Don’t give up on multiculturalism just yet, says Christian think tank

Published 18 October 2011
It is wrong of political leaders to abandon multiculturalism, a Christian think tank has argued in a new report.

Announcing ‘Multiculturalism: A Christian Retrieval’, think tank Theos expressed disappointment over the way in which multiculturalism has been written off by the likes of David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and come under fire in the press amid debates over immigration and the response to terrorism.

In the report, author Jonathan Chaplin asserts that multiculturalism is the only way to deal with today’s diverse society.

He draws on Christian social thought to argue that “in our haste to reassess multiculturalism in the light of compelling evidence of its darker sides, we must not lose sight of its indispensable contribution to realising a just society”.

“We should not repudiate multiculturalism but retrieve it by reformulating it in a more modest, chastened and thus more persuasive way,” he writes.

Although Mr Chaplin admits that some aspects of multiculturalism - such as the allocation of housing and funding - are “at times dangerously flawed”, he contends that a positive form of multiculturalism is still to be found in the form of “multicultural justice” – the adoption of just public policies in relation to minority cultural and religious communities.

Rather than abandoning multiculturalism just yet, Mr Chaplin argues that multicultural justice offers governments a way of responding to the challenges of deep diversity “by establishing fair and respectful public relationships among the minorities”.

Whilst pursuing multicultural justice should not equate to “frog-marching [minorities] into fraternity”, it can help to create fairness, he contends.

“Government should at least aim to maintain a fair and functioning network of interethnic and inter-religious relationships which accords sufficient protection and respect to all travellers on the system.”

He asserts that there are “powerful Christian motives for seeking inter-religious understanding and neighbourliness”.

“Christianity is not naïve about the human evils that have been and still are practiced under the banner of ethnic identity and religious belief (including its own), but it can and should offer resources for discerning what is good in diverse cultures and in other religions.

“On the basis of such a vision, Christianity can hope to make a serious and constructive public contribution to a just multicultural settlement in Britain today.”

The report pays tribute to government efforts to integrate Britain’s diverse communities by attempting to formulate shared national values such as fair play and tolerance, but Mr Chaplin believes such shared values achieve little because they “lack intellectual depth” and contain “little compelling moral appeal”.

“The challenge of supplying the needed moral motivation for performing the duties of mere citizenship – a crucial part of what holds a multicultural society together and inspires the pursuit of multicultural justice – will not be met by government attempts to appeal to ‘shared British values’ or a ‘shared national narrative’.”

Rather than by the government, the report contends that just multicultural democracy can best emerge when moral bonds are nurtured within wider civic society, in families, between neighbours, and in the likes of schools, the media or churches.

“Probably the most significant inter-faith encounters happen, when they do, on a daily basis on street corners, in homes, schools, shops, factories and community centres around the country, wherever civil conversation occurs between people of different faiths about life in community,” he says.

“Such multicultural respect, itself one of the vital norms of civic life we need today, will best
emerge out of the routine practices of neighbourliness.”

The report tells the story of a Christian woman who, tired of the view of the local synagogue’s neglected garden from her house, enlisted the help of the synagogue’s children to turn it into a beautiful ‘biblical garden’, rather than simply complaining to the synagogue leaders about it.

Mr Chaplin concludes that such initiative-taking is the hallmark of a positively multicultural society.

“Out of simple neighbourly gestures like these, whether or not inspired by religious faith, the fabric of a multicultural society marked by justice, mutual respect and even friendship can begin to be woven.

“There are no guarantees available to secure that goal, but there are plenty of opportunities to seize.”

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