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Multiculturalism and its detractors

Multiculturalism was integrated into government policy first in Canada and Australia. Other countries then following suit, but it has recently come under fire from numerous different quarters. “Multiculturalism is only one weapon in the arsenal, but it is a necessary one.

Claudio Chipana


David Cameron and Angela Merkel have both declared that multiculturalism has failed. Others have said that multiculturalism has lead to the segregation of ethnic minorities. Such attacks have been on the increase following incidents involving fundamentalist groups, issues relating to immigration and disturbances in areas with a high ethnic population. Not forgetting Islamophobia, of course.

According to multiculturalism’s detractors, the role of the State is to provide a universal identity and set of values which hold true for everyone. Ethnic minorities are thus required to assimilate into the national culture, leaving their own behind. It is a position that Bikhu Parekh labels “classic liberal monism”.

I would like to respond to an article on multiculturalism by Nigel Pocock, previously published in The Prisma (23/9/12).

According to Pocock, multiculturalism is a form of unfettered relativism which leads to the acceptance of “cruel”, “corrupt” and “violent” “cultures”. I would respond by saying it is a mistake to reduce multiculturalism to relativism.

Furthermore, Pocock confuses moral relativism with cultural relativism. The relativism of multiculturalism is, whichever way you look at it, cultural pluralism and not the relativism of an “anything goes” scenario. Multiculturalism opposes intolerance, discrimination and racism. Multiculturalism in no way sanctions extremism, such as Nazism, for example. For this very reason it is not non-critical since it criticizes the exclusionary liberal model.

As a consequence, multiculturalism is not “decidophobic”, since it has laid out criterion for generating a tolerant and plural society and State. Multiculturalism foregrounds coexistence between all different ethnicities, and champions the recognition of minorities.

According to Pocock cultures exist that are “extremely dangerous for society” that “should never be condoned”. Pocock aligns himself with a Manichean view of a world in which there are good cultures and bad cultures.

In the 19th Century they talked about superior and inferior races as a justification for colonization. But, since then ideas of culture and race have changed radically as a result of the decolonisation process, human rights, migration and the role of minorities.

Pocock postulates the idea of a “compassionate” society, an ideal society that would be multiracial but not multicultural, but this is a contradictory fantasy since, on the one hand it rejects the relativism of multiculturalism and, on the other hand it accepts multiracial relativism. Would it make any sense to tell an immigrant “I accept your race but not your culture”?

Nations are narrated (H. Bhabha) or “imagined communities” (B. Anderson), built in the presence of ethnicities, minorities and migrants.

However, multiculturalism is not a universal panacea. There are questions that remain unanswered, relating, for example, to social cohesion and inequality. But it would be a mistake to lay the blame at the door of multiculturalism for the lack of integration by minorities and immigrants.

Multiculturalism is only one weapon in the arsenal, but it is a necessary one. As Kymlicka said, it is “a supplement to, not a substitute for citizenship” (Laura Maussart, 2006).

(Translated by Viv Griffiths)

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