Chal­lenge is Ònd­ing the right bal­ance

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY CLAU­DIA MEN­DOZA

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


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