The moral imperatives of defending and preserving unique cultures should not be minimized. But trouble arises when such cultures are taken as defining a state. I am sorry to open with so vapid a truism, but said trouble is bursting out all over.
1. In socially liberal Québec, the nationalist/separatist Parti Québécois seems to lead a close election campaign. Yesterday, the leader of the PQ, Pauline Marois, said she want to create a Charter of Québec Secularism that would (in the words of the Montréal Gazette) "bar public servants from wearing turbans, kippahs or hijabs, but not — God forbid — the crucifix." (As the Gazette said: "What hooey.") At the same time, PQ candidate, Djemila Benhabib, said (in apparent contradiction, but possibly for satirical effect) that she would also remove the famous cross that hangs in the National Assembly. Not to be outdone for comedic excellence, the Mayor of Saguenay, Jean Tremblay, said (on a radio show): "What's outraging me this morning is to see us, the soft French Canadians, being dictated to about how to behave, how to respect our culture, by a person who's come here from Algeria, and we can't even pronounce her name." (The radio host tried to help him with the last disability.)
So let's be clear. Sikhs and many Muslim women will (in the name of Secularism, no less) be excluded from the Québec civil service. (Thankfully, Canada has a Charter of Rights, so this is not actually going to happen.) This is particularly sad when one recalls the struggle that Sikhs went through to gain (in 1990) the right to wear turbans in the RCMP, and in time the Canadian Forces and other police services, and to wear them in the Canadian Legion, which did not for decades respect the service of Sikhs in the North African campaigns of 1941-2. The PQ leader is proposing to reverse their triumph. (Perhaps this is a prejudicial way of putting her intention, since in all likelihood, she hasn't even heard of these events.)
The absurdity started when the Mail announced that 11% of Team GB consisted of "plastic Brits." They looked a tiny bit foolish when Mo Farah emerged as one of the Games' stars, second only to Usain Bolt, with his truly beautiful runs in the 5000 and 10000 metres. But the Mail is happy enough to look a little foolish at times—nothing looks more foolish than a newspaper that doesn't make money, after all—and didn't particularly back down.
Now what struck me is that there wasn't a huge outcry about this rubbish. It was reported a bit in Canada, but really very little. (What about the US, dear readers? Did NBC cover plastic Brits?) There was a fair bit of rebuttal, all of the right kind, but as far as I know, Prince Charles and David Cameron and Jacques Rogge didn't stand up and say something loudly. (I would have kind of enjoyed a take-down of the Mail in that cheeky closing show.) And the rebuttal that I read was all reactive: no strong advocacy that I could find from here. Now perhaps the UK is so post-colonial that the Mail's garbage doesn't even need rebuttal. But my general impression is that a teachable moment was wasted. And I can't see why.