chapter  6
21 Pages

The political philosophy of multiculturalism and the ‘modern Muslim’

The ideas of unity within diversity and diversity within unity are broadly typified by the notion of multiculturalism – where ethnic minority and majority groups maintain a set of cultural and social norms and values but, crucially, commit to their roles and responsibilities as citizens of the state. In recent periods, many have argued that developments in British ethnic and cultural relations have seen a return to assimilationist thinking, with observable shifts in policy in relation to ethnic and religious minorities.1

To explore this issue further, political and philosophical debates that impact on Muslim individuals and groups in society are explored from a sociohistorical perspective. It is argued that economic, political and social forces restrict Muslims in structurally disadvantaged positions, providing the context for the current debate, but there is also an interest in the ways in which individual and group norms relate to a wider rationalisation of how ‘Britishness’ can be considered and developed, locally, nationally and globally. The future of multiculturalism, nevertheless, remains uncertain in England, throughout Britain and elsewhere in Western Europe. The reason for this stems from widening socio-economic divisions coupled with issues in the management of culturally plural societies in an atmosphere of global uncertainty and conflict between people on the basis of their faith, culture and identity, perceived or actual. There are also issues of how it is rationalised and operationalised in local, national and international contexts and the nature of inter-relationships between these different spheres of influence. Utilising a synthesis of primary research findings in the areas of educa-

tion, entrepreneurship, media, race equality and identity politics in relation to British South Asian Muslims,2 it is important to explore the historical and political origins of multiculturalism, which includes a critique of liberal

and communitarian philosophical debates. This discussion provides a closer examination of the British multiculturalism case, taking into consideration the transition from Empire to post-colonial society, and the historical move from assimilationism to anti-racist legislation. In particular, the recent case of New Labour (1997-2010), and the ways in which it developed its pre-and post-9/11 and 7/7 policies and practices in relation to British ethnic minorities (more specifically, Muslims) is examined. The aim is to provide a wider analysis of (‘the rise and fall of ’) multiculturalism and what it suggests for British Muslim ethno-religious identities and the nature of the lived experience. It is carried out in the context of an ever-evolving political framing of the importance of civil society, local governance, international security and the ever-increasing impact of globalisation. In its present form, the idea of a return to assimilationism is a viable

representation of the situation. It is an inherently unstable one, however, as it requires considerable reconceptualisation in order to satisfy the demands placed upon advanced liberal democracies because of their diverse ethnic, religious and cultural minorities. In the British case, government reaction and the general approach to the ‘multicultural question’ is fraught with counter-competing tensions, conflating a paradigm of paternalism with the importance of group rights; of liberalising markets while socio-economic inequalities persist; and of celebrating multiculturality at the same time as stigmatising and essentialising the ‘other’.3 Questions of modernity, postmodernity and Islam, and whether or not Muslims can live comfortably and peacefully in a non-Muslim state, based on a developing macromulticulturalist paradigm, need to be fully explored. Gordon Betts argues that given the more established theories in the

sociology of ‘race’ and ethnicity of the 1970s and 1980s, there is a view that the experience of late post-modernity helps to produce multiple forms of racism and ‘new political subjects’ that are not simply observable at the level of ‘victims’ and ‘oppressors’. It reflects part of the reason for the theoretical shift beyond the black-white model of racism (the ‘colour paradigm’) and towards one in which cultural and religious identities emerge at the forefront. In addition, there are a host of factors related to the apparent decline of British sovereignty, national identity and culture as well as the neglect of

certain histories and traditions, combined with the demoralisation of institutions and public services, that are important to appreciate. With rising political and economic instability across the globe, concerns about the impact of these significant developments have grown at home. The end of Communism in Eastern Europe, the emergence of independence movements throughout the world, and ongoing ethnic and social struggles have given rise to flows of economic migrants, asylum seekers and refugees to Britain and to other parts of Western Europe. These developments have evolved into a wide-ranging and interdisciplinary debate in which the conditions of ‘nationalism, [multi]culturalism and [cultural] toleration’ are juxtaposed, while there is a case made for the maintenance of ‘British cultural hegemony and sovereignty by defending against immigration, multiculturalism, devolution, Europeanisation and its enlargement, together with global cosmopolitanism’.4 The ‘re-emergence of global ethno-national conflicts and nationalism are seen as confirmation of the continuing need for a national identity as well as an appeal to nationhood, kinship, patriotism and loyalty to a culturally homogeneous nation-state’.5