Rethinking multiculturalism”

Rethinking multiculturalism”

We can consider three approaches to multiculturalism, identified by Bhikhu Parekh.

The essence of a “proceduralist” view is that deep moral and cultural differences cannot be rationally resolved. The neutral state lays down “minimally necessary rules of conduct, subject to which citizens remain free to lead their self-chosen lives.” The state is not to pursue substantive goals of its own, for this would discriminate against those taking an alternative view and would violate the moral autonomy of individuals. The state imposes fewest constraints on moral choices and provides only the procedural tools for adjudication.

From a  “Civic assimilationist” view, the political community requires agreement not only on its structure of authority, but also on a shared culture. Unity lies in shared political culture, “which includes its public or political values, ideals, practices, institutions, modes of political discourse, and self-understanding.” That shared understanding is necessary for shared discourse and dialogue, but otherwise an individual is free to pursue self-chosen ends.

The “millet” model implies that human beings are above all embedded in communities; everything that deeply matters is derived from culture. The state is a bare framework within which communities are free to pursue their traditional ways of life. The state is to refrain from interfering and also to recognise and institutionalise the autonomy of groups. One’s primary loyalty is to the communities; secondarily and derivatively to the state.

However, a question arises if we can assume any of these approaches as adequate? As all these models are theoretical, neither of them is completely feasible. Further, as Mr Parekh outlined, “political doctrines are ways of structuring political life and do not offer a comprehensive philosophy of life”. Moreover, in practice it is hardly possible to find a clear example of one particular model, as several approaches are often used simultaneously.

Are we lacking a model within these three? A model found in authoritarian countries when a national culture is a political tool and is supported and popularised by the government?

After going through different notes and reading materials both provided by the UOC as well as from other documents, independent sources and personal viewpoints, I would like to record my comments and to reflect on the concept of multiculturalism.  Bhikhu Parekh has rightly fully elaborated different approaches of which some describe the society I currently live. Let me touch upon those key approaches which challenge the diversity and multiculturalism in Afghanistan. As explained by the author human beings are culturally embedded in the sense that they grow up and live within a culturally structured world and organize their lives and social relations in terms of a culturally derived system of meaning and significance but in my country “Afghanistan” despite of legitimate deeds “the national constitution” which protects everyone’s rights; still there are influential circles and foreign intervention which violates those principles in order to get political gains. For instance, Hazara ethnic groups which religiously practice Shia Islam and have a unique culture; this ethnic group make almost 20% of the entire population of over 30 million Afghans, they are still not considered true Muslims and many insurgents fronts are trying to target their traditional festivals and gatherings which clearly indicates a clear violation and discrimination. However, the government and the people treat the Hazara equally as any other ethnic group but still the ongoing armed violence and war has a great degree of impact to harm the diversity and do not let different ethnic groups to live together in peace. On the other side many citizens “over 50%” are illiterate and can’t read and write because they grew up in war and they could be easily manipulated by some armed criminals and political circles to create fear and damage the national unity. The last if damage will certainly challenge the multiculturalism concept. It will surely harm the concept which is rightfully stated by the author which suggests “The commitment to the political community involves commitment to its continuing existence and well-being, and implies that one cares enough for it not to harm its interests and undermine its integrity. It is a matter of degree and could take such forms as a quiet concern for its well-being, deep attachment, affection, and intense love”.

While going through different approaches be they equality, respect for diversity, participation, social justice and so on. They are all adequate to protect what we are thinking of but if we look into the issue from a multicultural perspective which suggest that, “no political doctrine or ideology can represent the full truth of human life; be it liberalism, conservatism, socialism or nationalism” than all societies and countries in the world do not enjoy the same spirits. Some countries located in the central and south Asia and in Africa has got lots of serious challenges which needs world civil societies and human rights activists support to overcome those challenges so that, the challenges are overcome.

Different people live together and are embedded in a particular culture that represent a particular vision of the good life, and is necessarily narrow and partial. Liberalism, for example, is an inspiring political doctrine stressing such great values as human dignity, autonomy, liberty, critical thought and equality.

As mentioned by Bhikhu Parekh a multicultural society cannot be stable and last long without developing a common sense of belonging among its citizens. The sense of belonging cannot be ethnic and based on shared cultural, ethnic and other characteristics, for a multicultural society is too diverse for that, but must be political and based on a shared commitment to the political community. Unfortunately in Afghanistan due to four decades of war the inter-ethnic unity and degree of tolerance to accept that different ethnic groups can live together is badly damaged and is some-how in fragile states. Foreign intervention particularly of neighboring countries such as Iran and Pakistan played vital role to influence local traditional practices and culture. They do and should matter to each other because they are bonded together by the ties of common interest and attachment.

Assume that, no matter how different their conceptions of the good life are, citizens can agree on the structure of public authority. But, because the choices between political alternatives is essential normative and moral, touching on issues of the functions of government, the nature of the individual, the respect for status and gender, we cannot assume merely pragmatic agreement on some of the substantive decisions that the state will have to make about, e.g. capital punishment, abortion, treatment of animals, divorce, forced marriage etc.

‘Parekh is fair, thoughtful, fastidious and inventive in his theorizing of multiculturalism, but his viewpoint is rooted in an attempt to understand and convey a non-Western outlook. While his approach is always balanced, his first impulse is to explain and, where defensible, defend viewpoints that Western liberals have traditionally found suspect. It is strength of this work that Parkh not only develops a brilliantly conceived theory of multiculturalism, but applies that theory meaningfully to thorny policy questions.

We instinctively suspect attempts to homogenize a culture and impose a single identity on it, for we are acutely aware that every culture is internally plural and differentiated. And we remain equally skeptical of all attempts to present it as one whose origins lie within itself, as self-generating and sui generis, for we feel persuaded that all cultures are born out of interaction with and absorb the influences of others and are shaped by wider economic, political and other forces.

From a multiculturalist perspective, no political doctrine or ideology can represent the full truth of human life. Each of them – be it liberalism, conservatism, socialism or nationalism – is embedded in a particular culture, represents a particular vision of the good life, and is necessarily narrow and partial. Liberalism, for example, is an inspiring political doctrine stressing such great values as human dignity, autonomy, liberty, critical thought and equality.

Every society needs a broadly shared body of practices and even perhaps beliefs for its stability and smooth functioning. However this is largely confined to its civil and political life, though even this is often contested, and rarely extends to moral, social and other areas of life.

To develop critical thinking and reflect on the concepts of ‘multiculturalism’ I would like to include here the following few paragraphs from Kymlicka on liberal theory on minority rights and the critique of Bhikhu Parekh to it.

  1. As Kymlicka himself acknowledges, most societies today are multicultural, and not all of them are liberal. A liberal theory of multicultural citizenship has no relevance for the latter. Kymlicka is therefore unable to show them why they should respect minority rights. Traditionally, political theory has entertained the wider ambition of showing how and why all good or properly societies constituted should be organized, what rights they should respect, and so on. Perhaps Kymlicka thinks, like John Rawls in his second incarnation, that all political theory is necessarily embedded in and articulated within the framework of a specific tradition. However, he nowhere defends such an impoverished view of his discipline. Kymlicka sometimes suggests that since we live in a liberal society, we should conceptualize and defend minority rights in liberal terms. This will not do, for our society includes both liberals and non-liberals and is characterized by a constant struggle between them. To call our society liberal is arbitrarily to appropriate it for the liberals and to rule out non-liberals by a definitional fiat. Non-liberals are very much a part of our society, but Kymlicka’s liberally articulated arguments have no appeal for them. Part of his difficulty arises from his
  2. Kymlicka’ s theory of culture contains a tension. He bases his defense of cultural membership on the ground that a stable cultural community has the kinds of advantages mentioned earlier. Suppose some of its members were to make choices which most of the others think will weaken or undermine its integrity, thereby denying them and their children a stable context. One way to deal with this tragic conflict is to allow the former the right to leave the community. But what if they refuse to do so? Should the community have a right to expel them? Kymlicka does not seem to think so. Or suppose that the community thinks that their departure would damage its vital interests, and either denies them the right to leave or attaches prohibitive emotional, moral, and social costs to its exercise. Is it right to do so? Kymlicka seems to think not. Again, imagine a colonized country whose culture has been systematically denigrated and ridiculed, and whose members, long accustomed to looking at themselves through the eyes of biased outsiders, lack both an authentic understanding of what their culture stands for and the self-confidence required making autonomous choices. The community might think that it needs a breathing space, a period of undisturbed consolidation, in order to develop authentic self-understanding, the spirit of autonomy, and the self-confidence to make its choices itself, and that it should therefore restrict the free movement of ideas as transmitted by such popular Western media as films, comics, popular literature, and television. Is it right to do so? Kymlicka again thinks not.

Bhikhu Parekh suggests that, “Human beings are capable of forming their own conceptions of the good, and are autonomous and free to the extent that their lives are based on their own beliefs and lived “from within.” Since their judgments are fallible, they should also be at liberty to reflect upon and revise their beliefs.


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