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Does multicultural nationalism represent the political idea and tendency
most likely to offer a feasible alternative rallying point to monocultural

Bristol, 2014. Flickr/ Evgeni. Some rights reserved.Tariq
Modood, Bhikhu Parekh, Nasar Meer and Varun Uberoi and other scholars
associated with the University of Bristol’s Centre for the Study of Ethnicity
and Citizenship represent a distinctive and important school of multicultural
political thought. Thanks go to Sage Journal
‘Ethnicities’ for giving us three months’ access to this
background account of the
school of multiculturalism’
by Geoffrey Brahm Levey, which situates
the Bristol school in the British context in which it arose, outlines its
distinctive approach and principles and critically assesses its positions on
liberalism and national identity. Levey explains how the school challenges the
liberal biases of much of the corpus of multicultural political thinking and
the nostrums of British and other western democracies regarding the status of
the majority culture as well as of cultural minorities.

There is a lot of
nationalism about today. So, Rosemary Bechler is doing us an important service
in raising the question of monocultural
in the openDemocracy debate

about the rise of the hard right in
liberal democracies.

Yet, what is often described
as ‘a new nationalism’ arguably looks like the old nationalism. What is
emerging as genuinely new are the identity-based nationalisms of the
centre-left, sometimes called ‘liberal nationalism’ or ‘progressive
patriotism’. I want to tell you about one such progressive view, what I call
multicultural nationalism.

To get there, not only do I
need to get you to think of nationalism in a new way but also multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism

You may think that
multiculturalism is about persons valuing their personal diversity, having
multiple identities – like Londoner, young, woman, with parents who are Indian
and Scottish – and mixing freely with others who are equally mixed and who
together produce ever changing further mixes. On this view group identities –
forcing you to choose one over all others, e.g., having to be a good Indian
girl or being Scottish but not British – can be stifling. And the worst kind
are those that demand a singular loyalty to the nation.

On this view of
multiculturalism, we should think of ourselves as citizens of the world and we
should be free to live and work and travel to wherever we want to and so our
policy goal should be to eliminate national borders. That is one version of
multiculturalism. Let’s call it cosmopolitanism. It’s not the version of
multiculturalism that I hold.

Multiculturalism, as I
understand it, is the idea that equality in the context of ‘difference’ cannot
be achieved by individual rights or equality as sameness but has to be extended
to include the positive inclusion of marginalised groups marked by race and
their own sense of ethnocultural identities. It is not opposed to integration
but emphasizes the importance of respecting
diverse identities. It should be understood as a mode of integration, just as
assimilation is another mode of integration.

No state, including liberal
democracies, is culturally neutral –
all states support a certain language(s), a religious calendar in respect of
national holidays, the teaching of religion(s) in schools and/or the funding of
faith schools, certain arts, sports and leisure activities and so on. Naturally
enough this language, religion, arts, sport and so on will be that of the majority
population. For multiculturalism, it is a matter of extending this valued
condition – of creating a society based on one’s cultural identity ­– to include
minorities; minimally, the predominance that the cultural majority enjoys in
the shaping of the national culture, symbols and institutions should not be
exercised in a non-minority accommodating way. The distinctive goal of what
we might call ‘multicultural nationalism’ is to allow people to hold, adapt,
hyphenate, fuse and create identities important to them in the context of their
being not
just unique individuals but
members of socio-cultural, ethnoracial and ethnoreligious groups, as well as
national co-citizens.

So, note that I have now
brought in two things that were missing from cosmopolitanism: firstly, the idea
of a group identity, of belonging to an ethnoracial or ethnocultural or
ethnoreligious group, of not just being a free-floating individual, mixing and
matching elements of other people’s cultures. I have introduced the idea of having
some rooted identity of your own, an identity that has to be shared because it
is part of a group heritage or group membership, and which matters to people
and which they want to pass on to the next generation and see it survive and
flourish into the future.

Secondly, I have brought in
the idea of national co-citizens: people who share a country, people who belong
here and who care about their country. That country is not just another place
on the map or workplace opportunity: it is where they belong, it is their
country. So, on the version of multiculturalism I am now presenting, people can
have group identities and they have attachments to specific countries – they
are not just citizens of the world.

But of course that country –
Britain – may not allow all its citizens to feel British, to be accepted as
British; some may be treated as foreigners, or the wrong colour, second-class
citizens. Multiculturalism is about changing that – it is, amongst other
things, about ‘Rethinking the national story’. This was the most important –
yet the most misunderstood – message of the report of the Commission on
Multi-Ethnic Britain in 2000; chaired by Lord Professor Bhikhu Parekh. It argued that the post-immigration challenge was not simply
eliminating racial discrimination or alleviating racial disadvantage, important
as these were to an equality strategy. Rather, the deeper challenge was to find
inspiring visions of Britain – which showed us where we were coming from and
where we were going, how history had brought us together and what we could make
of our shared future.

No one should be rejected as
culturally alien and not sufficiently British because of their ethnicity or
religion but rather we had to reimagine Britain so that, for example, Muslims
could see that Islam was part of Britain; and equally importantly, so that
non-Muslims, especially secularists and Christians could see Muslims were part
of the new, evolving Britishness.

Given that majoritarian nationalism seems to be the
dominant politics in so many parts of the world today (in Russia, China, India,
many Muslim-majority countries as well as the USA and across Europe) we have to
come up with a better nationalism. I suggest that multicultural nationalism
unites the concerns of some of those currently sympathetic to majoritarian
nationalism and those who are
pro-diversity and minority accommodationist in the way that liberalism (with
its emphasis on individualism and national majorities) nor cosmopolitanism
(with its disavowal of national belonging and championing of global open
borders) does not. Multicultural nationalism therefore represents the political
idea and tendency most likely to offer a feasible alternative rallying point to
monocultural nationalism.


[1]Multicultural Nationalism | openDemocracy ....[2]SAGE Journals: Your gateway to world-class journal research ....[3]Which conflicts strengthen a democracy, and which tear it apart? How Europe is finding out | openDemocracy ....[4]Can Europe Make It? | openDemocracy ....[5]Multicultural Nationalism | openDemocracy ....