The Democratic Party and the Doctrine of Multiculturalism

I do not support the Democratic Party for many reasons, but chief among them is its advocacy of the doctrine of multiculturalism, which Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez puts at the center of what she identifies as her desired public school curriculum, as seen in the video below. After welcoming the audience with the standard Islamic salutation of As-salāmu ʿalaikum, she speaks to the debate between integrationism and separatism. She explains how she opposed assimilationism and valued pluralism from a young age, linking directly bilingualism with multiculturalism, the former not so much as possession of an advantage, but more as an expression of the right to exist in a culture apart from the United States mainstream. This perspective sees integrationism advocacy as a racist project to strip people of their core identities, not as individuals in a democratic republic, but nations defined in ethnical terms.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Public Education Town Hall: A Bold New Vision for Public School Equity and Justice. Jackson Heights People for Public Schools (Jackson Heights, Queens) March 16, 2019

Ocasio-Cortez’s words are an unambiguous expression of identity politics. She says that halal food should be available in every school because it tells children “you matter.” Halal meat is from animals that have suffered Islamic ritual slaughter, or dhabihah, in which the animal is bled to death while a blessing, typically “Bismillah,” is said. “Even down to thing you eat,” Ocasio-Cortez says, “we are not going to make you feel invalidated.” But this practice does not tell children “you matter.” It tells children “Islam matters” — and that as a matter of government policy, the state will uphold Islamic dietary requirements not chosen by the child or by any rational criterion, but imposed by the superstitious beliefs of an imagined community. Put another way, even down to what a child eats, the state will serve as a proxy for an oppressive ideological system. Multiculturalists want to make sure that there is no place a child can go where Allah won’t have control her body. Ocasio-Cortez is calling for the state-enforced negation of religious liberty.

Ocasio-Cortez’s desire for the state establishment of religion is anticipated in a speech given by Sharifa Alkhateeb on August 5, 1989 at the Muslim Americans Political Awareness Conference session “Politics and Contemporary Social Issues.” C-SPAN preserved the conference presentations and I am providing the clip of Alkhateeb’s speech below. For those of you who do not know this person, Alkhateeb was the managing editor of the International Institute for Islamic Thought’s American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences (a journal presenting an alternative “scientific” framework rooted in Islamic superstition). She died in 2004. In her speech, she lays out the strategy to use public schools to proselytize Islam and move the United States towards an Islamic state.

Sharifa Alkhateeb. Muslim Americans Political Awareness Conference. Islamic Society of North America. Fairfax, Virginia. August 5, 1989

The project of mainstreaming Islam has targeted public schools. Muslim appreciation days. Acceptance of extreme does of religious dress. Cultural sensitivity curriculum. Disruptive prayer exercises. It has become reflexive to criticize Christianism (progress of a kind). But Islamism is being normalized under the rubric of cultural pluralism. I have heard objections that Muslims are but a small minority. That the concerns are overwrought. But we don’t need to be a Muslim-majority country for Islam to be a problem in public school. We have communities in the United States that are Muslim-majority. Religious liberty must be protected for everybody. We cannot allow religious enclaves to skirt the First Amendment. Besides, the problem of Christian religious ideas and practices in public schools does nothing to obviate the problem of Islamic ideas and practices in public schools. We also must acknowledge that, whereas some Christian sects push state religion, Protestantism is a source of church-state separation. This is in sharp contrast to Islam, which sees all institutions and behavior under divine command. Remember, rational Protestants established the premise of the First Amendment. As I have documented, it was for this reason that so many native-born Americans opposed Catholic immigration. And now the Supreme Court is a majority Catholic which is decidedly not a good thing for reasons of doctrine. Finally, the proof of Islam’s colonization of public space lies in the trends I am identifying. It is already a problem. There is nothing abstract about my point.

In a previous blog entry, “The Work of Cultural Hegemony in the Immigration Debate,” I discuss the postmodernist implications of Horace Kallen’s (eventually) highly-influential 1915 essay “Democracy Versus the Melting Pot” organized under “cultural pluralism.” Kallen argued that cultural diversity would strength national unity. Yet the argument opposed to national unity the doctrine of multiculturalism. Others were less deceitful in their formulations (I name names in that blog entry). Kallen and his ilk lost the fight at the time, the working class finally winning restrictions on immigration in the mid-1920s, ushering in the most socially democratic period in American history, with declining inequality, high union density, civil rights, second wave feminism, speech/expression rights, and rising socialist consciousness representing just some of the social advances during that period. But the globalist opening of the country in the mid-1960s, followed by the 1970s business class war on labor and the left, was accompanied by a reframing of the value of assimilationism as a form of racism and an extension of (“internal”) colonialism, a reframing enabled by the introduction of New Left modes of academic thought and street -level politics. These countermovement politics, hailing from across the ideological spectrum, mark the emergence of the era of neoliberal capitalism which has shattered the worker movement, the logical core of social progress. In place of the politics of equality and unity, a reflexive rhetoric of equity (defined as group privilege) and diversity emerged. The rhetoric is ubiquitous in management strategy, from the corporate board room to the administration of colleges and universities. A cosmetics of inclusion replaced actual integration of individuals, where the emphasis on maintaining cultural difference became fetishized and those who sought the integration of individuals into the political and civil structures of the republic — by democratizing personal access to resources — were accused of cultural erasure.

At the popular core of neoliberal multiculturalism lies a monumental confusion about the relationship of individualism to civil, political, and social rights. The confusion stems from the logic substituting group rights for individual rights. Cultural pluralists see the individual not as an autonomous rational personality, but as the personification of an ethnic image, thus obviating individual liberty from group control as the core definition of personal liberty and instead redefining freedom as the right of groups to mark individuals for differential treatment based on tribal stigma. In a bizarre inversion of the truth of personal freedom, forms of oppression, such as the compulsory wearing of the hijab or the nonconsensual mutilation of the genitals, become transformed into the expressions of democratic freedom. As Marxists, we know that the Young Hegelian Ludwig Feuerbach provided us with a methodological antidote to this distortion: his transformational method. But the left isn’t Marxist anymore. It’s postmodernist. And so the method lies outside popular leftwing consciousness… or it is considered to be the method of old dead white men who have nothing to contribute to a “woke” society.

The elite notion of cultural pluralism, one that does the work of the bourgeois desire to more effectively exploit human labor and disorganize the working class, is the bane of modern socialist development. It causes the masses to forget or never know that the beauty of the historical arc of the rational and secular nation-state — of republicanism and civic nationalism — is the promise of personal emancipation from the limiting scope of tribal life, to create the conditions that can bring about the end the practice of submerging the person in tribal identity. Liberation of the tribe (the nation defined as ethnicity) from the rule of law, enabling tribal leaders to mold individuals born in the ethnic enclave in light of irrational custom and tradition, is a deviation from the emancipatory thrust of modernity. The devolution of the commonwealth amid neoliberalism and globalization is at the same time the devolution of civic nationalist institutions and practices, erasing the political framework suited for the emancipation of the individual from tribal associations (as well as from religion, property, and business relations). This contradicts the promise of liberalism Karl Marx writes about in his 1843 essay advocating the incorporation of Jews in the citizenry of the German state. To be sure, Jews didn’t need to convert to Christianity to be citizens of what should be a secular state. At the same time, forcing conditions of secularism advances the conditions for transcending tribal identification. Such an advance is a threat to capitalism, as irreligious criticism and conditions creates the preconditions for the emancipation of the individual from bourgeois property relations.

Far from usefully problematizing the truth, postmodernism represents an atavistic desire for the pre-modern, for the tribal; as such, it is a regressive force. The value of modernity for human progress is the disintegration of tribal identities and the reintegration of individuals into a sociopolitical order that allows human rights to manifest on a fully individual, and therefore actually materialist basis, one that treats all individuals not as members of the imagined communities whose moral entrepreneurs strive to control their thoughts and behaviors through myth and ritual (instantiated in the expressed desire to keep eternally those marked as Muslim so that Islam can project its past and present into the future), but as all equally members of the human family — that is, according to their species-being. Only then will people see the material divisions that allow for the exploitation of our labor by our common oppressor and find the solidarity to politically organize on the basis of that unity.

Ocasio-Cortez claims to be a “democratic socialist.” The popular response to this self-identification is that she is really a social democrat (based on the substance of her policies). But even if she were to push her policy ideas into socialist territory, she could not authentically represent socialism because of her militant advocacy of multiculturalism. Osacio-Cortez, like most progressive political voices, is the result of political campaign that separates individuals into groups, limits them in terms of a false essentialism, to drains off their political energies. In reproducing this ideology in her speech and action, she does the work of the bourgeoisie. Indeed, the Democratic Party’s function is to bury the class struggle under the hegemony of cultural pluralism, and thus steer the left away from socialism. This politics mirror the fascist strategy of giving workers not their right to change property relations but a political aesthetic. It is a species of the politics that Walter Benjamin specifies in the epilogue of this The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. It is, what Sheldon Wolin theorizes in Democracy, Inc. “inverted totalitarianism,” a method of mass control that uses corporate logic of capitalism to de-democratize the population.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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