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The burka ban part 4: The perils of multiculturalism April 15, 2011

Posted by laïcité in Feminism v Patriarchy, International, Religion, Society.
Tags: , , ,

If you are a Singaporean, chances are that all your life you have been told about the wonders of multiculturalism. After all, multiculturalism is that marvelous notion that allows people of all religions and races to live together peacefully while still being able to practice their own cultures and beliefs. Don’t get me wrong, in some ways I think multiculturalism is great. Diversity should not only be tolerated, but also celebrated.

But multiculturalism – with its insistence that all cultures have the right to flourish in a multi-religious multi-racial society – is far from perfect. When there is no pressure to compromise one’s culture or one’s comfort zone in favor of assimilation, “sticking to your own kind” becomes the norm. It becomes easy to develop a laissez faire attitude towards the segmentation of society according to racial or religious lines, leaving room for not only social segregation, but also economic segregation along these lines as a result of the ghettoisation of certain social groups.

You’d think that as a liberal, it is rather odd of me to talk about the negative aspects of multiculturalism. Surely the alternative – assimilation – impinges on an individual’s right to live life as he sees fit? But ironically, multiculturalism does not necessarily mean greater freedom for the individual either. Culture itself is a form of social pressure, and when a culture endorses illiberal teachings such as misogyny or homophobia onto its members, a society’s multicultural, politically correct stance prevents us from intervening, and as a result indirectly supports such unfair teachings as well.

In countries like the UK where multiculturalism is the state policy, tolerance for ethnic communities doing their own thing has resulted in the segregation of society, the loss of a national or local identity, and could even contribute to the increased radicalization of Muslims. Tolerance and political correctness have resulted in the reluctance to intervene when cultural teachings and practices have gone out of hand, because “multiculturalism” has made it difficult to draw that line between what is respect for a culture and what is simply unacceptable to society as a whole. Similarly, in the case of the burka, even though the notion of requiring women to be shrouded in black cloth is unthinkable to most of us, someone brought up to believe that critiquing any aspect of culture is racist, anti-religion or politically incorrect would never dare to cause offense by speaking up.

A key contradiction between multiculturalism and social cohesion is the fact that while multiculturalism encourages us to embrace the fact that there are different cultures, religions and beliefs, in order for society to function, we need to be able to ignore these very differences and see each other as individuals. If every ethnic community decided to promote the anti-social values of exclusivity and culture-specific values, the multicultural “society” would be less of a society, and more like several cultural groups leading parallel but separate existences. How does this relate to the French burka ban? France does not practice multiculturalism. Instead, it exalts the secular values of liberty, equality and fraternity. By recognizing a set of universal principles that are over and above cultural and religious identities, it seeks to recognize citizens as Frenchmen and Frenchwomen first and foremost, devoid of racial and religious particularities.
The burka. (Source: bbc.co.uk)

The burka flies directly in the face of these principles. Symbolically, it is about as anti-liberty as an article of clothing can get – women are symbolically dehumanized to the public eye, reduced to a mere shapeless faceless blob devoid of physical indications of personhood. Moreover, such clothing not only is a clear and defiant statement of cultural difference, it also poses a real barrier to interpersonal communication – something which is essential for an integrative and cohesive society. Seemingly insignificant human gestures of friendliness and social bonding: an exchange of a meaningful glance or the sharing of a spontaneous smile or the simple mirroring of expressions in response to a shared experience, are now rendered impossible due to the physical barrier of the face veil. If that is not the literal embodiment of “anti-social” then I don’t know what is. (Take a look at the image and honestly say that such a garment has no influence over your desire to be “neighborly” with the woman underneath) What’s left is the sense of uneasiness and alienation that can only lead to a chasm between cultures. France may not have my full support for its burka ban, but its principles behind it certainly aren’t wrong.

The burka ban part 1: Symbolism and meaning

The burka ban part 2: Tolerance of religion or tolerance of oppression?

The burka ban part 3: The problem with cultural relativism



1. vamashah - April 18, 2011

I love it. And I COMPLETELY agree with you!
I have no words as to how brilliantly you took up this issue and analysed it :)
Keep up the good work. I would love to see more updates from you :)

laïcité - April 19, 2011

Thanks for your kind words! :)

2. Raphael Wong - April 26, 2011

So … if you are so anti-multicultural, why does France not have your “complete support”?

Also, the burqa and hijab were originally invented to protect women against rape. Whether or not you agree with the philosophy/theology behind this purpose is another question in itself.

laïcité - April 26, 2011

Anti multi-cultural?

From the text: ” Don’t get me wrong, in some ways I think multiculturalism is great. Diversity should not only be tolerated, but also celebrated.”

France does not have my complete support because I am a libertarian. I tend to disagree with the state meddling in personal affairs. When personal freedom and religious oppression come into the picture, that is where the line starts to get blurry.

So what if the burka was meant to prevent rape? That would only be true if you agree with the premise that all men are animals that will hump any female that is uncovered. Not only is that a blatant lie, men also deserve more credit than that. The burka prevents rape like me locking up my children in the basement 24/7 prevents them from being hit by a bus.

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