British Prime Minister David Cameron recently spoke at the Munich Security Conference on the topic of terrorism and Islamic extremism. His point was that the biggest threat the British face originates from terrorist attacks, yet he emphasized that the perpetrators act not from a religious conviction but one of ideology. He was explicit that Islam is a religion observed peacefully by many, yet “Islamist extremism is a political ideology supported by a minority.” Cameron continued, “It is vital that we make this distinction between religion on the one hand, and political ideology on the other.” What appeared to be factual, benign remarks turned controversial when the British Prime Minister held that the uprising of indigenous terrorists is catalyzed by the role of multiculturalism in British society.
What are the implications of Cameron’s comments for America? What does the contemporary notion of multiculturalism mean for a “nation of immigrants?” Multiculturalism has always been a core of America’s social framework. Various people from all over the world have come to this country bringing a unique set of what economists call the informal institutional structures that help shape our daily lives. These unique cultural characteristics are important and celebrated in America. What emerged as many differing cultural values assimilated together was a unique set of shared cultural institutions. Unique cultures were not lost; instead they were added to American culture.
What has made America great is that we have always come together to form this unique American cultural identity. American culture consists of some specific core values that should remain despite the multicultural makeup of this nation. These core values are individual liberty, democratic ideals, equality of opportunity and the fundamental freedoms that intrigued Alexis de Tocqueville, causing him to pen these as American Exceptionalism.
These are the values born out of a revolution that launched this nation well over 200 years ago. They not only represent the identity of America, they are the values that have sustained and healed this nation during times of slavery and war.
The goal of the new multicultural movement today is to privilege what is exclusive or different about our myriad cultural identities over any shared core values. In fact, multicultural proponents argue there are no core American values, or at least no core values that supersede the diversity of ethnic values that exist today. This is wrong. We have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.
While we in America have long celebrated the cultural diversities among us, we have also always held that the core values that made us exceptional since our fight for independence are also the same values that define us today. Why do some want the melting pot to end? I argue that those who advocate for tolerance at all costs do so because they don’t understand the core values of America’s cultural identity, or they don’t think it’s important to maintain a unifying collective identity. For those who don’t understand the importance of America’s core values the best course of action is to educate them on the ideals of liberty, equality of opportunity, etc., explaining that these values are fundamental to who man is. Sadly, this education is not happening in America’s school system. The modern multicultural movement is teaching kids that it is intolerant to privilege one cultural identity over another. Thus, kids fail to learn the unique foundation of the American identity.
An equally dangerous position is from those who don’t believe it is important to maintain a unifying collective identity. One needn’t look further than Western Europe to see the peril in this thinking. Consider the recent French law banning burqas in public places as an example of the long-run outcome of the modern multicultural movement.
How can America avoid the problems that beset Britain as addressed by Prime Minister Cameron? First, we must make sure that those extremists, who deny our values and hope for the downfall of America, fail to gain strength. We should actively promote the core values of America which are individual liberty, democratic ideals, equality of opportunity, and the fundamental freedoms we share, such as those of speech and religion. When we collectively deny that these values are the cornerstone of this nation, and when we claim that there is no American cultural identity, we open the door for a new set of values that dilute the strength of this country and further divide its people.