I'm just about old enough to remember the bad old days: Britain in the 1970s, when casual, vicious, open racism was commonplace and everyday. And with the benefit of hindsight, looking back I can see something that perhaps wasn't so clear at the time: the role that certain ideas about culture played in that day to day racism.
For it was pretty much taken for granted that there was something called British culture, that was different from and superior to the cultural practices of Asians, Africans or Caribbeans. It was this assumption that was forcibly challenged and overturned during the tumultuous anti-racist struggles of the 1980s. In that process a new word emerged - an awkward word, reflecting its uneasy origins in concessions wrung from an institutionally racist bureaucracy, but a crucial word nonetheless: multiculturalism.
Multiculturalism was a contested and controversial concept from the beginning and prompted sharp debates on the anti-racist left. But in its primary aspect it was undeniably a step forward. It recognised that British culture was not and never had been a monolith. It replaced the previous cultural hierarchy with a pluralistic model that accepted cultural diversity as an irreversible fact. We "others" were here to stay.
It is that aspect of recognition bound up in the idea of multiculturalism that so enrages the right. And it is that right wing resentment that lies behind the steady drip-drip of voices over the past decade declaring that multiculturalism has "gone too far", has "failed", that it represents an unacceptable "relativism" that undermines "Western values" and so on.
Over the years the political establishment has warmed to this reheated Powellism. It received its highest blessing in March this year when David Cameron pledged to slay the multicultural dragon. That same day the English Defence League marched through Luton, translating into a more vulgar idiom Cameron's pious concerns over "rootless" Muslims (yes, he used that word).
All of this makes the publication of Defending Multiculturalism an important and timely counterblast. A collection of essays and poems by anti-racist activists, theorists and politicians, it brings together the left wing case in today's "culture wars" and issues a call to arms against the New Powellism that has infected establishment thinking on race. Contributors range from Peter Hain and Ken Livingstone through to Tariq Modood, Liz Fekete, Salma Yaqoob and Zita Holbourne.
The essays restate some valuable truths about the black presence in Britain, and how its history and its struggles are inseparable from those of the wider working class. Together they represent the first step in an urgently needed ideological fightback, one that defends the gains of the 1980s anti-racists, stands in solidarity with Muslims against Islamophobia, and forges a cross-cultural unity within the working class that will be indispensable in the wider struggles against austerity that lie ahead.
The Crows Plucked Your Sinews
Written & directed by Hassan Mahamdallie.
Performed by Yusra Warsama.
Hassan Mahamdallie trained in theatre and spent many years working as a theatre actor, deviser and director, mainly in the north west of England. He then made his name as an investigative journalist, columnist, writer and lecturer particularly in the area of black and Asian struggles against injustice and civil rights. He has contributed to many books and is the author of a biography of radical artist William Morris – ‘Crossing the River of Fire’ and editor of the collection of essays ‘Defending Multiculturalism’. He also blogs for thedreamdeferred site on his teenage years as a south London punk rocker. He is presently co-director of the Muslim Institute, a free-thinking Muslim organisation based in London and is a deputy editor of the institute’s new quarterly publication ‘Critical Muslim’.
Yusra Warsama is the acclaimed Manchester-based performance poet, actor and writer. Yusra began her career at The Contact Theatre and has gone on to act in theatre, TV and radio. Her recent acting work includes the internationally praised ensemble piece ‘There Has Possibly Been An Incident’ by Chris Thorpe. Yusra is co-creator and writer of ‘Rites’, aNational Theatre of Scotland co-production with Contact, a provocative new production exploring the deep-rooted cultural practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Yusra‘s film work includes The Last Days on Mars (2013), My Brother the Devil (2012) and Stolen (2011). She appeared in Sky 1 drama CRITICAL.http://www.yusrawarsama.com
Abdelkader Saadoun is an Algerian raï singer-songw [saadoun pic] riter and multi-instrumentalist. He comes from Khemis Miliana in Algeria, a few miles away from Wahran, the birth place of raï . He started to play raï music in his home country. An accomplished singer and musician, he now based in Greenwich, south east London, where he teaches young musicians. He is a charismatic performer and has performed at major festivals within the UK, including the Womad main stage, as well and internationally. http://www.saadoun.com/
Rachel Gadsden is a unique visual and performance artist working across the mainstream and disability art sectors, presenting cross-cultural visual dialogues that consider the most profound notions of what it is to be human. She was awarded the National Diversity Award 2013: Positive Role Model for Disability, shortlisted for the European Diversity Awards 2014 – Hero of the Year and was awarded BreakThrough UK Award 2014 – Influencing disabled people’s participation in society. www.rachelgadsden.com
Adam Radolinski Polish born, multi-disciplinary visual artist, theatre/film director, Adam grew up in an artistic family with his father, Stanislaw, a sculptor, having great impact on Adam’s work. In 2012, he graduated in Photography (Polish National Cultural Centre). He has exhibited in Poland, Ireland, Italy, Russia and Dubai. In 2009, like a Polish Radio and Newspaper correspondent, he started his journey through the Middle East, visiting Iran, Iraq, turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel and Jordan. He lives and works in Dubai.
Hardish Virk has led audience development projects for many organisations: Arts Council England, British Council, National Trust, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Danish Centre for Culture and Development, audience development agencies and organisations in the UK and Europe. As a consultant, he works with organisations in communication, diversity and organisational development. hardish.moonfruit.com
Mohammed Ali is an award winning street-artist, curator and creative producer – art meets faith, identity and social change – inspiring and informing a new generation worldwide to express their identity and ideals. Ali’s ethos of “taking art to the people” combines street art with live performances, installations, video projections and moving soundscapes. His immersive experiences for audiences from street canvases in New York, Amsterdam, London and Melbourne to intimate performances in the Vatican, brings together communities divided by culture, faith and ethnicity. His exploration of challenging social issues through Art, provide transformative and radical tools to counteract challenges facing society. Ali’s Soul City Arts, brings together artists, activists and communities worldwide, who share a commitment to transform society.www.aerosolarabic.com
Jamil Dhillon has a BA in Directing, Drama Centre, London, has worked at Graeae Theatre and Theatre Centre and previously starred in the BBC sitcom All About Me with Jasper Carrot and Meera Syal. Jamil has been involved in music video production, assisting on EMI’s Last of English Roses music video (Pete Doherty (The Libertines). He studied ‘Electronic Music Production’ at SAE Institute, London and reviews music for online arts publication ‘Zero Magazine.’
Grace Craven is currently studying Technical and Production Management at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Professional theatrical credits include: Production Manager – The Last Seed & Moonlight, for Tete á Tete Opera Festival, Assistant Production Manager – The Crocodile, for The Invisible dot ltd and Manchester International Festival, Stage Manager – Well, for Creative Barking and Dagenham. Professional television credits include: Set Dresser – New Blood, for Eleventh Hour productions for BBC & On Screen Crew – On Stage: Live from Television Centre Onefor Battersea Arts Centre for BBC.