A Conversation with Will Kymlicka on the Challenges of Multiculturalism

Nov 11, 2014

From Canada to Europe, how do different societies deal with immigrant groups? How have their policies evolved and where are they headed? What rights should domestic animals have? Will Kymlicka ably shows that the world is going through a rights revolution, demolishing the old hierarchies and gradually becoming more and more inclusive.

JAMES TRAUB: Good evening, I'm James Traub and welcome to Ethics Matter.

Our guest this evening is Will Kymlicka. Will is the Canada Research Chair in Political Philosophy at Queens University in Kingston, Canada. Will is a leading scholar on the subject of multiculturalism, a somewhat embattled concept of which he is a deeply thoughtful defender. He's also the co-author, with his wife Sue Donaldson, of Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights, which I hope we'll be able to talk about this evening as well.

So Will, thanks so much for being here.


JAMES TRAUB: So your field is political philosophy, but you've become this authority on multiculturalism and I know from reading your work that Canada is quite unusual in regard to its commitment to this. Maybe you could talk a little bit about how it is that you came to really focus on this subject.

WILL KYMLICKA: I was raised in a progressive left-wing family that was committed to creating a more equal society.

JAMES TRAUB: And where did you grow up?

WILL KYMLICKA: Outside of Toronto in Canada. I was raised to advocate for a more equal society and I'd always get in arguments with my classmates who argued that you could only pursue equality by restricting freedom—so the old battle between the left and the right about equality versus freedom. That was an argument that went around and around and then when I got to university, I started reading the work of the great American political philosophers John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin, who I thought provided an extremely thoughtful and compelling explanation of how equality and liberty fit together, how you can be committed both to a more equal society while still firmly protecting individual rights and freedoms.

I was hugely impressed with that, which I thought articulated exactly the picture of justice that I wanted to pursue. But one day at Oxford when I was a graduate student, Charles Taylor came, the Canadian philosopher, and he argued that Canadians could never endorse this theory of Rawls and Dworkin, this liberal egalitarian theory, because Canadians needed to provide collective rights for the Québécois, for Aboriginal peoples, and that those kinds of collective rights, language rights, self-government rights, land rights, treaty rights, were not compatible with a liberal theory of equality.

That really worried me, because as a Canadian, those provisions, those accommodations for the Québécois and Aboriginal peoples, are fundamental to our country. I was even more disturbed when Ronald Dworkin, who was at the seminar arguing with Taylor, agreed with him that liberal egalitarians could not endorse these collective rights.

JAMES TRAUB: Suddenly your idols have fallen.

WILL KYMLICKA: Exactly. So they were both arguing. You had to choose between believing in liberal equality or believing in collective rights. I just thought that couldn't be right or, in any event, I didn't want to believe that that was right.

So at that moment, that day, I decided my Ph.D. project would be to try to show that a liberal egalitarian could, under some circumstances, defend collective rights and with the idea that Canada could be both a liberal egalitarian society and a—

JAMES TRAUB: So that's before—because it's relatively recently, or correct me if I'm wrong, that Canada has had a really sizeable immigrant population. I tend to think of Canada, being the typical American who knows next to nothing about Canada, as being relatively monoethnic. But it sounds like part of your point is that before you had this sizeable influx of immigrants, Canada was already grappling with these issues of the relationship of indigenous peoples to the Canadian polity.

WILL KYMLICKA: In the 1960's, Canada went through very serious political upheavals relating to the rise of Quebec nationalism—what we call the Quiet Revolution in Quebec, which included, at the margins, a few terrorist actions, kidnapping, and murder, and so on—but also the rise of indigenous political mobilization, both of which were heavily influenced by the African-American Civil Rights Movement and Black Power and the rise of the American Indian Movement here.

So those were happening in the mid-to-late 1960s. Canada has actually had a significant immigration, but most of it was from European countries. These struggles of the Québécois and Aboriginal peoples predated the massive increase in non-European immigration, which came in the 1970s in Canada.

So Canada was struggling with the issue of accommodating its historic minorities, the Québécois and Aboriginals, before the issue of immigration became such a—

JAMES TRAUB: But Will, run us through why it is—I want you to be more explicit about this—why it is that the need to accommodate the rights of these subnational groups posed a threat to the idea of liberty that had to be solved?

WILL KYMLICKA: The kind of realpolitik of the situation was that the Québécois form a clear majority in the providence of Quebec and so they always have the exit option. They can secede. That was a direction that the Quebec nationalist movement was going. You could see a steady increase in support for a secession. So the federal government's objective, like in any country, was how do you keep the country together, and the fundamental strategy they adopted was to adopt a very serious strategy of official bilingualism at the federal level—so French and English are both official languages—and a commitment to strengthening the autonomy of Quebec as a province.

Bilingualism and provincial autonomy are the two core premises on which we have come to an accommodation with Quebec and that has been relatively stable. So the question was, is there any inherent conflict between strengthening bilingualism and/or restrengthening provincial autonomy and respect for individual freedom? It was not obvious to me that there's an inherent conflict there and I think it's perfectly possible to construct regimes of bilingualism, of federalism, of multiculturalism, as well as of indigenous rights, while still providing firm and secure protection for individuals.

JAMES TRAUB: So there was the connection between that which you've just described and the multicultural question, which not only Canada but the United States and everybody else is trying to deal with, that the need to make accommodations, whether for immigrants or for subnational groups is what tested this.

It sounds like you're saying that Canada was already well-positioned to deal with the more classic multicultural problem because it had already faced, among indigenous people, the need to create this balance.

WILL KYMLICKA: It's a very good question, on which I have mixed views.

It's been a part of the self-understanding of Canadians that we had to come to some accommodation with the Québécois and the Aboriginal peoples and that helped to create an ethos of diversity or an ethos of compromise and accommodation, which then made it easier to deal with issues of immigrant diversity.

My own view is that it's not clear to me how strong that spill-over effect is, because certainly in other countries you don't see it. If you take a country like Switzerland, it has the most incredibly sophisticated of balancing between the German, Italian, and the French historic groups—very sophisticated regime of trilingualism, of federalism, of power-sharing—but they're terrible with respect to immigrants. I mean, really terrible.

JAMES TRAUB: Because it's an us/them thing.


JAMES TRAUB: We create all these accommodations for us but we're not going to create it for them.

WILL KYMLICKA: Right. So the fact that it got extended in the Canadian case to newcomers is something that needs to be explained. It's not self-evident that it was going to take that form. I think part of the explanation is of just a kind of historic contingency, which is that the initial advocates for immigrant multiculturalism in Canada were groups like the Ukrainians, the Italians, the Poles—let's just say white.

JAMES TRAUB: The more us-like.

WILL KYMLICKA: Yes, exactly—Christian, overwhelmingly. They mobilized quite strongly in the late 1960s and early 1970s for a place at the table.

Basically, they were saying, "Okay, the Canadian state is negotiating with Aboriginals. It's negotiating with the Québécois. Where are we? We need a seat at that table." They mobilized in part under the rubric of multiculturalism as a way of insuring that they would be represented as Canada was redesigned. They were these more traditional European ethnic groups who were the first advocates for multiculturalism in Canada and it was only actually 10 or 20 years later that the non-European immigrants became the kind of most visible actors in the multiculturalism there today.

So I think this actually helped Canadians become comfortable with the idea of multiculturalism before the—

JAMES TRAUB: That's very interesting. It's also really different from the American example because I think the reason why this word multiculturalism is a really contested word in the United States is really much more because of race than immigration. So I remember Nathanwrote this book called We Are All Multiculturalists Now and it was written with a shrug of kind of resignation. In fact, he was attacked for being so resigned. "Why have you surrendered to the politically correct multiculturalism view?" That's because it all wrapped around this tormented question of race relations in the United States, while, obviously, in Canada, you don't have a schism nearly as deep as that.

WILL KYMLICKA: The evidence shows that there's a pretty significant level of racial discrimination in Canada and so the multiculturalism policy that was initially developed for the Ukrainians, the Poles, and the Italians had to be adapted to deal with issues of racial discrimination for the non-European immigrants. That was actually a quite important restructuring of multiculturalism in the 1980s, that a policy as it was initially designed, and I think worked well, to recognize the contributions of the Ukrainians and the Italians and so on, had to be redesigned to be responsive to the needs of newly arriving Somalis and the Vietnamese.

So we've incorporated anti-racism into our conception of multiculturalism but it's true that that emerged later in the day.

JAMES TRAUB: But maybe Canada has it so much easier than either the United States, for reasons of race, or European countries, where the issue is much more Islam and the fear of repudiation of their culture, the fear of terrorism, so maybe Canada's kind of an outlier, because you guys just don't have the same kind of problems other folks do.

WILL KYMLICKA: I've made this argument myself, that Canada was in very fortunate conditions to be able to experiment with multiculturalism, not just because there wasn't this inherited racial cleavage or that it isn't as deep in Canada as in the United States, but also geographically. We are able to control our borders more than virtually any other country in the world so we don't really have a problem of illegal immigration and people feel confident that we are able to decide who gets in and we use that power to be very selective. We let in lots of people but they're all pretty highly skilled. We have this point system. So that gives Canadians a sense of kind of confidence to deal with this issue unlike, say in Europe, where many people really feel they've lost control of who's in their country.

It's also true, in comparison with Europe, that on the question of Islam, Muslims are a relatively small percentage of the overall immigrant intake in Canada. If you go to Europe, in many countries in Western Europe, the category immigrant and the category Muslim are almost co-extensive. If you ask people about immigrants, they think Muslims.

JAMES TRAUB: They were worried about Polish immigrants 10-15 years ago. That seems like a quaint concern now.

WILL KYMLICKA: Yes, although some of it's coming back a bit. It's interesting. In Britain, that's lately been a return of the fear that there are too many East Europeans coming. But, in general, in most of continental Europe, it's the Muslim question.

Even within Canada, it's interesting that in Quebec, which has its own immigration policy, because they're drawing primarily from former French colonies, particularly North Africa, they have a higher percentage of Muslims in Quebec than in the rest of Canada. You can see that. Islam plays a higher role in the debate in Quebec than it does in the rest of Canada.

JAMES TRAUB: That's interesting.

WILL KYMLICKA: A lot of people have argued in the European case that when people engage in general debates about multiculturalism and immigration, what they're really debating is about Islam.

JAMES TRAUB: So let's talk about that, because in one of the articles that you wrote that I've read, you say that you created something called a Multiculturalism Policy Index. According to those numbers, most European countries actually are making progress, but the sense we have looking at it is that now really the most salient political movement in much of Western Europe is the rise of anti-immigrant parties, which makes all this conversation about multiculturalism seem like an unaffordable luxury.

WILL KYMLICKA: The specific goal of our Multiculturalism Policy Index is to focus on a set of quite specific issues about how ethnic or religious identities and practices are accommodated in a very specific way, like what religious holidays are in school schedules or the role of mother tongue languages in schools. We're not talking about the admissions process, because countries have become clearly much harsher and much more restrictive of who they allow in in the first case.

JAMES TRAUB: And they're probably going to become more so.

WILL KYMLICKA: Yes. And it's also not about the kind of high political rhetoric where it's clear that the term multiculturalism has completely gone out of fashion amongst politicians across the political spectrum, left and right, in Europe.

At a much more specific institutional level, if you look at, say, health care workers, do they receive cultural sensitivity training for the hospitals? Have the schools incorporated a more multicultural education curriculum? At that level, European countries have been making progress, in part, because I just think there's no way—when you have such an ethnically and religiously diverse public that you are serving, public services, public institutions need to be able to deal effectively with their citizens.

JAMES TRAUB: Isn't the reason for the backlash, the reason for the rise of these nativist parties precisely because the fact that these multicultural policies, in fact, have penetrated into the daily lives and small towns and so forth and there are a lot of people who fear that?

WILL KYMLICKA: There's a lot of debate about how exactly that explains the rise of anti-immigrant parties. One issue is the fear that countries have lost control over their borders. I keep wanting to distinguish the question of who gets in from the question of how we treat them once they're in. I think that a lot of the anxiety is about the sense that people have lost control of the borders, of who gets in. As I say, I think Canadians are extremely fortunate that whole anxiety is just kind of off the table.

In terms of how they get treated once they're in, it seem like the most salient, in at least some countries, the driver of what underpins a lot of the hostility to immigrants isn't exactly multiculturalism as I think of it. It's more issues about, for example, competition for public housing. So you've got disadvantaged native-born whites who feel, rightly or wrongly, that immigrants are coming in and somehow getting ahead of them on the list to get access to public housing.

So a lot of the studies that have been done, particularly on when it's turned into riots or on when you've had the far-right parties get elected at a local level, that's the story. There's been a perception and people argue about whether there's any truth to the perception that there's been some unfairness or some privileging of immigrants in—

JAMES TRAUB: You don't think it's about cultural identity? When you think about the idea that Turkey might have joined the European Union. When you think about in France, for example, the debate over the use of other languages besides French or women wearing a veil. These seem to go right to the heart of people's threatened sense of national identity.

WILL KYMLICKA: That's right but I think, in a way, it's a bit too easy an explanation. Things like minarets in Switzerland or head scarves in France, there's no inevitable reason why those should've been taken as contradicting, as going to the core of national identity. There's no reason why, in my view, why having minarets in the landscape is inherently a threat to Swiss national identity.

JAMES TRAUB: You make national identity sound like an awfully rational thing. National identity is some strange group of sentiments seen together.

WILL KYMLICKA: I agree, of course, there's lots of emotional and less non-rational elements of national identity but it is part of the national identity of the family of Western democracies that they believe in freedom of religion, that they believe in freedom of conscience and that they believe in racial equality and nondiscrimination.

National identity is a complicated package but we shouldn't forget that in that package are some core liberal democratic commitments. I believe those really are part of our national identity, that's who we are as a people. We are people who have, partly as a result of horrible historical experiences like World War II, come to recognize how important it is that we commit ourselves to certain fundamental principles of human rights and freedoms.

I think the opportunity was there for people to look at a group of newcomers building a mosque with a minaret and say that's part of who we are. We need, again, some explanation of why it took this very virulent form of this assumption that having a mosque—

JAMES TRAUB: And why do you think that is?

WILL KYMLICKA: I think it varies from country to country so there's no single answer but many continental European countries, I think, made a mistake early on in the process, which relates to the perception of whether the immigrants are here to stay or not. So in many European countries, the big wave of migrants in the '50s, '60s, and '70s were seen as temporary—

JAMES TRAUB: Turks who were who would come and they'd go back home.

WILL KYMLICKA: Exactly. So they were admitted as temporary guest workers—gastarbeiter—that's what they were called, guest workers—with the expectation that they would go back and so no effort was made to really integrate them into the society. On the contrary, efforts were made to ensure that they stayed tied to their home country so as to facilitate their return.

Some of the things that are called multiculturalism in Europe were first developed not to make immigrants feel more at home in their new country. They were intended to make it more likely that they would return to what was assumed to be their real home. We call this "returnist multiculturalism," the idea that you respect a person's identity in order to make it more likely that they'll go back. I think that's a completely opposite philosophy to the kind of multiculturalism I endorse.

JAMES TRAUB: That explanation puts the onus on the receiving country and their failure to accept the inevitability and the reality of those people.

Let me suggest an alternative hypothesis, which I'm sure Marine Le Pen or one of the other leaders of a right-wing party in Europe will be very quick to offer, which is, you, in your work, make the very important point that multiculturalism is not just a bunch of ornamental things, like we all celebrate Cinco de Mayo. It's something much deeper. It is part of the overall rights revolution over the last several generations that we are increasingly including peoples who are marginal and that there is a kind of implicit or sometimes quite explicit bargain, which is we will extend to you the universal principles that you were just talking about and you will assert your own identity within the framework of those liberal principles.

So the Marine Le Pen answer is going to be, "Yes, but these people don't." People who express outrage at the sexual freedom of the Dutch, for example, well, they're not holding up their end of the bargain and indeed in some cases, they're quite violently not holding up their end of the bargain.

WILL KYMLICKA: You're absolutely right that that's what Marine Le Pen would say. Part of the challenge here is to think about political immigration into a liberal democratic society. We need to think in a kind of a realistic way what that involves and how it takes place over time.

Most of the immigrants historically that Canada has accepted, or the United States for that matter, have come from countries that were not liberal democracies. When they arrive, they're not socialized into liberal democratic norms, most of them, and it doesn't happen overnight.

So what is the process by which immigrants become absorbed into a liberal democratic political culture? We can't expect this to happen overnight but the evidence shows that it does happen. The longer people live in the United States or Canada, the more they converge on a shared commitment to liberal democratic values. People talk about the gravitational pull of liberal democratic institutions. We want to get people involved in those institutions so that they'll be subject to this gravitational pull that will pull them into our shared political culture. I think the evidence shows that that works but it works on the premise that we invite people to participate, even though they are not yet fully absorbed into that consensus.

Whereas in some European countries, they've made the opposite judgment, which is that we're not going to allow people to participate until they've proven to us that they have fully accepted these values. But that means they're not subject to this gravitational pull, because we're keeping them at a distance.

If you combine that with, as happened in some European countries, with forms of residential segregation, with forms of racial discrimination, it's not surprising that you see alienation among—

JAMES TRAUB: Is it partially also pure numbers, though? In the United States, the number of Muslim immigrants is both an extremely small fraction of the population and a small fraction of the immigrant population and so assimilation and integration is easier.

In France, where we're talking about 12, 14—I'm not sure what percent of the population are immigrants from Muslim countries. It is much harder to integrate, break down, accommodate this vast mass of people and it is easier for them, in effect, to clump together.

WILL KYMLICKA: I think the numbers do matter. They affect the dynamics, but if you look at a place like France—we shouldn't start from the premise that every immigrant who comes from a Muslim-majority country is going to inevitably and automatically have as their central form of identity and mobilization being Muslim. Many of them come with different ethnic identities. They may be Turks rather than Arabs or Kurds but also with tribal entities with different regional and other identities. Of course, they move to different cities in France and each of which has its own—cities often differ in interesting ways in France in how they deal with immigrants.

I think it's true that the debate has become kind of polarized as the French citizens against "them," the Muslim immigrants, but the fact that it's taken this kind of form of these two big blocks is the outcome of a failed integration. It's not that the immigrants were always already committed to mobilizing in this kind of block form.

JAMES TRAUB: I want to move to the question of animal rights but before we do, I just want to get your sort of general sense because you've talked about these two different things. On the one hand, the actual numbers from your policy index shows real progress in terms of accepting the obligation of integrating people. On the other hand, we're talking about all this backlash. So when you look at this whole phenomenon, are you basically more hopeful or do you basically feel like things are getting worse?

WILL KYMLICKA: I think that the short term in Europe, things are getting worse. I mean, the rise of these far-right parties is deeply disturbing and it's poisoning the political debate. It's forcing moderate parties to shift to the right. Then the left-wing parties are shifting. It's distorting the whole political spectrum.

But on the other hand, I'm consciously optimistic that this is primarily a short-term phenomenon because the reality is that immigrants are there to stay in Europe, as in Canada and the United States. There's pretty good evidence that, as immigrants—and we do have a developing norm that they need to be allowed to become citizens. You can't permanently exclude immigrants. So the EU has, and the Council of Europe has, norms that there must a path to citizenship. We are seeing a growing percentage of the electorate being enfranchised immigrants and their children, and that matters. It's mattered hugely in Canada and the United States that the immigrants and their children have voting power, that that affects elections. We can see that. Once politicians have to compete for the immigrant vote that changes the dynamic back the other way.

JAMES TRAUB: Let's talk a little bit about the animal rights question. I take it that the link between these subjects from your point of view is this broad question of the gradual, over-time inclusion of those who have been historically excluded and marginalized. In that sense, domesticated animals are a population like immigrants where society is faced with this dilemma: How do we incorporate them in a way that is fair both to them and also to us?

WILL KYMLICKA: The way I put it is since Peter Singer's classic book on animal liberation 40 years ago, people have focused on what we owe animals in virtue of their intrinsic moral status, their ability to feel pain or whatever. I think we also need to focus on what we might owe them in virtue of our distinctive relationships to them. [Editor's note: For more on Peter Singer, check out his recent Carnegie talk.]

In the case of domesticated animals, what is our relationship to them? We have brought them into our society. That's what domestication means. We have taken them out of the wild, bred them to be dependent on us, and incorporated them into our society.

I think justice, therefore, means recognizing that they are members of a shared society with us. We have made them members of a shared society. Then we need to ask what are the rights of membership for those animals that we have brought into our society.

In the human case, the category that we use for acknowledging membership is citizenship. So the way in which we affirm that someone truly is a member of our society is by affording them citizenship. So we could ask then—this is what we do in the book—what would it mean, can we make sense of the idea that domesticated animals are co-citizens of a shared society with us and what would follow from that?

I think it's a different way of getting at the animal rights question and it might generate more positive proposals for justice and if we just focus on the—

JAMES TRAUB: Before we get to the question of what that would mean, why should that be so, as opposed to saying that if we're thinking about our pets, for example, our relationship to that is like our relationship to our children but less so, although in some cases more so, and so the relationship is one of paternalism.

Now that's not an acceptable relationship to a co-citizen. It is an acceptable relationship to someone to whom we have a kind of in loco parentis, "in the place of a parent" relationship. So what's wrong with that?

WILL KYMLICKA: The category of domesticated animals, as we use it, extends beyond the case of companion animals or pets to also include what we call farm animals or food animals or lab animals.

JAMES TRAUB: And, obviously, you would be opposed to the killing of the animals for any reason.


JAMES TRAUB: Obviously you can't be killing co-citizens.

WILL KYMLICKA: Exactly, yes. In our view, justice for domesticated animals isn't reducible to the question of what's an appropriate caring relationship between a guardian and a pet. That's part of it. Parents have obligations to children but justice for children isn't reducible to parental obligations. There are also societal obligations, because they're members of our society and not just members of the family. So that's our story about domesticated animals, as well. We need a theory about what duties of care individual guardians have for individual domesticated animals but we also need a theory about their membership in society, generally.

It would include things like, for example, public health insurance. I'm Canadian, so I think one of the citizenship rights is you should have publicly funded health care. I mean not everyone agrees.

JAMES TRAUB: It would be good if this country if we could still fail to provide it to people but actually extend it to domesticated animals. [Laughter] That would be a hell of an achievement. So, of course, Canada being an unbelievably just society, you're going to offer health care for animals before we offer it to people.

WILL KYMLICKA: This is obviously a very radical and Utopian theory. Some people in the animal advocacy movement have been kind of excited by and are interested in pushing it. I think Canada will actually be the last country. Canada is much worse than the United States on the animal question. If we're going to see real change on the animal question, I think it's going to happen in Europe before Canada and the United States.

JAMES TRAUB: I do want to get a sense of what that means, because, for example, you use the example of a public park and what it would mean in our relationship with our pets to have a citizenship sense. So whether in that setting or some other, talk about what it is you think would be the consequence of taking animals seriously in the way that you believe we should.

WILL KYMLICKA: The core idea is, as I say, is that they're members of our society. So what follows from that? One thing that follows from that is that their good is part of the public good. They should be seen as part of the public, so we need mechanisms to ensure that their interests are taken into account in public decision-making.

There should be duties of protection and provisions like health care, but there would also be, for example, things like labor rights so that if animals are working alongside us—think about sniffer dogs at an airport, or rescue dogs—I think they be subject to the same labor rights as the humans they work beside. There should be maximum working hours in a day or in a week. They should have disability pension if they get injured. They should have a right to retirement. They should have the right not to work in unsafe conditions and so on.

I think what we want is to find a way of domesticated animals living and working with us, because I think work is part of membership in a shared society, but which enables us to view them as equal members of a shared society rather than a caste group that just exists to serve us. From my point of view, this is the fundamental problem in our relations with domesticated animals. We've brought them into our society but we've brought them in as a caste group to serve us.

JAMES TRAUB: Because in the Bible, God gives dominion to man.

WILL KYMLICKA: Yes, exactly so—

JAMES TRAUB: Over the birds that fly and the fish that swim.

WILL KYMLICKA: Unfortunately one of the cultural influences that we need to fight against is at least one interpretation of that story, which has been used to justify treating them as a caste group.


QUESTION: First, thank you. I'm a fan of your work. My name is Chris Durante. I'm a professor in the religious studies program at NYU. I'm also an advocate of multiculturalism.

I've been critical of some of your ideas in the past and my question has to do with the limits of religious liberty and how your ideas of what you've called in the past, a liberal culturalism—and you touched upon this with your discussion of liberty equality or liberal democratic values.

What are the limits to religious liberty and can those limits be malleable depending on different national contexts? Would that alter the parameters of the nature of the liberal culturalism operative?

WILL KYMLICKA: A concrete instance of this—France has a policy that rules out girls at school wearing a head scarf and Quebec has declared that it's going to adopt a policy that people in certain public employment—it's not yet clear which categories of public employment—won't be allowed to wear ostentatious religious symbols. Again, this is fundamentally about Islamic head scarves—

JAMES TRAUB: So it doesn't mean a veil, it means a head scarf. Not just a veil, it means a head scarf?

WILL KYMLICKA: It's a head scarf, yes.

France and Quebec are fundamental liberal democracies but they have a tradition of laïcité, as they call it, a particular interpretation of secularism, which emphasizes that when you enter the public sphere, you should do so as a citizen and that it's incompatible with the kind of civic relations we want to establish amongst each other, if people bring their ostentatious religious symbols with them.

That can be taken to more or less extremes. It could just apply to a very specific context like schools so that either teachers or students are not allowed to wear ostentatious religious symbols or it could apply to police, could apply to judges, it—

JAMES TRAUB: Yarmulkes have been found to be okay, if I understand it right?

WILL KYMLICKA: Well, no, no.

JAMES TRAUB: I thought that was part of the problem: How can you say yarmulkes are okay and head scarves aren't okay?

WILL KYMLICKA: Exactly. So confronted with that—that's one of many objections to this whole way of thinking, which is the fact that we have always accepted some manifestations of Christian and Jewish belief, whether it's the yarmulke or whether it's a cross necklace, so the category of ostentatious is sometimes expanded—

JAMES TRAUB: Connected to the category of "other."


So here's an interesting case: Since both Quebec and France have, in fact, always accommodated Christian and Jewish symbols, one interpretation is this is just anti-Islamic. It's just discrimination.

On the other hand, there are many serious credible thinkers and intellectuals in both Quebec and France who insist, no, there is a perfectly reputable logic. It's a distinctively republican conception of liberal democracy but it nonetheless counts as a commitment to fundamental liberal democratic values, just interpreted in this distinctive laïcité way.

I'm not a fan, obviously, of that model. I think it's an unjustified restriction on the freedom of individuals to express their religious identity. It's not backed by any credible evidence about harming others.

But if the brunt of the question is, does that mean that there's no flexibility, that there's just a single model that all liberal democracies must comply with and that there's no kind of margin of appreciation for how different countries interpret their concept of liberal democracy, I wouldn't go that far.

I do think there are kind of distinctive national histories about relations between church and state. There are distinctive national histories about the role of courts and interpreting constitutional rights and so on. I do think that France has gone overboard. They've gone beyond whatever the reasonable limits are of these kind of national differences.

There is, at the end of the day, a fundamental commitment to religious freedom and I think that you need to give some serious justification for infringing on that freedom and it's not enough on my view to just say, well, that's not the way we do things around here or to speculate in completely implausible ways about how—the same thing happens in Turkey. They don't allow women to wear their head scarves at university. They've got a story—they've told us at the European Court of Human Rights—Turkey has a story about how if we allow women at universities to wear their head scarves, this is going to lead to the collapse of democracy.

It's just not a plausible story, in my view. You can't just invent stories to justify restrictions on liberty. You've got—

JAMES TRAUB: If it were a veil, would you feel differently, because that obstructs the transaction, for example, at a school?

WILL KYMLICKA: I don't want to make a blanket claim that there's nowhere, that one can never put limits on—so, for example, on the issue of the full veil, niqab, let's say, the issue came up recently in Canada about whether a woman could be compelled to take that off when she testified in a criminal trial.

JAMES TRAUB: Because we need to see her eyes.

WILL KYMLICKA: Part of what a judge or jury is evaluating is the credibility of her testimony. So there we have a serious right, the right to a fair trial, running up against another serious right, which is the right to religious freedom.

This went to the Supreme Court in Canada and the Supreme Court said, basically, that when it comes to testifying with the niqab, we should not have a blanket rule that they must take it off because a blanket rule would infringe on their religious freedom. On the other hand, we need to make sure that that decision does not come at the expense of their right to a fair trial.

One of the things I like about the Canadian Supreme Court, it's always aiming for this kind of what you might think is muddling through, but what I think is a sensible attempt to try to say, "We can't solve this once and for all with a single universal rule. Let's see, what exactly is a conflict here? When exactly does this right come into conflict with that right? Can we somehow get around it?"

QUESTION: My name is Morten Christensen. I'm a student of political science, but now I work at the UN. I'm going to be cheeky and ask two questions, quite different.

One is I'm from Denmark and you're right when we talk about immigration in Denmark, we talk about the Muslims in our country. My question to you is what is it within "us" and the Muslims that have made them a group that we are particularly concerned about? I know what Marine Le Pen would say to that and I know what Pia Kjærsgaard would say, but what do you think?

The second question is you and the professor before referred to yourselves as proponents of multiculturalism. That, to me, kind of begs the question what are the moral imperatives behind this mission ?

WILL KYMLICKA: On the first question, I , I think that 9/11 changed the world in a way. Islamaphobia, the fear of Muslims, goes back quite a distance in European history and you could think about when the Ottoman Empire was on the outskirts of Vienna and that has been a longstanding kind of civilization.


WILL KYMLICKA: The Turk. Exactly. I think that 9/11 created an image of both a radical and a radically illiberal—a violent and a illiberal strand of Islam. . . . When I was growing up in Canada, our image of the violent other was the Sikhs. We have a very large Sikh community in Vancouver and they're the ones who are responsible for blowing up the Air India plane—I don't know if any of you remember this. It was a big incident in Canada.They would kill their own. If people were dissidents within the Sikh community, they would be attacked and sometimes killed, whereas today, partly by contrast with the Muslims—

JAMES TRAUB: Sikhs are looking good.

WILL KYMLICKA: —they're elected to Parliament. People think they're a model minority, the Sikhs.

So I think these perceptions of who's violent do ebb and flow and I would like to think that we're still in the aftershock of 9/11 but, of course, subsequent events have continued to reproduce that.

The evidence I've seen in, at least in the North American context—I think this is true both Canada and United States—is the basic patterns of integration, socially, culturally, politically, are the same for Muslims as for Sikhs or Buddhists or others.

I think we will eventually return to a situation in which we don't single out Muslims as uniquely violent or illiberal but we're in a difficult historic moment.

On the moral impulse behind multiculturalism, there's lots of things to say about that, but one quick way to put it is that we live in a world which for the past 200 years, let's say, if not more, has been defined by ideas of racial and ethnic hierarchy. This is what underpinned colonialism, it's what underpinned the colonization of the Americas. It's what underpinned racially discriminatory admissions policy about who was admitted into the United States and Canada. It underpinned racially discriminated laws about who was eligible for citizenship. I could go on. You know all of this.

Really up until the 1960s, it was a widely accepted feature of Western societies that there were racial hierarchies and that that was reflected in both foreign policy and domestic policy and we have committed ourselves to the idea that we believe in racial equality, but we live in a world, globally, as well as domestically, in which we've inherited structures that were initially created and defined on the basis of ideologies of hierarchy and supremacy.

So we're all familiar with some of the movements to contest those hierarchies, various civil right strategies, anti-discrimination strategies and affirmative action strategies and so on, but I think that multiculturism has to be understood—I think that the rise of indigenous rights is part of this. The rise of anti-discrimination policy is part of this but so too is multiculturism. By the way, I would extend it even farther. I would say that these mobilizations by ethnic and racial and indigenous groups, since the 1960s, are also linked with, for example, the rise of the second wave of feminism, gay rights, disability rights, all of these movements, which basically arose in the same time.

These are all kind of 1960s and forward movements, and are all I think best understood as contesting inherited hierarchies which define certain people as less capable of governing themselves, less deserving of participating in shared governance and which therefore ruled through essentially coercion and paternalism.

All of these relations between dominant and subordinate racial groups, religious groups, ability, disability, men, women, they were historically governed and structured through coercion and paternalism and all of these movements, I think, are trying to replace those hierarchies and those practices of coercion and paternalism with new social and political relationships, which are based on equality, are based on participation, based on cooperation rather than coercion and paternalism.

What exactly that means—it's going to take different forms. This is why multiculturalism is kind of a complicated phenomenon. It's going to mean a different thing for indigenous peoples, than it does for the Québécois, than it does for African Americans, than it does for other more recent immigrant groups or refugees groups. The form it takes varies but I think the impulse, the moral impulse has to be understood as part of this larger phenomenon. I think the world has changed since 1960. I think we have gone through a rights revolution, which has discredited and delegitimized these earlier ideologies of hierarchy and supremacy and we're still working our way through what's the alternative to it and multiculturalism, I think, is helping us to work our way through it.

JAMES TRAUB: I'm very happy that question was asked because I'm happy you had a chance to say that.

QUESTION: My name is Charlie Liebling.

Over the last 100 years, a lot of colonies have become independent states. Largely, the world community and the UN has not broken up the rather arbitrary lines, so almost all of them are multicultural. From looking at the news every day now, a lot of them are a mess, Iraq, Syria and you could go on.

Can you think of any of these ex-colonies that have really figured it out and that have multicultural, multiethnic, multitribal situations that they did right?

WILL KYMLICKA: It's a very good question. There's a lot to say there.

One thing is that there really is kind of a tragic dimension to what happened in many post-colonial societies, because there was a moment of shared struggle, common struggle—the different ethnic groups, religious groups, in many countries, in many colonies, peoples joined together. People of different ethnic, linguistic, religious groups joined together to fight for independence against the colonizer and they created hopes and expectations that they would form a shared society. But then almost immediately after independence, one group became dominant and partly then, aided and abetted by the international community, which encouraged them to adopt highly centralizing nation-building strategies, started to suppress minorities.

A lot of African countries have the slogan, "Kill the tribe to build the nation." That's a slogan that the international community encouraged them to adopt because we had these models of nation-building that were basically anti-pluralist.

There were a lot of very unfortunate decisions taken in the early years of independence in many post-colonial states that set them on the wrong path and it's hard to get out of that path and we're still living with the ramifications.

Now we live in an era where the international community is pushing post-colonial states to be more pluralistic. This is very much part of the international rhetoric but it's partly contradicting its own advice that it has been giving those countries—

JAMES TRAUB: But, Will, wouldn't you say that, to speak to this gentleman's question, that India is an extraordinary example of a country that has done precisely that?

WILL KYMLICKA: I'm advising a new organization called the Global Center for Pluralism, and one of its mandates is try to think through what are the successful cases and less successful cases of pluralism at a global level. India and Indonesia are often amazingly diverse countries. They have a level and complexity of diversity that makes Canada and the United States seem pale in comparison.

JAMES TRAUB: All of Europe put together would seem pale in comparison.

WILL KYMLICKA: Exactly. And which, at least since the fall of Suharto in Indonesia, have been relatively peaceful and democratic and have adopted very innovative forms of regional autonomy. They've adopted innovative forms of recognition of minority religious and linguistic rights.

Of course, in both countries—there's Kashmir in India, which is unresolved. There's West Papua in Indonesia. So they're still challenged.

There are countries in Africa, as well, that have been more—such as Ghana, Zambia—we don't hear about them because they're not having civil wars so they don't show up in the newspaper, but they've actually been quite successful.

I think there are definitely some cases we need to learn.

Just one further note on that question, there is a kind of dilemma about how we should think about promoting pluralism. I don't really care whether people call it multiculturalism, diversity, pluralism. I'm not hung up on the word, but we want to promote a society that's more respectful of its differences.

So what are the sources for building and sustaining pluralism? There are two different types of sources, let's say, and it's an interesting question of how they relate to each other. One source is pre-colonial. Before the Europeans came, they lived together in peace. Throughout all of history, people have lived together more or less in peace. Certainly it wasn't Europeans who invented the idea of living peacefully with ethnic and religious diversity, so we have pre-colonial traditions of ethnic and religious tolerance in every part of the world.

Every part of the world has deeply rooted traditions of ethnic and religious tolerance and coexistence and so there's a natural tendency in some countries to want to draw on those as the basis for new post-colonial forms of pluralism.

But the problem is that those pre-colonial models of tolerance are almost always hierarchical in some form or other. There was a group that was seen as not just hegemonic and dominant but as superior and it had obligations of kind of noblesse oblige towards the weaker, the marginal, the backward—so these ideas, yes, you tolerated them but you tolerated them as inferiors or as backward and those underlying ideologies of hierarchy are not compatible with today's international norms of equality. That's the other big source.

Basically we have at the moment, international norms of minority rights, indigenous rights, which are largely based on an elaboration of the Western experience, which are deeply committed to ideas of equality and non-discrimination, and then we have these pre-colonial traditions of coexistence and tolerance, which were really effective, really impressive but not compatible.

JAMES TRAUB: Patrimonial.


JAMES TRAUB: Thank you so much. That was really so enlightening.


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