Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Multiculturalism and balance in Britain

The shadow Justice Secretary, Dominic Grieve, is to deliver remarks about multiculturalism today which will suggest Labour’s wrongheaded approach to the issue has had a damaging effect on Britishness as a cohesive concept and the United Kingdom as a functioning society. He strikes a particularly pertinent chord by attacking the tendency to treat people simply as members of distinct interest groups, defined by race, religion or ethnicity, rather than as individual citizens who interact with society and communities on their own terms.

“A decade of ranking people as members of neatly categorised ethnic, religious or social groups, rather than treating everyone as an individual in their own right; a decade of courting self-appointed heads of minority groups and pandering to special interest lobbies, ignoring the range of opinions and depth of diversity in modern Britain.”

This is, of course, a tricky area, and a delicate balance must be struck between celebrating our diversity as a nation (and our strength in that diversity) and integrating it into a society which enjoys a degree of shared purpose and can agree on basic common values.

The existence of many different cultures within the United Kingdom cannot be ignored and the idea that we should protect and celebrate difference is not at its root a bad one. However, when the state interacts with its own citizens principally through the prism of their membership of a certain subgroup, any semblance of balance has been lost. When it becomes acceptable to shrink away from interaction with other cultures and ethnicities, and to dissociate oneself from membership of larger communities or society as a whole, it is fair to say that government is failing in its duties to the country.

Grieve highlights a pervasive relativism through which we compromise previously accepted values in order to accommodate religious and cultural dogmas which directly contradict western ideas of freedom.

"The reluctance to exercise reasonable judgment and to criticise or challenge negative cultural imports into our country, including discriminatory practices against women and corrupt political and electoral practices, is one of the most troubling consequences of a culture that wishes to avoid offence and accusations of racism."

Once again the issue is one of balance lost. The notion that we should not come to reflexive moral judgments without first considering differences of circumstance and culture is sound enough in its reasoning. But if we are, within our own society, reluctant to uphold fundamental values and principles, for fear of causing offence, then we have lost all sense of perspective and we are, whether wittingly or unwittingly, inflicting damage on that which we should seek to protect.

The irony, as Grieve points out, is that hypersensitivity to being seen to value any culture to the exclusion of others is not in actual fact bringing people together.

“Multiculturalism was intended to create a more cohesive and friendlier society by facilitating bringing people together. But instead the laws and concepts underlying it seem to me to drive people apart.”

Rather than encouraging interaction, an exchange of ideas and healthy interrogation of each other’s views and opinions, we produce highly atomised groups, impermeable to outside influence, which the rest of society then deals with at arm’s length. This cannot be a model to encourage a functioning and diverse country.

The challenge for Grieve and the Conservative party is to offer an alternative in order to begin to confront the issues which he has identified.


Aidan said...

Good post, I am always fascinated watching news reports where they interview a leaders of the black, Moslim, Jewish or whatever community. Often these 'representatives' are not elected by anybody and cannot possibly speak for all of the people they purportedly represent. At least conventionally elected representative have a clear mandate to speak for the group that elected them. Even then though you have the big issue of the non-voting population except in countries like Belgium where it is illegal not to vote.

Chekov said...

Often these people are simply the representatives which the government chooses to deal with Aidan. So it's self-perpetuating. And very dangerous.