Ethnicity, Law, and Human Rights: The English Experience

By Sebastian Poulter | Go to book overview

Preface

Recent years have witnessed an increased tendency on the part of many peoples and individuals to identify with their particular ethnic groups or communities. An appreciation of their cultural heritage, a concern for the preservation of their distinctive customs and traditions, and a commitment to maintain their deeply-held values and beliefs has led them to stake out claims upon the wider polity for greater recognition of their ethnicity. Indeed, there is now widespread public awareness that a majority of modem states do not reflect single nations, but are ethnically heterogeneous in character and possess profound religious, linguistic, and cultural divisions.

In England, during the past thirty years, there has been a growing interest in how such relatively recently formed ethnic communities as the Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and Rastafarians are faring in a comparatively novel and strange environment, and what response there has been on the part of the majority community. My own investigations have been particularly directed at examining the reaction of the English legal system to the presence of these four groups here. Of course, two other ethnic communities, the Jews and the gypsies, have been established in this country for a much longer period. In this book, a central cultural concern of some members of each of these six minority ethnic communities is placed under the spotlight and examined in the context of the relevant provisions of English law. While much has been written over the past quarter of a century or so on the subject of ethnic relations in Britain by political scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, and educationalists, there has been relatively little analysis of the subject by lawyers, whose principal interests in ethnic minorities have lain in the related but distinct areas of immigration and anti‐ discrimination law. Furthermore, what has so far been written from a legal standpoint appears to have had only limited impact upon research within these other disciplines. This is surprising, bearing in mind both the significance of the legal dimension in framing and implementing policies in the field of ethnic relations and the important symbolic role of English law as the embodiment of certain standards and values for which Britain claims worldwide renown. Legal analysis can also provide a degree of clarity and precision of exposition in a subject often bedevilled by obfuscating sociological jargon, impenetrable to all save specialists in the subject. In addition, the discipline of law can usually offer a sharper focus not only because of its coercive

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