Liberal Multiculturalism and The New Anxiety: A Critique of Kymlicka

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Liberal Multiculturalism and The New Anxiety: A Critique of Kymlicka
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Still more can be said.  Kymlicka takes the concepts of equality and freedom for granted, as though they have been completely realized in Canadian society. He argues that some of these new immigrants, especially illiberal Muslims, constitute a threat to cherished liberal Canadian values.  In this way he overlooks the discrimination that still exists in Canada on the basis of intersections of class, race, ethnicity, gender, and religion, which often produce barriers, if not oppression, for racialized subjects (see Galabuzi 2006; Henry and Tator 2010). Moreover, Kymlicka reinforces essentialist stereotypes of these newcomers when he assumes that they do not believe in liberal values such as equality and freedom; that their religion—Islam—does not allow for basic human rights or the practice of justice.

According to Kymlicka, the new anxiety (which, frankly, he seems to share) stems from applying multiculturalism to religious diversity, such as recognizing holidays, demanding halal food (according to Islamic traditions), and changing zoning by-laws to enable Muslims to build Mosques and cemeteries. The support and funding of Islamic schools also becomes problematic, Kymlicka coChahal pull quote 1ntends, because they teach illiberal values (i.e. hatred and intolerance toward other groups). He does not, however, view Euro-Canadian groups in this way, including the Euro-Canadian Catholic religious groups, nor does he look at the variations that exist within these groups. Consequently, Kymlicka supports Catholic schools because their values, he emphasizes, do not contradict liberal values or secularism. He seems, however, to be against providing funding for schools that convey and follow the religious traditions of the recently arrived immigrants. The faith-based classes of new immigrants teach values that lead to, he stresses (repeating the stereotypical three “cultural” practices of mainstream media), genital circumcision, forced marriages, and honour killing, and preach against the equality and freedom reflected in Canadian institutions and the Canadian constitution (see for further detail his recent on-line article 2004: 7-9).

Kymlicka takes such generalizations for granted, echoing them as though they were established facts. It seems that the fear that is reflected here exists in relation to what some orientalist writers falsely assume (e.g. Bernard Lewis 1990, and Samuel Huntington1993; Huntington 1996) as a “clash of civilizations,” which Kymlicka also repeats in his work (see his on-line article 2004). Huntington argues in The Clash of Civilizations that cultural and religious identities will be the main source of conflict in the post-Cold War period. This conflict will be mostly between Western civilization and non-Western civilization, such as Islamic and Confucian civilizations. He asserts that Western civilizations reflect liberal values whereas non-Western civilizations embody illiberal values (for a critique of both Huntington and Lewis, see Edward SaidChahal pull quote 2 on-line; Said 1997). By viewing Muslim people in an antagonistic way and as reduced to a cultural and religious identity, Kymlicka takes a dichotomous and simplistic analysis for granted, thereby reproducing some of the most negative stereotypes and harmful misconceptions of Muslims that have long circulated in the dominant ideologies and discourses of the West (see Robert Miles 1989; Karim Karim 2003; see also for a summary of these ideas Chahal 2003). In Kymlicka’s lecture, these age-old stereotypes resurface in neo-orientalist 21st c historical forms and are placed in opposition to an unproblematic Canadian multiculturalism.

While one can argue that cultural factors can and do come into play to help explain conflicts and other social problems, they are not, however, outside of relations of power, most notably, political and economic relations and their colonial historical links. In other words, what gives rise to conflict is not necessarily culture (by itself and on its own), but the nexus of intersections of political and economic factors and their historical colonial, neo-colonial, and globalizing links. Regarding neo-colonial processes, one need simply look at the hegemonic role of the US with its sophisticated military—through its intervention in the Middle East, Arab world, and Muslim world—and the impact of such an interference, including deleterious outcomes, such as death, injury, imprisonment, loss of land and resources, to name a few. In “Religion and Multiculturalism,” Kymlicka does not raise any of these questions, nor does he include in his analysis the intersections of culture, religion, and power relations.