Challenge is Ònding the right balance
HAS MULTICULTURALISM — the concept of different cultures living peacefully alongside each other — failed? Do we need a dominant host culture that all subscribe to?
These are difficult questions which require a level of introspection if we are to successfully challenge long-held policies. Indeed, integration is one of the biggest social problems facing the country and the Jewish community is caught somewhere in the middle.
We face huge challenges from groups and individuals who feed off division rather than unity but we also face the challenge of the stricter secularisation this seems to have provoked.
We don’t want to suffer the double crime of being targeted by those who are not integrated and having our religious freedom curtailed as a response.
In 2015, at the request of the then Prime Minster and Home Secretary, Dame Louise Casey undertook an independent review into opportunity and integration in Britain. Some of her findings made for uncomfortable reading as she highlighted the scope of the challenge we face.
The Green Paper is comprehensive in its approach and does not shy away from some of the more politically contentious issues but there are questions to be asked about what can be achieved within the confines laid out.
Getting the balance right between genuine integration and acceptance of individuality is a challenge. This is why we have responded to the consultation, drawing on examples from our member organisations about how best to promote cohesion, be it through meaningful interfaith projects, tackling hate crime, or supporting regent migrants, but also to support or contest some of the recommendations.
A recommendation we have made is that more needs to be done to untangle the web between religion, extremism, liberalism, and secularisation.
The threat of religious extremism has led to the temptation for a promotion of secularisation. Indeed, as more and more people describe themselves as secular, there is a feeling of religion being side-lined, marginalised and downgraded in the public sphere and even sneered at.
As a liberal society, we must surely be able to tolerate even that which we deem dogmatic and illiberal. The paradox of liberalism is that it tolerates illiberal ideas.
That’s not to argue that cultures and practices that are harmful to individuals or restrict their rights should not be challenged. Freedom of belief is absolute, but the freedom to act on a belief is not. Getting this right requires our political leadership to recover a lost confidence.
The Jewish community in this country is proud to be Jewish and proud to be British. These two aspects of our identity are not mutually exclusive because religious freedom remains a cornerstone of our great liberal democracy.
Curtailing religious freedom as a response to religious extremism will not only erode the foundation of our democracy but will likely exasperate, rather than alleviate the issue at hand.
Claudia Mendoza is the JLC’s Director of Policy and Public Affairs