Is cultural diversity proving to be compatible with social unity?
As debates intensify about how the UK can best address the challenges of deepening cultural diversity, this topic has become an increasingly prominent and controversial issue. There are strong views held by both supporters and detractors of cultural diversity within our society – compatibility with true social unity is often at the heart of this debate.
To answer the question we must consider the current state of cultural diversity within our society. In Britain today there is an estimated 'ethnic minority' population of just over 4 million. The UK, unlike Canada and Australia, has never formally embraced cultural diversity as a basis for intercommunal relations, yet this diversity has been accepted, particularly since the 1980’s, as the prevailing ethos in much of British public life. This has been evident in developments as diverse as the advancement of bilingualism in Wales, the emphasis on 'equality and diversity' in the public services, the spread of so-called 'faith schools' and the former Lord Chief Justice's willingness to accept Sharia courts as a legitimate means of settling certain disputes between British Muslims.
Such developments have, nevertheless, not gone unchallenged. Indeed it has become increasingly fashionable to declare that cultural diversity and multiculturalism have 'gone too far', a view expressed not least by Trevor Phillips, the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
So is it possible for cultural diversity to really be compatible with social unity? For some, this compatibility is fundamental to the success of our current society. For others, although we live in a country with a rich cultural heritage, the value in this diversity is sometimes not fully seen and is certainly thought to work directly against social unity.
The argument against compatibility is fundamentally based on fear. Valuing our diverse culture is all about understanding and...