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The Limits of Multiculturalism

I agree with what appears to be the consensus in the feminist blogosphere: The French veil ban is really about culture, rather than clothing, and it was unfair and sexist of the French government to choose women’s clothing as the battlefield for their culture war.

That said, I’m not sure what to think about that culture war itself. Should a country have the right to reject the foreign cultures of its immigrants, and force them to take its own culture?  The knee-jerk, politically correct response to this is no. Yet, many countries do this already. We readily outlaw practices like female genital mutilation and honor killings. People defend making those practices illegal because they are acts of violence, and almost everyone accepts that is a good enough reason to outlaw a cultural practice, even if it is extremely important to some people. The French government defends the veil ban by saying that the veil interferes with their ability to identify people, but many people say that this is not a good enough reason to interfere with a cultural practice.

Where do we draw the line? What kinds of cultural practices should the government be allowed to outlaw? What kinds of cultural expression should be beyond reproach? And most importantly, how to do we determine the difference between the two?

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