Monday, February 12, 2007

The moral legitimacy of gate-keeping in a democratic society

Well, first of all, I am not an idealist. I recognise that in any democratic society with millions of citizens, it is impossible for all citizens to be heavily engaged in government policy. There may even be a chapter in a political philosophy book about the optimum levels required for democratic participation. However, there can be cases in which gate-keeping moves from being a logistical necessity to something slightly more dubious.

In an ideal world, or as it is presented, gatekeepers are objective, they have no financial interests, no political points to make and hold no prejudices. But in the real world, gatekeepers tend to be politically motivated, prejudicial and/or financially compromised. There are two types of gatekeepers: enablers and blockers. The enablers will seek to facilitate progress and work while blockers will be more than willing to explain why ‘you need to be cautious about this’.

I would like to focus in on the policy question of integration and Muslims. In relation to the issue of integrating practising Muslims (since this is the problem as presented), there are at least four types of gate-keepers in my experience: the Anglican church, anti-racists, non-Muslim South Asians and non-practising Muslims. In order for somebody like me to get to the actual decision maker on issues which affect Muslims, I have had to get past one or two or three or (if it’s that kind of week) all four of these type of gatekeepers. I can usually get past them if I engage in some kind of self-flagellation (with thanks to a friend who pointed this out to me).

There tends to be gate-keepers inside and outside of organisations (statutory and otherwise) and they gain their credibility from their office, knowledge or connections. Getting a decent idea to decision makers means getting past the gate-keepers and their objections which tend to be constructed prejudices. On the integration of Muslims, you will find, as I have, that where decent Muslims are linked in to the community cohesion plan, there is some progress. Where they are kept outside and managed from a distance (because of fears and mistrust), there is little progress. It’s been four years since community cohesion became policy, somebody needs to audit what has been done so far. Or not done so far. For example, in Bradford, community cohesion was sent to the local strategic partnership Bradford Vision which employed a director for about three years on this topic. She has since left and the post no longer exists. Those who were involved in this process need to be asked some hard questions. I don’t know how Muslims were ever consulted or involved as she came and went.