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  • Elsewhere…

    by Sunny
    25th August, 2006 at 2:47 am    

    The government yesterday launched another lame attempt to engineer Britons into shiny happy people. The Commission for Integration and Cohesion has been told to come up with with proposals for tackling extremism and improving community relations by June 2007. It includes chairman Darra Singh, who seemed to have no clue about direction when interviewed (fwd 5 min), and Ramesh Kallidai of the Hindu Forum. Just great. Anyway, I’ve written an article for comment is free deriding it.

    Later today I’ll be on Radio 4′s The Message at 1:30pm discussing how the media covers ethnic minority issues and whether there is a “digital ghetto“.

                  Post to

    Filed in: Current affairs,Media

    41 Comments below   |  

    Reactions: Twitter, blogs

    1. Dave Hill — on 25th August, 2006 at 7:46 am  

      Sunny, I’m very grateful to you for your response to Ruth Kelly on CiF. I was so revolted in so many ways by her speech - its fatuity and the dishonest political motives driving it - that I hid away from all the mainstream coverage for fear of exploding. However, the good sense and humour of your analysis had a welcome calming effect which sustained my “listening again” to the excruciating interview with Darra Singh to which you link. What a terrific guy you are. And how I look forward to receiving your contribution to my Big England series. (Creep, flatter, self-promote…)

      Best Wishes.

    2. David — on 25th August, 2006 at 8:36 am  

      What we need is more religiously-segregated schools, obviously.

    3. The Common Humanist — on 25th August, 2006 at 10:03 am  

      More and more faith schools of whatever religion is a receipe for Northern Ireland esque balkenisation in twenty years time.

      Cheers Tone, Gordon, Ruth etc etc……….ad nauseum

    4. AsifB — on 25th August, 2006 at 10:30 am  

      Sunny - Great CIF article. Sadly, like most CIF articles, the comments read mainly as an excuse for people to re-iterate entrenched viewpoints.This Commission seems like yet another exercise in spin, simply because “its good to be seen to be talking about this. ” (What’s wrong with
      a) Compulsory Python lessons in schools - ‘Uh,try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.’
      b) a bit of ‘benign neglect’

      As for the digital ghetto, clearly there are people turning their mind to mush by overdosing on bollywood soap and yvonne ridley politics, but there is also plenty of quality drama and news coverage available that is often more appealing or informative than BBC1 so you can’t knock people for making a choice as consumers.

    5. Kkiller — on 25th August, 2006 at 10:40 am  

      I’m sick to death with hearing the concept of “multiculturalism” used as a punch bag in a variety of unrelated issues. We now hear that multiculturalism, and the supposed lack of integration that it engenders, is the root cause of the 2001 riots (no it fucking wasnt) and the 7/7 bombings (no, it fucking wasnt).

      The first claim ignores the events of that year and those surrounding the immediate riots, such as fascist white agigtation and a failure by the police to reassure the local population. The second again is a reductive argument - can the supposed failures of race relations policy be to blame for a tiny murderous minority? Not to mention foreign policy, our attitude towards Muslims in Britain, etc….

      I’ve also not heard of any good alternatives to Multiculturalism. Community cohesion - the piss-poor alternative suggested by the Cantle report into the 2001 riots - might as well be assimilation by another name, placing the blame on South Asians for not sharing the same “values”, another one of those meaningless words used as a political football as Sunny describes in his CiF piece.

      When I get some time I’ll write this all up properly on my blog. But yeah, me is angry. Grr.

    6. Arif — on 25th August, 2006 at 11:01 am  

      I have the same kind of opinion as kkiller.

      Opposing multiculturalism is like opposing motherhood and apple pie. Blaming multiculturalism for social problems or whatever, is like blaming democracy or human rights.

      To me, multiculturalism just means that we accept that everyone can live according to their own cultural and subcultural standards as long as they do not impact on the rights of other people to do the same.

      Is there any alternative to multiculturalism that isn’t a form of chauvinism?

      If there are concerns that one cultural group or individuals have about the behaviour of another cultural group, even when it has no impact on them, then you can still discuss it respectfully and work with subcultural groups that agree with you. I would not use it as an excuse to stigmatise and dominate people I don’t agree with.

    7. Sylvie — on 25th August, 2006 at 11:09 am  

      I would not use it as an excuse to stigmatise and dominate people I don’t agree with.

      Who is going to be dominated by whom?

      You talk as if there are hordes demanding people come out of their houses and be tortured.

      What is all this talk of domination and subjugation?

      Examples please.

    8. Arif — on 25th August, 2006 at 11:34 am  

      Example 1:

      Opposition to female genital mutilation. I think it is morally wrong, but it is justified as a cultural practice by some. Do I stigmatise such cultures as barbaric (as some do), or work with people within those cultures who agree with me, and support them to bring it to an end in the ways most effective to their culture?

      Example 2.

      Opposition to cartoons denigrating a prophet. I think it is very rude, but to another culture it is harmless satire. Do I condemn those people and threaten them (as some do), or do I discuss with them why it creates feelings of vulnerability and fear, so that those within the other culture who wish to be polite, know how to do so.

      Example 3:

      Some gay people want to get married, and not allowing it is a denial of human rights. For some gay marriage is an abomination which they must not allow for religious or other reasons. Should they stigmatise one another (as some do) or work with those in the other group who want to come to a different understanding of human rights or religious requirements in each side?

      I’m not trying to be dramatic, I’m just saying there are alternatives to fear, hate and trying to stamp down on one another. Multiculturalism provides a useful framework of mutual respect. People opposed to multiculturalism have their own frameworks - but I have not been attracted to them, except for human rights based or nonviolent ones which are very unfashionable and cannot be imposed without some level of self-contradiction.

    9. Sylvie — on 25th August, 2006 at 11:43 am  

      What does any of that have to do with multiculturalism? You’ve just given examples of how it is nice to talk and discuss things, and in the case of female genital mutilation, how it’s better to not stigmatise those who carry it out. Well, it is illegal, anyone who wants to slice the clitoris off girls should be put in jail, nothing to debate. Characterising this attitude as seeking to dominate is erroneous. What you are saying is be nice to each other.

      I’m just saying there are alternatives to fear, hate and trying to stamp down on one another.

      You totally overplay your cards when you characterise ‘the other’ as concomitant with hate and ‘stamping down on one another’. In fact, it is bad faith to begin with.

    10. Jai — on 25th August, 2006 at 11:48 am  


      =>”whether there is a “digital ghetto“.”

      This is just an “armchair psychologist” opinion, but I’d say the explosion in Asian satellite channels here in the UK in recent years certainly influences matters, especially in joint/extended families where you have several generations living under one roof and the older women in particular are addicted to Asian soaps.

      We’ve chatted about this before on PP as you probably recall, but one of the effects of this is that the “culture” inside the house risks becoming excessively psychologically removed from the West, especially if the older, and presumably more conservative, generation members of the family are dominant over the rest of the family. People basically pretend that they really are literal extensions of subcontinental society and ignore the fact that they are actually living thousands of miles away in the Western hemisphere. I would hazard a guess that this effect is possibly exacerbated if the family is living in a high-density ethnic neighbourhood where their social acquaintances and relatives are similarly-minded (doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone in such situations, of course), or if — for one reason or another — the older people concerned have very little social and/or professional contact with non-Asians (eg. housewives, retired people etc).

      So you have this psychological “detachment” and non-Western media-related cultural dominance also influencing the younger people in the family, especially when coupled with overt and subtle pressures from the older generation(s) to not be “too Westernised” and so on.

      There are plenty of anecdotes amongst Asians both in the UK and over in the US where the older-generation mothers in the family a) start to lose their ability to speak English properly and b) become very negatively influenced by the regressive attitudes prevalent in desi soaps, which then has multiple fall-out effects, especially in relation to attitudes towards younger-generation Asian women along with the more liberal Western cultural norms. Since the people concerned can pretend that they’re still “back home”, perhaps it takes away their initiative to actually make the necessary adjustment and psychological “attitude shift” to really integrate/assimilate sufficiently into Western society.

      I am assuming that subscription to Middle-Eastern channels by British Asian Muslims is also going to influence their ideas (perhaps contributing to the “Arabization” of desi Muslims here ?), although Pakistanis etc here on PP would be the best people to confirm or deny this.

    11. Kkiller — on 25th August, 2006 at 11:48 am  

      Gentile mutilation is pushing it, isn’t it? It might be cultural practice somewhere, but its still physical harm.

    12. Kkiller — on 25th August, 2006 at 11:50 am  

      Genital, even.

    13. Arif — on 25th August, 2006 at 12:08 pm  

      Sylvie - how do you understand multiculturalism?

      I think the examples I gave dealt with areas where people do find it difficult to accept the cultural practices of others. Hence dealing with issues of potential domination and subjugation that you asked me to provide examples of.

      The first example is one where I find it particularly difficult to accept a cultural practice. And it seems for you as well. So I wasn’t just saying things would be better if we just talked. I’m also looking at the implications of multiculturalism on limiting my own behaviour in ways I would find uncomfortable.

      For someone who wants to practice FGM, your approach (put people in jail, there is nothing to debate) might be considered stamping on a cultural practice. Perhaps you observe the law being enforced without any particular emotional opposition to the practice, in which case I apologise that I am overplaying things when it comes to how you feel. But how others feel may be different to you. How do you deal with that? How would you deal with that if you felt your opinion was in the minority?

    14. Arif — on 25th August, 2006 at 12:18 pm  


      Quite funny reading you describe my own family set-up! In fact we tick all the boxes of Sunny’s as well (yoga as well as Indian soaps and Pakistani news).

      I reckon it has a psychological impact (and is sought partly for that impact as well), but I think it is a good thing in terms of access to media, and not having the younger generation controlling digital access in the family as before. It means I’ve gone back to reading books!

    15. Bert Preast — on 25th August, 2006 at 12:20 pm  

      FGM is a cultural practice. It’s also very clearly a serious form of child abuse, and anyone practicing it should be jailed.

      Some things must take precedence over culture - otherwise would we put up with the suspected black magic stuff that resulted in the boy’s torso in the Thames? Shall the druids be advertising for virgins to sacrifice? As Sylvie said, there’s nothing to debate.

    16. SajiniW — on 25th August, 2006 at 12:44 pm  

      FGM is an abusive procedure - the children getting mutilated aren’t a) old/competent enough to consent and b) not asked for their consent.

      It’s also an operation - conducted by those who aren’t qualified to do so.

      The consequences of FGM are damaging to a woman’s psycho-sexual health - denying orgasm and making childbirth considerably more painful. At St Mary’s, over 90% of FGM ladies ask to have the procedure reversed before they attempt to labour. Picking up the pieces of FGM is costly; money that would be

      It’s much easier to clamp down from a legal point of view - all laws are passed with the interests of ‘British’ values in mind. All children present deserve the same rights & privileges. Why should some children be treated differently given the conflict of values between their family culture and ours?

      PS If an 18-year old competent adult wanted a cliterectomy, then that’s a different matter.

    17. Arif — on 25th August, 2006 at 12:50 pm  

      Bert, is it that there is nothing to debate, or that you do not want to debate it?

      I take the view that we should not cause suffering to others and am willing to debate with people who believe that it is their right to do so. So I oppose FGM. I oppose hunting and fishing for leisure. I oppose footbinding. I oppose slavery. I oppose the use of torture. I oppose the use of cluster bombs and landmines. I oppose the use of other weaponry. etc.

      Sometimes and in some places my standpoints are obvious. Sometimes and in some places my standpoints are obviously wrong. Sometimes it is considered an issue of debate. It would be great fopr me if everyone always agreed with my own views of what is obviously right and wrong, but they do not. There are cultural values which change over time.

      So, applying the golden rule to treat others as I wish to be treated, how would I want someone else to treat me when they think my views are obviously wrong. For example, despite my attachment to not hurting others, I want to protect my own right to male circumcision, even if others feel it is child abuse. I wouldn’t want them to put me in jail and say that’s the end of the story. I’d want to be given options, persuaded about the justice of the other point of view and feel that I had been heard respectfully before my rights are taken away through a consistently applied process.

      Perhaps we can call that process one of a kind of democracy. And if we have laws, that’s the kind of process which makes most sense to me to define laws in a multicultural society.

    18. SajiniW — on 25th August, 2006 at 1:00 pm  

      But male circumcision has health benefits - see various HIV/STI studies in Kenya and Tanzania..

    19. leon — on 25th August, 2006 at 1:05 pm  

      Something that is being lost in all this is future implications. In a sense this new commission is just part of a wider strategy of gearing up to the end of the CRE and the hand over to the new CEHR (Commission for Equality and Human Rights).

      As usual, the government is pretending to be interested while laying out the foundations for what it’s already decided to do.

    20. Arif — on 25th August, 2006 at 1:16 pm  

      Sajini (et al) - I’m not justifying FGM. I’m using it as an example of something I vehemently oppose.

      I think there is a difference between respecting others and agreeing with them.

      I also think there is also a difference between hating the sin and hating the sinner.

      You can have all the best arguments, strongest emotions and legal power in the world. I believe you still should wield it over others the way you would like others to wield such power over you.

      I would argue that (as a girl) I would want to be protected by others from FGM by my own culture or any other. And that would be my justification for a law. Supporters of FGM can argue with me on that, discussing the importance of consent to them, how I misunderstand what FGM is, how making safe and painless operations illegal would result in unsafe and painful ones instead. Whatever.

      The debate itself is a form of cultural change. People within the cultures where it is practiced might be the ones who most effectively advocate against it.

      If we rely on making laws, I assume the result would be something I am comfortable in this case. That either we find a way which protects people from FGM without informed consent, or we make a law to protect people because informed consent is too difficult to regulate. But then shouldn’t we also make laws outlawing all cultural practices that cause suffering, whether practiced by a majority or a minority?

      (NB the question is not purely rhetorical - I want to explore these principles, as I don’t think I have all the answers)

    21. SajiniW — on 25th August, 2006 at 1:34 pm  

      Competent consent & the needs of the era (in medicine we have the Gillick ruling) have to be taken into account when creating laws.

      Some of the laws regarding consensual S&M activity hark back to 1861!

    22. Sylvie — on 25th August, 2006 at 1:56 pm  


      The problem is not how I understand multiculturalism. The problem is that you and others dont define an understanding of it, other than ‘be nice, dont be nasty’, setting up strawmen and false oppositions,

      Despite the fact that aspects of multiculturalism inhibit an opening up of issues and communities when they implement tribalistic competitiveness and privelige certain identities over others, all it seems to boil down to you is ‘lets be nice to each other’, and anyone who disagrees with you is attempting to ‘dominate’ and ‘stamp on the faces of minorities’. This is simply egregious.

      Your premise is erroneous to begin with. It starts from the point that multiculturalism is a wishy-washy righteous and cuddly call to be nice to each other, and that everyone else is a ferocious bully attempting to ‘decimate’ minorities. It begins in a defenseive mode of non-thinking, and is articulated in bad faith and paranoia.

      All systems of thought stagnate and begin to stink when they are not challenged by fresh air and examination. Aspects of multicultural practise should not be immune from this process, ezpecially when they are co-terminous with stagnation amongst the ‘communities’ they seek to protect (preservative marmalade multiculturalism)

    23. Arif — on 25th August, 2006 at 2:51 pm  


      In #6, I wrote: “To me, multiculturalism just means that we accept that everyone can live according to their own cultural and subcultural standards as long as they do not impact on the rights of other people to do the same.”

      It does not mention being nice or nasty to one another. And it states a principle which has consequences for how we treat each other. You can interpret those consequences as being nice (because we might be less rude when we disagree with other culture’s practices than with those of our own culture) or as being nasty (because it makes it harder to ban things we consider evil practiced in other cultures).

      The way I justify my adherence to such a principle is that I would feel oppressed if it were denied to me. And I expressed this in a way you take exception to. Once again, I apologise for the projection, and accept that people may want to ban cultural practices without stigmatising people who practice it. And I accept that they may not feel it is a form of domination. However I would consider it a form of domination, whether I practice it or someone else does. Whether a third person considers it a good thing or a bad thing.

      On your last point, I think my characterisation of how and why multiculturalism should be promoted is the opposite to yours. I think multiculturalism gives cultures the freedom to develop in different ways, with subcultures making new cross-cultural combinations and progressive or regressive campaigns. I think (unscientifically, I admit!) that cultural groups are most likely to be conservative and opposed to change when they feel threatened.

      But regardless of how we conceive of cultural change and dynamics, the principle I’m defending is that members of cultural groups have a prima facie right to define their own practices and the dimensions and directions of change they want for their cultures but not the right to define practices for other cultures is something I support. Perhaps you do not think that this should be labeled multiculturalism. Or perhaps you think that this principle is widely accepted as just being nice, so has no need to be defended. If so, it would help me if you would furnish your own definition which is less wishy-washy and we can talk about that instead.

    24. Sylvie — on 25th August, 2006 at 3:03 pm  

      Love your grandparents!

      Open doors for old ladies!

      Don’t drop litter!

      Your definitions are congruent with those kinds of epithets. Nice and lovely, except when those who proffer opinions not congrent with the atmospherics of them are transformed into jackbooted Nazis dying to torture minorities.

      Look Arif, your coda about how it’s nice that ‘communities’ develop the dimensions of their own reform is jolly good. The problem arises when multicultural practise discourages reform and progression by (I quote myself) inhibiting an opening up of issues and communities when they implement tribalistic competitiveness and privelige certain identities over others, privelige factions and interpretations, incubate non progressive factors.

      Modernity comes in many forms. It arises spontaneously within all groups of people. Ascribing conditions of paranoid enforcment by external factors and nefarious plotters to ‘dominate’ and ‘stamp on the faces of minorities’, and seek to turn this defensivness into holy writ under the religion of the politics of multiculturalism abets the most atavistic formulas within those communities.

      Characterising this as an attempt to dominate and subjugate and coerce unfairly is truly specious, although unlike some ideologues, I dont think you believe so maliciously.

    25. Arif — on 25th August, 2006 at 3:29 pm  

      Like I said in my very first comment Sylvie: “Opposing multiculturalism is like opposing motherhood and apple pie”. If you are saying multiculturalism is obviously a good thing, then we have no disagreement.

      You have several times suggested that I have a hysterically negative emotional reaction to people who disagree with me. I have twice apologised for giving that impression, but you have suggested this again. I believe you are misreading the tone that I intend, but I apologise again for giving that impression.

      As I said, we have a different view about what inhibits the opening up of issues. For me it is more often a fear of being misunderstood, stigmatised and considered treacherous that inhibits, and I feel this dynamic is strongest when my communities feel under siege. I think you do have a point about competitiveness, however, also being a means of disciplining members and I would want to avoid such competitiveness between social groups.

      I also agree that modernity cames in many forms and spontaneously among different groups. And I stand by the view that fear of being dominated (justified or not) strengthens conservatism. If there is a commitment to multiculturalism this does not abet such fears, in my opinion, it does the opposite, as it is a mutual commitment not to dominate, so removing that source of paranoia.

      I understand that you do not like the word “dominate”, so feel free to substitute a word which means “require people to live by rules set by others who do not have to live by rules set by you” - or something less emotive if this also strikes you as a harsh form of words.

    26. Sunny — on 25th August, 2006 at 3:34 pm  

      The point about FGM is fatuous to be honest. It is illegal and should be dealt with as such. We cannot have different laws for different people. So while the law applies equally, people from those communities where FGM is prevalent will have to seek to educate those who choose to engage in that activity. Same goes for forced marriages etc.

    27. Bert Preast — on 25th August, 2006 at 3:44 pm  

      Didn’t they wuss out on the forced marriage bill? Some sidestep like saying we don’t need to criminalise it because there are already laws against abduction or something? Yeah, right.

    28. Arif — on 25th August, 2006 at 4:20 pm  

      Sunny, I think the point about FGM is not fatuous in terms of this debate. I think it is emotionally one of the strongest arguments opponents of multiculturalism can use. I raised it as the issue which causes me most difficulty as a supporter of multiculturalism.

      I’m not talking about what the law is or is not. I know it is illegal even for someone to go abroad for such an operation in a country where it is legal. But I was talking about how we decide to frame laws and how we interact with each other across different cultural and ethical frameworks.

      If you believe there are absolutes of right and wrong which every culture must abide by, then maybe we should draw out what these are and their implications. I mentioned that I would start off by saying we cannot justify causing suffering to others. But of course we do justify it in all sorts of situations, so if we adopted it we would have to be clear why FGM is unjustifiable, when all sorts of other things are - or we would have to ban a lot of other things. Sajini suggests the difference is in terms of long term health consequences, so FGM should be banned on those grounds, and male circumcision allowed. I’m not sure whether that is a moral absolute or a cultural preference. I’m just discussing it. I’m interested in people’s opinions because moral issues are the hardest edge of multiculturalism.

      I think underlying my support for multiculturalism might be a further principle of letting people decide for themselves what a good life consists of. And so - for example - young children, the elderly, mentally ill people and animals need to be protected (eg by laws) from others making decisions for them. Similarly people need to be protected from duress in marriage as well. Would that undermine multiculturalism?

    29. Sunny — on 25th August, 2006 at 4:25 pm  

      so if we adopted it we would have to be clear why FGM is unjustifiable, when all sorts of other things are - or we would have to ban a lot of other things.

      What else would be illegal? It isn’t unusual to ban practices based on cultural norms. Who said humans were perfectly rational human beings? They have contradictions too. Divorce was taboo - now it isn’t. It doesn’t need a change in law, but a change in value systems. So FGM is illegal and abhorred because of the medical and psychological impact. What other excuse do you need?

    30. Arif — on 25th August, 2006 at 5:03 pm  

      What else would be illegal, Sunny? Smacking children, hunting, fishing, selling arms, going to war, boxing, cooking vindaloo…. I mean, there are lots of ways of defining suffering.

      As you say, value systems change. And different groups change value systems in different directions and at different speeds. The issue is who has the right to make the laws which everyone must follow at a particular time. If divorce were still taboo for one group, should it be taboo for others too? If the majority of people supported FGM for children, should you be expected to practice it on your child too? I would say no.

      I want to protect certain individual rights including the right to practice a culture without interference from others. And I see this as a limitation on majority rule I would support.

    31. Bert Preast — on 25th August, 2006 at 5:15 pm  

      I’m having trouble grasping how you’re comparing smacking children to mutilating their genitals?

      Though I have to allow they’re both illegal these days.

    32. Don — on 25th August, 2006 at 5:21 pm  


      “require people to live by rules set by others who do not have to live by rules set by you”

      I would describe that not so much as harsh as confusing.

      Which ‘people’, what ‘others’, who is ‘you’?

      In a democracy the machinery which sets out the rules is (in principle, however flawed in practice) supposed to reflect the majority view, with appropriate checks and balances to prevent mere majoritism (is that a word?).

      For example, I disagree with the laws on drugs, does that mean that I am oppressed by having to live by them or accept the consequences? Or that I should regard the framers of those laws as being ‘others’?

      Of course not, I am free to campaign, speak, write and demonstrate and, if I can persuade enough of my fellow citizens, to have them changed.

      To the extent that I have full political rights (and am moderately politically active - despite the blind fools not voting for me) I am part of the ‘you’ which frames the laws, and part of the ‘other’ which is sometimes at odds with the laws.

      Of course, new situations arise which need to be accomodated with good will and while change might come slowly (the law is a cumbersome beast)it can be brought about as long as the required adjustment is not seriously at odds with existing laws and customs. Laws regarding the turban, for example, were modified following successful campaingns in the 60′s. Laws regarding bush meat, however are unlikely to change.

      Does that mean someone who wants to eat bush meat is doomed to be the ‘other’? Are fox-hunters now disenfranchised because a key part of their culture has been banned by ‘others’ framing laws.

      Very confusing sentence.

    33. Arif — on 25th August, 2006 at 6:29 pm  


      I think from your post you understood what I meant by domination in that sentence, and you make a good argument that democratic law-making is not a form of domination, because there is an equal reciprocal right for everyone to tell everyone else how to live.

      I am questioning what gives us our rights to tell others how to live (whether our right to do so is equal to theirs or not).

      You end by asking a couple of questions, to both of which I answer yes. Unless the lawmakers believe that animals are part of our moral community, it seems to me that those rules are impositions.

      I think that I support multiculturalism as an extension of individual rights. We should be alowed to live according to our individual consciences unless we harm others. But as social beings our consciences tend to include things like obligations and expectations of behaviour from one another and it is unfair to expect of others behaviour which is appropriate to your conscience but not theirs. Just as it would be unfair the other way around.

      Using your example of drugs. I think that it wouldn’t be hard to find out which cultures and subcultures are generally opposed, in favour or neutral to different types of drug use. I am from a community which frowns on most drug use including alcohol and tobacco, and I impose those same rules on myself. But I do not want to change the law to ban them for other people. Is that because I respect them as individuals or because I respect them as having different cultural preferences? I would say it is because I respect individual rights here but I would also feel more sensitive to respect their choices to drink alcohol and smoke if it has an important role in their culture.

      The only laws I am currently justifying are laws to prevent people from preventing other people from acting according to their personal consciences.

      How’s that for another very confusing sentence!

      The “people” in that sentence can be cast as individuals or groups - whatever you find easiest.

      Then comes the twist.

      The people framing the laws - should they also be bound by the above-mentioned laws? Should law-makers also be prevented from actions which prevent individuals acting according to their own consciences?

      My answer is that, at one level they should be: if people undertake actions which have no real negative impact on others, they should be free to do so without State interference.

      But at another level they should not be: law-makers (like the rest of us) should take action to prevent people (individuals or groups) imposing their own preferences (including those of conscience or culture)on other people (individuals or groups).

      Have I confused things even more?

    34. soru — on 25th August, 2006 at 6:39 pm  

      ‘Once again, I apologise for the projection, and accept that people may want to ban cultural practices without stigmatising people who practice it.’

      What’s your rule for deciding what is or is not a ‘cultural practise’ that can’t be banned through a majority democratic process? Turban-wearing, smoking, speeding, wife-beating, kidnapping 8 year old girls and locking them up as sex slaves, there doesn’t seem to me to be any point on that scale at which the pgrase ‘cultural practise’ is remotely helpful in deciding what the law should be. There are, I think, some remote Greek mountain villages where child-bride kidnapping still goes on, how is that different from this case,,13509-2328700,00.html?

      ‘But regardless of how we conceive of cultural change and dynamics, the principle I’m defending is that members of cultural groups have a prima facie right to define their own practices and the dimensions and directions of change they want for their cultures but not the right to define practices for other cultures is something I support.’

      I’d agree with that if you replaced the word _culture_ with the word _nation_.

      Individuals decide what they personally consider moral, nations decide what the law should be. I’m not seeing a gap that needs filling between those two levels.

    35. Arif — on 25th August, 2006 at 6:54 pm  

      soru, if individuals decide what is moral, and a nation decides what is law, does that mean that our morality can only be practiced by the consent of the state or that laws can only be made in conformity with our moralities?

      What has precedent, or do they limit one another? If you agree with my formulation that we should be free to live according to our moralities up to the point where it interferes significantly in other people’s ability to live by their moralities, then we have no disagreement in principle. Cultural practices would be protected as part of our personal moralities.

    36. Don — on 25th August, 2006 at 7:21 pm  


      ‘…what gives us our rights to tell others how to live’

      But most of us are both ‘us’ and the ‘other’. To be 100% ‘us’ would require a conformity verging on the pathological, to be 100% ‘other’ would mean rejecting democratic and concensual decision making, in short rejecting the rule of law.

      ‘…it seems to me that those rules are impositions.’

      There are many who would agree. The requirement to wear a seat belt, the introduction of the breathalyser, health and safety regulations, smoking bans in public places, animal welfare regulations, can all be seen as impositions, by those inconvenienced by them. But there was a debate and a process; losing the argument does not disenfranchise you. You may be ‘other’ on that point, but you are still ‘us’ in the totallity of things.

      ‘…should be allowed to live according to our individual consciences unless we harm others’

      Could you point to specific examples of legislation which go against this perfectly reasonable request? You highlighted FGM, which I would agree is a good ‘pivot point’, unquestionably harmful to the defenceless and non-consenting. If those who regard FMG as an imortant part of their culture feel that laws forbidding it place them outside of society then the problem lies with them, not with the society which has reached a rational concensus not to allow it. It would be wise to reach out, educate, explain but during the generation or so this will take, do we permit more mutilation?

      …respect their choices to drink alcohol and smoke if it has an important role in their culture.’

      There are a whole bunch of things I do which don’t have a cultural context. Why does that have special importance?

      ‘The only laws I am currently justifying are laws to prevent people from preventing other people from acting according to their personal consciences.’

      No, that’s not confusing. Because I know that the unspoken rider on that is ‘ as long as it doesn’t harm or impose on others’. And I agree, but you haven’t specified any.

      ‘The “people” in that sentence can be cast as individuals or groups - whatever you find easiest.’

      Your choice of words, you cast it.

      ‘The people framing the laws - should they also be bound by the above-mentioned laws?’

      What? Damn right. How could that even be in question?

      It occurs to me that the quote-response format might look as though I am attempting to ‘fisk’ your comments. I’m not; but I feel that we would understand each other more if we got a little more specific.

    37. Kulvinder — on 25th August, 2006 at 7:33 pm  

      Shes just taken charge of a new department and wants to set out her stall. There isn’t any way a government can truly influence what it wants the public to do without changing laws, and as i don’t see that occuring (and nor could it) what the government says is little more than arsewater.

      Incidently the FGM discussion was interesting, personally i can’t see the problem with it if its analagous to male circumcision (prepuce removal etc). The concept of consent is worthless to me, the baby has no philosophical or intellectual comprehension of what happens, i accept we aren’t born into cultural vacuums, im against other forms of FGM simply because it i consider it excessive.

    38. soru — on 25th August, 2006 at 7:57 pm  

      Everybody gets to decide what laws they think are right, what laws they disagree with but will tolerate for the sake of an easy life, and what laws they will go to jail for breaking. If people choose to obey the policeman, or the cleric, that’s still their choice.

      Be careful not to confuse nation and state, I meant nation in the precise sense, the first, not the second, half of the phrase ‘nation-state’. A nation in that sense is the unit of democracy, a group of people who read some of the same books and newspapers, watch some of the same TV. This allows them to have meaningful political and moral discussions, so democracy can be about something other than a head count.

      Scotland and Wales are nations, though they have no army and little state apparatus. The EU isn’t, no matter how many officeloads of bureaucrats, or divisions of rapid reaction forces it commands.

      As such, there is no theoretical problem in principle with there being a Muslim nation under the UK state. It’s just that, without being unduly alarmist, history suggests it would take a civil war for it to come about, to split people into partitioned Muslim and English nations.

      I don’t want to have to emigrate to the Lebanon for some peace and quiet:-(

    39. bikhair aka taqiyyah — on 26th August, 2006 at 6:41 pm  


      “But male circumcision has health benefits - see various HIV/STI studies in Kenya and Tanzania..”

      The debate shouldnt be around what benefits it does bring because there are all kinds of things that bring both harm and benefit. In the service of reducing STDs then a condomn, which doesnt bring any harm, maybe, is probably the best route.

    40. bikhair aka taqiyyah — on 26th August, 2006 at 6:47 pm  

      I want to know why there needs to be a discussion on muliticulturalism anyway? What about civil society? Whatever falls out of the bounds of civili society generally gets prosecuted right? When people talk about multiculturalism it is realy their way of elevating one over the other. What is the point in that? You guys all live in Britian and more or less follow the same civil codes. You can think you culture is better than the guy next door but in the real world the state is King.

    41. Arif — on 29th August, 2006 at 6:32 pm  

      Hi Don,

      I’ll try to respond to each point, see how this goes…

      1. “But most of us are both ‘us’ and the ‘other’…”

      I agree. I think in some contexts we are in a majority, sometimes in a minority. Sometimes we may be oppressive, sometimes oppressed. My support for multiculturalism is part of a general principle that we should not impose our values on others. This is not to say that cultural chauvinism is the only or the most important kind of chauvinism. It is just one which I feel the UK has done well to protect itself from and should not give in to.

      2. “But there was a debate and a process; losing the argument does not disenfranchise you.”

      That is the case. What is important to me is the terms of debate. Do terms of debate assume that cultural objections are irrelevant, or that majority rule is more important than minority liberties? The examples you give are ones that have little cultural significance because you are arguing that an objection on grounds of liberty to practice your culture is of no greater weight than an objection based on any other reason. I’ll discuss that in point 4.

      3. “Could you give specific examples..”

      Hmmmm. I don’t think there would be many examples in terms of legislation in the UK (because I consider it quite multicultural). There may be policies by arms of the State such as on wearing the jilbaab in a school, but even then, you can go to other schools. You might argue that the illegality of polygamy is an example, but I would guess that this law pre-dates the arrival of cultural/religious groups which practice it. My main focus would not be on legislation (although I feel that I inadvertantly emphasised this in order to clarify issues for Sylvie), but on the assumptions which inform our policies, practices and debates. It seems obvious to me that we should not expect people to give up cultural practices in order to fit in with the standards of another culture. I’d only justify it to protect individual human rights and to protect the rights of other groups to practice their cultures. On practicing FGM, I have nothing to add to what I have said. Unless it can be shown that people consent or do not suffer, I would argue that protecting the individual from oppressive behaviour is no different in underlying principle from protecting a culture.

      4. “Why does that (cultural context) have special importance?”

      I think it has special importance to me because, while I want to live in a reasonably ordered society, I do not want to achieve it by fitting people to a structure, but by working with others to make a structure which is fitted to us. We haven’t defined culture in this discussion, but say we define cultures as structures of customs as some sociologists do, then would you accept that a change in those customs which are particularly important in defining roles, regulating behaviour or giving meaning to life to people are of greater importance to protect than customs of ettiquette.

      In a number of PP threads like this I think we have an underlying uncertainty about the line between etiquette and morality. It is something that moral philosophers still puzzle over - what gives some rules a psychological “claim of overridingness” (in their jargon)? I think the answer is psychological, and I think my observation is that people genuinely do find different behaviours are over-ridingly important, and we cannot necessarily justify them rationally to one another. We just ought to accept one anothers’ ways if we want our ways to be accepted.

      This might be confusing as well, I don’t want to make this too long and boring, but I’m happy to expand discussion on this point if you want.

      5+ On the rest of the points we seem to be agreeing, but I might be assuming wrongly.

      Soru - I agree with what you say in the last post completely. I was conscious that I was conflating the nation and the state because I thought you were too! But I’m glad you spelled it out and share your opinion.

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