Labour loses faith in multi-culturalism
At his press briefing yesterday, the Prime Minister made it clear his Government's approach to cultural diversity had changed. He may have couched his position in careful language, but the conclusion was inescapable: integration, rather than multi-cultural separatism, is now official policy. By saying that he "fully supported" the decision of Kirklees council to suspend the Muslim teaching assistant who had refused to remove her veil at work, and then reinforcing this point with the observation that the veil was a "mark of separation", Mr Blair removed any doubt about the Government's position.
He was, in effect, affirming that the contentious views expressed over recent weeks by Jack Straw, Ruth Kelly and John Reid were not maverick individual opinions, but part of a larger, concerted revision of the Cabinet's stand. Mr Blair, unsurprisingly, wanted to avoid the appearance of an outright volte-face: at one point, he suggested that there should be "a balance between integration and multi-culturalism". This would be a logical impossibility, since the policy of multi-culturalism, as it has been understood and practised, is antithetical to integration.
Ministers are now clearly ready to embrace the argument that they have attacked for many years as insensitive, even bigoted: if Britain is to succeed in absorbing diverse peoples, ethnic minorities must accept the mores of their adopted country. Private religious observance should always be respected, but its practices cannot be permitted to contravene either civil law or the social rules that make community life workable.
Most crucially, the Government's new stand implies that there is an obligation on the part of all those who settle in this country to relate to the larger society and to accommodate its expectations. As the shadow home secretary, David Davis, has said, we cannot afford to encourage a form of "voluntary apartheid" by allowing minority groups to withdraw into cultural isolation. Mr Davis described this as a "series of closed societies within our open society". In fact, such separatism, which the philosophy of multi-culturalism promoted, is a threat to the very existence of an open society.
Daily Telegraph 10/18/2006
With all the current fuss over Muslim women choosing to wear veils, I think it is also worth pointing out that many Catholic women wore veils until recently, and that a veil can be a source of womens' power.
I don't mean a burqa or a chador, but the kind of face-showing/hair-hiding veils nuns used to wear. They were largely thrown out in an orgy of destruction of Catholic symbols after Vatican II, and nuns started to claim to be "laity".
The end result was that a de facto Catholic female clergy in effect ended up giving up a kind of social power.
A moderate Muslim woman in a hijab (i.e. the recent Lebanese invention of a scarf like veil - one that looks just like a a Greek Orthodox nun's veil - could be seen as giving a certain social power and respect.
This is not a conflict of civilizations issue.