Creating Commonality in a Multicultural World

In Eurozine, Ted Cantle asks whether multiculturalism in Europe is a failure, and, if so, what can be salvaged?

The concept “multiculturalism” is no longer adequate to describe the extent and nature of diversity and has become seen as a means of legitimising separateness and division. It did provide a very useful way, in the past, of emphasising that “difference” should be respected and celebrated rather than feared. But it has also been used as a “catch-all”, encompassing a wide range of differences – economic, political, social, cultural, physical, etc – and conflates concepts of nationality, national identity, and group and personal affinities, and now has very little real meaning.

The lack of clarity about multiculturalism has enabled opponents of diversity to continue to present “Britishness” in narrow and homogenising terms, rejecting all other conceptions and trying to demonstrate that these differences are incompatible and based on “natural” or primordial distinctions. They use terms such as “people like us” to describe their idea of identity. This is a dangerous line of argument and it seems that even liberal-minded commentators can easily fall into the trap this language creates. People are not made up of genetically defined groups, and the ethnic, faith, and other boundaries that we create – and defend – are almost entirely socially and politically defined.