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Multiculturalism's latest victim

Jonathan Kay
National Post 1.8.2002

If you don't already know the name Fadime Sahindal, remember it. Her death is the sort of defining tragedy people will credit when multiculturalism finally gets heaved into Western civilization's ideological dustbin.

Fadime, 26 at the time she was murdered, was raised in a small Kurdish village in Turkey. Fifteen years ago, she emigrated with her family to Sweden, where she assimilated quickly and became active in politics. But her relatives remained mired in the clan-dominated customs of Sweden's tiny Kurd community. Fadime's two older sisters entered arranged marriages with their cousins. When Fadime's father discovered she was dating a non-Kurd, he accused her of dishonoring the family, and began threatening the couple with death.

Then, this year, while Fadime was visiting with her mother and two sisters, the father turned up and shot her. As one sister attempted to administer CPR, another reportedly phoned a relative and told him, "the whore is dead."

Horror stories like this pop up periodically in Europe -- particularly in Britain. But Fadime's case is different: This is not a murder perpetrated by foreigners or newly arrived immigrants. Fadime's family came to Sweden in the early 1980s. Swedes were shocked to learn that, despite the passage of more than 15 years, Fadime's parents never learned to speak Swedish. In fact, they made no effort to integrate: Their life revolved around the stultifying patriarchy imported from the old country.

More importantly, Fadime's murder came after Sept. 11, the day Westerners woke up to the clash of civilizations with the Muslim world they'd previously preferred to ignore. After the World Trade Center attack, newspapers started reporting the hateful pronouncements of mullahs and the vicious anti-Semitic propaganda that permeates the mainstream Arab press. We also learned about the burka ethos: Behind the Veil, Saira Shah's rediscovered television documentary about Taliban-held Afghanistan, gave Westerners a glimpse into the treatment of women under an Islamic theocracy.

In the shadow of all this, the killing of Fadime Sahindal didn't strike tolerant Europeans as a random act of cruelty by people who happened to be immigrants. It came across as a systematic extension of tribal Muslim culture imported from the Middle East by a man who was never required to check his primitive attitudes at Europe's gates.

Until Sept. 11, the only people who complained loudly about multiculturalism were conservative think-tank types. Academics and activists, by contrast, embraced it as a vehicle to promote their favourite themes: cultural relativism, noble savagery and the original sin of racism. But there was always a fatal theoretical flaw at the doctrine's heart. If multiculturalism means anything substantive, it means taking seriously not only the superficial trappings of other cultures -- the falafel, the folk dancing, the exotic headwear -- but also core values as they relate to women, homosexuals, children and outsiders. Yet the crude ethnic and religious bigotry, homophobia and misogyny that permeate most Third World cultures are venomously hostile to the spirit of tolerance multiculturalism is supposed to foster. How can you be "tolerant" of intolerance?

For years, multiculturalism's proponents tried to paper over this flaw by insisting that whatever anti-liberal strains existed in immigrant cultures were dwarfed by the unseen racism and "neo-colonialism" our society supposedly oozes. But our stomach for that argument died on Sept. 11. Sunera Thobani found this out the hard way. At a conference last October, the University of British Columbia professor sneered at "this talk about saving Afghani women," and declared "There will be no emancipation for women anywhere ... until the Western domination of this planet is ended."

Had she made her comments on Sept. 10, no one would have noticed them. But in the wake of al-Qaeda's monstrous crime, the stupidity of Ms. Thobani's pronouncement -- confirmed a few months later by the sight of jubilant Afghan women welcoming U.S. troops -- astonished us. Ms. Thobani had a choice between supporting the real interests of Afghan women and clinging to her multicultural dogmas. She chose the latter, and disgrace was her well-deserved reward.

But not all leftists are so blind. Here's another murder victim whose name you should remember: Pim Fortuyn. When the 54-year-old Dutch sociology professor and politician was killed by an anti-fur extremist in May, he was smeared in death as a right-wing xenophobe on par with France's Jean-Marie Le Pen. That label was affixed by lazy journalists and politicians who figured that anyone who opposes immigration and cultural relativism must be a fascist. In fact, Mr. Fortuyn's was pro-gay, pro-choice, pro-feminist and secular -- a Modern Language Association dreamboat in every respect except one: He had the intellectual courage to admit that unassimilated immigrants threatened his liberal precepts.

Once upon a time, Ms. Thobani was the blue-chip leftist activist and Pim Fortuyn was the freak. But the cultural earthquake set off by Sept. 11, and the tiny aftershocks set off by the likes of Ms. Sahindal, are turning the world of identity politics upside down: It isn't just conservatives who oppose multiculturalism anymore. From the point of view of France's Jews, Holland's homosexuals and Sweden's Kurds, that can only be good news.