Escaping Culture


Kenan Malik argues that a person's cultural past need not be his future:

‘It is in the interest of every person to be fully integrated in a cultural group’, the sociologist Joseph Raz has written. And that has become a common view in many multiculturalist claims. But what is to be fully integrated? If a Muslim woman rejects sharia law, is she demonstrating her lack of integration? What about a Jew who doesn’t believe in the legitimacy of the Jewish State? … To view humans as having to bear specific cultures [denies] a capacity for transformation.  It suggests that every human being is so shaped by a particular culture that to change or undermine that culture would be to undermine the very dignity of that individual. It suggests that the biological fact of, say, Jewish or Bangladeshi ancestry somehow make a human being incapable of living well except as a participant of Jewish or Bangladeshi culture. This would only make sense if Jews or Bangladeshis were biologically distinct – in other words if cultural identity was really about racial difference.

(Photo of the Ontario Monument to Multiculturalism by Flickr user Shaun Merritt)