Friday, 22 January 2010

Recommended: Planet Politics

As a follow up to my piece last week on Nigel Farage's views on the burka and British society, I'd recommend this excellent piece by Stuart Winton where he contrasts the wearing of the burka with the Naked Rambler's ongoing battle with the law over his "right" to walk naked around the country.

A rather strange conflation of two divergent examples and yet the point he makes is interesting - the relationship between individual freedom, toleration and cultural norms and values. Well worth a read.


Stuart Winton 22 January 2010 at 18:21  

Thanks very much for the kind remarks, Malc, although my post was the easy bit - the difficult issue is of course deciding where acceptable norms should lie, and that point I skillfully avoided in my post!!

To an extent your own highly commendable post earlier this week also left the question open, but I'm inclined to disagree with you to the extent that you seemed to be at odds with Nigel Farage on the burka issue.

On the other hand, I certainly prefer the wearing of the burka to the Naked Rambler's approach to life!

I suppose the problem with the tolerance question is how far we are expected to accomodate cultural norms. For example, clearly some aspects of Muslim fundamentalism are unacceptable both in terms of British law and dominant cultural norms, and I suppose opinion polls suggest that the burka question is at least part of the way there regarding cultural if not legal norms.

I suppose the problem that many people have with tolerating the burka is that in some ways actually wearing it demonstrates an intolerance of sorts. Thus perhaps the thinking of the likes of Farage is why should we be expected to tolerate intolerance?

Malc 22 January 2010 at 18:30  


You are, of course, right in that I left open the question of norms, of acceptance and where the line should be drawn.

I don't agree with Farage that there should be an outright ban - that much is true. But I do agree with his bringing up the issue, for I believe a debate on this - and the wider issue of toleration & multi-culturalism, immigration and acceptance is very much what society needs at this point. The increase in BNP support at the Euros is surely evidence that the public needs to have a discussion about these issues - without resorting to racism.

I am, in general, a liberal (small l - I don't want to be tainted by association!). I believe in liberty, in Mill's Harm Principle and think the role of government is not to impose constraints upon individual liberty. Which is why, in many ways, your final point has me thinking.

Toleration of intolerance. How does that sit with liberty? An interesting debate, for sure.

Stuart Winton 23 January 2010 at 17:50  

"The increase in BNP support at the Euros is surely evidence that the public needs to have a discussion about these issues - without resorting to racism."

Indeed, Malc, but of course the problem is that such discussions are often diverted from the substantive issues with accusations of racism, with the real point being made (for example, economic dislocaton and detriment in the case of immigration and Muslim illiberalism and intolerance in the case of things like the burka) being lost in a fog of self-righteousness.

Of course, the underlying problem here can perhaps be summed up in one word - idealism - but I think you're bang on the realist money when you said in your earlier post:

"The point I was making - and that I stand by - is that tension between people who have distinctly different customs will always exist. Society is about managing that conflict."

Of course, life is to a large extent about compromise and tolerancre, but clearly these ideals can't be abolute and do shift in time and space, but to thwart democratic discussion on these issue with kneejerk cries of 'racism' and 'intolerance' encourages the even messier reality of the BNP et al, which is worse than if mainstream politics was perhaps a bit more willing to be a bit less tolerant!!

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