Sunday, October 31, 2010

A new bogeyman for Halloween - multiculturalism

The ancient festival of Halloween - Oidhche Shamhna -  is another relic of our Gaelic past. Literally, it is 'the night before Samhain' and 'An t-Samhain' in modern Gaelic simply means November. It was thought that on the night between the death of summer and onset of winter that the door between our world and the netherworld opened. This allowed spirits to pass between both worlds. In Scotland, young men would impersonate the dead by blackening their faces or by wearing masks, sometimes made of animal hide, and carry a 'samhnag' or neep lantern.

Many folk enjoy a good laugh on Oidhche Shamhna but most of us have long since relinquished belief in ghosts, witches and goblins. Some though have conjured up new fears. It's not just the Daily Mail with their daily checklist of bugbears from home-grown dole scroungers to foreign asylum seekers. It's not just Lady Harriet Harman and her 'ginger rodent' abuse of a Scottish politician (imagine if she'd referred to a black politician in a similar vein?).

A few years ago, Gaelic journalist John Morrison laughed at the 'British' suspicion of multiculturalism on a Gaelic TV political debate. To paraphrase him, 'The British drive German cars, drink Belgian beer and French wine, watch American telly on Japanese technology, eat Italian, Indian and Chinese cuisine, holiday in Spain or Turkey etc... yet are suspicious of foreigners.'

Sadly, some bloggers who really should know better have gone all Daily Mail. Not cool.

From smalltown Ayrshire, comes Dark Lochnagar - a former Scots nationalist who now bemoans the lack of awareness of  'British culture' amongst our youth, hates socialism (I guess the latest stats on Norway's "Social Capital" must be sorry reading for him), feels threatened by gays and transsexuals (!) and rants about jobs going to immigrants. The only thing that differentiates this blog from the Daily Mail is the use of 'colourful' language. SubRosa is another such blog. Here ex-DDR opportunist turned Thatcherite German chancellor Angela Merkel and her recent scaremongering regarding the 'failure' of multiculturalism is praised.

What this failure is, we are not told. Playground stories along the lines of 'I heard about a gang of Muslims roaming the streets...' are regaled. Who knows? Maybe there is a kernel of truth in this. Though, the only gangs of aggressive violent and religiously inspired knuckledraggers I've met in Kilmarnock have been Orangemen and Rangers' fans. Perhaps this is a 'failure' of multiculturalism? After all, the Orange bigots commemorate Irish political battles and worship a Dutch tyrant who defended a Semite faith - his homosexuality shouldn't be an issue though the Orange Order doesn't usually come across as gay-friendly.

To John Morrison's paraphrased quote above, one could add... a German language and royal family, a set of laws and parliament rooted in ancient Jewish folklore and popular music which it seems is itself a melange of black African-American and Gaelic Presbyterian cultures. The Gaels too, for all their indigenous status in Alba, are not of 'one culture'. Did the Gaelic-speaking forest dwellers of Perthshire or Badenoch have the same 'culture' as the guga-fishers of Port Nis in Lewis? A shared language perhaps, but I'd argue that the everyday 'culture' was different. The modern Hebridean Gaels too share blood from different corners of the earth and the evidence of different cultures assimilating successfully is patently obvious - from language to art to tools to  religion to architecture and this doesn't take into account the Asian travelling salesmen of the 1930's (who learned Gaelic) or the recent English, Asian or Germanic settlers who have made a home in the Western Isles in the past decade or two. The Gaels have 'Celtic blood' that is mixed with that of the pre Indo-European Picts, the Norse, the Romans and Spanish. Hey, aren't the Spanish themselves of mixed Basque, Roman and Arabic 'blood'? I guess all this can get quite confusing for bigots who decry immigration and the mixing of cultures. I refer to 'blood' here but in scientific terms, as mentioned in my previous post, the biological term for all these people is Homo sapiens.

Are there problems though? Maybe its the Scots themselves. After all, we were the immigrants and asylum seekers for much of the past few hundred years. Maybe its the backward Brits abroad who refuse to speak Spanish on the costas? There can be problems but they are often religious in nature and with religion, anything can be justified. The main barriers to some people integrating are the Orange Order leaders, the Catholic priests, Wee-Free ministers, Baptist pastors, the Muslim imans and Jewish rabbis. Intolerant, self-important and conservative bigots on all sides do hinder progress. I object to any Muslim faith-school be set up in Scotland but equally I object to Catholic schools and the interference of the Kirk in state 'non-denominational' schools.

But what about nature? Take one look at a group of young kids playing together and its obvious that skin colour, hair colour and eye colour are irrelevant. Even linguistic differences will eventually be ironed out. Importance is only attached to these features by adults and their artificial constructs.

Nature decrees that there will be conflict between people though this is as likely to be within a family or between warring clans from neighbouring glens as it is between people of different 'cultures'. If we can't find a foreigner to fight with we  then home in on single parents, Gaelic speakers, gays or lesbians, cannabis users, people on social security benefits, someone in a different church, a follower of another fitba team, folk with red hair, the disabled, travellers, hippies or maybe 'indecent' popular culture, be it youngsters in hoodies or Marilyn Manson.

However, human civilisation has learned to defend itself from much of nature's uglier attributes and intolerance of immigrants and racism should go the same way as infant mortality, TB or being devoured by wild animals.

Our lives have always been multicultural and are even more so in today's small world. To the likes of SubRosa, Dark Lochnagar, the BNP, English Defence League and Daily Mail... get over it. Live with it. Enjoy that pizza. Have some nachos. Nibble at haggis pakora. Listen to some Salsa Celtica. Chill out. Or, see a doctor and get that tight sphincter of yours loosened a little.

Footnote - for a good laugh, see The Croft's account of an English BNP activist and  'white settler' who became an immigrant on the Isle of Lewis. His search for racial purity fell on stony Celtic ground. Scroll down to the comments to the bit where the Gaelic speaking islanders - white Scots who preserve an ancient indigenous way of life suddenly become 'inbred' when they object to this bigot in their midst.

Finally, another link - Native American Celts

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