After posting ‘”It’s part of our religion…our identity…our culture”: tolerating the intolerable’, a regular to this blog commented:
“If you are not breaking the law, you should be able to do what you want. And if people don’t like it, it’s their tough luck”
My full response to this can be read here but as I put it, I do think that approaches such as ‘if people don’t like it, it’s their tough luck’ are very dangerous and a somewhat unworkable premise from which to begin discussing how an increasingly diverse and rapidly changing society moves forward. Because of this, I feel that it is necessary to explore my thinking further.
First off, such laissez faire arguments completely bypass any recognition of respect, something that in effect diminishes the rights of the individual, the group and the society as a whole. Here the individual, the collective, and the communal are indeterminably reduced and – dare I say it – rendered somewhat unnecessary. I would even go as far as suggesting that it verges on being ‘Social Darwinism’ albeit in a different guise.
Don’t agree…? Then what about the rhetoric employed by racists and bigots over the decades. Isn’t the sentiment underpinning the old adage, “if they don’t like it here, then they can go back home” pretty much the same?
Criminal or illegal…? No.
The reason why I ask whether it is ‘criminal or illegal’ is because as the comment put it, “If you are not breaking the law, you should be able to do what you want”. Again, I believe that this is as equally misguided. If not, then as long as something is neither criminal nor illegal, then neither can it be wrong whether morally, ethically, socially or whatever. In this way, the publication of the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in the British newspapers would have been fine (incidentally, none of the British national newspapers printed them).
So too would the BNP being cleared of inciting racial hatred in 2006. “If you are not breaking the law, you should be able to do what you want” therefore means that along with many other things, it should be completely acceptable and legitimate to describe Islam as a “wicked, vicious faith”; to state that Muslims are turning Britain into a “multi-racial hell hole”; and that as a society, we should “show these ethnics the door in 2004”. These are not my words I hasten to add, but the words of Nick Griffin and Mark Collett from the BNP: words that were deemed not to have broken the law. And when I use the term ‘we’, I use this as being a British citizen that is comfortable with being a part of a wider (multicultural) British society rather than a jingoistic, racist bigot.
To develop this line of thinking, I came up with the following list of things and activities that did not involve breaking the law. At the same time however, I would suggest that a vast few numbers of people – in some cases the majority – would prefer them either to not happen or at least have some boundaries/ limitations placed upon them (NB: the list is NOT a list of things that I personally find offensive or inoffensive, right or wrong. Merely an indicative list of activities to illustrate a point):
Breastfeeding in public
Wearing the niqab
Swearing in public
BNP/ NF marches
Satanic, pagan, cult and heretical religions being practised openly and/ or recruiting
Overt sexual advertising
Sale of Mein Kampf in bookshops
Sale of Satanic Verses in bookshops
Direct targeting of children with advertising of junk food
None of these things necessarily break the law. But does this mean that they are all right and proper…? And if you don’t think that they are right and proper, should we as a society collectively respond by saying ‘tough’…?
Which of course brings me back to my initial point in the first post: whether we need to have societal ‘boundaries’ or whether the demarcation between the criminal and non is enough?
In Britain, discussions about multiculturalism are marked by a stark paradox. Many welcome the fact that Britain is a multicultural society and delight in its diversity. Yet some of these people also reject multiculturalism. How is it possible to do this and how can those who recognise the value of cultural diversity take such a diametrically opposed standpoint on multiculturalism?
There are several explanations available. However, the most important is the two different ways in which the term ‘multiculturalism’ is employed.
For some, multiculturalism stands for cultural isolationism or ghettoisation, based on the view that every community is in some way self-contained and self-authenticating, unquestionably having the right to live by its own social and cultural norms. ‘Outsiders’ cannot therefore judge or criticise and should respect each communities autonomy (the ‘if they don’t like it, tough’ approach?).
Multiculturalism in this sense would seem to undermine attempts to have a shared life, existence, and experience. More importantly, it works against the whole notion of a multicultural society. Because different cultures do not passively coexist but instead interact and influence each other, multiculturalism defined in this way immediately puts a halt to such processes. Advocates of a multicultural society can therefore see multiculturalism as a barrier or obstacle to their societal aspiration or ideal. Such an approach might be described as isolationist or relativist multiculturalism.
Those who welcome multiculturalism and see no problems with the notion of a multicultural society define things very differently. Here the view is that every culture has limitations and benefits from a dialogue with others. Such dialogues accentuate new visions of life, exposes new world-views, looks at itself from the standpoint of others, increases its self-knowledge, and creates the conditions for human freedom and – allegedly – rationality.
This view therefore engenders the belief that different cultures should be respected but at the same time, brought into a process of interaction and engagement. It challenges the hegemonic dominant culture, exposes its biases and limitations, and helps create a composite culture in which ‘others’ can see something of themselves and their culture, and through which they can claim some ownership of. This model of multiculturalism is one where different cultures and communities feel valued and respected.
It is also necessary in this model – the one that I wholeheartedly prefer – for all of this to take place within an agreed system of rights and obligations: the boundaries from both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ that I mentioned in my original post. This model might therefore be called a dialogical or pluralist view of multiculturalism: the type of multiculturalism my earlier post was suggesting.
“If people don’t like it, it’s their tough luck…”? Well maybe for some, but not in the multiculturalism that I prefer or in the multicultural society that I would like to see develop. Having said that though, where and how we begin to negotiate the necessary boundaries and who decides what these are is the real challenge facing us all.
This work by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. Based on a work at www.chris-allen.co.uk.