Multiculturalism has been described as a melting pot and as the best alternative to assimilationist policies, which have been perceived as fraught, due to the fear that people from cultural minority groups will lose distinctive features of their own cultural backgrounds if they adapt to the laws and lifestyles of host cultures. By contrast, multiculturalism seems to offer people from different backgrounds a fair and equitable means of celebrating their diversity in a harmonious way.
A multicultural society allegedly has the capacity to absorb all cultures and identities into a single whole, while keeping each group’s distinct identity intact. For those who subscribe to this model, the isolation of different groups on the basis of religion, ethnicity and culture is viewed as a matter of pride: it means that people are able to uphold their cultural and religious views, irrespective of any fundamental differences between them. Although many disagree with this approach, multiculturalism is a demographic reality for both host nations and immigrants.
However, a survey commissioned by UK anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate last year revealed that only 14% of British people believe that relations between different UK communities will improve in the future, while 43% predict that they will deteriorate. This raises the question of why there is such pessimism about multiculturalism in liberal British society, which tends to celebrate differences.
In 2011, former British Prime Minister David Cameron argued that multiculturalism had failed in Britain and that the hands-off approach to intolerance in the UK and other European nations had encouraged Muslims and other immigrant groups “to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream.” Cameron was harshly criticized for using loaded language, which might feed anti-Muslim narratives. But the assertion that multiculturalism has failed to glue people into a cohesive unit needs to be carefully weighed.
Regarding one culture as superior to another is an impediment to social progress and cohesion. But defining all cultures as equally acceptable, despite clear contradictions between their fundamental values, only encourages skepticism among those on the liberal left and hostility to democratic values and human rights on the part of the religious right.
The Conflict Between Conservative Islam and LGBT Rights
Recently, in Britain, Muslim parents protested the fact that their primary school children were being taught about LGBT rights, arguing that the “sexual orientation aspect” of these teachings contradicts the Islamic faith. Some have threatened to pull their children out of school until the pilot curriculum No Outsider—which teaches respect and equality for LGBT people—is scrapped. Labour councilor Muhammad Idrees initially defended the Muslim parents, arguing that, since the school is “predominantly Muslim,” the school administration “needs to be careful.” He has since made a public apology—“I overstepped the mark”—but the question of how to deal with radical Muslim parents remains unaddressed.
This showcases an uncomfortable reality: it is disingenuous to assume that cultures that discriminate against people on the basis of gender, sexuality or faith and that infringe basic human rights such as freedom of speech are equal to those that ensure equality and protection for basic human rights for all human beings. Multiculturalism is a two-way street. Both host cultures and new immigrants have to reconcile their cultural values in order to achieve harmony in their day-to-day interactions.
According to the 2010 Equality Act UK, all British citizens are entitled to protection from discrimination. The No Outsider program aims to teach children about treating everyone equally and respectfully. The assumption that Muslims are being persecuted and marginalized because they are not allowed to discriminate against LGBT people is therefore off the mark. Granting any group the freedom to discriminate against vulnerable people is a human rights violation. Freedom from discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexuality or any other immutable characteristic is a basic human right. It should be given preference over religious sensibilities—which are voluntary and ideological—in a civilized society.
Furthermore, deep-rooted prejudice against LGBT people within Muslim communities cannot be regarded as merely an outdated interpretation of Islam. Discrimination against homosexuals has never been abrogated or deemed inappropriate within traditional religious discourse. Such discrimination is very much validated by conservative community leaders and continues to be sanctioned by religious teachings right up to the present day. There is therefore no reason to assume that schoolchildren who are taught that LGBT people should be granted equality will continue to remember this principle for the rest of their lives. It is crucial to challenge regressive attitudes, when they prevent children from forming a sense of common identity, centered on democratic values, human rights, social cohesion and equality before the law.
Some have suggested that Muslim parents should accept No Outsider in British primary schools, in order to be able to live in modern day Britain. But this is a rather superficial way to deal with the deep-rooted homophobia within Muslim communities. According to one survey, half of all British Muslims believe that homosexuality should be illegal in Britain on religious grounds. Muslims who identify as homosexuals are very frequently ostracized and disowned by their families, as well as by their communities.
In 2016, the former head of Britain’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Trevor Philips (who popularized the term Islamophobia) admitted that he “got almost everything wrong” about immigration. Phillips wrote in the Times:
Liberal opinion in Britain has, for more than two decades, maintained that most Muslims are just like everyone else … Britain desperately wants to think of its Muslims as versions of the Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain, or the cheeky chappie athlete Mo Farah. But, thanks to the most detailed and comprehensive survey of British Muslim opinion yet conducted, we now know that just isn’t how it is. He went on to argue that it is time for a more muscular approach to integration. Given that Philips commissioned the 1997 Runnymede Report into Islamophobia in Britain, his analysis of conservative Muslims’ worldviews and customs can hardly be discredited.
The absence of mutual cooperation disrupts the smooth functioning of multiculturalism. The results have been harmful to all parties involved, except for the most intolerant Muslims. Muslim organizations have been pushing for a religion-based agenda in the name of multiculturalism—this agenda is fostering intolerant attitudes towards the most vulnerable sections of British society. At some point, immigrants cease to be immigrants and instead become part of wider society. At that point, their engagement in harmful practices—such as female genital mutilation, the imposition of hijab on little girls at primary schools, the oppression of women by sharia councils, halal rituals and discrimination against apostates and homosexuals—become matters of concern for their compatriots as well. The push to make these pervasive, discriminatory practices acceptable to society only leads to intra-Muslim hostilities and resentment on the part of the wider secular liberal community. It is ironic that—despite their well-organized communities and significant public support and representation in the arts, politics, academia and economics—too many mainstream Muslims are unable to reconcile their culture and belief systems with liberal western values.
It is high time British Muslims, Jews, Christians and people of all faiths and no faith join hands to instigate a policy of tolerance and equality for all, in both faith and state schools across the UK. Clerics must be challenged and introduced to a wide range of concepts based on genuine diversity and tolerance—in which diversity is not merely defined as difference from the social values underpinning western liberalism. They must confront values outside of their religious discourse.
The right to practice a religion is a basic human right. Human rights are far more inclusive and comprehensive than religious rights, since they accommodate religious beliefs and freedom of conscience. Secular liberal western democracies may not be perfect but they are optimal, especially by comparison with the totalitarian regimes and crippled democracies of Muslim majority countries, where human rights are disregarded in the name of religious freedom. We must cherish our culture and celebrate its benefits unapologetically, while also acknowledging that modern secular states provide equal opportunities for people from a wide range of different backgrounds. This approach is far more appealing, I hope, than allowing regressive values to erode social cohesion.
I have to go and catch a bus so this will be brief.
The article conflates two things: personally held values and attitudes, and anti-discrimination law. Anti-discrimination law is a good thing for liberal democracies; inculcation of values in primary school is a bad thing for liberal democracies. In a nutshell, Islamic people should be free to hold whatever opinions they choose on homosexuality, and anti-discimination law should be enforced. I enjoy sex with men and women, including anal sex, and I enjoy dancing, but I do not want the State to enforce a positive valuation of my choices. Also, I suspect that I would want to take my child out of school to avoid No Outsider, if we lived in the UK. As it is, we homeschool, and avoiding similar prorams in Australian schools is just one of the benefits of that.
Muslims will never accept anything which is condemned by Islam – so Muslims will always be homophobic because Islam is homophobic.
“Regarding one culture as superior to another is an impediment to social progress and cohesion.”
No, mother****r, a culture that values democracy is superior.
A culture that values the individual rights and free speech is superior.
A secular culture is superior to a theocracy.
There’s not fucking “let’s meet in the middle” with the “let’s gun down some journalists” cultures.
“The right to practice a religion is a basic human right.” And is the right to criticize a religion (but not necessarily those who practice it) also a basic human right? Or does multiculturalism require that the latter be subordinated to the latter? And if criticism of religions is recognized as a human right, does one have an equal right to criticize some religions but less of a right to criticize others? That is, does multiculturalism require that all religions (as well as all religious) have equal rights and equal protections and, if so, does this include de-facto rights as well as de-jure rights? For example (just a hypothetical), if those who practice some particular religion were far more likely to punish criticism of that religion with (unlawful) violence then that religion would acquire a de-facto protected status as many would come to fear criticizing it. If this were to… Read more »
Treating people with respect is one thing I agree with, but eventually the conversation is going to come around to the science and my question is how does one accept classifying the anus as a sex organ and teaching that to children? How about the throat? People are free to behave as they wish and should be treated with dignity and respect but as we get deeper into this second age of enlightenment the science is going to come back around and we will have to start teaching what is healthy and what is not based on for both the individual as well as society based on empirical data. The biological purpose of sex is procreation, and sexual preferences not for procreative purposes are simply fetishes, so if we accept LGBT variants we must be equally prepared to accept (and presumably promote as not to discriminate) BDSM, Furries, the Omegaverse,… Read more »
Agree with the author’s assertion that human rights should supersede religious freedom – I’ve seen “multiculturalism” and “anti-racism” misused as a means of apologizing for cruelty toward LGBTQ people and women. And here in the United States, the “religious freedom” banner has been the focal argument animating ideas that religious groups that demonize LGBTQ people, birth control, abortion, et cetera. However, I would like to point out that these fundamentalist segments of Islam are not alone in their persecutory stance toward LGBTQ people – the Catholic Church, one of the largest faith-based organizations in the world, still categorically states that homosexuality is “inherently disordered.”
“It should be given preference over religious sensibilities—which are voluntary and ideological—in a civilized society.” What the author is saying is that her religious views will be imposed. So far religious ministers have not been obliged to, say, perform gay marriages. Should that change? The author is a champion of ‘tolerance’. But the fact is that everyone is intolerant of all sorts of things. Most of us remain pedophobes — we are intolerant of child molestation. Most of us are Naziphobes and Trumpophobes and rapeophobes. We can and should Hate all sorts of things, the question is who makes the official list? The author thinks that she has the official list of things we tolerate and things we do not tolerate. My list is slightly different. Every society is founded on some set of shared moral values. When those values are incompatible with some other societies fundamental values, it really… Read more »
What is multiculturism?
I assumed it was tolerance for other cultures within a framework of equal treatment and protection for all under the law.
Muslims are fine under this as long as they obey the law. In practice of course muslims vary some will be tolerant of all others will not, some will be law abiding some will not. The key thing is that the overwhelming majority agree to abide by the law which i believe a majority do.
There are christian funamentalists who abhore homosexuals and there are racists of every colour and creed. Society works as long as a clear majority are tolerant and law abiding.
Longer term if we want to avoid problems we should do everything we can to discourage religuous schools and act against racism and sexism even handedly rather than, as present actively encouraging sexism againt men and overlooking any racism by ‘minorities’.
“..assumption that Muslims are being persecuted and marginalized because they are not allowed to discriminate against LGBT people is therefore off the mark.” Well, it isn’t off the mark at all. If (JudeoChristian-derived) human rights are to prevail, something has to give – Islam has to give. If Islam is going to give, Muslims have to marginalize and cut off parts of Islam. Which seems unlikely in any case, but especially as the West talks about human rights disconnected from the thought which impelled their development – thoughts about what humans are, and are for. Human rights without their foundations are unconvincing. Islam is firmly based on a rulebook, which it applies (ISTM) unreflectively. While the West has lost its foundations and applies all its Rights unreflectively, and makes up new ones with gay abandon. Recovering the foundations is not a matter of working backwards from our hyper-individualistic surface culture… Read more »