This is a cross-post from Howie’s Corner
Lord Sacks, the retiring Chief Rabbi, gave an interview in The Times in which he opens a debate in which has previously stated that “multiculturalism has had its day and it’s time to move on. In saying this he takes a line similar to that taken by Lord Tebbit that a multi-ethnic society is fine but multiculturalism undermines social cohesion.
Daniel Finklestein sums up Rabbi Sacks argument thus:
He distinguishes between a country house “where every minority is welcome but it’s a guest”, a hotel where “nobody is at home, it doesn’t belong to anyone – we’ve each got our own room and so long as we don’t disturb the neighbours we can do whatever we like” and a home we can build together.
He thinks that multiculturalism is a hotel. “The real danger in a multicultural society is that every ethnic group and religious group becomes a pressure group, putting our peoples interests instead of the national interest”.
This is then related to the Muslim community which despite its smallish size attracts a great deal of attention in the media:
He is understanding about the challenge that Muslim Britons are facing. “Well we’ve had had 26 centuries of experience which the Muslims haven’t. The norm was for Muslims to live under Muslim jurisdiction and the norm for, since the destruction of the first Jewish Temple was for Jews to live under non-Jewish jurisdiction.
Lord Sacks then goes on to make some sound advice to the Muslim community (1) you don’t try to impose your views on the majority population, (2) be “bilingual by which he means to be both English and whatever else. Society is complicated. It mustn’t be simplified. Finally drawing from the Jewish experience realise that for Jews there is always anti-Semitism. Remember being a minority isn’t always fun.
Much of what he says will probably draw ire from all the usual suspects but there is a large degree of realism and tolerance in the way forward he proposes. Modern British society, especially in the large cities like London are very multi-ethnic. People have come to live in this country from all over the world and so despite any faults Britain may have it obviously does have some kind of attraction and I don’t think it lies entirely with economic prospects.
There are large Black and Indian communities in the UK. The black community despite having faced discrimination – and there remain pockets of resistance to overcome – has mostly integrated into mainstream society. Sure there’s still some way to go but the growth of multi-racial relationships and their acceptance by the majority demonstrates that barriers are breaking down.
Likewise the Indian community has largely integrated without losing their cultural identity and their food? Well that’s become central to the British way of life. Every town now has its curry house, even if these are in the main run by the Pakistan/Bangladesh community. Problems remain (forced marriages and the like) but things are changing barriers being breached.
Regretfully this does not appear to be happening amongst large sections of the Muslim community. In fact the fierce growth of religiosity, especially amongst many of the British born Muslims does give rise to some concern. This is not because of their beliefs in themselves, freedom of worship (or not) is sacrosanct in any democracy.
You will notice I referred to “religiosity” as opposed to fundamentalism, which is a somewhat different path and one that needs to be monitored and confronted (with arguments for reason). It is this that causes the continued segregation of many Muslims, in many ways a self imposed one with reference to their own Sharia Courts, rather than the legal processes of mainstream society.
Ben Six of Liberal Conspiracy takes up the obvious problems:
If a husband seeks to divorce his wife, for example, he has to pay two hundred pounds. If a wife seeks to divorce her husband, she has to pay four hundred pounds. These women are not liable to have a great deal of spare cash. A woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s. An article on the website of the Islamic Sharia Council, which also endorsed capital punishment for adulterers almost in passing, said this is because “women…are governed by their emotions” while “man is governed by his mind”.
These courts have been overlooked because, well – they are filled with eccentric religionists doing things among themselves. This is idle. Women are being manipulated into endangering themselves, on the basis of ideas that most of them will have been raised to accept without question. Panorama alleged that kids have been ordered to be given up to violent husbands.
Moreover, men like Hasan, who wants to “offer” sharia law to the United Kingdom, and Haddad, who has spoken of the “Islamic Republic of Britain”, hope to one day expand their power over everyone.
It is time we made it harder for them to indulge their fantasies.
It is this kind of practise that indulges the fears of the islamophobes. It cannot be allowed to continue. We live in one country under one law for all regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
Irshad Manji wrote in her excellent book The Trouble with Islam of the need for an Itjihad (reformation of Islam). It would seem to me that with all the unnecessary violence exploding across the Muslim world that the Muslim community must start discussing their differences with reason and more importantly learning to live not only with each others differing points of view but those of the non-Muslims in the world around them.
The answer is secularism, where all are protected and none allowed to impose.
The time has come for our society to move forward to a fully secular society by finally breaking the ties between religion and the state in order to set a real example to the world.
Sarah adds: I share Lord Sacks’ scepticism about multiculturalism, as a policy. However I found his focus on Muslims just a little irritating. He asserts that Muslims have been used to living under Muslim jurisdiction, which is not fully accurate for the many British Muslims of Pakistani origin. He says that a danger of multiculturalism is that each group has a tendency to put its people’s interests above the national interest. Although I think some polls showing that Muslims feel more British than Christians and Jews are misleading (because the disparity is explained by the latter groups tending to identify as English) there are some quite interesting findings reported in this article by Leon Moosavi.
• 83% of Muslims are proud to be a British citizen, compared to 79% of the general public.
• 77% of Muslims strongly identify with Britain while only 50% of the wider population do.
• 82% of Muslims want to live in diverse and mixed neighbourhoods compared to 63% of non-Muslim Britons.
There seems room for more nuance in the discussion of Muslims and multiculturalism. Of course it is wrong for Muslims to try to ‘impose their views’ if that means ‘Muslim patrols’. And, on the other hand, it’s not just a matter of a minority imposing their views on the host community – it’s Muslims who may be adversely affected by Sharia courts, and ex-Muslims are another potentially vulnerable group. But Muslims are as entitled as anyone else to express an opinion, perhaps motivated by their faith, about how we could improve society – as Lord Sacks does here, for example. And if a certain tendency towards separatism (an issue quite distinct from violent extremism) is a problem, as Sacks implies, then that could also be identified within the UK’s ultra-orthodox community.
There are concrete reasons for raising concerns about Sharia courts – and some people doing so are Muslims, a reminder that Muslims are, to pick up on Howie’s phrase, ‘discussing their differences, with reason’, although of course some are not. For a lively example of such a discussion – here’s Irshad Manji in conversation with Mehdi Hasan.