Sunday, December 18, 2005
From Salman Rushdie:
When we, as individuals, pick and mix cultural elements for ourselves, we do not do so indiscriminately, but according to our natures. Societies, too, must retain the ability to discriminate, to reject as well as to accept, to value some things above others, and to insist on the acceptance of those values by all their members. This is the question of our time: how does a fractured community of multiple cultures decide what values it must share in order to cohere, and how can it insist on those values even when they clash with some citizens’ traditions and beliefs?
The beginnings of an answer may be found by asking the question the other way around: what does a society owe to its citizens? The French riots demonstrate a stark truth. If people do not feel included in the national idea, their alienation will turn to rage. Chouhan and others are right to insist that issues of social justice, racism and deprivation need urgently to be addressed. If we are to build a plural society on the foundation of what unites us, we must face up to what divides. But the questions of core freedoms and primary loyalties can’t be ducked. No society, no matter how tolerant, can expect to thrive if its citizens don’t prize what their citizenship means — if, when asked what they stand for as Frenchmen, as Indians, as Britons, they cannot give clear replies.
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