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Thursday, 3 March 2011

Nick Clegg on muscular liberalism in an "open, confident" society

I very much enjoyed reading the speech that Nick Clegg made today in Luton, on "An Open, Confident Society: The Application of Muscular Liberalism in a Multicultural Society". This is a very impressive statement of where the Liberal Democrats and the Coalition Government stand on these matters. Among many interesting passages, I was particularly struck by the following sections:
The Prime Minister has recently argued that we need to assert confidently our liberal values. I agree. Politicians have a huge responsibility to lead by example, and engage in the often difficult arguments around immigration, multiculturalism and liberty. That is why I think the PM was absolutely right to make his argument for ‘muscular liberalism’.

I also think the Prime Minister was right to make a sharp distinction between religious belief and political ideology. Religious devotion is completely separate from violent extremism. The overwhelming majority of devout people of all faiths reject violence and terrorism. There is some evidence that those Muslims who do turn to violence have a shallower understanding of Islam than Muslims who may have radical views, but reject violence.

This is the background against which we have to consider the issues of multiculturalism. We have to be clear what we mean here. Where multiculturalism is held to mean more segregation, other communities leading parallel lives, it is clearly wrong. For me, multiculturalism has to seen as a process by which people respect and communicate with each other, rather than build walls between each other. Welcoming diversity but resisting division: that’s the kind of multiculturalism of an open, confident society.

And the cultures in a multicultural society are not just ethnic or religious. Many of the cultural issues of the day cut right across these boundaries: gay rights; the role of women; identities across national borders; differing attitudes to marriage; the list goes on. Cultural disagreements are much more complex than much of the debate implies. If you will forgive the phrase, they are not quite so black and white.

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