February 7, 2011
David Cameron has suggested that multiculturalism and tolerance have caused many groups within British society to exist independently of each other “apart from the mainstream” and led many young Muslims to feel rootless”. He proposes instead “active muscular liberalism” which will be marked by “a sense of common identity centered on values of human rights, democracy, social integration and equality before the law.”
Reports from most news sources also refer to various responses to Cameron’s speech, particularly from various Muslim groups who wish to be seen as part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
He further suggested that there exists a double standard under which the propagation of radical views among nonwhite groups is tolerated when they would be suppressed if they involved radical groups among whites.
He has waded into troubled waters and has made one basic error: he has assumed that ‘racial views’ held by majority and minority groups are equivalent to each other where we know that the dynamics of interactions over time between majority groups and minority groups (whether racial or any other kind of group marked by ‘difference’) is much more complicated than that. At the same time he is correctly identifying a problem for any society that has marked separation or division in its midst where any group can live and act for the most part as though some others don’t really exist or have impact.
It is the separation that must be challenged and making accusations of ‘double standards’ is not a helpful way forward. The beginning of justice and common cause is finding ways into relationships in which we can begin to recognize, understand, and even appreciate, difference. That need not require giving up a ‘meta-narrative’ of the particular history and values of a country and culture which could indeed be named as “human rights, democracy, social integration and equality before the law”, but might also include a recognition that those very liberal values have been shaped by a fundamentally Christian world view, even if other faith traditions can lead to similar commitments.
I’m left with the sense that I sometimes have after reading a novel by Iris Murdoch in which she is trying to recast the idea of God as ‘The Good’ and wondering if there is any real basis for morality apart from some ’idea of God’ even if that is cast in terms of some kind of ‘humanism’.
Multiculturalism in Europe poses slightly different challenges and opportunities than it does in the United States because it takes slightly different forms. Cameron is right and doing a good thing when he engages the conversation in a public and international forum.