Thursday, October 26, 2006
Parochial habits of a hectoring majority
This morning I read historian and writer Mukul Kesavan’s article in The Telegraph on the burqa / veil controversy in the UK. He had also written on this subject last week, and the week before.
In his article today, “Parochial Freedoms - How much difference can European pluralism digest?”, Kesavan takes issues with an article in this week’s Economist, where Charlemagne (a columnist) has opined:
“It is hard to integrate Muslims into European society. Restricting free speech makes it even harder."
"From militant Islam as an awkward political tendency we have moved in the space of a magazine page to Muslims in general as the problem.
... Politicians and writers who make universalist claims for liberal democracy shouldn’t make noises about integration. The only mainstream a free citizen should be asked to join is the mainstream of secular law. The freedoms of liberal democracy are tested by its accommodation of mores that the mainstream doesn’t like. The pluralism of these democracies should be judged not by the tame diversity of tandoori restaurants and kebab shops, but by their ability to live with more indigestible difference, such as halal meat and burqas. If the American Civil Liberties Union can defend the right of Ku Klux Klan to make speeches (white men in white hoods who once specialized in lynching black men), shouldn’t the British Labour party be upholding the right of peaceful brown women in burqas to dress as they please?
... British democracy doesn't value diversity and pluralism in the way that republican democracy in India does. ... the freedom of speech enshrined in English democracy grows out of a protestant tradition of religious dissent. This may well be true: but free speech became a universal value when it was set free of its protestant roots. Unlike Indians, the English have never tried to construct a definition of citizenship that was universal, abstracted from culture, not anchored to it. Till they do, Charlemagne and company will continue to aggravate the problems of a plural society by calling for minorities to assimilate themselves not to universal freedoms but to the parochial habits of a hectoring majority."
Mukul Kesavan’s recent articles (in chronological order) may be found here, here and here.
The latest article (of 2 November) is here.
He had also written last year about the hijab controversy in France. That article is here.
Like Kesavan, I too deeply value the fragile but unique and rich, pluralist, multicultural heritage of India. Anti-Muslim prejudice, expressed in myriad, trivial, everyday ways – I cannot, will not and do not tolerate it.