Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Multicultralism again

I have never been one to fight the notion of multiculturalism or blame it, as I have so often seen done, for many of the current ills relating to Islamist extremism. In fact, I always thought the arguments were inane.
But the excellent blog true.dough has pointed me to a very nice article by Amartya Sen, showing me that much of this was because of people meaning somewhat different things by it (not a major surprise). The article is well worth reading.
My meaning has always been what I think is the classical liberal meaning, that each individual is free to make his/her choices among the many available in a rich cultural environment. And that we should allow all those environments to exist, to the degree they did not try to remove the others by force or through exploitating the state.
Choosing a different passage from true.dough (her choice focusses on a core example) , the centre of the issue is:

The importance of cultural freedom, central to the dignity of all people, must be distinguished from the celebration and championing of every form of cultural inheritance, irrespective of whether the people involved would choose those particular practices given the opportunity of critical scrutiny, and given an adequate knowledge of other options and of the choices that actually exist in the society in which they live. The demands of cultural freedom include, among other priorities, the task of resisting the automatic endorsement of past traditions, when people - not excluding young people - see reason for changing their ways of living.

It is not the business of the state to interfere with anyone's choice of 'cultural' practice. If I want to become a Muslim, no power of the state should stand in my way. If a Muslim wants to leave the faith, and become a Zoroastrian, or an atheist, this is not the business of the state.

I suspect Sen is right that this is not exactly what everyone means by 'multiculturalism' today. Pity.


At 11:16 PM, Blogger Thermblog said...

Neither multiculturalism nor the melting pot are proof against Islamist extremism to any great degree.

I did not know that multiculturalism was a Canadian invention. We seem to have been socially "advanced" for quite a while given that the architects of Apartheid got the idea of "reservations" from Canada and South Africa's current leaders are now wrecking their education system with our "outcomes based" scheme.

Multiculturalism should be used to advance the frontiers of food and humour but Canadians took it to mean that they must accept all foreign immigrants and their customs, no matter how awful.

At 12:37 PM, Blogger rondi said...

Yes, I agree it has more to do with what one means by "multiculturalism." If it is about living freely and worshipping, eating, dancing as we wish, and having people from all over the world live in Canada, I'm all for it. But if it means "tolerating the intolerant," or refusing to see a connection where one exists (e.g., saying that the terror suspects in June were from a "broad strata" of society), then it's foolish.
Unfortunately, the word seems to mean an awful lot of things to different people...

At 4:45 PM, Blogger Martin said...

Now there is an economist worth reading!!! I saw and read his article in the G&M this morning. Like most of his stuff you find a sincere interest in understanding an issue and engaging the facts rather that simply adopting an attitude.

"Development as Freedom" is a masterpiece and I recommend it to you.


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