Whereas once progressive thinkers advocated treating everybody equally despite their differences, they now focus on treating people differently because of their differences. This misplaced respect for diversity leads us to brand complex communities with one mark, such as colour or creed. The consequence is not only to carve up society along ethnic lines, but also to strengthen the conservative forces within communities. Thus we have made the mullahs the mouthpiece of people who might previously have seen their Islamic heritage as only a part of their identity.
The community model of multiculturalism takes something of tremendous importance – the understanding that ethnic or religious differences do not mean differences of human worth, and that disadvantaging people on grounds of these is wrong – and distorts it terribly.
It does this by focusing on the ‘different’ part of ‘the freedom to be different’ rather than the ‘freedom’ part, and then by refusing to count more than one difference at a time, even where there is socially tricky diversity within a handily labelled ‘community’.