Culture and multiculturalism

Issue: 131

Gareth Jenkins

Multiculturalism is once more under attack. David Cameron’s speech, delivered in Germany on 5 February 2011 at a European governmental conference on security, repeated many familiar criticisms of multiculturalism. It was delivered on the same day as the viciously anti-Muslim English Defence League (EDL) attempted to march in Luton. Fortuitous though this may have been, one might see in this coincidence Cameron playing soft cop to the EDL’s hard cop. Cameron took pains to surround his message with caveats designed to distance himself from the far-right. But these were barely reported. The central message was that multiculturalism is responsible for the growth of Islamist extremism, terrorist violence, “the weakening of our collective identity” and toleration of behaviour by “segregated communities…in ways that run completely counter to our values”.1 So much did this play to the idea that “Muslims are the problem” that the leader of the BNP was able to claim that Cameron was catching up with what he had been saying for years.2 Thus Cameron’s speech reinforced the refrain that far from strengthening social cohesion in the interests of tolerance and racial harmony multiculturalism has weakened the fabric of British society by undermining its core values. Instead of the common purpose that comes from shared goals, there is division, disunity and lack of integration.

This underlying theme of permitting alien cultural values to rot “our way of life” is concentrated in the notion of the danger of tolerating “segregated communities”. There is, of course, no evidence for this—Danny Dorling and Ludi Simpson demolished the myth more than five years ago by showing that there was more, not less, racial mixing across the country—but it nourishes the idea of “an enemy within”.3 Muslims allegedly practise “self-segregation”—they are not the victims of discrimination that might exclude them, but rather they deliberately choose not to integrate with non-Muslims by living in separate communities, by insisting on markers of difference (like Muslim women covering their faces) or by not learning English. This indicates a deliberate refusal to become part of the community, prioritising a culture of seclusion over a culture of inclusion, theirs over ours.

If that is the problem with Muslims (a problem that slides responsibility for anti-Muslim discrimination onto the shoulders of the victims themselves) the other problem is the way in which multiculturalism has operated apparently to reinforce this process of self-exclusion and entrenchment of an alien culture. In the name of tolerance of diversity, of openness to communities from other backgrounds, it has, so we are told, “condoned” minority values at the expense of alienating the values of the majority (whose feelings of hostility towards minority communities are thereby legitimated). It is in this peculiar sense that multiculturalism has “failed”: only by abolishing multiculturalism as a state policy can the majority accept the minority and the minority appreciate for their own good the necessity to fit in. Thus multiculturalism must end not only because it runs counter to the interests of the long-suffering majority but because people from different cultures have themselves been made the victims of official toleration. If we are being “aggressively liberal”, in Cameron’s terms, then it is for the benefit of Muslims themselves. What this leads to is the notion that Muslims have to stop being responsible for their own discrimination by “proving” that they are “innocent” of the “bad” culture attached to them (a trial, of course, they can never really win).

Cultural racism

Cameron’s anti-multiculturalism can be traced back to the way in which Thatcher pointed to “culture” rather than “race” as the problem raised by immigration and the presence of minority communities. In a World in Action interview in 1978 she asserted that British people were “really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people of a different culture”.4 This became part of a new racism, which as Martin Barker and Anne Beezer wrote in 1983, “has tended to take the form of appeals to “British culture” and the “national community”. Immigrants threaten to “swamp” us with their alien cultures; and if they are allowed in large numbers, they will destroy the “homogeneity of the nation”. At the heart of this “new racism” is the notion of culture and tradition. A community is its culture, its way of life and its traditions. To break these is to shatter the community”.5 With the rise of terrorism following imperialist intervention in the Middle East, the image of a shattered community took on ever greater urgency in the minds of the rabid right, particularly following the bombings in London in 2005. Thus Melanie Phillips ranted that multiculturalism was part of the disembowelling of the nation by “mass immigration…and the onslaught mounted by the secular nihilists against the country’s Judeo-Christian values”;6 and William Pfaff hysterically claimed that the British bombers of 7/7 were the product of “a half century of a well-intentioned but catastrophically mistaken policy of multiculturalism”.7

But Cameron has also taken on board much of the New Labour thinking about multiculturalism. This can be seen in how close he is to Trevor Phillips, former chair of the now defunct Commission for Racial Equality, who argued in 2005 that the emphasis on multiculturalism was dividing rather than uniting us, making us more, rather than less, unequal. We were, he said, “sleepwalking our way to segregation”:

In recent years we’ve focused far too much on the “multi” and not enough on the common culture… We have allowed tolerance of diversity to harden into the effective isolation of communities, in which some people think special separate values ought to apply.8

For Trevor Phillips, British society was being weakened because an indiscriminate tolerance of diversity stopped us challenging those “special separate values” that some cultural communities outside the mainstream believed they have a right to. This is pretty much the argument Cameron put forward in February. What Phillips and Cameron, New Labour and Cameronian conservatism, all reflect is a shift away from the racism of traditional Toryism, with its harking back to the fantasy of an all-white Britain. The new anti-multiculturalism can be just as racist (scapegoating Muslims) yet be grafted onto acceptance that today’s Britain is multiethnic, and onto endorsement of socially liberal views (women’s and gay rights).

Anti-multiculturalism meshes with Islamophobia while at the same time claiming to be anti-racist. Cameron, for example, went out of his way to distinguish between the faith practised by Muslims and Islamist extremism—conscious, no doubt, of the need to preserve the appeal of the Tory party as a “modern” party committed to inclusiveness (the Tory party chair, Baroness Warsi, no less, complained in a speech shortly before Cameron’s about dinner table acceptability of anti-Muslim prejudice).9 In practice, however, the distinction is not made: Islam appears as the problem rather than some “bad” aspect of it. Islamophobia is condoned as being about a “culture” only, and not as a racial prejudice on a par, say, with anti-Semitism. The writer Martin Amis, for example, defended his musings about Muslims on the grounds that he was concerned with a belief system and not a racial group (an argument brilliantly demolished by the Marxist critic Terry Eagleton and the novelist Ronan Bennett).10 It is true that outside the fantasies of the far-right “race” is no longer an acceptable marker of difference between peoples in terms of “inferiority” or “superiority”. Culture, on the other hand, is.

Culture, change and capitalism

There is a deeply flawed assumption that a culture can be defined monolithically, as a single, uniform and undifferentiated “way of life”. It might be possible to talk, as anthropologists sometimes do, in such terms about societies where there is little by way of class differentiation or conflict and whose structures are relatively fixed. But it is impossible to view modern societies in this light. The dynamism of capitalism, its constant dissolving of all that is solid into air, means that every attempt to define a culture as fixed and unchanging founders.

Yet anti-multiculturalists assume that cultures are essentially different one from another and that they are internally homogeneous. Thus there is “our” way of life, a British monoculture, which is distinct from “their” way of life, the monoculture of a minority. The two are not really compatible. Either “our” way of life is diluted or “their” way of life has to give way to ours.

The idea that there is a British monoculture is patently false, for a number of reasons.11 In the first place, it is clear that there has never been some “pure” British culture just as there has never been some original “British” people. Whatever the culture of the emigrants who first settled here (and it would have been one shared across a much wider geographical area than these islands), that culture itself would have been the product of earlier cultures that would themselves have developed and changed in response to new advances in the modes of production. Each subsequent migration and invasion—Celt, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, Norman-French—would have added new elements. (These cultures themselves borrowed from other cultures, as the Romans did from Greece.) Thus to point back to some “foundational” culture is impossible: culture is always already “impure”.

In more recent historical times, interaction with other societies through trade or conquest has played its part and foreign products (like tea and the potato) have been “nativised” as part of the culture. Further “imports” have displaced what passes for traditional British food culture, with the dethronement of fish and chips as the national dish by chicken tikka masala (Robin Cook’s example).

It would be more accurate to say that a culture (in the modern world) constantly changes as it absorbs new elements and discards old ones because of broader economic transformations, including shifts in population. That it appears not to change, to stand above history, is only an ideological expression of the assumption that existing (capitalist) social relations are “natural”. It suits ruling class opinion (as politicians from Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair demonstrate) to argue that any challenge to society runs counter to “our” culture—and to try to deflect any challenge into fear of some “alien culture”. The right’s wish to appeal to a common British culture is like the appeal to “national unity”, an attempt to divide and rule.

So, wherever one looks, it is impossible to pin down “our way of life” as some “essence” of what it means to be British. Any attempt to sum up a culture as “all the characteristic activities and interests of a people” (as the right wing modernist poet and critic TS Eliot put it in 1948) is going to run into the problem of giving a purely arbitrary definition: who now, 63 years later, would see English culture, as he did, as “Derby Day, Henley Regatta, Cowes, the twelfth of August, a cup final, the dog races, the pin table, the dart board, Wensleydale cheese, boiled cabbage cut into sections, beetroot in vinegar, 19th century Gothic churches, and the music of Elgar”?12 Even George Orwell did not escape the same problem. However much he argued in 1941 in The Lion and the Unicorn that “there is something distinctively and recognisable in English civilisation”, no one would now see this in the “characteristic fragments” he selects, the “clatter of clogs in the Lancashire mill towns, the to and fro of lorries on the Great North Road, the queues outside the Labour Exchanges, the rattle of pin-tables in the Soho pubs, the old maids biking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn mornings”.13 This supposedly “distinctive” culture is as dead as a dodo. And a similarly arbitrary selection we could make today is just as likely to be unrecognisable in another 70 years time. The reality is that what might appear typical of the British way of life at one point is only momentary.

Yet, it is possible to recognise that such historically contingent definitions are limited because they mostly focus on secondary aspects of dress, leisure, social codes or consumption and still insist there remains some “core” of Britishness—Orwell, for example, though harshly critical of British hypocrisy, barbarities and anachronisms, talked about “the gentleness of English civilisation” and “respect for constitutionalism and legality” as central.14 This “core” is seen as tied to certain values said to be central to “our collective identity”—belief in “freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law, equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality”, to refer back to Cameron’s speech. Thus “forward-looking” anti-multiculturalists (of the New Labour, or Cameronian variety) might welcome a modern diversity of consumption, reflecting the diverse ethnic mix of the British population, while coming down hard on the idea of abiding by the values that have made Britain what it is.

This brings us to the second point. Such values are not some inherent quality of “our collective identity”—they are the product of a struggle in which the rulers of society have been forced progressively to concede freedoms and rights to the vast majority, starting with the 17th century English Revolution. Furthermore, it is utter hypocrisy for our rulers to claim that they are defending such values when they are engaged in both supporting dictatorial regimes abroad and restrictions on the right to protest at home. And of course, these values are not even uniquely “British”. Revolutionary struggle in 18th century America and France were key to further democratic advances in equal rights and freedoms.

Thus, the question to be asked of any supposedly unified culture, over and beyond any hybridity, is, whose culture? Culture as a “common way of life” (the anthropological definition) can only apply strictly to societies in which classes have not emerged: in class societies culture is fundamentally marked by conflict between the different values of the dominant and the subordinate classes. To the extent that there is a “shared” culture, it reflects the degree to which the dominant class has been able to impose its hegemony on the classes below it. Culture, then, is ideological in that talk about “our way of life” is not a description of the characteristic mode of a people (the anthropological sense) but a process of selection of cultural traits designed to play on the perception of difference from some feared “other” and reinforce the illusion of commonality beyond the unwelcome divisiveness of class.

Demonising other cultures

The mirror image of this way of examining “our way of life” is the way in which Islam is reduced to an equally essential monoculture. If the right homogenises British culture, stressing its seamless unity, it does the same to the cultures it demonises. Thus Muslims are assumed, by virtue of religious affiliation, to possess a common culture whatever their country of origin or social background, and so are assumed to have one political identity, often “Islamist” in some vague, but threatening, “clash of civilisations” sense. Nothing could be further from the truth than this image of Islam. Other factors—country of origin, class, even personal choice—play an enormously important role in modifying what it means to be Muslim. The Marxist critic Aijaz Ahmad indicates just how complex this process is:

For most, being a Muslim mainly signifies the fact of birth in a Muslim family, at best a Muslim subculture within a wider national culture (Egyptian, Nigerian, Lebanese or whatever); while religion, even when observed, is lived as one of the many ingredients in one’s complex social identity, which is always specific, and hence deeply tied to language, region, custom, class, and so on; religious observance, if any, remains largely local and personal. This subcultural Muslimness itself is contextual, deeply shaped by history, geography, politics, the larger multi-religious milieu, myriad rhythms of material life.15

To which one could add that to be a Muslim in a Punjabi village is very different from being a Muslim in rural Albania—and even more different from being a Muslim (even an observant one) in the great cities of the Muslim world, like Istanbul, Cairo or Lahore. It would be a bit like assuming that you can talk about a common, uniform Christian culture which covers rural southern Africa, Protestant Belfast, Catholic Rome or the millions of English people who at best could be described as coming from a vaguely Anglican background. Other factors—levels of economic development, differences between town and country, impact of globalisation—clearly play a more important role in shaping a culture than purely religious ones.

Ahmad’s focus is on the Indian subcontinent. Even here, where hundreds of millions of Muslims live, the picture is far from straightforward. There are more Muslims in India itself than in Pakistan, supposedly a Muslim state (though officially as secular a country as its majority Hindu neighbour). And though a Bengali-speaking Muslim in India may share the same language and religion as someone from the neighbouring state of Bangladesh, their experience is a very different one. Within India itself, which has the second largest population of Muslims in the world (Indonesia has the biggest), “Muslims living in any particular region of the country…share well over 80 percent of their daily cultural practices with their Hindu neighbours in the same region, and very little with Muslims of distant regions within the country”. Even in Indonesia, “for the vast majority the culture of daily life bears notable imprints of Hinduism, in particular, and, in some places, even Buddhism”.16

This differentiation within the Muslim world, yet simultaneous blurring with non-Muslim ways of life, makes talk about some single Muslim/Islamic “culture” meaningless—and this is to say nothing about the role played by other religious (Sunni, Shia, Sufi, etc) or ideological divisions, let alone the complex and contradictory modernising role of secularism:

The ecumenical popular Islam of Indonesia; the varieties of the lived Muslim subcultures in secular, multi-religious India; the vagaries of the “Muslim nationalism” which provided the ideological justification for the creation of Pakistan; the incoherence of the linguistic nationalism of the East Pakistanis, which led to the creation of Bangladesh as a secular nation—all these indicate how misleading it is to ascribe to some inherent Islamic-ness of the polity or the culture as such. To refer to all these people as “Islamic” is to occlude the specificity and novelty of Islamism in general, to posit hyper-Islamicity of Muslim peoples, and to succumb to the idea propagated by the religious right as well as the Orientalists, that religion is the constitutive element of a culture, and hence also of its social existence and political destiny.17

It is important to take on board the significance of what Ahmad has to say here. Once we understand there is no single Muslim cultural identity even in the countries that can be termed Muslim, it is clear that it makes no sense to impose any such identity on Muslims living in Britain, as racists in general, and opponents of multiculturalism in particular, do. The net effect is not only to project a selectively false Muslim identity—it is also to project it as “other”, as radically different and hostile to British identity. This reinforces notions of the superiority of British (and more generally Western) culture and the inferiority of Muslim culture. This is most evident in the way an opposition is constructed between women in Islamic culture and women in Western culture. The former are oppressed, the latter liberated, with the presence or absence of head covering acting as a marker of difference. This has become a dominant symbolic discourse throughout Western Europe, pushed to extremes in countries like France where the banning of the burka (affecting a tiny minority, thus confirming how much this is a symbolic question) stands, for all its coercive and illiberal nature, as an assertion of the liberal freedoms of our advanced society. Such discourse simply ignores the complex reality of the lives of women with a Muslim background whether in Muslim or non-Muslim countries. Large numbers of Muslims in urban societies do not dress any differently from their Western sisters; and covering the head is to some extent the norm (or certainly has been till recently) for non-Muslim women in many predominantly agrarian societies as it was for European middle class and upper class women in public a hundred years ago or so. Similarly, it makes no sense to assume that what Western women wear is somehow a sign of their liberated status in opposition to what Muslim women wear.

This is not the only example where complex reality is reduced to a cultural stereotype. Female genital cutting18 is often held up as an example of the barbarity of Islamic culture. Yet, as Frances Althaus has noted, this practice is virtually unknown outside a very small part of the Islamic world (the central belt of Africa, chiefly the Horn of Africa and Egypt) and has no Koranic basis. It predates the arrival of Islam in Africa and where it is practised is not confined to Muslims—it also occurs among Christians, animists (worshippers of natural spirits) and some Ethiopian Jews.19 To emphasise the point that it is false to leave “civilised” assumptions out of the picture, Althaus also asked whether female genital cutting is more culturally regressive than the medically unnecessary cosmetic surgery that Western women undergo.20

Though Muslims suffer most from such assumptions about their “culture”, the same homogenising (and distorting) process applies to other peoples. To talk of “African culture”, for example, is to ignore the fact that a continent bigger in size than Europe possessed a wide range of different societies before falling prey to conquest by Europeans. These went from societies with no class divisions (hunter-gather societies), through horticulturalist societies to plough-based farming (with incipient class divisions), to societies with cities, states and deep class divisions.21

The nature of capitalist culture

We return, then, to the way in which capitalism constantly revolutionises not just the instruments and relations of production (in the words of the Communist Manifesto) but to its constant revolutionising of the whole relations of society, including its culture. This means that capitalism is constantly remaking what appears to be a fixed “way of life” and constantly breaking down cultural differences between settled, established populations and newly arrived groups from other areas of the world. Thus whatever people’s background the tendency is for virtually everyone to share with everyone else working and living in Britain the same assumptions about how life should be lived—assumptions that are radically different from those of feudal society or earlier modes of production.

What all this means is that attempts to define different ethnic groups as living according to radically different and opposed “cultures” are mistaken. Capitalism has continuously drawn people from different backgrounds into working in the same way and in the process tends to homogenise the way they live. This was true of the Irish peasantry pulled into the factories of Manchester in the early 19th century. The same is true of the great influx in the post-war period of people drawn from the West Indies and the Indian subcontinent (among them Muslims) to work in factories and offices across Britain. People coming from countries not yet transformed by modern capitalism (although already capitalist) saw their cultural habits transformed within a couple of generations. The young came to speak and behave like the young of the established population, alongside whom they were educated or worked, whose own culture absorbed elements of linguistic usage and music from the newcomers. The tendency of capitalism, insofar as it submits new populations to the same rhythms of work as the established population, acts therefore to break down differences and continuously resynthesise a culture in its image.

This breaking down of cultural differences between older and newer communities can be seen in the way changes in capitalism also transform the cultural norms of the older communities themselves. So what is sometimes seen as peculiarly the product of Muslim culture—an attitude towards women which confines them to a particular role, with prescribed ways of behaving and appearance in public—is not so different from what would have been considered the norm of Victorian Britain (indeed, some elements of this norm persisted well into the 20th century). The dynamic of capitalism itself broke down these distinctions (without, of course, abolishing oppression) within British culture. It is clear that as new communities from parts of the world not yet absorbed by capitalism find themselves more and more integrated, particularly because of participation in the workforce, their culture will change.

However, it would be mistaken to assume that capitalism simply wears away difference. It also acts in other ways, forcing people to compete with one another over jobs and resources, like housing and access to welfare. Residual cultural differences—differences most clearly visible in matters of religion (dress code, eating habits, family arrangements)—then take on a disproportionate significance. People are invited to see them in terms of identities of belonging or not belonging. Out of real or imagined differences, which have ceased to be of importance, racists and anti-multiculturalists create a “Muslim identity”, which they claim is essentially incompatible with a “British identity”. Conversely, and understandably, people from a Muslim background may themselves reach for an Islamic identity as a way of asserting self-confidence—in the same way that a generation ago black people sought to articulate Black Pride as a counter to the racism they encountered. For the “new” communities, the shock of discovering that acceptance is going into reverse may lead some to reach for the supposed security of traditional cultural practices. These can become the heart of a heartless world, offering support and recognition because the promise of “integration” is illusory. If you are going to be attacked as a Muslim, even if you are not a particularly observant one, then you might as well be a “proper” one: at least then you have something of your own to be proud of—a mode of self-assertion to counter the falseness of the society that asks you to belong but that in practice bars the door to you. It goes without saying that this reaching out for a “Muslim identity” cannot be viewed in the same light as white people clinging to a “British identity”; one is a reaction against racism, however inadequate and locked within a polarity of assumed fixed cultures, the other a concession to, if not a wholesale embrace of, racism.

Defending multiculturalism

Because anti-multiculturalism reinforces racist stereotypes of Muslims (and other minority groups), socialists defend multiculturalism and vigorously contest the notion that it has “failed”. But how should it be defended?

Clearly, the starting point has to be the right of immigrant communities to live their lives without pressure to conform to some supposedly superior culture. Quite correctly, therefore, the fight against racism involves defending cultural diversity and refusing the idea that there is only one good culture, British culture. Not surprisingly, given that inner-city schools demonstrate most vividly the cultural and ethnic diversity of the British population, multiculturalism has been a central feature in primary and secondary education. Schools have done their utmost to be inclusive, not to assume that all pupils adhere (or should adhere) to one British, white or Christian culture. Hence space has been made to recognise the religious festivals of other faiths, to respect the beliefs, languages and cultural traditions of immigrant communities. This inclusivity is reflected elsewhere in public sector institutions, local councils primarily, who find themselves operating within mixed communities. Thus forms and notices are printed in a variety of languages and town halls, particularly in inner city areas, make a point of reaching out to community organisations, sometimes with funds.

Opposition to the idea of Britain as a monoculture has led to more ambitious attempts to assert the validity of alternative cultures. Hence the celebration of Black History Month in schools and local authorities becomes a way of countering myths about slavery and about how it was ended—or the celebration of Muslim culture (particularly in the realms of philosophy, science and architecture) as a way of countering the perception that it is inferior to Western European civilisation or that its achievements are derivative.

Much of this is valuable insofar as it challenges racist dismissals of other cultures as inferior. But this multiculturalism often falls short because it doesn’t always move beyond the same assumptions about cultures as relatively fixed “ways of life”. The danger is of falling into the same essentialising trap as the opponents of multiculturalism and not understanding how cultures continuously mix and cross-fertilise, though many supporters do recognise this—indeed for them, multiculturalism is all about intercultural connections and the benefit to society of this process. However, there remains a real problem if the contradictory role of capitalism itself is not understood, its simultaneous homogenising and resurrection of cultural difference.

Theorising multiculturalism

This is largely absent from the work of multiculturalist theorists from the 1990s onwards.22 The question they raised was whether culturally defined groups in society had rights that needed recognition, either legally or in terms of public policy, over and beyond the rights of individuals not to be discriminated against because of their ethnic background. The shift from ethnicity to culture as the defining term was seen as indicative of the need for a shift from individual rights to group rights. The state had a duty not just to ensure a level playing field in terms of jobs or housing, for example, but to give public recognition to the plurality of cultures in British life (a minor example of this would be the printing of forms in languages other than English). The right of the citizen to be treated equally under the law, to vote, to have the same economic opportunity as everyone else (through eliminating economic disadvantage) presupposed an economic and political framework neutral between the different cultures to which citizens belonged. Modern society was, as Bhikhu Parekh, one of the foremost British theorists of multiculturalism, put it, now not just “a community of citizens” but “a community of communities”.23

With the advent of the plurality of cultures in British society, the presupposition about the neutrality of public space and the assumption that everyone shared a common idea of what the good life was could no longer be taken for granted. Different cultures had different concepts of the good life—and it was wrong to deny minority cultures their right to pursue the good life in ways they saw fit, even if it failed to conform to majority expectations. There can be no single concept of “the good life”, to which all conform, because all such concepts are themselves culturally determined. Thus tolerance is not tolerance within some supposedly universal concept of the good life (what Parekh elsewhere calls a moral monist view of the world).24 Tolerance has to be tolerance of different cultures’ understanding of the good life and respect for the right of people to live by their culture’s view of the good life. A new set of rights, therefore, was needed—over and beyond the legal, political and economic rights that had been won at different points over the last three centuries. These were group rights—the right of a cultural group to have its cultural needs recognised—in addition to the individual’s legal, political and economic rights. Recognising group rights would promote equality between cultures and prevent discrimination against minority groups in the name of the supposedly incontestable values of the dominant culture.

An objection often raised is how society should adjudicate in the event of a clash between group and individual rights. Can a community, whose right to conduct its affairs according to its own cultural views has been recognised, compel an individual within that group to abide by that right? Or do her rights as an individual not to be defined by that culture but to adopt the cultural norms of the dominant group in society outweigh those of her community? On the one hand, individual rights seem universal. On the other, they seem inapplicable in the context of other cultures that emphasise collective values, rather than in individual rights, which are alien to them.

It is this contradiction that leads to accusations that multiculturalism lands us in a relativist swamp, a moral confusion, where we are invited to accept (even champion) reactionary, inegalitarian and undemocratic practices—all in the name of equal respect for all cultures that comes from rejecting a monist view of the world. On the other hand, acting on the basis of egalitarian or “progressive” rights, particularly when it comes to women’s or gay rights, often involves the opposite shift: liberals backing repressive governmental action (as, for example, in France) in the name of universal values.

Parekh’s answer to this contradiction was a pragmatic one. We don’t need to lose our moral compass—it is still possible to criticise particular cultural practices, on condition that we recognise the cultural element determining our own viewpoints. Since cultures for Parekh are neither closed nor lack internal dynamic, dialogue can open up a space for evaluating culture clashes. Through a shared discourse of mutual recognition, we can escape the twin traps of either dismissing cultures as failing to conform to a supposedly supracultural set of standards or of never being able to evaluate them on the grounds that they are incommensurate. Multiculturalism does not have to be a morally indifferent celebration of pure difference that only a stiff dose of transcendental universal values can cure. You can a respect a person’s right to their own culture while engaging in critical evaluation of contested cultural practices—whether from minority or majority cultures.25 Through intercultural dialogue, common ground over contested values can be established.

But arguably this view still leaves us with a problem—which is that it appears to ground universals in a kind of will to agreement between reasonable people, no matter what their cultural belief-systems. Useful though this might be as a challenge to cultural arrogance (particularly the arrogance of the dominant culture), it does imply a certain ambivalence about whether reasoning can rise above cultural subjectivity, or intersubjectivity.

This ambivalence reflects another limitation: nearly all multiculturalists tend to think of the politics of multiculturalism in terms of citizenship, that is, they accept the theoretical framework of liberal parliamentary democracy as the only possible structure in which political choices can be played out. So the overwhelming preoccupation is with how to replace a monocultural concept of citizenship with a multicultural one, one kind of Britishness by another—not to question why Britishness is needed in the first place. It is one thing to want there to be recognition of the diversity of cultures in British life—and of course, when a black athlete drapes herself in the union jack, socialists understand that this is an assertion of a black person’s right to be included. But the search for a new Britishness is no protection against politicians who simultaneously use pride in supposed British virtues of tolerance, diversity and democracy as the pretext for the demonisation of Muslims and the pursuit of ever more reactionary policies over immigration. And it can disarm the fight for real equality.26

Critiques of multiculturalism

This criticism is at the root of two different kinds of critique of multiculturalism. One, going back to the 1980s, is that offered by A Sivanandan of the Institute of Race Relations.27 His argument was that it was only the joint fight in the 1960s and 1970s by Asians, Afro-Caribbeans and whites against racism and the discrimination affecting employment, housing and social services that allowed cultural diversity to flourish. This unified struggle was instrumental in forcing the introduction of anti-discrimination legislation in the late 1960s. However, this success brought its own problems as multiculturalism became institutionalised: “Multiculturalism was stripped of its anti-racist roots and remit. It ceased to be an outcome of the struggle from below, and became government policy imposed from above”.28 This shift came, as Sivanandan argued elsewhere, in the wake of Labour home secretary Roy Jenkins’s celebrated speech in 1966 defining integration not as a “flattening process of assimilation, but as equal opportunity accompanied by cultural diversity, in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance”. With equal opportunity being a dead letter, in the context of further racist immigration law, “the emphasis was on “cultural diversity”—and the integration of those cultures into a “cultural” pluralist set-up. Racism was not a matter of racial oppression and exploitation, of race and class, but of cultural differences and their acceptability”.29

The further shift for Sivanandan and his co-thinkers in the institutionalisation of multiculturalism came in the wake of the 1981 riots in Brixton, Toxteth and Bristol. The Scarman inquiry did not, as it should have done, see the problem as police “institutionalised racism”. The issue became a matter of “ethnic disadvantage” faced by the Afro-Caribbean community. The answer therefore lay in targeting “problem groups” within society rather than targeting the racism of British society. One aspect of problematising these groups was to see them in cultural terms. Thus “West Indian families” have been at a disadvantage because of their culture—a culture of absent fathers and lack of role models, linked to educational underachievement and criminality. This served to shift the blame away from the racist use of stop and search police powers and the racist bias in school exclusions. It was made to seem that “African-Caribbean families had a cultural propensity to failure… If it was their ‘alien’ culture that was the primary cause of African-Caribbean poverty, then British society could absolve itself of responsibility”.30

Culturalism became the basis of targeting resources. “Meeting cultural needs would somehow stave off protests about inequality and injustice”, as Sivanandan put it in his analysis of government response to the anti-police riots of the 1980s. Money was channelled towards groups said to represent particular cultures. Anti-racism was replaced by what Sivanandan called “culturalism or ethnicism” as different groups become “part and parcel of a competitive fight for central and local government favours”.31 This clientelism could only deepen divisions (by culturally ghettoising immigrant groups) and invite resentment as some groups were seen as favoured over others:

The ensuing scramble for government favours and government grants (channelled through local authorities) on the basis of specific ethnic needs and problems served, on the one hand, to deepen ethnic differences and foster ethnic rivalry and, on the other, to widen the definition of ethnicity to include a variety of national and religious groups—Chinese, Cypriots, Greeks, Turks, Irish, Italians, Jews, Moslems, Sikhs—till the term became meaningless (except as a means of getting funds).32

There is much to be said for this critique of a multiculturalism that was turned into an instrument of state policy, one whose formal anti-racism did nothing to contest institutionalised racism, though at times it has a limited view of the broader involvement of white people in the anti-racist struggle.33

Another critique of a much deeper recuperation of multiculturalism by capitalism comes from the cultural critic Slavoj Žižek. Žižek argues that multiculturalism, far from being a radical challenge to the status quo, is the logic of capitalism in the age of globalisation. Where once capitalism, located in the nation state, had as its corollary a colonising (subordinating and exploiting) relationship with the countries it was colonising, we have now reached the final moment of the process of capital’s movement beyond national boundaries: “the paradox of colonisation in which there are only colonies, no colonising countries—the colonising power is no longer a nation-state but directly the global company”. Consequently, Žižek concludes, global capitalism generates a new ideal form of ideology, multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is:

the attitude which, from a kind of empty global position, treats each local culture the way the coloniser treats colonised people—as “natives” whose mores are to be carefully studied and “respected”. That is to say, the relationship between traditional imperialist colonialism and global capitalist self-colonisation is exactly the same as the relationship between Western cultural imperialism and multiculturalism: in the same way that global capitalism involves the paradox of colonising without the colonising nation-state metropole, multiculturalism involves patronising Eurocentrist distance and/or respect for local culture without roots in one’s particular culture. In other words, multiculturalism is a disavowed, inverted, self-referential form of racism, a “racism with a distance”—it “respects” the Other’s identity, conceiving the Other as a self-enclosed “authentic” community towards which he, the multiculturalist, maintains a distance rendered possible by his privileged universal position. Multiculturalism is a racism which empties its own position of all positive content (the multiculturalist is not a direct racist, he doesn’t oppose to the Other the particular values of his own culture), but nevertheless retains this position as the privileged empty point of universality from which one is able to appreciate (and depreciate) properly other particular cultures—the multiculturalist respect for the Other’s specificity is the very form of asserting one’s own superiority.34

Multiculturalism, then, far from offering resistance to the system, is complicit with it. Far from coming out of opposition to racism, it is the new racism. Respect for another’s culture is not a counter to a false universality claimed by the dominant culture; it proves on inspection to be the false neutrality by which cultures are appropriated by capital and subordinated to it. If Sivanandan criticised multiculturalism because it could become the tool of government policy, Žižek goes a step further and makes it the necessary accomplice of the latest phase of post-national capitalism. Evidence for this might be Sky Televison’s “respect” for local culture in China, the better to dominate the market; evidence for the indirect racism of the multiculturalist might be the Hitler-worshipping Leni Riefenstahl’s “respect” for the Nuba people (her photos stress their pure “otherness”, the better to reinforce their “distance” from us); and Nick Griffin in his more playful musings says that just as non-white people have a right to their own culture so too do the British people—which is a kind of twisted multiculturalism. But Žižek’s claim seems altogether too sweeping. It is difficult to see how a teacher fostering multicultural approaches to learning that challenge racist notions of cultural superiority is an “indirect” racist acting as an accomplice of global capitalism.

Egalitarianism and multiculturalism

The problem of culturalism appears in different guises in the egalitarian critique of multiculturalism, of which Brian Barry’s is the most powerful.35 Is, for example, the idea of equality one that is culturally determined (a Western idea) and therefore not necessarily applicable to (non-Western) cultures? Clearly, it is right to be sceptical of Eurocentric claims about the superiority of Western culture. But the problem with equality is not that its applicability outside Western liberal societies is suspect but that Western liberal societies are very far from having real equality within them. A multiculturalist approach can miss this point and in the interests of dialogue between cultures reach some dubious conclusions. Barry makes the point that if “each culture constitutes a self-contained moral universe” then there can be “no room for any approach to cultural conflict that aspires to transcend the limits of any one culture”. Not only does this involve rejecting a doctrine of “universal human rights”, but it also involves (among other things) a slide into pragmatics: if the culture works, its values are valid (a “kind of justification by results”). Thus:

The argument…is deployed to show that a concern for human rights must be a local prejudice, because some countries in Asia have had high rates of economic growth while trampling on human rights.36

Though no doubt, while most multiculturalists would reject the conclusion Barry draws, even Parekh gets close to making some dubious concessions. Parekh says of East Asian societies, for example, when discussing “Asian values” and culture, that they:

wish to pursue such collective goals as social harmony and cohesion, moral consensus, integrity of the family and economic development, and that these involve different kinds of rights and greater restrictions on individual freedoms than is common in liberal societies. Although some of these goals and the restrictions they entail do not find much favour among liberals, that is not an argument against them.37

What Parekh fails to distinguish between here is culture and ideology: if he had said that rulers in these countries make ideological use of cultural traditions he could have avoided falling into the trap of seeing something positive in the politics of local ruling classes.

Barry’s general argument is that a robust liberalism, which argues for social and economic justice, is a sufficient guarantee against discrimination. As far as group rights are concerned, Barry asserts that the classic liberal position “that individuals should be free to associate together in any way they like, as long as they do not in doing so break laws designed to protect the rights and interests of those outside the group” is sufficient—with two provisos, one of which is individuals participate voluntarily in the group and so are free to leave when they want.38 He rejects the idea that there is something different between a group and a culture, whereas a multiculturalist would argue that a culture is something you are, so to speak, born into and is therefore not the same as a group, which you choose to join. There is clearly an element of truth about this difference between a culture and a group—but does that mean that a culture can have some kind of collective right as opposed to the individuals in that culture having the right to abide by it if they wish (and therefore the right not to abide by it if they do not)? For Barry the idea of group rights may even be harmful, if used to stifle dissent by members of a cultural group to dissent and to protect reactionary practices. Multiculturalist policy can also work against redistributive policies aimed at improving the lives of the poor in general by targeting resources at cultural groups, some of whose members are not necessarily more deserving than other members of society: “multiculturalism may very well destroy the conditions for putting together a coalition in favour of across the board equalisation of opportunities and resources”.39

Barry scores some telling points in his critique but we can point to two problems. One is the liberal position of freedom of association as long as the interests of others are unharmed. Apply that to trade unionism and the possibility of effective action is severely curtailed: the point of collective militancy (and the “right” to pursue it) is precisely to hurt the bosses’ interests. Liberalism is defective when it comes to the collective rights of workers’ struggle—or indeed to those of any group resisting oppression.

The second has to do with universals—and problematic though multiculturalist theory may be in this respect it does not follow that Barry has an answer. The argument about universals needs to take on board the fact in a society divided by class the state cannot lay claim to universal values or claim to act on their behalf against backward cultural practices. However liberal the modern parliamentary-democratic state may be in championing individual rights and equality, it remains a state ensuring that the ruling class can maintain the rule of capital over the exploited and oppressed of whatever culture.

Multiculturalism and struggle

So appeals to the state are worse than useless. This is clear in respect of difficult cultural questions referred to earlier. No genuine multiculturalist, pace those who accuse multiculturalism of relativism, condones oppressive practices as acceptable because they are part of a “culture”. But they don’t always see what the alternative is to falling in behind top-down initiatives by governments despite the fact that these governments may be implicated in barbarous imperialist intervention or stoking up racist oppression at home. Socialists are clear, however, that any such initiatives are likely to be counterproductive because they will be resisted as coming from the oppressor.

This is evident in the struggle against female genital cutting. Colonial African governments which tried to outlaw the practice were met with resistance—particularly when, in post-war Sudan, midwives were arrested for infibulating girls whose parents attempted to beat the ban. More recently, western feminists calling for action provoked this reaction from an infibulated Somali woman: “If Somali women change, it will be change done by us, among us. When they order us to stop, tell us what we must do, it is offensive to the black person or the Muslim person who believes in circumcision. To advise is good, but not to order.” Where there has been success it is because of what local activist groups have done: the challenge to tradition has come from within, not imposed from outside.40 Support for enforcing change from above will undermine the possibility for unity from below between people from different backgrounds. It also reinforces the authority of conservative elements in the oppressed community (the elders) as defenders of a culture under attack.

Much the same can be said about conflicts in European societies around oppression, which pit liberal defenders of gay rights against “backward” Muslims. Žižek makes an interesting comment in his discussion of what happened in Holland with the gay community increasingly turning to anti-immigrant nationalist parties in response to vociferous homophobia coming from the Muslim community. He pointed to the inadequacy of the “pure liberal-multiculturalist line of tolerance”. Of course, everyone, including Muslims, should be asked to accept a multiplicity of religious and sexual ways of life. Nonetheless, what “complicates the simplicity of this position is the underlying gap in economic and political power”:

The tension is ultimately between upper middle class Dutch gays and the poor exploited Muslim immigrants. In other words what effectively fuels the Muslims’ animosity is their perception of gays as part of a privileged elite which exploits and treats them as outcasts.

Žižek draws the conclusion as far as what needs to be done—who is going to resolve the problem and how:

Our question to the gays should thus be: what did you do to help the immigrants socially? Why not go there, act like a Communist, organise a struggle with them, work together? The solution of the tension is thus not to be found in multicultural tolerance and understanding but in the shared struggle on behalf of a universality which cuts diagonally across both communities, dividing each of them against itself, but uniting the marginalised in both camps.41

We can broaden this insight to say that class is the key. To think in terms of society as a community of cultures is to miss the shaping power of capitalism in driving those it exploits from whatever background to play a central role in combating the other tendency of capitalism to seize on difference as a means to divide. Where Žižek talks of shared struggle uniting the marginalised in each camp in the name of a universality, we can rephrase that as an argument about the centrality of the working class, the only truly universal class.

Why should this be? Capitalism absorbs new communites and submits them to sharing the common fate of exploitation alongside older ones. This produces an enormous overlap in the way in which working people, whatever their cultural background, experience the world. But exploitation in itself shows only part of the picture. The degree to which there is a struggle against exploitation defines the degree to which there is recognition of common working class interests, irrespective of cultural background. In the absence of struggle, however, culture can be turned into a significant marker of division. The current assault on multiculturalism is an attempt to blame one section of the population for the failures of capitalist society to deliver on its promises.

In this process there is a struggle between an active, conscious rejection of the dominant ideology and a passive, unconscious acceptance of it. That can be seen most sharply in the fight against racism, as older communities experience the impact of the arrival of new ones: the tradition of resistance to racism built up through trade union struggle and the influence of left wing politics lines up against the tradition of passivity and deference produced by the hegemony of ruling class ideas. The same applies to the culture of immigrant groups as they relate to older communities. One tendency is to look outwards, and another is to retreat into the security of what passes as the “traditional” culture. The degree to which one tendency wins out over the other depends crucially on whether the tradition of resistance to racism encourages the breaking down of cultural barriers or their reinforcement.

Socialists should not be caught between fighting backward cultural practices in collusion with “enlightened” ruling classes and condoning them in the name of respect for cultural autonomy. There can be both defence of the right to cultural self-determination and commitment to struggle against what is backward within a culture. This does not involve recommending a “superior” culture over an “inferior” one. It is based on how the shared factor of class—mixing people from different cultural backgrounds—creates the potential for a common struggle from below against all reactionary practices. Socialists need not feel shy about tackling “difficult” cultural issues, provided we remember that our starting point is class, not culture. Thus, with the oppressor never (however “superior” his culture); and critically with the oppressed always (however “backward” their culture).

Lenin, culture and nationalism

Lenin’s discussion of the national rights of oppressed peoples has some bearing on the question of the freedom of minorities to practise their cultures. His hostility to Russian nationalism, which went hand in hand with implacable hostility to the idea of the superiority of Russian culture, coexisted with his defence of the right of oppressed nations to self-determination and of their right to their culture (for example, education of non-Russian school students in their language). This did not mean, however, that he was uncritical of the nationalism of the oppressed—quite the contrary. Lenin fulminated against not just crude manifestations of bourgeois nationalism (Great Russian chauvinism, for example) but against “refined” versions—by which he meant the demand for “national-cultural autonomy” for oppressed nations. This, he argued, crucially ignored the class dimension in the struggle by the oppressed for self-determination, inviting workers in the oppressed nation to believe they have more in common with their “own” ruling class than with the workers of the oppressor nation: “it joins the proletarians and bourgeoisie of one nation and keeps the proletarians of different nations apart”. Lenin reinforced the argument about how even the culture of the oppressed, is split along class lines:

We do not support “national culture” but international culture, which includes only part of each national culture—only the consistently democratic and socialist content of each national culture. The slogan of “national-cultural autonomy” deceives the workers with the phantom of cultural unity of nations, whereas in every nation today a landowners’, bourgeois or petty bourgeois “culture” predominates. We are against national culture as one of the slogans of bourgeois nationalism. We are in favour of the international culture of a fully democratic and socialist proletariat.42

Lenin applied this thinking to the status of the Jews in Tsarist Russia—whom he defined as “the most oppressed and persecuted nation” (he was using nation here in the modern sense of “community”). The right of Jews to their culture did not stop Lenin damning the Jewish leaders and businessmen’s slogan of Jewish national culture and praising Jewish internationalism. The first was a reflection of the backwardness in which Jews as a caste were kept in non-advanced parts of the world; the other a reflection of the entry of Jews into the modern world. As he remarked, “There the great world-progressive features of Jewish culture stand revealed; its internationalism, its identification with the advanced movements of the epoch”.43

We can apply the same argument to Muslims today. Lenin’s forcible criticism of “national-cultural autonomy” is a useful way of looking at the limitations of the non-class ways in which multiculturalism in conceptualised.

Culture and universalism

There is one final consideration in respect of culture. Trotsky makes the point that culture is contradictory. The progressive accumulation of all those skills and mental attributes that enable humanity to liberate itself from dependence on nature comes up against their appropriation by the exploiters in any epoch. Culture, in other words, is both a universal benefit and the particular property of a ruling class. There is progress in culture (or rather the potential for progress) in the sense that the motor of class struggle allows the enlarging of what is universal as opposed to what is particular.

The advent of bourgeois culture was an enormous advance. The notion that all individuals were equal and entitled to self-determination was the basis of its challenge to whatever was dark, backward and superstitious in social life. This “universalism”, however, has never effectively challenged the economic basis of bourgeois culture—its roots in ceaseless and ever deepening exploitation. So for all its “enlightenment” superiority, its accompanying shadow is barbarism—the way in which it justifies the eradication, in the name of “rational” values of democracy and equality, of pre-bourgeois cultures. Imperialism has been the clearest expression of that ideological drive—one that has returned with the latest phase of conquest and the demonising of peoples and cultures it deems as “failing” to share “enlightened” values.

The defence of multiculturalism is part of the resistance to this process and the notion that “our” values are better because they stem from the universalism of enlightenment thought must be fought. That involves much more than defending the right of different peoples to their cultures (itself an aspect of enlightenment thought, though itself capable of irrationalist distortion because it can become the basis of backward cultural practices). It has to look beyond to the question of tackling the “irrationality” of capitalist exploitation itself. And in that context only the final destruction of class society by working class revolution will permit the emergence of a truly universal human culture, to which every progressive element within particular cultures will contribute. It is the struggle for this, rather than any quest for a new multicultural Britishness, which offers a perspective on how we most effectively counter the attacks on multiculturalism.


1: Cameron, 2011.

2: Griffin, 2011.

3: Dorling, 2005; Simpson 2005. Dorling draws a distinction between “segregation” and “isolation”: “segregation” measures “the proportion of people would have to move home for a group to be evenly spread across the country”, which is “falling for all minorities”. “Isolation”, on the other hand, measures “how often individuals from a particular group are likely to meet other individuals from their group”. On this basis, the most isolated group are Christians, followed by people of no religion, and the most segregated religious groups are Jews and Sikhs-not Muslims. His conclusion is that the data show that “no neighbourhood ghettos are being formed in Britain”. See also Mahamdallie, 2005.

4: Thatcher, 1978. As noted by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, the Granada transcript has “rather swamped by people with a different culture”.

5: Barker and Beezer, 1983, p125.

6: In Ashley, 2006.

7: Pfaff, 2005. See also Modood, 2007, pp10-14, for further discussion on this point.

8: Phillips, 2005.

9: Warsi, 2011. Cameron thus distanced himself from the kind of hard right claim that Muslim terrorists “are fuelled by an ideology that itself is non-negotiable and forms a continuum that links peaceful, law-abiding but nevertheless intensely ideological Muslims at one end and murderous jihadists at the other”, to quote Melanie Phillips again-Ashley, 2006.

10: Eagleton, 2007; Bennett, 2007.

11: Michael Rosen’s excellent riposte to Cameron’s notion of culture can be found at Rosen, 2011.

12: Eliot, 1948, p31. Significantly, Eliot had argued in the early 1930s for the desirability of a monoculture and warned of the threat posed by the presence of an “alien” culture (in his days, it was not the presence of Muslims but of Jews): “The population should be homogeneous: where two or more cultures exist in the same place they are likely either to be fiercely self-conscious or both to become adulterate…reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable”-Eliot, 1934, pp19-20.

13: Orwell, 1971, p75.

14: Orwell, 1971, p81.

15: Ahmad, 2007, p1.

16: Ahmad, 2007, p2.

17: Ahmad, 2007, p2.

18: I have chosen to use this term rather than female circumcision or female genital mutilation. Female circumcision implies a cultural analogy with male circumcision, while female genital mutilation implies that the practice has no cultural dimension. Both terms have been contested.

19: Althaus, 1997, pp130-131.

20: Althaus, 1997, p132.

21: I owe this point to Chris Harman.

22: In what follows I have ignored the work of Will Kymlicka, the Canadian political philosopher. Pioneering though his work is, it is more directed towards the rights of already long established communities (eg French Canadians), rather than those of newly arrived immigrant communities (the context of multiculturalism in Europe). For further discussion of this point, see Modood, 2007, pp3-9.

23: The Parekh Report, 2000, pix. The Parekh Report was the collective product of contributors to a commission on the future of multi-ethnic Britain, established by the Runnymede Trust and chaired by Bhikhu Parekh. The quotation is taken from the preface, which appeared under his name. The report as a whole reflects Parekh’s thinking. See also Modood, 2007, whose analysis of multiculturalism closely follows Parekh’s.

24: Parekh, 2000. Parekh devotes a long chapter to the monist tradition, going back to the Greeks, and argues that even John Stuart Mill, the great 19th century liberal champion of the right to act as one chooses (provided no one else is harmed), and so of diversity, nevertheless assumed that only liberalism held the key to the good life. He concludes the chapter by arguing that since all forms of monism (in which he includes Marxism) “cannot see any good outside its favoured way of life, it either avoids all but minimum contact with them or seeks to assimilate them by peaceful or violent means”-p49.

25: Parekh discusses, among other things, female circumcision and polygamy. He also debates whether the right to free speech is an adequate response to Muslim objections to The Satanic Verses.

26: Something of this can be seen in Modood, 2007. His understanding of how culture must neither be essentialised (assumed to be some single, monolithic entity) or made so internally heterogeneous that it ceases to have any meaning is very useful, as is his discussion of secularism and religion (though Parekh’s analysis of France and the Muslim headscarf is much fuller and more complex). But his concentration on the policy implications for multiculturalism amount to little more than an attempt to build on the interest shown by politicians of the left (among whom he counts Gordon Brown!) to create a more inclusive national identity.

27: See in particular Sivanandan, 1990. This collection of articles, Communities of Resistance, mostly appeared first in Race and Class, of which he was the founding editor.

28: Sivanandan, 2006.

29: Sivanandan, 1990, p80, which also contains the quotation from Jenkins’s speech.

30: Kundnani, 2007, p45.

31: Sivanandan, 2006.

32: Sivanandan, 1990, p94.

33: See, for example, the comments on the Anti Nazi League (Sivanandan, 1990, pp88-89);
and the suggestion that (by implication, “white”) trade unionists took over the Grunwick 1976-77 strike “to meet their own preoccupations” (whatever those were) and therefore killed it-Sivanandan 2006.

34: Žižek, 1997, p44.

35: Barry, 2001a; see also his article written as an immediate rejoinder to the Parekh Report-Barry, 2001b.

36: Barry, 2001a, p281.

37: Parekh, 2000, p139-my emphasis.

38: Barry, 2001a, p148.

39: Barry, 2001a, p325.

40: Althaus, 1997, pp130-132.

41: Žižek, 2011, p138.

42: Lenin, 1963, p116.

43: Lenin, 1964, p26.


Ahmad, Aijaz, 2007, “Islam, Islamisms and the West”, Socialist Register 2008: Global Flashpoints, Reactions to Imperialism and Neoliberalism (London),

Althaus, Frances, 1997, “Female Circumcision: Rite of Passage Or Violation of Rights?”, International Family Planning Perspectives, volume 23, number 3,

Ashley, Jackie, 2006, “The Multicultural Menace, anti-Semitism and Me: Interview with Melanie Phillips”, Guardian (16 June),

Barker, Martin and Anne Beezer, 1983, “The Language of Racism—an Examination of Lord Scarman’s Report on the Brixton Riots”, International Socialism 18 (Winter).

Barry, Brian, 2001a, Culture and Equality (Polity).

Barry, Brian, 2001b, “The Muddle of Multiculturalism”, New Left Review II/8 (March-April).

Bennett, Ronan, 2007, “Shame on Us”, Guardian (19 November),

Cameron, David, 2011, “PM’s speech at Munich Security Conference” (5 February),

Dorling, Danny, 2005, “New study shows racial mixing, not segregation, in the UK”, Observer (25 September),

Eagleton, Terry, 2007, Ideology [new edition with new introduction] (Verso).

Eliot, T S, 1934, After Strange Gods (Faber and Faber),

Eliot, T S, 1948, Notes Towards a Definition of Culture (Faber and Faber).

Griffin, Nick, 2011, “Cameron’s ‘War on Multiculturalism’ Speech—Another Milestone in the ‘Griffinisation’ of British Politics”, BNP website (5 Feburary).

Kundnani, Arun, 2007, The End of Tolerance (Pluto).

Lenin, V I, 1963 [1913], “Draft Platform for the Fourth Congress of Social Democrats of the Latvian area”, Collected Works, volume 19 (Progress),

Lenin, V I, 1964 [1913], “Critical Remarks on the National Question”, Collected Works, volume 20 (Progress),

Mahamdallie, Hassan, 2005, “Racism: A Boost for the Bigots”, Socialist Review (November 2005),

Modood, Tariq, 2007, Multiculturalism (Polity).

Orwell, George, 1971, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 2, My Country Right or Left, 1940-1943 (Penguin).

Parekh, Bhikhu, 2000, Rethinking Multiculturalism (Palgrave Macmillan).

Pfaff, William, 2005, “A monster of our own making”, Guardian (21 August),

Phillips, Trevor, 2005, “After 7/7: Sleepwalking to Segregation”, Speech to Manchester Council for Community Relations, 22 September,

Rosen, Michael, 2011, “’Interculturalism’—a response to David Cameron’s speech on multiculturalism” (31 March).

Simpson, Ludi, 2005, “Measuring Residential Segregation”, The Cathie Marsh Centre for Census and Survey Research (16 November),

Sivanandan, A, 1990, Communities of Resistance: Writings on Black Struggles for Socialism, (Verso).

Sivanandan, A, 2006, “Attacks on multicultural Britain pave the way for enforced assimilation”, Guardian (13 September),

Thatcher, Margaret, 1978, “TV interview for Granada World in Action (‘rather swamped’)” (27 January),

The Parekh Report, 2000, The Future of MultiEthnic Britain (Profile).

Warsi, Baroness, 2011, “Tory chief Baroness Warsi attacks ‘bigotry’ against Muslims”, Daily Telegraph (19 January),

Žižek, Slavoj, 1997, “Multiculturalism, Or, the Cultural Logic of Multinational Capitalism”, New Left Review I/225 (September-October).

Žižek, Slavoj, 2011, Living in the End Times (Verso).