En av Labours favoritt-tenke-tanker, IPPR, foreslår i en rapport å nedgradere julefeiringen. Det har et anstrøk av stiv komikk. Har vi ikke kommet lenger? spør Minette Marrin i the Times. Hun har registrert noe av det samme som har vederfaret norsk debatt i høst: hun trodde de verste illusjoner om det flerkulturelle samfunn var gjennomskuet, at debatten var begynt å bli mer realistisk.
Cherie Blair holdt en tale i Chatham house forrige uke, der hun snakker om religion og rettigheter. Henns syn er gjennomsyret av indre motsetninger. Hun vil både tilkjenne alle universelle rettigheter og samtidig anerkjenne og respektere alle kulturer. Det går ikke, skriver Marrin. Noen kulturer og praksiser fortjener ikke respekt. Det er helt selvinnlysende, men allikevel tabu å si høyt.
Man må velge sier Marrin: enten tror man på universelle rettigheter, eller så gir man likeverd til alle kulturer og religioner. Man kan ikke gjøre begge deler så lenge praksisen er så blodig og undertrykkende. Men dette er de såkalte liberaleres dilemma idag: de greier ikke velge, og blir mentalt shizofrene. De hyller både menneskerettigheter og uttrykker respekt for de mest barbariske tradisjoner.
Marrin sier det kom klart til uttrykk da Saudi-Arabias kong Abdullah var på besøk nylig. En ting er vanlig høfllighet. Men hvorfor tør man ikke si klart fra at den kulturen han står for er barbarisk, ikke bare overfor kvinner, men barn og gjestearbeidere? Under sovjetkommunismen var kritikk av indre forhold et tilbakevendende tema når man hadde kontakt. Men nå er vi lammet av en slags indre høflighet, og tør ikke ta det opp.
I was beginning to think this country had recovered from its disastrous obsession with multiculturalism. All kinds of race relations pundits have recently changed their minds about multiculturalism and come to realise that an insistence on difference weakens the ties that bind a diverse society. It isolates people and makes them less willing to cooperate with – or pay benefits for – people they perceive as aggressively other. These new revisionists have finally understood that it was dangerous for the host culture to feel belittled and exploited by multiculturalist supremacists.
Trevor Phillips, head of the new equality quango, famously said that we were sleepwalking to apartheid. Even Brown keeps trying to manipulate our shared Britishness, if only in his own political interest. However, the tired old donkey of multiculturalism refuses to lie down and die. This irrepressible ass is still alive, in the person of the IPPR, and kicking the government. The question is, why?
One of the answers must lie in confusion – in the confusion most of us seem to feel about religion, culture, human rights and respect. There are a lot of internal contradictions and confusions in that list; the liberal western point of view, as expressed by Cherie Blair in her Chatham House lecture last week, is riven with contradiction. She appeared to be making the courageous point that religion and culture should not be used as excuses for denying people – that is, women – their universal human right to equality.
I feel that just as strongly as she feels it. Religions and cultures that deny women basic equality, or exploit and abuse them, are, as far as I am concerned, a bad thing. I don’t feel the slightest obligation to respect them or to allow them to bring their practices into this country. However, the problem for Cherie Blair, not least during the visit here of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, is that in the western liberal agenda we are supposed to offer equal respect and equal rights to all cultures and all religions, and to people’s universal right to live according to them and to practise their faiths as they understand them. But you simply can’t. You can either have universal human rights, or you can have the universal human right to ignore them for cultural or religious reasons – not both.
If a culture or a religion does not share Cherie Blair’s absolute belief in universal human rights, then how can she respect it? And, for that matter, why should she expect them to respect her opposing beliefs? She spoke on Radio 4 of honouring people’s religious beliefs, when freely adopted, but why? Incidentally, as for Islam being freely adopted, a large proportion of young British Muslims think that the penalty for abandoning the faith should be death. There is not a great deal of freedom in Islam which, after all, means submission.
My point is not particularly to criticise Islam. It is rather to criticise this long-standing liberal article of faith that all religions are equal, equally deserving of respect, and believers should be equally free to practise them. In truth, nobody believes that – whether Muslim, gentile, Hindu, Jew, wiccan or heathen. Nor in terms of Christian and post-Christian British culture is it true. We have been misled culturally by trying to pretend it is true and we have damaged our society in the process. The IPPR and Christmas deniers are still being misled and are trying to mislead the rest of us. «Bah, humbug!» as Scrooge would have said.