Tuesday, October 21, 2014

HEINTZ: The future of multiculturalism

By ANDY HEINTZ, For What It's Worth | 5/16/2014

Conservatives have never had much good to say about multiculturalism.

Some see it as the embodiment of the self-loathing allegedly practiced by liberals. By touting that idea that all cultures are worthy of respect, conservatives believe that, ipso facto, liberals are denying the inherent greatness of Western, and by extension, American civilization.

Conservatives have never had much good to say about multiculturalism.

Some see it as the embodiment of the self-loathing allegedly practiced by liberals. By touting that idea that all cultures are worthy of respect, conservatives believe that, ipso facto, liberals are denying the inherent greatness of Western, and by extension, American civilization.

The second criticism raised by conservatives about multiculturalism is that it polarizes society by encouraging immigrants to cling to their old cultures instead of trying to assimilate into American society. To some on the right, this means liberals are essentially promoting foreign values over American ones. I find this blinkered view to be overly simplistic. America has been, and hopefully always will be, a nation of immigrants. And, over the centuries, immigrants from different countries and of different faiths have brought this country their own unique gifts that have materially and culturally benefitted America. Critics of multiculturalism shouldn’t forget that some of their ancestors were immigrants.

While the conservative view of the West, and by extension of America, has always been a little inflated by a lack of self-awareness, their argument contains traces of truth. Multiculturalism, like all the “isms,” shouldn’t be practiced in an absolutist manner. A rigid adherence to multiculturalism would be dangerous and counterproductive. In fact, encouraging immigrants to continue to embrace the value system and set of beliefs they, voluntarily or involuntarily, adhered to in another country can be reasonably seen as sacrificing cultural choice on the altar of cultural diversity.

To presuppose that immigrants want to continue to practice their traditional beliefs ignores their right to choose among the many belief systems practiced in America. It should be obvious to liberals that some immigrants, especially women who faced harsh discrimination and oppression in their old culture, might want to find the nearest tree branch and scrape off their old beliefs in favor of a more tolerant, egalitarian system of thought.

Another problem with multiculturalism is that, at its worst, it can be used as a weapon to induce voluntary self-censorship and deny the idea of universal rights. Taken to its extreme, multiculturalism can be interpreted as meaning every culture should be seen as equally valid. This train of thought can lead people to presume that every prevailing belief or action in the name of a culture should be seen in its proper context.

One only has to apply reduction ad absurdum to this idea to see the dangerous path this kind of thinking can lead to. It’s not difficult to imagine some liberals and leftists arguing that, in a situation where a conservative man from a Pakistani village forces his wife to wear a veil or remain forever housebound, that the women’s complete subjugation should be seen in its cultural context. Not wanting to be viewed as intolerant, this well-intentioned liberal defends intolerance in the name of tolerance.

The current confusion over the meaning of multiculturalism can be solved in a manner that will nourish democratic and society as a whole. The first task for liberals is to make clear what multiculturalism shouldn’t be: Encouraging immigrants to retain their old belief systems without bothering to ask them if this is what they really want. The second task is to hammer home the idea that multiculturalism should be the act of promoting cultural choice, which in turn, will breed cultural diversity. The third and final task for liberals is to make clear that multiculturalism shouldn’t be allowed to be used as a bulwark by those who invoke it to justify repression (denying basic education to woman, domestic violence, honor killings, genital mutilation) in the name of their culture.

Andy Heintz is a political commentator. He previously was a Herald staff writer, now a sports reporter at the Ottumwa Courier, Ottumwa, Iowa. Read his blog at http://www.orble.com/just-one-mans-vision/ and follow @heintz23 on Twitter.

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