Religion & Beliefs

Multiculturalism: Bad for the Jews?

I’m generally a big fan of Jonathan Sacks. I read his To Heal A Fractured World—The Ethics of Responsibility during the high holidays, and thought it was brilliant. As the Chief Rabbi of the UK he’s certainly got my respect … Read More

By / November 1, 2007

I’m generally a big fan of Jonathan Sacks. I read his To Heal A Fractured World—The Ethics of Responsibility during the high holidays, and thought it was brilliant. As the Chief Rabbi of the UK he’s certainly got my respect (the six different colleges where he’s studied help, too) but I’m not sure I can be on board with his latest cause: Sacks has come out against multiculturalism. He has a book coming out in January, The Home We Build Together: Recreating Society and apparently the first sentence is "Multiculturalism has run its course and it is time to move on." According to the Jewish Chronicle

It had been designed to make ethnic and religious minorities feel more at home. But there had been a price to pay, “and it grows year by year”. It led not to integration but to segregation: “It has allowed groups to live separately with no incentive to integrate, and every incentive not to.”

Multiculturalism had made societies “more abrasive, fractured and intolerant”. British politics, he said, had been poisoned by the rise of identity politics, as minorities and aggrieved groups jockeyed for rights.

The effect, he said, 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.”

Sir Jonathan continues his theme in today’s JC, in the first of a series of exclusive essays on “the challenges facing British Jews today”. He talks of a split between the universalists, who want to save the world, and the particularists, who want to save Judaism.

Dr Richard Stone, head of the Stone Ashdown Trust, which backs race-relations organisations, including the Jewish-Muslim Alif Aleph group, said he was “staggered” by the comments.

“My initial response is that he has been reading the words of journalists, who are known enemies of multiculturalism and who are trying to undermine the concept. In my view, multiculturalism is the only hope for the future of this country and we must promote it.”

Full story

Apparently Sacks thinks that things like cell phone and email have made it too easy for immigrants to stay embedded in their home cultures and never learn about Western values. I have to think more about this, but basically, I think we have to accept that in a world where people hop from country to country they’ll want to stay at home in some spiritual way, and that that’s a valid feeling. Multiculturalism isn’t the villain here, it’s poor bureaucratic response to immigrants. When there isn’t any outreach to immigrant communities, what do people expect? And when immigrants are treated poorly, of course they’re going to react in ways that make sense to their home cultures, but perhaps don’t coincide with western values. Forced assimilation is a bad plan, and so is segregation, be it self-imposed or mandated by the state. But I don’t see how multiculturalism got the short end of the stick here.