Law and Internal Cultural Conflicts

Law and Ethics of Human Rights 1 (1):271-308 (2007)
Abstract
Liberal political theory acknowledges the interdependence of the wellbeing of individuals and the flourishing of the cultural groups to which they belong. Consequently, many liberal political philosophers have proposed policies and laws aimed at multicultural accommodation. That is, policies and laws aimed at assisting communities to preserve their cultural values and practices, and at allowing them greater autonomy and self-government. However, certain religious and cultural groups hold beliefs, values, and practices that are oppressive and discriminatory against some of their own members. Accommodating such groups may contribute to the discrimination and oppression. This question of “minorities within minorities” poses a real dilemma for liberal political philosophy. In this Paper I focus on certain cases that fall under the “minorities within minorities” framework that raise particularly complicated theoretical considerations. These are the cases where the demands for equal treatment are raised not by the state or by outsiders, but by disadvantaged individuals and groups within a community, who base their claim for greater equality not on the superiority of liberal values over the values of their culture but rather on an alternative, competing, interpretation of the values of their culture. I suggest that strong normative considerations support the view that the liberal state should assist challenges by marginalized individuals within communities to reinterpret cultural values and traditions in ways more favorable to them
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