In July, Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen is publishing a book titled Identity and Violence that brings more perspective to the debate on British multi-culturalism. Sen’s voice is badly needed. He is heavyweight intellectual with an impeccable record in advocacy for tolerance, pluralism and harmony; critical of the situation we are in but ready to defend multicultural precepts where they need to be defended.
In the Guardian today:
What begins by giving people room to express themselves, he argues, may force people into an identity chosen by the authorities. “That is what is happening now, here,” he says, a little indignantly. “I think there is a real tyranny there. It doesn’t look like tyranny – it looks like giving freedom and tolerance – but it ends up being a denial of individual freedom. The individual belongs to many different groups and it is up to him or her to decide which of those groups he or she would like to give priority.”
And next, he makes a point that Pickled Politics has been expounding consistently:
“Suddenly the Jewish, Hindu and Muslim organisations are in charge of all Jews, Hindus and Muslims. Whether you are an extremist mullah or a moderate mullah, whether you’re Blair’s friend or Blair’s enemy, you might relish the idea of being able to speak for all people with a Muslim background – no matter how religious they are – but this may be in direct competition with the role of Muslims in British civil society
In particular it means that government accords power and consults with the most conservative and self-interested representatives of a community, it silences dissent, and it also formulates a crude counter-response by society as a whole.
Unable to appreciate the diversity of individual life within minority groups, mainstream British society slots individuals into reckless and inadequate stereotypes, viewing minorities through the telescope of the issue-and-identity politics that sectarian bodies push, pumped up as they are with hot air and hubris because they get to sup with politicians and appear in the media.
He further speculates that this attitude may have roots in a disastrous policy followed by the British in the end years of British rule in India:
“This is the way,” he says, “that the British tried to interpret community divisions in India between Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians. To Indian nationalists, it looked a further example of divide and rule, emphasising the divisions. The way that the British are handling it today makes one wonder whether the cultural confusion that the British had then has now been brought back home.”
Guest post by Jay Singh
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