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Essay: Compensation for minority groups

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  • Published: 1 October 2015*
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In Multicultural citizenship, Kymlicka aims to show that the emergence of ‘politics of difference’ in a context of an increased mobilising of national groups, does not pose a threat to liberal democracy and is a coherent part of Human Rights discourse. In fact Kymlicka demonstrates that many of the demands of such groups correspond with liberal principles of social justice and freedom (Kymlicka, 1995).Specific rights are seen to compensate for the shortcoming of general human rights, in inevitable circumstances that exist in multicultural societies and experienced by minority groups (Kymlicka, 1995). The same way we compensate those born as a handicap or those who suffered injuries due to natural disasters; Government should consider ways to compensate for aboriginals, as they are born in a community that faces unequal circumstances. The same as handicapped and injured who are compensated with monetary benefits, aboriginals should receive special rights that will make them even with the rest of the population (Kymlicka 1989). Principle of fairness should compel the majority of a nation to allow minorities to receive protection for their language and culture. In this sense, group-differentiated rights compensates for unequal circumstances which put members of minority cultures at a systemic disadvantage in society.
Although Barry agrees with the fact that is humanely defendable that some members of a minority group should be compensated for the disadvantage they face, this shouldn’t be based on their origin or race (Barry, 2001:150). Granting financial resources to one community based on the fact that they are socially underprivileged (ex: black ghettos in USA) is legit. It becomes problematic when some members of other groups that are not identified as underprivileged (ex: European descendants in USA), face the same social pathology and do not receive such financial compensation. He does not affirm that such policy should be dismissed either, because ‘tackling the problems of the ghetto would be a lot better than doing nothing at all’ (Barry, 2001: 114). Although such policies could help to achieve social justice, it nevertheless gives rise to some resentment, as members of some other minorities with the same economical disadvantages have been ignored the access to the same financial resources (Barry 2001).
Mookherjee backs Barry’s contention by pointing out that cultural inequalities emerging from cultural membership shouldn’t be considered different from economic inequality (Mookherjee 2008: 223). She point out that they are ‘two types of inequalities, involving economics and status, respectively (Fraser 1998 in Mookherjee 2008: 220). For example well-established French men can have a good social position but suffer from economic difficulties. Conversely an Algerian man in France may hold a high economic position but endures racism because of his ethnic origin. So, citing Barry, Mookherjee concedes that a group shouldn’t endure social injustice because of their origin, but any palliative shouldn’t be done based on their culture. The answer to poor social condition is to address it in an economical perspective (Mookherjee 2008: 220). For example Algerian are the one that suffer the most from poor employment and housing. So instead of focusing on their origin it is wiser and more practical to address their unstable and indigent condition (Mookherjee 2008: 220).
II) Internal Restriction v/s External Protection: an ambiguity
In a context where it is fundamental to recognize the particularity of minority groups, liberalism should be able to support external protection while at the same time avoid internal restriction. Kymlicka makes a clear distinction between the two notions; this is fundamental to his liberal promotion of group-specific rights for minorities (Kymlicka 1995). External protections may be justified in order to protect cultural minorities from the irresistible interference from the larger society. On the other hand internal restriction could happen when specific groups seek to have dominancy over their members. In this case, such internal restrictions are to be forbidden altogether. In some middle-eastern communities, some husbands physically assault their partners, if they choose to work outside the house and have economical independence. These men argue that, in their homeland, it is absolutely legal to behave this way.
However, considering these examples of human right abuse, as a logical extension of multiculturalism, is a total aberration. In effect, Kymlicka respond to this criticism by saying that in countries that promote multiculturalism, such as Australia, Canada and USA, there is no place for oppression and they know where to put a limit. ‘As such, public policy (quite consistently) endorses some external protection, while rejecting internal restriction’ (Kymlicka 1995: 41). Kymlicka’s assertion is that in most cases, minority rights do not seek to impose internal restriction on its members, but rather ask for external protection. Those who seek internal restriction mostly belong to religious groups. They do so in order to maintain their traditional ways of life within the community and to avoid any dissent voice to question their statue quo, a good example is some ultra-conservative Muslim groups. Such inhuman requests are ruled out and not given any favourable response by official authority (government).
Anyhow, most minority groups are more concerned with the larger society’s influence on them, than trying to control and monitor their own keen. Kymlicka finds it legit and morally coherent with liberal principles for the government, to give a particular attention to external protection. ‘While most liberal democracies, over the last twenty years, made some effort to accommodate ethnic and national differences, this shift towards a more multicultural public policy, has almost entirely been a matter of accepting certain external protection, not internal restrictions’ (Kymlicka 1995: 42). Kymlicka believes that the minority rights are not only consistent with individual freedom, but can actually promote it: ‘respecting minority rights can enlarge the freedom of individuals, because freedom is intimately linked with and dependent on cultures’ (Kymlicka 1995:75). His aim is connect freedom with culture. He defends the idea (common to earlier liberal theorists) that ‘the cause of liberty often finds its basis in the autonomy of a national group’ (Barker 1948: 248). But Kymlicka, on the other hand, makes a distinction between the immigrants (cultural minorities such as Greeks, Italians. Arab, etc.) and the national minorities (Quebecois, Natives, Afro-Americans). In his view, the situation of immigrants and national minorities are totally different. While immigrants choose to blend in with the larger society and bring new ideas and options to it, national minorities ‘face enormous pressure to assimilate’ (Kymlicka 1995: 76).

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