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Raphael Cohen-Almagor Multiculturalism in Liberal Democracies: The bounds of intervention in practices of minority cultures
Preliminaries • How are group rights related to individual rights? • What should we do if group rights come into conflict with individual rights?
Can a liberal democracy allow minority groups to restrict the individual rights of their members, or should it insist that all groups uphold liberal principles?
Self- and Other-regarding Conduct • Cases in which one is inflicting pain or death upon oneself vs. • Cases in which one is inflicting damage upon others
Jainas’ (a large religious body in India) practice in relation to the dying: followers of this ancient religion resort to a peculiar practice when it comes to the dying. • Scarring
Jainas • Members of the community are allowed, under certain circumstances, to terminate their own lives, or more accurately, to actively welcome impending death in a non-violent manner. • Persons in the late stages of their lives, therefore, may decide that they want to die and undertake the vow of terminal fast
Scarring • Scarring parts of the body as part of initiation rites that is common in some African cultures. • Traditionally, scarification can mark one’s status as a civilized being • As an adult, a member of a specific ethnic group or initiation association. • Scars can also be seen as marks of beauty.
Self-Regarding Conduct • Assume that some immigrants bring these rituals to a liberal democracy. The liberal state has no strong case for interference. • These customs of self-starvation and scarring should not be promoted and encouraged, but since the sub-cultures possess historical claims and strongly believe in their traditional practices and norms, they should have a right to cultural autonomy.
Other-regarding Conduct • The case is different when it concerns other-regarding conduct. • Now the issue revolves around practices such as suttee, female infanticide, female circumcision, or murder for family honour. Should a liberal state tolerate these practices?
Protecting Women • Group rights are invoked by theocratic and patriarchal cultures where women are oppressed and religious orthodoxy enforced.
Murder for Family Honour By murdering their daughters or sisters the men prove the control that the natal family has over its women.
Some norms are considered by liberal standards to be intrinsically wrong • Such are norms that result in physical harm to women and babies.
Two Kinds of Rights – Will Kymlicka • “Internal restrictions” - right of a group against its own members • “External protections” - right of a group against the larger society
External protections • External protections are defensible when groups seek to protect their identity by limiting their vulnerability to the decisions of the larger society
External protections • Reserving land for the exclusive use of a minority group is just.
External protections • Guaranteeing representation for a minority • Devolving power to local levels
internal restrictions v. external protections • Whereas internal restrictionsare almost inherently in conflict with liberal democratic norms, external protections are not as long as they promote equality between groups
Internal Discrimination • Now let us consider a situation in which a cultural minority wants to be left alone to run its own community in accordance with its traditional norms. • Respecting one culture could entail allowing members of that culture to show disrespect to some of its members.
Internal Discrimination • Suppose that a cultural minority exhibits illiberal consensus with regard to women's role in society. • It limits the right of women to study at universities and to hold public offices.
Exit Right • If women who dislike this restriction can easily leave the community and enter the larger society, and if the minority group has some historical claim to local self-government, then this may mean that it would be wrong for us to coercively interfere and prohibit that practice.
Internal Discrimination • However, the fact that intervention would be wrong does not mean that the practice in question is morally legitimate. • On the contrary, from a liberal perspective the practice is unjust. But we do not have strongly sufficient legitimate grounds to enforce our moral upon the group.
Underpinning Values • Two underpinning values of liberal democracies: • Respect for Others (Kant); • Not Harming Others (Mill, Judea-Christian).
Live and Let Live • We need to differentiate between the symbolic aspects and the modus operandi aspects. As far as the latter are concerned, separation between state and religion should be achieved.
inter-group relationships v. intra-group relationships • One group has no right to coerce the entire society into following its conception of the good and abiding by its cultural norms.
inter-group relationships v. intra-group relationships • In the event that a religious or cultural group makes such an attempt, other segments of society have to open further channels of communication and resolve the situation by peaceful means. • If these means fail, the liberal society should resort to authoritative means to draw the boundaries and fight against coercion.
Headscarves Controversy - France • The debate about the right to wear the Muslim veil in schools and other public places started in France in 1989, when a principal of a high school refused to admit to school three young girls because they were wearing the traditional headscarf (hijab)
Headscarves Controversy - France • Three kinds of concerns were raised: • The Muslim veil undermined the ideal of separation between state and religion, one of the fundamental pillars of French society and collective identity since the 1789 Revolution, namely the “laïcité” of the state.
Headscarves Controversy - France • Secondly, headscarves were widely seen as symbols of the subordination of Muslim women, thus questioning the ideal of equality between sexes. • Finally, by emphasizing the difference between Muslim and non-Muslim girls, headscarves were seen as a sign of the unwillingness of Muslim immigrants to integrate into the French society.
Headscarves Controversy - France • In 2002, President Jacques Chirac appointed a “commission of wise men” (the Commission-Stasi) with the task of analyzing the applicability of the principle of “laïcité” in contemporary France. • The conclusions were published in 2003. They said:
Headscarves Controversy - France • French secularism is under the threat of growing claims of cultural and religious nature. • The “laïcité” of the state is challenged by a sort of “communitarian withdrawal” that puts at risk the very survival of the social contract underpinning the French society as we know it.
Headscarves Controversy - France • The secular state, consequently, is called to take a pro-active stance, fulfilling its duty to protect individuals from religious pressure. • Faced with the classical dichotomy between “integration” of the minority into the larger society and “accommodation” of the minority culture into the majority, France resolutely opted for the former.
Headscarves Controversy - France • Muslim headscarves symbolized religious divisiveness in a particularly delicate environment such as the community of young people. • They infringed on equality between students, thus undermining one of the core goals of the French educational system, namely the creation of equal and free citizens.
Headscarves Controversy - France • The traditional liberal approach focusing on the principle of “live and let live” was seen as inadequate to effectively protect core liberal and democratic values. • The state acted in order to protect the very identity of the French society, based on the separation between state and religion, while emphasizing the secular nature of the state.
Headscarves Controversy - France • The preservation of “laïcité” at the expense of traditional liberalism attempted to preserve a non-sectarian, neutral public sphere. • Public demonstration of religiousness was replaced with a sort of national civic ethos. • It aimed at de-politicizing religion in a political phase in which inter-religious relations seemed to be increasingly tense.
Headscarves Controversy • In Belgium, by contrast, no ban on headscarves has been put in place. • Conflicts arising in schools on this issue, quite the opposite, are effectively solved through dialogue, outside the legal system. • Similarly, in Germany no ban on headscarves is currently in place, neither is it likely to be passed in the future, since dialogue and accommodation have managed to avoid excessive tensions with the Muslim minority.
Headscarves Controversy - Germany • A much more heated debate revolved around teachers’ right to wear the headscarf in public schools. • Teacher’s individual right to freedom of religion has to be contrasted with the students’ right to a religiously impartial education. • A ban on the use of headscarves by teachers was passed in nine German states.
Headscarves Controversy – The Netherlands • In the Netherlands, the headscarf issue is not treated as a matter of freedom of religion, but rather as a matter of non-discrimination. • The headscarf issue is largely seen as a problem of individual freedom and dealt with through accommodation and non-legislative means.
Headscarves Controversy - UK • Similarly, in the UK, following a classical liberal approach, British authorities deal with the headscarf issue by resorting to non-legal means. • Governmental Commission on Integration and Cohesion, established in 2006: relations with minority cultures must be dealt with by “developing practical solutions for local communities based on the best existing practice”, thus pushing further against “perceived barriers to cohesion and integration”.
Conclusions • The creation of a multicultural society, pluralizing the concept of equality and attempting to respect difference, tolerate heterogeneity, and accommodate cultures is the proper liberal approach. • At the same time, no accommodation is acceptable when it comes to violating the core values of democracy, and respect for human rights.
Conclusions • The balance between “integration” and “accommodation” must be handled carefully in order to avoid intra-group tensions and preserve the principles of European liberal democracies. • Citizens, immigrant citizens among them, are entitled to retain their cultural and religious norms as long as they do not contradict state’s laws.
Conclusions • Democracies should enable multiculturalism and religious freedoms but it is not incumbent on them to transform their set of laws. • Citizens have both rights and duties towards the state.
Conclusions • Liberal democracies should show a stronger willingness to find effective informal institutional tools to accommodate the needs of immigrant communities within the larger society in their every-day life. • At the same time, they should remain committed to the core values of democracy, freedom, respecting others as human beings, and not harming others.