The world comprises and comprised historically many cultures and religions. Cultures are often, but not always, influenced by religious practices or local traditions. A culture comprises societal norms, behaviours, manners, traditions, the arts, and cuisine. When cultural practices come face to face, misunderstandings may arise and cause potential conflict.
In the best interests of people, and to prevent enmity, it is beholden on a person from a different culture moving to a new culture to adapt to their host’s culture. Such attempts to integrate with the host culture are likely to result in a more speedy welcome and minimise any problems. An unwillingness to integrate, dismissal of a host culture, or non-compliance with its norms is likely to be met with resentment, mutual dislike, segregation, and intolerance. In most cultures historically, such deliberate segregation and unwillingness to integrate met with outright hostility and violence.
It goes without saying that this effort to integrate into one’s host culture should be made in all instances, and just as much in the case of westerners moving to other cultures. The choice is simple. If we don’t feel as though we are capable of integrating into a host culture, we should not go there. We do not have the right to expect a host culture to adapt to our demands, let alone for its people to attend awareness courses so that they can learn to accept our peculiarities.
While religion and culture are not the same thing, the religious influence on a culture is not to be underestimated. There are, and have been historically, a wide range of belief systems around the world. No one religion has any objective proof for its beliefs. They are based in faith, which, by definition, is believing something without any supporting evidence. Some faiths have spread through military conquest. That is certainly the case with Christianity and Islam.
Faiths often have many denominations within themselves, including conservative/orthodox denominations, which have a literal understanding of their scriptures and seek to comply to the letter of these or translations of them. Faiths also often have reforming denominations, which see these scriptures in an allegorical or historic context and are happy to separate religion from the affairs of state, using the former as guiding principles.
These scriptures in themselves are usually contradictory, so that each denomination can find sections of its scripture to justify its beliefs and can influence, in conjunction with its originating cultural practices, its behavioural practices.
It is quite common for converts or those new to a faith to be attracted to the conservative/orthodox/literal aspect of that faith. This is often because they are seeking meaning to their life and an uncompromising set of rules is something that helps them through well-defined, easy-to-follow rules. Indigenous converts may be attracted to these uncompromising rules in the face of a seemingly decadent society in which they feel they have failed. This is also because they read the scriptures without the benefit of centuries’ worth of study and soul-searching on the part of adherents to that faith, many of whom spent their whole lives wrestling with their religious texts, seeking to establish which parts were relevant to their contemporary situation and culture.
Certain cultural practices, such as those around the arts and cuisine, are fully compatible with modern, secular, post-Enlightenment democracy, and the western world’s move away from a society dominated by conservative Christian dogma to one of reforming, humanist beliefs, which have had an influence on the prevailing church’s role in most western liberal democracies. In this way, people have become more tolerant of others and western society has rejected practices which were formerly justified by conservative Christian dogma, such as slavery, sexism, maltreatment of children, and more recently, homophobia.
As a religion dominated by reformers and in the context of nations which in practice divide matters of state from those of religion, either explicitly, like France and the USA, or implicitly, like the UK, Christianity has been able, even in the face of opposition of large numbers of its adherents, to adapt and ‘catch up’ with public opinion. In recent years, we have seen this in the case of the ordination of women priests. True, the church may still struggle with the idea of same sex marriage, but even if some of its members oppose it, they don’t engage in violent street protests in opposition – they understand the segregation of matters of state from matters of belief.
Many proponents of ‘multiculturalism’ fail to grasp this, and in condemning other people’s lack of cultural awareness, ironically exhibit their own cultural and historical ignorance by naively assuming that people around the world share their same values. Such people appear to be blissfully unaware of their own histories and the political struggles over religion within their own culture, long-since settled by this de facto separation of church from state. They also seem oblivious to the clear, unequivocal pronouncement of those they support to wipe out western democracy and impose strict, religious laws.
Other cultural practices run counter to the prevailing host culture, and, in the case of the UK, range from minor differences in manners (e.g. saying please and thank you) to activities which are frowned upon or may be counter to local laws (e.g. spitting, littering, urinating and defecating in the street) to those which are illegal under our laws but perfectly legitimate under the laws of other cultures (e.g. underage sex, forced marriage, genital mutilation).
Historically, Britain’s empire stretched around the world and came into contact with a wide variety of cultural practices. At the time, guided by more traditionally conservative Christian values, the British empire sought to exploit its colonies in ways which would now be considered inhumane, through ruthless exploitation of local resources and people, cruelty, slavery (with the wilful collusion of locals in many cases, such as in the case of the African slave trade) and even mass slaughter. It justified its actions at the time by claiming that it was bringing Christianity and its cultural values to the conquered countries and thought to improve these countries through its cultural and religious imperialism, in the same way ancient Rome spread its culture and practices throughout its conquered territories under the Pax Romana.
Indeed, it can be argued that in both the case of ancient Rome and the British empire, there were some benefits brought to the local people in terms of technological and political advances, but judging the actions of our forefathers by today’s morals means that we can reflect on the wickedness of the worst excesses of empire and many of us feel rightfully ashamed of these events.
When we consider the behaviour of our forefathers in the contexts of their time, we are engaging in temporal relativism – i.e. conceding that our forefathers had different values, which may seem inhumane today, but in the context of their time, may have been perfectly normal. It would not occur to us to send a small child up a chimney or down a mine now, but was perfectly normal practice in Victorian society.
Some recognise that we can’t ever atone for the evils of our former empire, but on balance, we understand that the days of empire are passed, and that former colonies have become successful independent countries and have retained the positive aspects of empire (parliamentary democracy, railways, roads, telecoms, and education systems).
Britain has benefited historically from immigration and particularly as we have seen the aspirations of the indigenous population rise and an unwillingness on the part of sections of the indigenous population to undertake jobs which they consider beneath them. We have had waves of immigration from former colonies and in nearly all cases, these have met a need for skills and have offered the immigrant relatively well paid-work in a stable society. For many immigrants, coming to the UK was a literal lifeline.
Others remain ashamed of our past, to the extent that their view of western policy today is still coloured by it. For some, it is not enough to recognise transgressions of their forefathers, but these transgressions still mean that they must roundly condemn western culture in general, and in particular the actions of western governments. For such people, this is the default stance to be taken, and all efforts to promote other cultural views must be made, even when such cultures exhibit behaviours which are entirely contradictory to our cultural norms. Many suggest that cultural Marxism has been a powerful force in ordinary politics since the 1960s and has sought a deliberate undermining of western culture and a move towards world government.
That may be stretching a point too far, but it is more or less the norm for even well-educated people, often suffering with their own hand-wringing class guilt complexes, to hold opinions which have been advanced by extremist elements of immigrant cultures. The recent furore over the veil demonstrates this particularly well. The people who promote/defend the veil are conservative elements of the Muslim population and those on the political left, who do so to demonstrate their cultural sensitivity. At the same time, those who oppose it are liberals (in the true sense) and moderate Muslims. Moderate Muslims are left exacerbated by the conservative elements of their community.
Someone who wishes to gain cultural insight into how Muslim opinion has been hijacked by conservative elements could do worse than listen to the likes of Maajid Nawaz, a former extremist, now Liberal Democrat candidate, who has argued in favour of banning the veil in public places (i.e. places where a motorcycle helmet or balaclava would be inappropriate). He understands how anti-western narratives feed extremism, especially when such narratives originate in the West. He has to explain to audiences in Pakistan that the West is not embroiled in a crusade against Islam, because that is what they have been led to believe. That is what he had been led to believe, as a young, disaffected Muslim youth in Luton. That is what the extremist and conservative preachers tell the easily-influenced youths, and that is why, when apologists in our society see images of rampaging hordes of ill-informed protesters shouting ‘death to the West’, the self-loathers believe their grievances to be real rather than imagined, and their own prejudices about their own culture are reinforced.
Secular states are in the minority in the Islamic world. The people of many non-secular Islamic countries do not understand the separation of church and state in the West, of the freedom of press and its independence from government, or of the freedom of speech and the right to be critical and make fun of religion without legal consequences. They don’t understand it, because they don’t have those same luxuries, and so when hardline Islamist nutters travel to Pakistan and stir up hatred over things such as cartoons published in a Danish newspaper, their fellow nutters whip up hatred in anti-western sermons and riots against Danish embassies (along with any other western embassies) ensue. The rioters can’t even begin to understand the disconnect between an embassy and a newspaper – they have been brainwashed into believing that the West is bent on a crusade against Islam.
To those promoting multiculturalism, such as the use of Sharia law in matters of family and domestic disputes, I would ask the following question…
“What does Sharia law give you that the laws of our land don’t?”
If their answer is
“To resolve family disputes in the context of our community and according to our laws.”
Our answer should be
“But we are your community and we share the same law.”
To summarise, culture does not merely encompass arts and cuisine, but is far more extensive. Multiculturalism seeks to promote the coexistence of these cultures, irrespective of the flaws of each, rather than to facilitate integration of immigrants into our society.
Nobody is obliged to like another culture or its practices, but, where these cultural practices do not impinge upon or contradict our cultural and societal norms, they should be tolerated.