In a critical reading of my plenary talk at the Law and Critique Conference in 2007, Sara Ahmed challenges my claim that it is an “empirical fact” that liberal multiculturalism is hegemonic.  Her first step is to emphasize the distinction between the semblance of hegemony (ideological illusion) and actual hegemony:
Hegemony is not really reducible to facts as it involves semblance, fantasy and illusion, being a question of how things appear and the gap between appearance and how bodies are distributed. To read hegemony we have to distrust how things appear. Indeed, what is striking about Zizek’s retort is how much his reading of ‘political correctness’ and ‘liberal multiculturalism’ involved a certain literalism, as if the prohibition of speech acts that are not based on respecting the other’s difference are ‘really’ what is prohibited, or as if the prohibition is simply real by virtue of being articulated within public culture. So the speech act, ‘we must support the other’s difference’ is read as hegemonic, is taken literally as a sign not only that it is compulsory to support the other’s difference, but we are not allowed to refuse this support. The speech act is read as doing what it says. In order to re-consider the effects of such injunctions and prohibitions, I have introduced a new class of what I call non-performatives: speech acts that do not do what they say, that do not bring into effect that which they name. Could the speech work to create an illusion that we do support the other’s difference, which might work by not bringing such support into existence?
My point is double here. First, I agree with the category of “non-performative,” but with a twist: it is a performative, even a very efficient one, but a different one than it claims to be. There are other theoretical notions we can use to describe this duality: “pragmatic paradox,” the gap between the “subject of the enunciated” and the “subject of the enunciation,” ”double bind”; there are nonetheless differences between these notions. “Double bind” implies an unbearable subjective tension (the proverbial mother who explicitly enjoins her son to go away and start an autonomous life, but whose message between the lines is a desperate call to stay with her; the father who tells his son to act autonomously, so that if the son effectively does it, her thereby asserts his subordination to his father, since he followed his injunction), while the “non-performative” works smoothly, enabling you as it were to have a cake and eat it, i.e., to assert your superiority over the Other in/through the very gesture of guaranteeing his equality and your respect for his difference.
When I claim that multiculturalism is hegemonic, I only claim that it is hegemonic as ideology, not that it described the reality of predominant social relations – which is why I criticize it so ferociously. So when Ahmed writes that “multiculturalism is a fantasy which conceals forms of racism, violence and inequality,” I only can add that this goes for every hegemonic ideology. I do not confuse ideological fantasy/illusion and fact – they are confused in reality: the reality of what Ahmed calls “civil racism” can only function through (in the guise of) the illusion of anti-racist multiculturalism. And, furthermore, an illusion is never simply an illusion: it is not enough to make the old Marxist point about the gap between the ideological appearance of the universal legal form and the particular interests that effectively sustain it – as is so common amongst politically-correct critics on the Left. The counter-argument that the form is never a ‘mere’ form, but involves a dynamic of its own which leaves traces in the materiality of social life, made by Claude Lefort and Jacques Rancière, is fully valid. After all the ‘formal freedom’ of the bourgeois sets in motion the process of altogether ‘material’ political demands and practices, from trade unions to feminism. Rancière rightly emphasizes the radical ambiguity of the Marxist notion of the gap between formal democracy with its discourse of the rights of man and political freedom and the economic reality of exploitation and domination. This gap between the ‘appearance’ of equality-freedom and the social reality of economic and cultural differences can either be interpreted in the standard symptomatic way, that is the form of universal rights, equality, freedom and democracy is just a necessary, but illusory expression of its concrete social content, the universe of exploitation and class domination. Or it can be interpreted in the much more subversive sense of a tension in which the ‘appearance’ of egaliberté, is precisely not a ‘mere appearance,’ but has a power of its own. This power allows it to set in motion the process of the re-articulation of actual socio-economic relations by way of their progressive ‘politicization’: why shouldn’t women also vote? Why shouldn’t conditions at the work place also be of public political concern? and so on. If the bourgeois freedom is merely formal and doesn’t disturb the true relations of power, why, then, didn’t the Stalinist regime allow it? Why was it so afraid of it? In the opposition between form and content, the form possesses an autonomy of its own – one can almost say: a content of its own. – Back to Ahmed, how, then, does multiculturalism as fantasy function?
In such a fantasy, racism is ‘officially prohibited’. This is true. We are ‘supposed’ to be for racial equality, tolerance and diversity, and we are not ‘allowed’ to express hatred towards others, or to incite racist hatred. I would argue that this prohibition against racism is imaginary, and that it conceals everyday forms of racism, and involves a certain desire for racism. Take Big Brother and the Jade Goody story. You could argue that Big Brother’s exposure of racism functions as evidence that political correctness is hegemonic: you are not allowed to be racist towards others. But that would be a misreading. What was at stake was the desire to locate racism in the body of Jade Goody, who comes to stand for the ignorance of the white working classes, as a way of showing that ‘we’ (channel 4 and its well-meaning liberal viewers) are not racist like that. When anti-racism becomes an ego ideal you know you are in trouble.
The prohibition of racist speech should not then be taken literally: rather it is a way of imagining ‘us’ as beyond racism, as being good multicultural subjects who are not that. By saying racism is over there –‘look, there it is! in the located body of the racist’ – other forms of racism remain unnamed, what we could call civil racism. We might even say that the desire for racism is an articulation of a wider unnamed racism that accumulates force by not being named, or by operating under the sign of civility.
The best example one can imagine of this are the presidential elections in France a couple of years ago when Jean-Marie le Pen made it into the second round: reacting to this racist-chauvinist threat, the entire “democratic France” joined their ranks behind Jacques Chirac who was reelected with an overwhelming majority of 80%. No wonder everyone felt good after this display of French anti-racism, no wonder people “loved to hate” le Pen: by way of clearly locating racism in him and his party, the general “civil racism” is rendered invisible. In a homologous way, there was, in Slovenia, around a year ago, a big problem with a Roma (Gipsy) family which camped close to a small town. When a man was killed in the camp, the people in the town started to protest against the Roma, demanding that they be moved from the camp (which they occupied illegally) to another location, organizing vigilante groups, etc. As expected, all liberals condemned them as racists, locating racism into this isolated small village, while none of the liberals, living comfortably in the big cities, had any everyday contact with the Roma (except for meeting their representatives in front of the TV cameras when they supported them). When the TV interviewed the “racists” from the town, they were clearly seen to be a group of people frightened by the constant fighting and shooting in the Roma camp, by the constant theft of animals from their farms, and by other forms of small harassments from the Roma. It is all too easy to say (as the liberals did) that the Roma way of life is (also) a consequence of the centuries of their exclusion and mistreatment, that the people in the nearby town should also open themselves more to the Roma, etc. – nobody clearly answered the local “racists” what they should concretely do to solve the very real problems the Roma camp evidently was for them.
One of the most irritating liberal-tolerant strategies is to oppose Islam as a great religion of spiritual peace and compassion to its fundamentalist-terrorist abuse – whenever Bush or Netanyahu or Sharon announced a new phase in the War on Terror, they never forgot to include this mantra. (One is almost tempted to counter it by claiming that Islam is, as all religions, in itself a rather stupid inconsistent edifice, and that what makes it truly great are its possible political uses.) This is liberal-tolerant racism at its purest: this kind of “respect” for the other is the very form of appearance of its opposite, of patronizing disrespect. The very term “tolerance” is here indicative: one “tolerates” something one doesn’t approve of, but cannot abolish, either because one is not strong enough to do it or because one is benevolent enough to allow the Other to stick to its illusion – in this way, a secular liberal “tolerates” religion, a permissive parent “tolerates” his children’s excesses, etc.
Where I disagree with Ahmed is in her supposition that the underlying injunction of liberal tolerance is monocultural – “Be like us, become British!” I claim that, on the opposite, its injunction is cultural apartheid: others should not come too close to us, we should protect our “way of life.” The demand “Become like us!” is a superego demand, a demand which counts on the other’s inability to really become like us, so that we can then gleefully “deplore” their failure. (Recall how, in the apartheid South Africa, the official regime’s ideology was multiculturalist: apartheid is needed so that all the diverse black tribes will not get drowned into our civilization…) The truly unbearable fact for a multiculturalist liberal is an Other who effectively becomes like us, while retaining its specific features.
Furthermore, Ahmed passes between two forms of racism which should be distinguished. First, there is the “reflexive racism”: we use our non-racism to distinguish ourselves from the racist other and thus to castigate them in a racist way. More precisely, one should distinguish, in a kind of spectral analysis, three different modes of today’s racism. First, there is the old fashioned unabashed rejection of the (despotic, barbarian, orthodox, Muslim, corrupt, oriental…) Other on behalf of the authentic (Western, civilized, democratic, Christian…) values. Then there is the “reflexive” Politically Correct racism: the multiculturalist perception of Muslims or Balkans as the terrain of ethnic horrors and intolerance, of primitive irrational war passions, to be opposed to the post-Nation-State liberal-democratic process of solving conflicts through rational negotiations, compromises and mutual respect. Racism is here as it were elevated to the second power: it is attributed to the Other, while we occupy the convenient position of a neutral benevolent observer, righteously dismayed at the horrors going on down there. Finally, there is the reversed racism: it celebrates the exotic authenticity of the Balkan Other, as in the notion of Serbs who, in contrast to the inhibited, anemic Western Europeans, still exhibit a prodigious lust for life – this last form of racism plays a crucial role in the success of Emir Kusturica’s films in the West. – Second, racists themselves become a “threatened minority” whose free speech must be protected, i.e., they
use the prohibition as evidence that racism is a minority position which has to be defended against the multicultural hegemony. Racism can then be articulated as a minority position, a refusal of orthodoxy. In this perverse logic, racism can then be embraced as a form of free speech. We have articulated a new discourse of freedom: as the freedom to be offensive, in which racism becomes an offence that restores our freedom: the story goes, we have worried too much about offending the other, we must get beyond this restriction, which sustains the fantasy that ‘that’ was the worry in the first place. Note here that the other, especially the Muslim subject who is represented as easily offended, becomes the one who causes injury, insofar as it is the Muslim other’s ‘offendability’ that is read as restricting our free speech. The offendable subject ‘gets in the way’ of our freedom. So rather than saying racism is prohibited by the liberal multicultural consensus, under the banner of respect for difference, I would argue that racism is what is protected under the banner of free speech through the appearance of being prohibited.
The thing to do here is to supplement Ahmed’s presentation with different, unexpected, examples which render visible unexpected consequences and links of her theoretical propositions. Notice the paradox of Chomsky here: he wrote a preface to a book by Jean Faurisson, a holocaust-denier, defending the right for the book to be published. Chomsky made it clear that he is personally disgusted by Faurisson’s reasoning; his problem is that, once we start to prohibit certain opinions, who will be next in line? The question is thus: how to counteract the fake liberal prohibition of racism? In the Chomsky mode, or by replacing it with a “true” prohibition?
Another unexpected example: according to Jean-Claude Milner, a unified Europe can only constitute itself on the condition of the progressive erasure of all divisive historical traditions and legitimizations: consequently, the unified Europe is based on the erasure of history, of historical memory. Recent phenomena like holocaust revisionism, the moral equation of all victims of the WWII (Germans suffered under the Allied bombardments no less than Russians and Englishmen; the fate of the Nazi collaborators liquidated by the Russians after the war is comparable to the victims of the Nazi genocide, etc.), are the logical outcome of this tendency: all specified limits are potentially erased on behalf of abstract suffering and victimization. And – this is what Milner is aiming at all along – this Europe, in its very advocacy of the unlimited openness and multicultural tolerance, again needs the figure of the “Jew” as a structural obstacle to this drive to unlimited unification; however, today’s anti-Semitism is no longer the old ethnic anti-Semitism; its focus is displaced from Jews as an ethnic group to the State of Israel: “in the program of the Europe of the 21st century, the State of Israel occupies exactly the position that the name ‘Jew’ occupied in the Europe before the cut of 39-45.” In this way, today’s anti-Semitism can present itself as anti-anti-Semitism, full of solidarity with the victims of the holocaust; the reproach is just that, in our era of the gradual dissolution of all limits, of the fluidification of all traditions, the Jews wanted to built their own clearly delimited Nation-State – here are the very last lines of Milner’s book: 
If modernity is defined by the belief into an unlimited realization of dreams, our future is fully outlined. It leads through the absolute theoretical and practical anti-Judaism. To follow Lacan beyond what he explicitly stated, the foundations of a new religion are thus posited: anti-Judaism will be the natural religion of the humanity-to-come.
Is Milner, a passionate pro-Zionist, not relying here on the same logic as Ahmed? Are, in his view, Jews not caught in the same paradoxical predicament as, say, the British Muslims: they were offered all the civil rights, the chance to integrate into our society, but, ungrateful as they are, they persisted in their separate way of life? Plus, like Muslims, they are perceived as over-offendable, seeing everywhere “anti-Semitism”… Milner’s point is thus that the official anti-anti-Semitism, prohibiting it (recall the case of David Irving), is the form of appearance of secret anti-Semitism. – Back to Ahmed’s line of argumentation: the hegemony of multiculturalism is thus not a direct hegemony, but a reflexive one:
the hegemonic position is that liberal multiculturalism is the hegemony. This is why the current monoculture political agenda functions as a kind of retrospective defense against multiculturalism. The explicit argument of New Labor is that multiculturalism went ‘too far’: we gave the other ‘too much’ respect, we celebrated difference ‘too much’, such that multiculturalism is read as the cause of segregation, riots and even terrorism.”
I totally agree with the general principle that “hegemonies are often presented as minority positions, as defenses against what are perceived to be hegemonic positions” – Today’s celebration of “minorities” and “marginals” IS the predominant majority position. I would only add a series of other examples, like the neocons who complain about the terror of liberal Political Correctness, presenting themselves as protectors of an endangered minority. Or take those critics of patriarchy who attack it as if it is still a hegemonic position, ignoring what Marx and Engels wrote more than 150 years ago, in the first chapter of The Communist Manifesto: “The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations.” – is still ignored by those Leftist cultural theorists who focus their critique on patriarchal ideology and practice. Is it not the time to start to wonder about the fact that the critique of patriarchal “phallogocentrism” etc. was elevated into a main target at the very historical moment – ours – when patriarchy definitely lost its hegemonic role, when it is progressively swept away by market individualism of Rights? What becomes of patriarchal family values when a child can sue his parents for neglect and abuse, i.e., when family and parenthood itself are de iure reduced to a temporary and dissolvable contract between independent individuals? (And, incidentally, Freud was no less aware of this: for him, the decline of the Oedipal mode of socialization was the historical condition of the rise of psychoanalysis.)  In other words, the critical statement that patriarchal ideology continues to be today’s hegemonic ideology IS today’s hegemonic ideology – its function is to enable us to evade the deadlock of the hedonist permissiveness which is effectively hegemonic.
On February 7 2008, the Archbishop of Canterbury told BBC Radio 4′s World at One that the adoption of certain aspects of Sharia law in the UK “seems unavoidable”: the UK has to “face up to the fact” that some of its citizens do not relate to the British legal system, so that adopting parts of Islamic Sharia law would help maintain social cohesion. He stressed that “nobody in their right mind would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that’s sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states; the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women as well”; however, an approach to law which simply said “there’s one law for everybody and that’s all there is to be said, and anything else that commands your loyalty or allegiance is completely irrelevant in the processes of the courts – I think that’s a bit of a danger”. Muslims should not have to choose between “the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty”. The issue of whether Catholic adoption agencies should be forced to accept gay parents under equality laws already showed the potential for legal confusion: “The principle that there is only one law for everybody is an important pillar of our social identity as a Western democracy. But I think it is a misunderstanding to suppose this means people don’t have other affiliations, other loyalties which shape and dictate how they behave in society and that the law needs to take some account of that.” People may legally devise their own way to settle a dispute in front of an agreed third party as long as both sides agree to the process. Muslim Sharia courts and the Jewish Beth Din come into this category: the country’s main Beth Din at Finchley in north London oversees a wide range of cases including divorce settlements, contractual rows between traders and tenancy disputes; in a similar way, Muslims should be allowed to choose to have marital disputes or financial matters dealt with in a Sharia court. 
However, with all my sympathies for Rowan Williams, I think the devil hides in the details of his proposal, where the old dilemma of group versus individual rights explodes with a vengeance. Williams is careful enough to emphasize two limitations of his proposal: (1) individual Muslims should retain a choice: they should not be forced to obey Sharia, but just allowed to choose it; (2) Sharia should be implemented only in certain areas, applying norms which are not in conflict with the general law (marital disputes, not amputations of hands for theft…). But if we fully follow these two principles, then nothing radical really happens: if some group of people want to regulate their affairs in a way which adds new additional rules without infringing upon the existing legal order, so what? Things get problematic the moment we move a step further and concede to one’s particular ethnic-religious community a more substantial role of the unsurpassable roots of one’s existence.
This is what makes the issue of universal compulsory education so hot: when liberals insist that children should be given the right to remain part of their particular community, but on condition that they are given a choice, for, say, the Amish children to have an effectively free choice of which way of life to choose, their parents’ or the “English,” they would have to be properly informed on all the options, educated in them – however, the only way to do this would be to extract them from their embeddedness in the Amish community, i.e., to effectively render them “English.” This also clearly demonstrates the limitations of the standard liberal attitude towards the Muslim women wearing a veil: they can do it if it is their free choice and not an option imposed on them by their husbands or family. However, the moment women wear a veil as the result of their free individual choice, the meaning of wearing a veil changes completely: it is no longer a sign of their direct substantial belonging to the Muslim community, but an expression of their idiosyncratic individuality, of their spiritual quest and protest against the vulgarity of today’s sexual commerce, or a political gesture of protesting the West. A choice is always a meta-choice, a choice of the modality of the choice itself: one thing is to wear a veil because of one’s immediate immersion into a substantial tradition; another thing is to refuse to wear a veil; yet another thing is to wear a veil not out of substantial belonging, but as an act of ethico-political choice. This is why, in our secular societies of choice, people who maintain a substantial religious belonging are in a subordinate position: even if they are allowed to maintain their belief, this belief is “tolerated” as their idiosyncratic personal choice/opinion; the moment they present it publicly as what it is for them (a matter of substantial belonging), they are accused of “fundamentalism.” What this means is that the “subject of free choice” (in the Western “tolerant” multicultural sense) can only emerge as the result of an extremely violent process of being torn out of one’s particular life-world, of being cut off from one’s roots.
Western secular law not only promotes different content of the laws subjects are compelled to obey than religious legal edifices, it also relies on a different formal mode of how subjects relate to legal regulations. This is what misses the simple reduction of the gap that separates the liberal universalism from particular substantial ethnic identities to a gap between two particularities (“liberal universalism is an illusion, a mask concealing its own particularity which it imposes onto others as universal”): the universalism of a Western liberal society does not reside in the fact that its values (human rights, etc.) are universal in the sense of holding for ALL cultures, but in a much more radical sense: in it, individuals relate to themselves as “universal,” they participate in the universal dimension directly, by-passing their particular social position. The problem with particular laws for particular ethnic/religious groups is that not all people experience themselves as belonging to a particular ethnic/religious community – so apart from people belonging to groups, there should be “universal” individuals who just belong to the state law. Apart from apples, pears, and grapes, there should be a place for fruits as such. – The catch is here that of the freedom of choice given to you if you make the right choice: others should be tolerated if they accept our society –
this involves a reading of the other as abusing our multicultural love: as if to say, we gave our love to you, and you abused our love by living apart from us, so now you must become British. There is a threat implied here: become us, become like us (and support democracy and give up the burqa, so we can see your face and communicate with you like the ordinary people we are) or go away. /…/ Migrants enter the national consciousness as ungrateful. Ironically then racism becomes attributed to the failure of migrants to receive our love. The monocultural hegemony involves the fantasy that multiculturalism is the hegemony. The best description of today’s hegemony is ‘liberal monoculturalism’ in which common values are read as under threat by the support for the other’s difference, as a form of support that supports the fantasy of the nation as being respectful at the same time as it allows the withdrawal of this so-called respect. The speech act that declares liberal multiculturalism as hegemonic is thus the hegemonic position.
If we formulate the problem in these terms, the alternative amounts to: either “true” multiculturalism, or we should drop the universal claim as such. Both solutions are wrong, for the simple reason that they are not different at all, but ultimately coincide: “true” multiculturalism would have been the utopia of a neutral universal legal frame enabling each particular culture to assert its identity. The thing to do is to change the entire field, introducing a totally different Universal, that of an antagonistic struggle which does not take place between particular communities, but splits from within each community, so that the “trans-cultural” link between communities is that of a shared struggle.
 Sara Ahmed, “‘Liberal Multiculturalism is the Hegemony – Its an Empirical Fact’ – A response to Slavoj Zizek” (unpublished manuscript).
Furthermore, the liberal-multiculturalist’s opposition to direct racism is not a mere illusion whose truth is the protection of racism: there is a class-coded dimension in it of which Ahmed is aware, directed against (white) working class fundamentalism/racism/antifeminism.
 Jean-Claude Milner, Les penchants criminels de l’Europe démocratique, Paris: Éditions Verdier 2003, p. 126.
 One of the feminist strategies (especially in France and Italy) is to admit that the paternal authority is disintegrating, and that late capitalism is approaching a globalized perverse society of “pathological narcissists” caught into the superego call to enjoy; but to claim that, to counter this lack, a new figure of authority is emerging “from below,” unnoticed by the media – the symbolic authority of the mother which has nothing to do with the traditional patriarchal figure of Mother – a new mother is here which doesn’t fit the existing ideological coordinates. The problem with this solution is that it as a rule amounts to descriptions of and generalizations of actual cases of (single and other) mothers who have to take care of children – in short, it reads as (sometimes almost Catholic-sentimental) description of heroic and compassionate single who keep children or the family together when the father is absent. Such an approach doesn’t really confront the key question, that of the Name-of-the-Father. That is to say, the Name-of-the-Father plays a key role in structuring the symbolic space, sustaining prohibitions which constitute and stabilize desires – what happens with this role with the maternal authority? Also, for Lacan, the Name-of-the-Father only functions when recognized – referred to – by the mother, i.e., for him, the Name-of-the-Father is a structuring principle for the entire field of sexual difference – one can well imagine a lesbian family/couple raising children where, although there is no father, the Name-of-the-Father is fully operative. So what happens with sexual difference, as well as with the symbolic function of the father, with the rise of the maternal authority?
 It is interesting to note that the Evo Morales government in Bolivia is pursuing a similar goal: it set itself the task of exploring the possibilities of combining the legal order of a modern state with old native practices to resolve conflictual situations.
Art: Les Helmers