Kenan Malik

is a writer, lecturer and broadcaster. His books include From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and Its Legacy (updated edition by Atlantic Books, 2017; first published 2009); The Quest for a Moral Compass: A Global History of Ethics (Melville House, 2014); and Strange Fruit: Why Both Sides are Wrong in the Race Debate (Oneworld, 2009).


Multiculturalism at its limits?

Managing diversity in the new Europe

Multiculturalism, the default strategy in western Europe for managing cultural diversity in recent decades, is increasingly under attack. In a mainstream discourse closer to that of the far-Right, minorities are turned into problems as migration allegedly threatens cultural identity. Liberal critics, on the other hand, see a threat to Enlightenment values when the appeasement of religious and cultural sensibilities is regarded as more important than the right to freedom of expression or gender equality. In central and eastern Europe, the experience is different: because minority rights are largely seen in national-territorial terms, collective rights are viewed with suspicion, while other minorities, notably the Roma, are sidelined entirely. British writer Kenan Malik met Slovak politician and journalist Fero Sebej in Bratislava to discuss multiculturalism in the East and in the West. Moderated by Samual Abrahám, editor of the journal Kritika & Kontext.

A media reliant on scandal has colluded with self-promoting but marginal Muslim clerics to create a cycle of self-reinforcing myths around the Mohammed cartoons, writes Kenan Malik. The fear of causing offence has helped undermine progressive trends in Islam and strengthened the hand of religious bigots.

Salman Rushdie’s critics lost the battle but they won the war against free speech, writes Kenan Malik. The argument at the heart of the anti-Rushdie case – that it is morally unacceptable to cause offence to other cultures – is now widely accepted.

Multiculturalist advocacy of collective rights has opened the door in some western nations for religious law to take precedence over civil law, argues Kenan Malik. Partly responsible is the idea that human beings are bearers of a particular culture as opposed to social and hence transformative beings.

Free speech in a plural society

Opening address at the 19th European Meeting of Cultural Journals

In the name of “tolerance” and “respect”, liberals tend to hold that while free speech is good, speech must necessarily be less free in a plural society. This argument turns the notion of respect on its head, says Kenan Malik. It is precisely because we do live in a plural society that we need the fullest possible extension of free speech. The irony of multiculturalism as a political process is that it undermines much of what is valuable about diversity as lived experience.

In December, before the controversy over the publication of a series of Danish newspaper cartoon images of the Prophet Mohammed became a global issue, the Muslim writer and broadcaster Kenan Malik addressed the key issues raised by the furore and others like it at a conference debate convened by Index on Censorship.

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