MINELRES: International Herald Tribune: Multiculturalism is not the culprit, by James A. Goldston
Wed Aug 31 21:50:21 2005
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International Herald Tribune
Multiculturalism is not the culprit
By James A. Goldston International Herald Tribune
TUESDAY, AUGUST 30, 2005
NEW YORK "The British multicultural model in crisis," the French
newspaper Le Monde trumpeted last week. Many in Britain appeared to
agree. Multiculturalism has gone too far, some observers said, leading
to "voluntary apartheid" and "separate development" of Britain's
increasingly numerous ethnic groups.
The July bombings in London have prompted a wave of criticism of the
supposedly sinister role of multiculturalism in alienating - and
rendering susceptible to terrorist violence - young male members of
Britain's Muslim immigrant communities.
The outcry is leading some British politicians to call into question a
commitment to racial tolerance which, with some lamentable exceptions,
has distinguished Britain for decades from its European partners. Some
of the suggestions they have made are sensible, like scrutinizing more
carefully alleged foreign supporters of terrorism who request to enter.
Others, however, are divisively counterproductive, such as a proposal
that would allow the deportation for vaguely defined criminal activity
of non-citizens to countries where they would be at risk of torture.
Now, overt racial profiling of Asian-looking men by London's
Metropolitan Police has begun to spark opposition among many British
Muslims, whose support will be important to future counterterrorism
The notion that excessive tolerance toward ethnic minorities and
immigrants has sown the seeds of terrorist violence would be laughable
were it not so wrong. To be sure, a policy of "live and let live" may
feed alienation when some communities enjoy markedly inferior
opportunities for quality education and employment. Fostering enhanced
integration of marginalized groups into British society should be a
priority. But ending Britain's historic openness to others would be a
grave mistake, and would do nothing to address the threat of terrorism.
Terrorism is not confined to countries that promote ethnic diversity; on
the contrary, terrorists flourish in societies that suppress legitimate
dissent and lack basic institutions of good governance. Iraq, Saudi
Arabia and Yemen, for example, have witnessed terrorist violence on
their soil in recent years.
If the impoverishment and alienation of immigrant youth constitute a
security risk (as well as a humanitarian concern), this may reflect not
too much multiculturalism, but rather not enough antidiscrimination
Multicultural policies involve a laissez-faire tolerance of ethnic
minorities and their cultural practices. By contrast, antidiscrimination
policies require more affirmative state engagement to combat acts of
violence and exclusion that invidiously target minorities.
For more than three decades, Britain has led Europe in the adoption of
antidiscrimination legislation - and to good effect. Persons of color
have gained significant status, representation and recognition in
journalism, business and the halls of government. But the persistent
ghettoization of minority communities is evidence that more concerted
efforts are required to combat prejudice, improve cross-cultural
education, provide skills-based employment training and foster genuine
economic promise. Loyalty to an adopted nation is instilled more
effectively by equal opportunity than by citizenship oaths.
But racial tolerance is not a policy preference exclusive to Britain. A
European Union directive mandates that all EU members prohibit and
effectively redress discrimination on grounds of racial or ethnic
origin. And since 2000, the European Commission, the EU's executive arm,
has been vigorously overseeing the transposition into national law of
this equal treatment principle in all areas of economic and social life.
The lesson is clear: Don't use the very real threat of terrorism to
justify shelving more than a quarter century of British achievement in
the field of race relations. Combatting terrorism is primarily a task
for law enforcement and intelligence. To the extent that the roots of
terrorism may be found in the disaffection of Muslim or other youth,
what is needed is more state action in fostering equal opportunity - not
Britain's generally level-headed reason on questions of race make its
current shift of course all the more troubling. Throughout much of the
world, the British model of enlightened democratic government and
liberal thought backed by an independent judiciary committed to the rule
of law is rightly admired.
It would be a shame - for Britain and others - were this long-standing
tradition to become yet another casualty of the misguided "war on
(James A. Goldston directs the Open Society Justice Initiative, which
pursues rights-based law reform.)
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