“Defamation of religion” and liberal values

Richard Ackland has an enjoyable rant this week about an upcoming UN talkfest in Geneva known as Durban II.  It’s organised by the UN Human Rights Council, which in a  delightful (but typical of the UN) irony is chaired by Libya.  As Ackland points out:

The Human Rights Council is just playing along with another outfit, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, an association of 57 states, which has a “built-in” majority on the UN’s human rights body.

Apparently the Islamic majority is assiduously pursuing a resolution condemning “defamation of religions” and exhorting  member States, albeit in vague terms, to move to stamp it out. 

“Defamation of religions” apparently would include any suggestions that international terrorism might as a matter of pragmatic observation currently bear more of an association with persons of the Muslim persuasion than any other clearly identifiable group. 1

Of course, contempt for fundamental liberal values of free speech isn’t confined to Islam. George Pell would reinstate the Spanish Inquisition tomorrow if he thought he could get away with it, as witnessed by his strongarming the NSW government into passing extraordinarily illiberal laws to “protect” the freedoms of World Youth Day celebrants by sacrificing the freedoms of everyone else.  Fortunately the Court of Appeal put the kibosh on that particular piece of nonsense.

Then there’s the fact that the Rudd government has just ratified the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the Howard government opposed.  I suspect it’s just a totally meaningless gesture designed solely to bolster Rudd’s ambition to win a UN Security Council seat by appeasing the world’s most illiberal regimes by empty exercises in symbolism.  The Hawke government used to behave similarly, signing and ratifying treaties on an almost daily basis with no apparent intention ever to legislate to bring them into domestic law and no obvious motive other than to allow Gareth Evans to big-note himself. 

Nevertheless, and like the proposed Durban II resolution, the UN Declaration is a piece of pernicious, politically correct Animal Farm-ish doublespeak that deems some people to be more equal than others.

I recently stumbled across an apposite journal article by UQ constitutional law academic Suri Ratnapala titled “Cultural Diversity And Liberal Society – A Case For Reprivatising Culture” which encapsulates my own views on this sort of confused thinking. Incidentally, I understand that Ratnapala was one of Helen “skepticlawyer” Dale’s early legal mentors who nudged her along the path to the libertarian legal themes she’s currently pursuing at Oxford.  Ratnapala’s article contains some of the usual libertarian nonsense about abolishing national borders and achieving freedom by forcing the poor and disabled off state welfare and into the tender embrace of private charity.  But at least on the question of the proper classical liberal response towards issues of social/cultural values Ratnapala’s nailed it in my view.  An extensive extract appears over the fold:

In the imperfectly liberal societies of the real world, there exist communities that do not subscribe to all liberal values. This may be the result of historical resistance to liberalisation in a given country as in India where despite increasing liberalisation of the country as a whole, caste status persists in some communities. Or it could be new growth that results from the very freedoms that a liberal society offers. Large scale migration from less liberal societies as well as home grown movements can create these illiberal social enclaves. Even an ideal liberal society that values the freedom of choice above all else has potential to generate associations that are illiberal. Whereas a despotic regime may impose its cultural preferences on the people or seek to ensure cultural homogeneity, a liberal society that gives pre-eminence to individual autonomy cannot ensure that illiberal groups will not form within itself. Religious cults that persuade people to surrender their property and their autonomy to the cult leaders are known to occur in relatively liberal societies such as the United States. In Europe, large scale migration from Islamic countries has produced ethnic communities that do not accept individual autonomy, particularly as they apply to women. How can or should a liberal society deal with such groups? …

CULTURAL PRESERVATION THE POLITICS OF MULTICULTURALISM

Democracies have witnessed in the last two decades increasing demands from minority cultural groups for state recognition of their identities and assistance for the preservation of their cultures. They have received strong intellectual support from left leaning liberals. Governments in liberal democracies make substantial allocations to support the retention of minority religious practices, languages, arts and crafts. In some countries there is growing demand for state provided schooling in minority languages and in minority faiths. Kymlicka (1995) who believes that freedom of choice of the individual is the fundamental principle of a liberal society argues for state sponsorship of multiculturalism along these lines on the basis that individual choices are shaped by culture. In the case of migrant minorities who have left their societal cultures to live amidst another culture, Kymlicka argues that liberal society should grant what he calls polyethnic rights intended to help ethnic groups and religious minorities express their cultural particularity and pride without hampering their success in the economic and political institutions of the dominant society. (Kymlicka 1995: 31)

There is little doubt that culture has much to do with individual choice. The choices in social life are shaped by both physical and social constraints. Unlike Robinson Crusoe on his lonely island, we find ourselves in society that both inhibits and empowers individuals. Kymlicka argues that a liberal society that values choice has a duty to assist minority groups to retain aspects of their culture. While he is right about the role of culture in the shaping of choice, Kymlicka is in serious error when he infers that the liberal state must therefore preserve particular cultures so that the choices that they generate are not extinguished. I think that this argument misunderstands both culture and liberalism. Cultures, whether dominant or not in a particular geographical space, are forever in flux. They are dynamical systems that respond to information and stimuli. A culture that stands still in a changing world is a dead culture fit for museums. The ways in which culture evolves cannot be predicted with certainty. What is certain is that the adaptive behavior of individuals has much to do with cultural transformation. Cultures that appear to be stable are those that are set in stable environments. Communities that have been spared exposure to other cultures by natural or military barriers may retain ancient ways of life for thousands of years. Such stability, however, is not the result of choice but the lack of choice. In contrast where choice is a feature of social life individuals may embrace new ways of doing things.

State promotion of culture is necessarily redistributive and lies beyond the scope of the minimal state. Apart from this fundamental objection, there are two problems with the argument that if culture is not preserved, individuals are deprived of choices that it offers. The first is that the transformation of a culture may actually increase choices available to individuals. The second is that it involves the assumption that the state knows what choices individuals may wish to preserve in a changing environment. Kymlickas argument makes some sense from the communitarian and socialist viewpoints that subordinate individual choice to some notion of collective good. It makes no sense within a theory that gives primacy to individual choice. The retention and growth of culture will depend on free association and intercourse among individuals. Individuals who choose to live in liberal society must accept that their culture will be relentlessly exposed to the free flow of knowledge, ideas and temptations. The reason is that liberal society as explained previously does not and cannot provide protection against exposure to ideas and information without sacrificing its principles. Such protection can be granted only by drastically limiting the freedom of individuals, in particular freedom of communication and association. A liberal society has no interest in destroying diversity but also no interest in preserving it. As Kukathas rightly observes the appropriate liberal attitude to the question of cultural preservation is one of benign neglect.

The ideal liberal society will not have a state religion even if all members confess to one faith. For it must protect the freedom of every member to embrace another faith. Liberal society does not punish apostasy or heresy. …
LIBERALISM AND NATIONAL MINORITIES

There are few countries in the world that do not have ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities. Countries such as India and Sri Lanka have different religious and ethnic communities who are natives of the land. Some of these communities form nations identified with traditional homelands. In countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and France, there are both national minorities as well as recent immigrants from different societal cultures. Kymlicka argues that in the case of national minorities such as the American Indian tribes, liberalism requires devolution of power to a political unit substantially controlled by the members of the national minority, and substantially corresponding to their historical homeland. (Kymlicka, 1995: 30)

Liberal society is not an imperial society in the conventional sense though it may be one in the cultural sense. Hence, it has no evangelical mission to liberalise illiberal societies that do not pose any threats to it or to keep within it individuals who wish to quit. In principle, a group within liberal society who decide by consensus to secede and live under different rules should be able to do so, provided that a fair settlement is reached concerning borders and the rights of persons affected are not violated.

National minorities are usually the result of nations and their territories being conquered by or ceded to other nations. The longer these nations are integrated politically and economically with other nations the more complex the solution becomes. A large number of difficult questions arise in reaching a settlement on devolution of political authority to national minorities. The liberal approach to these questions will accord primacy to the principle of choice.

Where national minorities have been politically and economically integrated for long periods, it may not be possible to achieve separation without damaging the liberal character of the society unless the seceding nation is also liberal in its culture and institutions. The reason is that the members of the minority and majority communities may have intermingled geographically and culturally under a liberal regime to the extent that a liberal society may not be able to meet the historical claims of separatists without violating its fundamental commitment to the autonomy of the individual. Individuals who do not wish to leave the liberal society may find themselves within the jurisdiction of the separating entity. In such cases, the terms of separation may have to include adequate compensation to those individuals to enable them to relocate to the liberal society. Where separation is feasible, a number of different models of devolution may be considered by all parties. They range from various kinds of federal arrangements to complete independence. Federal arrangements are useful options not only because they can address the concerns of nations regarding territorial integrity and national security but also because they enhance the freedom of choice of individuals by allowing them free movement and domicile within and among jurisdictions of their choice. Free trade and intercourse that is a feature of functioning federations have proved superior in maintaining liberal society than enforced unity.

  1. I had personal experience of the perils of this sort of cultural cringe-based political correctness not so long ago.  While passing through the x-ray check at Darwin airport I was singled out for a “random explosives check”.   As an officious-looking uniformed woman passed a magic wand over my person and possessions, I remarked to Jen that this was the fifth time in a row I’d been singled out “at random” and wondered out loud whether I might look like I was of the Islamic persuasion.  “That’s racist!” the officious searching woman exclaimed.  “I’ll have you know one of our inspectors is an Indian.”  “But most Indians are Hindu not Muslim,” I patiently replied.  “And Islam is a religion not a race. Don’t you think you’re being a little silly?”  “I’ll get the Federal Police onto you if you’re not careful,” she threatened darkly as I walked away having mercifully been deemed Semtex-free if a racist turd. ~ KP []

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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meika
12 years ago

The ways in which culture evolves cannot be predicted with certainty.

No, not exactly, but the number of styles a culture takes are fairly restricted and their motivational fears quite predictable. The outward material expression are many in detail, but their symbolic reasoning are not.

See fourcultures blog for one approach.

These four styles (more meta-cultures) I would argue are strange attractors. The iterations are individual’s choices based on their afferent biases. These biases are not impediments but motivational.

Each style will attempt to create a world/environment/culture/regime that suits themselves, arbitrarily selects artefacts to identify and express this, while fearmongering anything else; to turn the others into devils (racist terrorists). In ecology this process would be called niche construction.

Untl we admit these meta-processes, “liberalism” will remain stuck in tolerating the poisons and unable to build an appreciative society and we’ll wander the same circles in an eternal return where we worry more about headscarves or beards or motorbikes or some other arbitrary fashion statement as representing the end of the world.

Ethnic cultures are just as stuck. It’s a reaction generally to bad times: war, genocide, and persecution. The best way to free these up is to get rid of the bad times. Unfortunately bad times give psychopaths like Stalin and Hitler power and boy can they stir up the biases in their favour. It’s a vicious circle.

Not always possible of course, but a better culural process informed leadership might help. (It’s a pity our corporations’ laws empower psychoaths so much, th eleast human among us, but then they may have helped make the law in the first place, as such, it would also be a fine example of niche construction.)

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
12 years ago

What are we to say to a government who would sign that spapstic UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples? Who/what are these “Indigenous Peoples”? All these extremely naive haute bourgeois white baby-boomer Human Rights Industry Luvvies – particularly all those public international law academics – will have blue lights flashing out their asses the day when the High Court uses it to classify recently arrived immigrants as second class citizens with fewer rights that the beer-chugging three generation “Indigenous Peoples” such as Warnie, Sam Newman and Pauline Hanson.

I can’t wait!

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
12 years ago

And it is neither here nor there whether this or that culture dies.

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
12 years ago

Why on earth do we even contribute five cents to those Northern Territory cesspits!? Culture, my ass! THey now have the land rights, let their so-called “indigenous culture” flourish under its own steam.

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
12 years ago

“Sins” my ass! I say what the vast majority are denied from saying by the Luvvies who are too gutless to say it.

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
12 years ago

Hey, you’re the one laying into the UNDRIP!

Tel_
Tel_
12 years ago

I get randomly stopped for explosives testing …

If you have a long wait for your flight, try the game where you sit where you can view the queue and guess who is going to be randomly stopped. You can play this on your own but it’s more fun with another player and a stack of small coins to run fast wagers.

Jumping back on topic, let’s suppose an Aboriginal child comes from a tribe where there are maybe 5000 speakers of their native language. Is it more humane to make them learn this minority language, or make them learn English? Sooner or later, that child will grow up into someone who wants a job, in which case they will need English.

No doubt it is tempting to suggest that we make the child learn both languages, but that additional skill must always come at a cost of not learning something else (maybe mathematics, computers, science, philosophy, etc). It would also be nice to let the child choose based on their own interests but circumstance rarely works out that way.

If I were given the choice where my tax dollars were spent, I’d be teaching them English.

meika
12 years ago

Ive noticed that if am wearing my scruffy beard, I get randomly stopped for explosives testing at airports. If I am clean-shaven I go straight through.

I wonder if I shave down to a moustache will I get rushed through like a VIP.

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
12 years ago

KP

Did you skull a triple ‘Greenfield” – no ice – before that last post? I would have been proud to have penned, ‘cept I know nothing about bilingual education in remote NT! :)

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
12 years ago

It is high time we turned the torch on those cosmopolite white Luvvies who make a fortune out of the dissolution of NT aboriginal communities, such as Larrisa Behrendt. What an unhelpful disingenuous cynical sook!

http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/stories/s2532129.htm

And don’t get me started on those others paid hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer lucre for their race-baiting such as Tom Calma and Stephen Hagan. They might be not Larissa-type whiteys, but they are just as unhelpful.

Tel_
Tel_
12 years ago

Ken, I’m pretty confident that those languages spoken by tiny minorities will die a natural death if left to themselves, and die a fractionally slower and slightly unnatural death if sufficient coercion is used to maintain their spoken upkeep.

In as much as a language is the core of a culture (and that’s arguable, but not unthinkable), as the dominant language washes out the minority languages, so we lose culture and the ideas contained within (we should take pains to document the language, culture and ideas so future generations might look them up as reference material, just in case). Thus, anyone pushing for cultural preservation would logically also have to push for language preservation.

Looking at it from another point of view, a language is primarily a tool for communication, and what’s the point, when there is almost no one speaking the same language to communicate with?

jimparker
jimparker(@jimparker)
12 years ago

Would it hurt you Greenslime to actually read what you’ve linked to and then produce a response that goes beyond just popping your pimples in other’s faces?

You do realise your crap-handed attempts to feed your hunger for attention has just turned you into a blogosphere figure of fun. An in-joke punchline.

But then again maybe that’s all you wanted to hope for. The class clown without class. “Hey look everyone! I just separated an earthworm. With my teeth! Isn’t film such a disappointment?”

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
12 years ago

I just read some of the history of that declaration on Indigenous peoples. My favourite is the Africans’ reaction:

Get stuffed

but trumped by the reassurances of the ‘Group of African Experts’:

Don’t worry, this is about Australia, the USA and Canada, not you.

lol/cry?

Seriously, read paras 1.1, 2.4 and 8.1. The points they are making are not so egregiously bad as my distortionary and selective summary makes them sound, but one can see why the UN gets a poor record for usefulness.

Maybe one day (next year!) I will try and put together something on the contrast between the ICC the UNCHR (not to mention that between the ICC.reality and the ICC.feverish dreams of radical lefties). Arguably, the future (ie ongoing existence) of international human rights depends on it.

Tel_
Tel_
12 years ago

Dont worry, this is about Australia, the USA and Canada, not you.

Surely Japan (at least) would have to join that group.

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
12 years ago

How??? IF(INPUT(GET”White settled”)=”no”);THEN(PRINT”Nothing to see here”).

Not a complicated formula, Tel_, even if it is beyond my 20 year old memories to express it!