Contradictions? What contradictions?

Blair gave a speech on multiculturalism. (Maybe if he’s very good, next week he’ll be allowed to have a debate on the subject with Madeleine Bunting.) He said some slightly odd things…

Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and other faiths have a perfect right to their own identity and religion, to practice their faith and to conform to their culture. This is what multicultural, multi-faith Britain is about. That is what is legitimately distinctive.

But when it comes to our essential values – belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all, respect for this country and its shared heritage – then that is where we come together, it is what we hold in common…

But those two can be in flat contradiction. Blair surely knows that. Is the idea that people are just supposed to ignore that problem? The fact that practicing a ‘faith’ and conforming to a culture can rule out belief in and practice of equal treatment for all? He must know that, he’s not silly – so what does he mean by saying that? Is it just that anodyne but impossible formulas are required for speeches of this kind?

Actually he does admit the problem farther down. (But then why state it this way farther up? Won’t he confuse his hearers?)

[W]e stand emphatically at all times for equality of respect and treatment for all citizens. Sometimes the cultural practice of one group contradicts this. We need very clear rules for how we govern the public realm. A good example is forced marriage. There can be no defence of forced marriage on cultural or any other grounds.

Right. Good. But then it’s no good saying people have a perfect right to practice their ‘faith’ and to conform to their culture when in fact that right is (very properly) limited. That’s misleading.

Andy Armitage sent me the link to this speech and pointed out this passage:

One of the most common concerns that has been raised with me, when meeting women from the Muslim communities, is their frustration at being debarred even from entering certain mosques. Those that exclude the voice of women need to look again at their practices. I am not suggesting altering the law. But we have asked the Equal Opportunities Commission to produce a report by the spring of next year on how these concerns could be practically addressed, whilst of course recognising that in many religions the treatment of women differs from that of men.

Well, okay, but that looks like some thin ice up ahead. But good luck with it.

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