Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Johann Hari on multiculturalism

I've just read an extremely odd attack on multiculturalism by Johann Hari. Apparently, anyone who supports rights for women cannot believe in multiculturalism.

To be fair, he defines multiculturalism as the belief that 'a society should be divided into separate cultures with different norms according to ethnic origin', and that 'it assumes that immigrants have one homogenous culture which they should all follow - and it allows the most reactionary and revolting men in their midst to define what that culture is'. Defined in that way, multiculturalism is indeed incompatible with women's rights.

He cites some legal cases from Germany where men who were guilty of domestic violence received very light or no sentences at all, because it was seen as part of their culture. I know nothing of the German legal system, but in multicultural Britain the law doesn't work like that, and no supporter of multiculturalism suggests that it should.

Hari's definition owes less to multiculturalism and its promotion of cultural diversity and respect for others from different backgrounds in a society while maintaining and extending legal and social rights for all, and more to its opposite - a monoculture in which reactionary and powerful men decide the cultural norms which all are required to follow.

Attacking multiculturalism, whether directly or by distorting its meaning, doesn't help to extend women's rights, or to reduce racism and discrimination. People should not be able to use multiculturalism as a defence of prejudice or to excuse a crime, but that is very different from trying to undermine the whole idea of it.

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