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← “It’s Part of their Culture” - Reading Nick Cohen in the light of the Jaipur affair [Also in Polish]

Helga Vieirch's Avatar Jump to comment 24 by Helga Vieirch

Comment 16 by Kubrick I've always liked philosopher Slavoj Zizek's formulation on cultural relativism

It is interesting to note that "cultural relativism" is actually a research methodology in ethnographic work (anthropology). It is part of the analysis phase - hypotheses about the origin of cultural practices are framed as possible adaptive responses to the unique environment in which they developed (including neighbouring cultures). It is, therefore, looking at cultural practices relative to their environments. It is not a basis for social activism or policy.

Sometimes it worries me that people somehow associate this phrase with anthropologists and blame them for the kind of neoliberal shenanigans that were so justly condemned in this post by Dawkins. I am not saying there are none go along with the neo-liberals in my discipline, of course; moral cowardice appears to be equally distributed in all walks of life.

What has always seemed odd, to me, is the overlooking of the fact that human beings can and do readily adopt new practices to fit in to cultures that they seek refuge in. They learn the language, the behavioural and legal codes, learn to conform to dress codes and so on. It is most unusual to see immigrant groups demanding to retain those aspects of their original culture, which actively defy their new setting, in a situation where this would likely get them expelled (or worse) from the society which has offered them a home.

So it is imperative to be very clear what is acceptable and what is not. In a multicultural society, it cannot always be easy to make the kinds of rules that permit, on the one hand, freedom of religion, while on the other hand, apply a uniform standard of law - especially of human rights and individual freedoms. But it must be done, and be seen to be strictly upheld. This is not a moral minefield. It is a simple matter of applying the legal system equally. Any politician who panders special interests, be they ethnic or religious - or class - should be publicly challenged and shamed. People have fought too hard for those rights and freedoms, now enshrined in the legal system of most democratic countries, to risk losing these now because some member of parliament cannot, or will not, see that this balancing of the rights of the individual against those of the state must apply to all citizens, regardless of their origins or beliefs.

Thu, 02 Feb 2012 07:53:13 UTC | #913706