural affirmation for minorities, a notion which Adamson derides, arguing that it is an affront to scientific accuracy and constitutes emblematic anti-intellectualism. He questions how much cultural affirmation a modern society can tolerate without disintegrating. Another LSE academic, Iftikhar Ahmed, has claimed that the reason why Muslim children have bad grades is partly caused by the fact that they read the Koran too much — a case of the hazards of ‘ethno-religious-centric teaching’. For purveyors of diversity the ethnic group is the focus, not its individuals and moreover dissidents within an ethnic group are treated as being de facto enemies within. This is an important point that has been made by secularists and free thinkers in the West from religious minorities, to the effect that they have never been supported by leftists and liberals who, thereby, have been given the epithet the ‘reactionary left’.

Adamson takes issue with The Diversity at the University’s assumption that diversity is anti-racism and that multiculturalism rests on a progressive, tolerant, and egalitarian foundation and finds it deeply troubling that views that contest such thinking are denigrated. On the contrary Adamson asserts that a scientific discussion should allow for the opposite point of view where diversity and racism are two branches of early 19th century political romanticism. By not so doing, Swedish universities have failed in their intellectual mission – the only mission that matters – and descended into ‘mindless trumpeting of Social Democratic pseudo-radicalism’. He concludes that ideas embedded in multiculturalism under whose umbrella diversity falls, have failed concerning the independence of universities in regard to ideological debate and critical thinking. This has undermined the autonomy of lecturers and researchers and ‘infiltrated panels, projects, institutes, faculties, offices, courses and curricula’. The final damning charge is that it has let students down: ‘instead of showing them how to think, it has told them what to think’.

Though the book is directed at a Swedish audience, it provides a powerful critique of an ideology that is prevalent throughout the western world including in Britain. The insights from Sweden and its universities are valuable in and of themselves and provide a cautionary tale as to how, despite good intentions, supposedly progressive doctrines are, in fact, quite the opposite as they give succour to some profoundly reactionary cultural religious beliefs and practices and are, moreover, antithetical to the intellectual endeavour.


* Bernard Crick gave the Conway Memorial Lecture in 2000, entitled ‘Ethics and citizenship: a new agenda for the 21st century’. {Ed}

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