6.7.4.6 Representation of Ethnic Groups in Peaceful Pluralism

An ethnic group, as defined previously (4.4.1), is a term which recognises that people who share the same racial, tribal, cultural and religious categorisations may also share some moral values.  Membership of an ethnic group is not voluntary and it may not play a large part in a person’s life.

There are some organisations, such as churches and expatriate clubs, which provide a focus for preserving a specific aspect of culture and which provide supportive relationships for their members.  These organisations may also overtly exert political pressure as ‘ethnic interest groups’ – mentioned earlier (6.4.4).

Some ethnic groups, though, want formal political representation.  There are several ways of doing this:

  • Consultation techniques can be used to take their interests into account (6.5.3.1), although there can be problems with representation (6.5.3.2).
  • Ethnic nominees can be appointed to participate in government, as in the example of Anglican bishops having seats in the British House of Lords. This is a contentious issue: The British Humanist Association report, Religious Representatives in the House Of Lords, declared that:

“The presence of Church of England in the House of Lords entrenches a privileged position for one particular branch of one particular religion that cannot be justified in today’s society, which is not only multi-faith but increasingly non-religious.”

  • Political parties may be set up to represent ethnic groups in a democracy, though that can easily lead to identity politics (6.7.4.2). It is sometimes better, however,  to have such representation than to deny it – as in the example of what The Economist referred to as Egypt’s tragedy, where the legitimately-elected Muhammad Morsi was overthrown by the army.  Morsi had been incompetent and authoritarian, but the act of removing him put an end to democracy there.  His sponsors, the Muslim Brotherhood, have now been deprived of a political voice – and might turn to violence, as they have done through Hamas in Gaza.

These mechanisms are listed in an ascending sequence of the perceived importance given to ethnicity in politics, but possibly in descending order of effectiveness.

Consultation can ensure that there are legitimate ways of exerting influence, so that people feel that pressure can be applied within the system rather than feeling that they must oppose the system itself.  It only brings ethnicity into politics when it is relevant – so it is compatible with having political parties which offer ideologies and approaches to policy (6.2.1), rather than identity politics.

Leicester is an example of an ethnically diverse city which has “elaborate networks for consultation, co-operation and simply having fun”, as described by The Economist under the heading Holding it together; it was observed that this can help to “keep Christians, Muslims and other faith groups on cordial terms” – although it also mentioned some difficulties with establishing acceptable representation for formal consultations.

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