This article discusses the decline of the multicultural doctrine that has governed Western political philosophy and practice in the last part of the 20th century. This decline is felt in the USA as well as in EU countries and manifests itself in new cultural restrictions on immigration policy, in stricter loyalty tests for immigrants who seek naturalization and in statutes regulating behavior in public places (such as the anti-veil acts in Europe) and proscribing deviant acts based on religious tradition (such as the American law criminalizing female genital circumcision). This decline is also accompanied by rethinking the theoretical foundations of the multicultural approach. This rethinking was accelerated by the onset of the Islamist—as distinct from Moslem—crisis, but started before the 9/11 events.
The article surveys the state of multiculturalism in a number of Western countries and pays special attention to the cases of the USA, Britain, France, and the Netherlands. The case of Israel is discussed separately because of its unique features as a society plagued by a national conflict. In all these countries the principal issue is how to tolerate intolerant communities, how to treat religious communities whose tenets clash with the democratic and liberal values of the host country and how to balance the rights of the individual against the rights of the cultural group to which that individual belongs.
The author challenges the notion that all cultures are entitled to equal treatment and excludes from this ambit cultures that clash with the values of democracy and human rights. The author denies the notion that consent of the sufferer validates such cultural practices and demonstrates this by referring to the former Hindu practice of Seti—burning a widow alive, with her consent. Such consent is irrevocable and is always subject that it was given under social and cultural duress.
The main brunt of this article is that the norms of democracy, equality, and human rights are not a culture in the ordinary sense of the word, as they are distinct from all traditional cultures and are the result of an intellectual construct founded upon the autonomy of the individual and on a rejection of traditional culture. This is the reason why these liberal norms should supersede any custom, even when based on cultural tradition, when there is a clash between the two. When there is no such clash, a compromise solution ought to be reached resorting to traditional judicial means of balancing contradictory values.