Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Multiculturalism and Domestic Violence

The trial in Manchester of two Parents for the murder of their daughter in a so called honour killing" . will shock people. "How can parents do that?" will be the question asked, and further debates about the concepts of Izzat "and "Sheram" will be put forward. This essay, written earlier this year, looks at the arguments within the field of multiculturalism, and argues that multicultural attitudes are, in fact partly to blame for such murders, (as well as domestic abuse as a whole).

This essay will look at the issue of Domestic violence as seen from a multiculturalism angle, particularly looking at whether multiculturalism policy within institutions such as schools and local authorities is weighted more towards avoiding cultural offense rather than promoting the issue among ethnic minorities as a Home affairs select committee report in 2008 suggests (cited by Senhay Nihat in 2009 ). This issue, also highlighted by authors such as Brian Baker and Nira Yuval-Davies , and professionals such as Trevor Philips of the Committee for Racial Equality and those working in the domestic violence field is that a blanket view of “Culture and race” is failing vulnerable members of the community . This essay will look at the government policies on Multiculturalism over the past decade, before looking at the broader arguments from social Scientists where they relate to this issue.
Multiculturalism as a debate within political and social theory is relatively new, stretching back to the mid eighties (Paul Kelly, Introduction, Between Culture and Equality2005 (2002)). The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy defines it as: “{…}a body of thought in political philosophy about the proper way to respond to cultural and religious diversity.” Government responses to this issue over the past few years have sought to address the issue of maintaining cultural identity within the framework of the individual rights of a liberal democracy, but these have not been without their critics. Multicultural policies have been broadly seen as a way of tackling the issue of racism, of promoting equality of opportunity, and breaking down barriers that prevent that opportunity being realised – The much quoted example of a Sikh boy who’s school uniform policy prevented him wearing the turban (Cited by, among others Kelly (“Equal opportunities and Cultural Commitments (Multiculturalism Reconsidered), 2005) is an example of where policy needs to be drawn up so that cultural differences are not a barrier to opportunity. Another positive is Multiculturalism as an anti racism postulate – the idea that through such policies and framework, we can work on combating racist ideology and thought, beginning with the school curriculum, education policies exist to celebrate diversity, children learn about “comparative religious” from a young age, this feeds through into anti-discriminatory policies within Employment and welfare law.

As an undercurrent the notion of “British values” have been advanced by politicians over the last decade, from new Labours Citizenship tests in the early noughties through to Cameron’s speech earlier this year where he talks about “Muscular Liberalism” and asks the question “ Do they believe in universal human rights - including for women and people of other faiths? Do they believe in equality of all before the law? Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government? Do they encourage integration or separatism?” . These speeches have been condemned as promoting “Islamaphobia “ by many critics (such as Tahir Abbas in 2005 and again in 2011 ) looking at the issue within the context of Islamic extremism and terrorism threats only. This, it has been suggested by those working in the field of domestic violence, is leading to a culture within social services and law enforcement where stereotyping and discrimination is rife, putting fear of criticising a Cultural minority as a group above that of an individual’s rights in terms of protection from abuse. (Thara R and Breslin R, “A look at domestic violence among families from ethnic minorities” Nov 2006, also see Sokoloff and Dupont “Domestic violence at the intersections of Race, Class and Gender 2005) )

Certainly laws have been passed on domestic violence making it a priority over the past few years, along with the 2008 act dealing with forced marriages. These laws require the injured party to speak out, (indeed, the 2008 Forced marriage act is a civil law, it’s emphasis on putting civil injunctions on perpetrators, the breaking of which then leads to criminal prosecution, again speaking out is required to enforce this) Speaking out against domestic violence, as Thara and Breslin point out in the report, is difficult when some cultural beliefs (such as the concepts of Izzat and Sharam (Honour and reputation) provide a barrier to both their standing in the community, and in the services’ treatment of them when they do speak out. Add to that the language barrier encountered by some female immigrants (as discussed by Trevor Phillips and his 2004 Guardian article “Multiculturalism's legacy is 'have a nice day' racism”) and the problem is multiplied. This issue was addressed in Lord Lammings’ report on the Victoria Climbie case in 2002/03:

“Victoria was a black child, and many of the staff who had contact with her were also black. To what extent racism may have been a contributory factor in what happened to Victoria is a centrally important question. Lord Laming told us that he found no evidence of overt racism, but what the Inquiry did find “was staff making assumptions that because people originated from a particular culture that behaviour could be described as being culturally determined when in fact they knew nothing about that culture and had never visited the country.” For example, the way in which Victoria ‘jumped to attention’ when Kouao was present was assumed by some to be a reflection of her upbringing on the Ivory Coast. In fact, the reality was quite different and Victoria had not been expected to behave in this way with her own parents.” (PP26-27)

Further down in the report, he makes reference to the concept of “Institutionalised Racism” brought out by the Macpherson report into the Stephen Lawrence case in the 90’s. What we can see, from both Thara and Breslin in 2005 and Nihat in 2009 is that this is still an ongoing concern. The question remains then, how much is this a fault of multicultural thinking over the past two decades, which has been reflected into both policy and practice by the Government(s) and agencies responsible for these areas?

Nira Yuval-Davies, in her 1997 essay “Ethnicity, Gender relations and Multiculturalism “ (“Debating Cultural Hybridity” Werbner and Modood eds 1997, pp193ff ) brings this to the fore, arguing that woman are often marginalised due to the assumption that all members of a “culture” are equally committed to that collective culture. She looks at the Idea that women are seen traditionally as the keepers of the collective identity, their role in keeping cultural traditions alive within the home even more important when that culture is threatened by influences of an outside hegemony, (such as the case within immigrant groups within British society). She argues that Multiculturalism is fails to understand the power relations within a particular cultural group, and tends to fail to hear the voices of the vulnerable members. Though she places this as a left leaning criticism, Brian Barry (Second thoughts, some first thoughts reviewed - “Multiculturalism reconsidered “ 2005 Paul Kelly ed, pp204 ff) also argues that “Most of the policy recommendations of Multiculturalists are, on balance, more likely to do harm than good to the most vulnerable members of those minority cultures that are intended to be the primary beneficiaries.” (Barry, 2005, p205) clearly shows that this is also a Liberal criticism as well. The issue seems to be the rights of the Cultural group as a hegemonic whole verses the rights of the individuals that make up that group.

Barry’s earlier book, “Cultures and Equality” (2001), in which he tries to address the conflict between respect for cultural differences and individual human rights (defined as “Egalitarianism”) has been the source of much criticism since it’s publication. Yet what authors like Yuval Davies show is that this discourse is nothing new, She cites cases through the late eighties and early nineties where such cases been ruled in favour of the prevailing “Culture” as opposed to the individual’s rights under British law (1997, p201). Barry’s Critics have been lead by Bhikhu Parekh, who states that Barry’s work is fundamentally flawed by his failure to see the different perspectives within the broad theme of Multiculturalism (“The Dangers of Liberalism” - “Multiculturalism reconsidered “ 2005 Paul Kelly ed,pp 133ff). He does, in his book “Rethinking Multiculturalism” (2006) discuss issues relating to abuse and gender roles within different cultures, but his placing of such issues does seem muddled – although he talks about sexism needing to “rightly be challenged” he also stresses the need for such issues to be placed firmly within the “Moral and cultural structure of the society concerned” (2006, p293) thus seeming to emphasise (to use Yuval-Davis’ terms) the ascendancy of a collective cultural identity over and above the individual rights of it’s members. When he earlier uses the term “Perspectival diversity” which he defines as “a vision of life the dominant culture either rejects in theory, or accepts in theory but rejects in Practice” (2226, p4) – he firmly places feminism in that role (2006,3) - one can see where this thought can be seized upon by those wishing to defend discriminatory practices as “Cultural”

Judith Squires in her essay Culture, equality and Diversity (“Multiculturalism reconsidered “2006, pp114 ff) also makes much of this tension between feminists and Multiculturalism, arguing that the ideas of universalism both in gender issues and cultural issues are both false, and stresses the need for approaches to reflect the diversity of both groups. Modood argues that feminism has become a missionary style ideology, at it’s core emphasising the supremacy of western values over “backward” cultures (“is multiculturalism dead” 2008). He also states that there is no need for feminism and multiculturalism to be opposed. All these authors do agree that practices such as forced marriage, clitirodotomy and suppression of women are wrong, but they all fail to address the fundamental points laid out by such as Yuval-Davis. These points lead to a situation where cultural beliefs can lead women to feel isolated, feel afraid of anyone within their close knit community finding out that they have sought help. Abusive men can use these cultural beliefs to justify their actions, and exert further pressure on those vulnerable. (as highlighted by Thara and Breslin (2006). And, as Sokoloff and Dupont show, agencies can and do use these preconceptions in their treatment of these offenses.

What is clear is that domestic abuse is a taboo, and women who are subjected to this do feel shame and stigma attached to reporting it. Policy has tried to make harsher and stiffer punishments for offenders, and protect women more, but this is dependant on women reporting the issues. As recent “honour Killing” cases have shown, this is a serious problem for women within communities where, due to what is considered as a cultural norm both inside and outside the community, they are subordinated. Issues and arguments in the public sphere about “Islamaphobia” do rear there head when a politician talks of “Assimilating” into “Core British Values” and looks at issues such as a ban on the Burkhah, when that is a peripheral issue to what is carried out behind closed doors under the auspices of Honour and Duty. This, it needs to be stressed, is not just confined to one specific culture, but a number of cultures do argue that their treatment of Women is “cultural” and therefore “acceptable within their society” This failure by theorists to openly engage with these issues, has lead, it can be argued, to the systematic failings within agencies of dealing with these issues. As these actions are taking place within a wider society that disallows them, should we, as Parekh and Madood argue, engage in a dialogue between groups as the way forward for a Multiculturalism approach on this issue, or should we go further, should we take the approach championed by Feminists and Egalitarians such as Yuval Davies and Barry ; that stronger measures are required within the area of Human rights and we should not be afraid to tackle them head on? Is taking this view subjecting minorities to an ethnocentric approach, where we consider the dominate culture to be superior to minority ones? This debate needs to come to the fore, above and beyond that of “racism” in order to ensure that those most vulnerable have their needs met.

This essay takes the view that Multiculturalism fails to openly discuss this issue, fails to allow criticism of cultural perceptions when dealing with this issue, and sees cultural groups as a hegemonic whole, rather than focusing on the individuals within those groups as actors in their own right. This leads to a general reinforcing of stereotypes within front-line agencies. As Sehay Nihat concludes; “Preventing and dealing with domestic violence should be our first priority. And the sooner we all accept that an effort to protect the vulnerable is not a deliberate threat to cultural unity, the better.”

Books:Kelly, Paul (ed) 2005) “Multiculturalism Reconsidered – Culture and Equality and it’s Critics” 2nd edition Polity Press Cambridge(UK) and Malden (USA)

Parekh, B.(2006) “Rethinking Multiculuralism – Cultural Diversity and Political Theory” 2nd edition Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke and New York.

Werbner, P and Modood, T (eds) “Debating Cultural Hybridity – Multiculteral identities and the Politics af Anti Racism” 1997, Zed books London and New Jersey.

Journal articles
Modood, T 2008 “Is Multiculturalism dead?” Public policy research, 15,2.

Sokoloff, N and Dupont, I 2005 “Domestic Violence at the itersections of Race, Class and Gender” - “Violence against Women”

Thiara, R and Breslin, R (2005) “A look at Domestic Violence within Ethnic Minority Families” Community

Other web articles:

(all web information accessed 16/04/2011).

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