Obliged to stay silent for the group

November 25, 1994

Your editorial of November 11 makes a welcome call for the defence of tolerance in universities: yet, as it suggests, this will not be an easy argument to sustain. On the one hand, defence of tolerance entails secularism, something not always predominant in British higher education, against the claims of religious authority: recognition of freedom of belief needs to be balanced by a denial of the claims of any religion to dictate on social, or intellectual, matters.

On the other hand, the defence of secularism, and indeed of any general principles of tolerance, has been made more difficult by modish confusions about the validity of any such principles, and by indulgence towards particularisms rendered as community, identity and tradition.

The greatest threat posed by the champions of particularism is to those supposedly "within" the groups concerned, not least women. Those who dissent, or offer a different interpretation of "identity" to that which is espoused by the more powerful, are silenced in the name of their alleged obligations to such a grouping. Some hard arguments lie ahead.

FRED HALLIDAY London School of Economics.

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