Physicist Lee Smolin pens an article for New Scientist on the principles which, he believes, should underlie a multicultural society:
The older notions of liberal democracy grew out of societies where everyone had the same background and history. Today, a citizen of the UK, Sweden, Canada, France or the US may have any ethnic origin, any appearance, and practice any religion – or none. Diversity is increasingly becoming the norm, as unprecedented mobility delivers a planetary society.
But as we move around and mix, our differences move with us and, if anything, deepen as the number of philosophies, religions and life styles combine and multiply in unexpected ways. The challenge is how to have a diverse, multicultural society that is based on reason.
The answer is that we cannot expect to agree about everything. Nor should we: history has shown that a society in complete agreement is impossible, and societies led by religious or political fanatics who attempted to impose agreement, failed - without exception. The success of the pluralistic nations tell us that diversity of views, faiths and styles of living and thinking are good for everyone.
Smolin's answer to the problem of conflict between different cultures in a pluralistic society is that "when reason applied to the publicly-available evidence does not suffice...we must agree to disagree. Clearly, disagreements about religious faith are not in the domain that can be answered [with the application of reason to publicly-available evidence], so here we must allow and even encourage a diversity of views."
Let me, however, pose the following question: if one of the cultures in a pluralistic liberal democracy rejects the principles of liberal democracy, and exercises a capability to engage in acts of violence to undermine that society, how should the liberal democracy respond? Should we merely 'agree to disagree' with such people? It would be labouring the obvious to suggest that this is no longer a hypothetical question, and that there exist Wahhabist, Islamo-fascist sub-cultures in European liberal democracies, which reject the principles of liberal democracy, which aspire to create a world-wide Islamic theocracy, and which have both the will and the capability to engage in acts of violence to further those ends.
Tolerating Islamo-fascism, seems unwise. I would suggest that the definition of multiculturalism needs to be qualified: all races, ethnicities, sexualities, religions, and cultures within a liberal democracy should be tolerated, but within the constraint that they agree with the fundamental principles of liberal democracy. Any sub-cultures which aim to undermine or destroy liberal democracy should not be tolerated.
Exactly what form such intolerance should take is one of the great issues of our time. Legislating against the teaching of Wahhabist beliefs in schools and mosques, and disrupting Saudia Arabian sponsorship of Wahhabism, are obvious options here.