Chief Rabbi on Problems with Multiculturalism

U.K. Chief Rabbi Johnathan Sacks talks about the threat to democracy from multiculturalism in his new book, "The Home We Build Together: Recreating Society":

Multiculturalism promotes segregation, stifles free speech and threatens liberal democracy, Britain's top Jewish official warned in extracts from his book published Saturday.

Jonathan Sacks, Britain's chief rabbi, defined multiculturalism as an attempt to affirm Britain's diverse communities and make ethnic and religious minorities more appreciated and respected. But in his book, "The Home We Build Together: Recreating Society," he said the movement had run its course.

"Multiculturalism has led not to integration but to segregation," Sacks wrote in his book, an extract of which was published in the Times of London.

"Liberal democracy is in danger," Sacks said, adding later: "The politics of freedom risks descending into the politics of fear."

Sacks said Britain's politics had been poisoned by the rise of identity politics, as minorities and aggrieved groups jockeyed first for rights, then for special treatment.

The process, he said, began with Jews, before being taken up by blacks, women and gays. He said the effect had been inexorably divisive.

"A culture of victimhood sets group against group, each claiming that its pain, injury, oppression, humiliation is greater than that of others," he said.

From the back cover of the book:

"Multiculturalism has run its course and it is time to move on." So begins Jonathan Sacks' new book on the future of British society and the dangers facing liberal democracy.

Arguing that global communications have fragmented national cultures and that multiculturalism, intended to reduce social frictions, is today reinforcing them, Sacks argues for a new approach to national identity. We cannot stay with current policies that are producing a society of conflicting ghettoes and non-intersecting lives, turning religious bodies into pressure groups rather than society-building forces.

Sacks maintains that we will have to construct a national narrative as a basis for identity, reinvigorate the concept of the common good, and identify shared interests among currently conflicting groups. It must restore a culture of civility, protect "neutral spaces" from politicization, and find ways of moving beyond an adversarial culture in which the loudest voice wins. He proposes a responsibility-based, rather than rights-based, model of citizenship that connects the ideas of giving and belonging.

Offering a new paradigm to replace previous models of assimilation on the one hand, multiculturalism on the other, he argues that we should see society as "the home we build together," bringing the distinctive gifts of different goups to society as a whole, and not only to our particular subsection of it.

Sacks warns of the hazards free and open societies face in the twenty-first century, and offers an unusual religious defense of liberal democracy and the nation state. A counterweight to his earlier The Dignity of Difference, Sacks makes the case for "integrated diversity" within a framework of shared political views.

The notion of "integrated diversity" reminds me of Maria Rosa Menocal's book "The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain" in which she writes about the "authentic multiculturalism" in medieval Spain that occurred through processes of tolerance, dialogue, and acceptance of "contraries."

Her notion of authentic multiculturalism ties in well with a "responsibility-based, rather than rights-based, model of citizenship." We hear all too often people clamoring for rights without regard to any responsibility they might have. It's more of a "gimme, gimme" attitude instead of a "giving and belonging" attitude. Not that rights must not be protected in a democracy, but rather they must be balanced by a sense of responsibility for a liberal democracy to exist.

Related posts:
The Downside of Diversity
Multiculturalism and Prejudice