What Multiculturalism Is Not

The recent controversy concerning the gay pride march in Jerusalem provided an interesting example of the internal conflicts within multiculturalism and the failure of self-declared secular multiculturalists to understand the values underlying their own ideology.
The facts are simple. A gay pride march was scheduled to take place in Jerusalem. The ultra-orthodox community threatened to use violence against the marchers. In their view the march is an affront to a holy city. In a rare display of solidarity, rabbis, priests and Muslim clerics all united against the parade. The police joined the efforts to ban the march by issuing serious warnings concerning expected violence and declaring that it would be incapable of protecting the marchers. After lengthy negotiations, conducted under the pressure of the attorney general, it was agreed that a rally instead of a march will take place in track stadium in Jerusalem.
Politically the religious opposition to the march was supported by many secular leftists on grounds of multiculturalism. The event was even described by multiculturalists as a flagrant unnecessary provocation. Why, it was argued, should the gay marchers march in conservative Jerusalem? After all, the religious community in Israel is a minority entitled to its own safe haven and the streets of Jerusalem should provide an environment which is congenial to the ultra-orthodox way of life. Multiculturalism, under this argument, dictates that minority communities should be able to sustain their forms of life uninterrupted by conflicting traditions and restrictions on the expression of sexuality in Jerusalem are a reasonable concession to make for the sake of respecting the sensitivities of the ultra-orthodox community.
This view represents a serious misunderstanding of what multiculturalism is or at least ought to be. To the extent that multiculturalism is valuable, its value stems from the enrichment of people’s life by exposing them to different ways of life. Lives lived in the boundaries of culturally homogeneous communities cannot be enriched by the interaction with different ways of lives. The cultural isolation of these communities impoverishes the lives of their members. Secular advocates urging the gay community to respect religious sensibilities fail to understand the values underlying their own ideals. Multiculturalist discourse ought not to be used as a strategy for isolationism.