The Idea Of Multiculturalism

In this essay, I plan to evaluate a number of European political leaders’ arguments that multiculturalism has failed in the light of contemporary studies of multicultural citizenship by Tariq Modood.

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European politicians, including David Cameron, have for some years argued against multiculturalism. European critics of the concept say the failure to integrate immigrants have resulted in generations of people who do not speak the local language well, lack basic skills and have become a drag on welfare systems. Rising jobless rates in nations like Spain and France have inflamed the debate.

In October, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared the multiculturalism in Germany had been a “total failure.” In November 2009, Swiss voters approved a ban on the construction of new minarets on mosques. In September, moreover, France prohibited burqas and other full-body robes worn by some Muslim women.

That same month in Sweden, which for decades prided itself as a beacon of multiculturalism, the Sweden Democrats won 5.7 percent of the cote in national elections after campaigning on a platform of anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism. One of the party’s new lawmakers, Kent Ekeroth, said “Swedes are moving out from some cities; they do not feel it is their home, it does not feel like Sweden anymore.” Instead of multiculturalism, politicians across Europe have lately been calling for integration through policies like mandatory language courses that force immigrants to assimilate.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has joined the chorus. The other day, he said, “My answer is clearly yes, it is a failure.” The “it” was multiculturalism, and he was on French national television. In pronouncing multiculturalism defunct, the French president joins German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Spain’s former premier Jose Maria Aznar. The remarks by Britain’s David Cameron are the latest step on a path much of Europe has been moving down in recent years after a decade long burst of immigration led to fears of home-grown terrorism and the erosion of local culture.

David Cameron has called for multiculturalism has failed. At a security conference in Munich, he argued the U.K. needed a stronger national identity to prevent people turning to all kinds of extremism. He said that “under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to lice separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream.” Moreover, he said “frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism,” one that requires the active promotion of democratic values, the rule of law, freedom of speech and equal rights.

According to the Tariq Modood, multiculturalism has a more restricted meaning, especially in Britain and other parts of Europe. By immigration – specifically the immigration from outside Europe, of non-white peoples into predominantly white countries. The political idea of multiculturalism is the recognition of group difference within the public sphere of laws, policies, democratic discourses and the terms of a shared citizenship and national identity. The recognition that a society had become multiethnic or multicultural was not simply about demographics or economics. It was an understanding that a new set of challenges were being posed for which a new political agenda was necessary. By multiculturalism, the political accommodation of minorities formed by immigration to western countries from outside the prosperous West. More generally, Multiculturalism came to mean the political accommodation of non-white, mainly post-immigration minorities in ways which went beyond the analyses of colour-racism and socio-economic disadvantage, though it varies between countries. Multiculturalism that he speaks of is not just a remote or utopian ideal but something that exists as a policy idea qualifying citizenship and informing actual policies as well as relations in civil society. Multiculturalism of course challenges certain ways of thinking and certain political positions but the challenge is of inclusion and adjustment, not of giving up one comprehensive politics for another.

In Britain, the immigrant settlement issue took some time to reach the national political agenda. The British politicians were reluctant to discuss the issue openly during the 1950s, as they were concerned not to strain their relations with the new Commonwealth government. Nevertheless, the first race relations legislation passed in Britain. It was limited in scope and could not have been expected to make a substantial impact on the position of immigrants in British society though.

As the British immigration differed from that of other states in EU, the majority of migrants to Britain were colonial immigrants as British subjects with full citizenship [1] . Hereupon, the term ‘integration’ , when used in the U.K., has generally been defined as equal opportunity accompanied by cultural diversity, in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance. British policy has been described as multicultural because of the relative space allowed for minority cultural autonomy, and because a number of local authorities have adopted a more active multicultural line than central government, particularly in the field of education.

Since 1960s, Britain started to bring the controls to limit the immigration of Commonwealth citizens for the first time, the Commonwealth Immigration Act was implemented in 1962 and 1968 for restricting the entry into the country. Furthermore, the 1971 Immigration Act restricted opportunities of entering Britain even more. This act ended almost all new primary immigration from ‘new’ Commonwealth, or coloured countries. Family reunification is now the main source of continued settlement in Britain from these countries. In 1981, the Nationality Act declared all who had qualified for right of abode according to the 1968 and 1971 Immigration Acts to be British Citizens. Only British Citizens and EU Citizens are free of immigration control. In continuation of the limited policy, in 1996, the Asylum and Immigration Act placed increased restraint on those wishing to seek asylum in Britain. [2]

The New Labour Government, which came into office in 1997, sought in its first term to emphasize the plural and dynamic character of British society by speaking of ‘Cool Britannia’, of ‘rebranding Britain’, of Britain being a ‘young country’ and a chicken tikka masala-eating nation.

The year 2001 was a turning point for the idea of multiculturalism in Britain. There are riots in some northern English cities and the attacks of 9/11 took place in the U.S. These events, especially the riots and the global arrival of a certain kind of armed, messianic jihadism which some feel that too many Muslims in Britain support, led to not just a government reversal but to a new wave of criticism against multiculturalism from the centre-left, including from amongst some of its erstwhile supports.

By 2004 it is common to read or hear that a challenge to Britishness today is the cultural separatism and self-imposed segregation of Muslim migrants and that a ‘politically correct’ multiculturalism had fostered fragmentation rather than integration. [3] Trevor Phillips declared that multiculturalism was useful once but is now out of date, for it made a fetish of difference instead of encouraging minorities to be truly British. This critical, sometimes savage, discourse reached a new peak with the London Bombings of 7 July 2005 and the abortive bombings of ’21/7?. The fact that most of the individuals involved were born and/or brought up in Britain, a country that had afforded them or their parents refuge from persecution, poverty and freedom of worship, led many to conclude that multiculturalism had failed. The attacks opened a new period in Britain’s development where the choice was between ‘radical multiculturalism’ and ‘radical secularism’. [4] However, these are not only choices, indeed they are not realistic choices because there is a deep resonance between citizenship and multicultural recognition. Not only do both presuppose complementary notions of unity and plurality, and of equality and difference, but the idea of respect for the group self-identities that citizens value is central to citizenship. This is the context, Modood suggests, within which this latest multiculturalism versus secularism strom should be understood.

Contrary to many people who think that the time to speak of multiculturalism is over, Tariq Modood thing it is most timely and necessary, and that we need more not less. According to him, multiculturalism is a form of integration. It is the form of integration that best meets the normative implications of equal citizenship and under our present post- 9/11, post- 7/7 circumstances stands the best chance of succeeding. Moreover, contrary to the claims of its critics, the key trends and developments are broadly consistent with a moderate, pragmatic yet, inevitably, uneven multiculturalism.

A necessary condition for minority ethnic groups to be integral members of the national community is for them to enjoy effective citizenship rights. In Modood’s view, citizenship is not just a legal status and set of rights but amplified by a certain kind of politics. T. H. Marshall, famously conceptualized a wider citizenship as a series of historical-logical developments, citizenship comprises three elements: civil, political and social. The civil element consists of ‘the rights necessary for individual freedom liberty of the person, freedom of speech, thought and faith, the right to own property and to conclude valid contracts, and the right to justice’. The political element consists of the right of ‘participate in the exercise of political power’ either as a representative of a voter. Moreover, the social element consists of ‘the whole range from the right to a modicum of economic welfare and security to the right to share to the full in the social heritage and to live the life of a civilized being according to the standards prevailing in the society’.

In Marshall’s view, these rights have gradually been extended in Britain to cover the vast mass of the population. The development of citizenship rights entails the creations of a society in which class inequality coexist with status equality. Marshall’s classic formulation of citizenship focuses on British society and in particular the extension of rights to the working class. His critics argue that the development of citizenship rights in other societies has not followed the same trajectory as Britain’s and that the emphasis on the incorporation of the working class underplays the continuing exclusion of other social groups.

Immigration, which entails the movement of people across states, challenges Marshall’s conception of citizenship as expanding categories of rights, equally bestowed on expanding categories of persons, without consideration of their inherent characteristics. For it reveals that citizenship is not only a set of rights but also a mechanism of social closure that only citizens of a particular state have the right to enter the territory of that state and non-citizens who do gain entry do not automatically qualify for citizenship of that state.

Like Marshall, Modood belives the citizenship is particularly informed by British history, though it can be seen at work in many other places too.

Citizens are individuals and have individual rights but they are not uniform and their citizenship contours itself around them. Citizenship is not a monistic identity that is completely apart from or transcends other identities important to citizens, in the way that the theory of French republicanism demands. A common British citizenship did not mean that one could not be Scottish, English, Irish or Welsh, and so allowed for the idea that there were different ways of being British.

This idea is not confined to constituent nations but also included other group identities. The plurality is ever present and each part of the plurality has a right to be a part of the whole and to speak up for itself and for its vision of the whole.

The plurality speaks to itself and it does not necessarily agree about what it means to be a citizen. However, there is enough agreement and above all enough interest in the discussion for dialogues to be sustained. As the parties to these dialogues are many, the process is more aptly described as multilogical. The multilogues allow for views to qualify each other, overlap, synthesize, modify one’s own view in the light of having to co-exist with that of others’, hybridize, allow new adjustments to be made, new conversations to take place. Such modulations and contestations are part of the internal, evolutionary citizenship.

Related to citizenship not being monolithic is that action and power are not monopolistically concentrated and so the state is not the exclusive site for citizenship. Change and reform do not all have to be brought about by state action, laws, regulation, prohibitions, but also through public debates, discursive contestations, pressure group mobilizations and the varied and autonomous institutions of civil society.

Citizenship consist of a framework of rights and practices of participation but also discourses and symbols of belonging, ways of imagining and remaking ourselves as a country and expressing our sense of commonalities each other and create inclusive public spaces.

A sense of belonging to one’s country is necessary to make a success of a multicultural society. Not assimilation into an undifferentiated national identity. An inclusive national identity is respectful of and builds upon the identities that people value and does not trample upon them. Simultaneously respecting difference and inculcating Britishness is not a naA?ve hope but something that is happening and leads everyone to redefine themselves. The lack of a sense of belonging to Britain that can stand up to the emotional appeal of transnational solidarities is due to several causes, including causes that belong to the majority society and not the minorities. One of these is exclusivist and racist notions of Britishness that hold that non-white people are not really Britain and that Muslims are an alien wedge. According to Modood, If we are to keep alive the preopect of a dynamic, internally differentiated multiculturalism within the contest of democratic citizenship, then we must at least see that multiculturalism is not the cause of the present crisis but part of the solution. Whether the sapling multiculturalism survives or not, we should at least know what it is we may be about to lose.