For those of you who don't know, the Body Shop is an international chain of shops selling female soaps and body products. It was established in the 1970s by Anita Roddick, who has used the stores to promote her particular brand of left liberal politics.
Anyway, the cause of the month is refugees. The Body Shop I visited had posters, postcards, a magazine and a kind of guestbook for customers to sign, all promoting the idea that Australia should accept an even greater number of refugees.
What I found most interesting was a postcard putting the cause of Osman, a refugee from Sudan. We were urged to support Osman, and others like him, because in coming to Australia he would be able to "achieve his full potential."
Now, to the conservative understanding of things, this is a strange claim. How can Osman and his family possibly achieve their full potential in such an alien country as Australia?
It is impossible for Osman to maintain in Australia his connection to his ancestry, or to uphold his religious and cultural traditions.
Even some European refugees have found it difficult to maintain a sense of identity living in Anglo-Saxon countries. For instance, Nathaniel Braden has described how,
Living in the predominantly Anglo-Saxon city of Toronto, my parents were Russian Jewish immigrants who had never really assimilated themselves into Canadian culture. A sense of rootlessness and disorientation was present in our home from the begining. I had no sense of belonging, in Toronto or anywhere else, nor was I even aware of what a sense of belonging would mean. To me the void seemed normal.
If someone who is of Russian background has this experience, how much more disorienting will life be for an African living in Australia.
For a conservative there is a need both to protect the physical security of refugees and also to allow refugees to preserve their connection to their own ancestry, religion and culture. The logical way to achieve this is to resettle refugees, as far as possible, within the nearest ethnically compatible region.
As it happens there are many wealthy Islamic countries which could fund this process for Islamic refugees. Refugees from poorer African areas could be helped by wealthier Western and Asian nations to resettle in other parts of Africa.
Why have Western nations not followed such a path already? Because the political establishments in Western countries are liberal. They follow as a principle the idea that we should be self-created by our own reason and will.
Unfortunately, if we are only allowed to be created by our own reason and will, we can't be shaped by our inherited ancestry and culture. That's why, over time, the attachment to a traditional ancestry and culture has taken on a negative connotation within the Western political elite, as being a mere expression of "prejudice."
The Western political elite, therefore, for as long as it holds to liberal first principles, is unlikely to adopt a refugee policy which aims to uphold the ancestral and cultural identity of both the refugees and the host populations, no matter how humane or logical such a policy would be.
And what of the Body Shop? I wrote a short summary of the above argument in their "support book" for refugees. When I returned an hour later I found I had started a small debate within the book with some customers supporting me and others opposed.
I also looked up Anita Roddick's site on the internet. Ms Roddick does a good job of presenting herself as a flaky left liberal. She even has a picture of her adult daughter, naked except for a gas mask, attending an anti-Iraq war protest in London. The picture has the following caption, written proudly by Mum,
Like mother, like daughter. My youngest, Sam, never stops surprising me with her creative radicalism. Outside her erotic boutique Coco de Mer in London last month, she organized a naked street protest against the war...
The theme was "liberate yourself from political bondage" and featured strippers and other sex workers wearing only gas masks and body paints and stencils...
Coco de Mer organized the event with the Belles of Shoreditch, a collaboration of strippers from the East-End (London) pub culture, and the International Union of Sex Workers.
There would seem to be few moorings of any kind left in Anita Roddick's world. At any rate, she is not a woman I would be accepting moral leadership from.
There is a better way to handle the issue of refugees than that suggested by the Body Shop.
(First published at Conservative Central 24/08/2003)