Multiculturalism: Has It a Future?
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 9th February, 2012
Multiculturalism was the subject of tonight’s inaugural session of a new series of gatherings at the Dialogue Society HQ in Islington, envisaged to emulate BBC World’s HardTalk, in which a prominent journalist subjects a person — usually of some political importance — to an extended probing interview. The two men chosen for this initial bout were Tariq Modood, Professor of Sociology at Bristol University (who has written extensively on the subject of multiculturalism) in the interviewee’s role and David Goodhart, founder of Prospect magazine and Director of the think-tank Demos, in principle being the interviewer. In the event, the ‘interview’ turned into more of what the TV fake chat-show host Mrs Merton would have called a ‘heated debate’. This worked, however, because Modood and Goodhart’s views were almost diametrically opposed, as far as the success or failure of the British model of mutliculturalism is concerned. Mr Goodhart took what one might call the David Cameron line, i.e. the position the Prime Minister adopted while on a visit to Germany last year, when he suggested that multiculturalism had failed because it makes communities feel more isolated, rather than integrated, by emphasizing their differences. But as a good sociologist, Dr Modood put up a strong defence of the usefulness of difference as a concept enabling us to understand others as well as ourselves better. I made the point that the Britain of today is a far more interesting and vibrant place than it was when I was a child, which earned me a rebuke from David Goodhart that I had fallen into the ‘somosa and steel-band trap’. But what I actually meant was that the celebration of diversity which we now see so vividly in London, in particular, has come about not just because of the greater ethnic mix, but because of policies of normative multiculturalism, which have encouraged different peoples to keep their roots while being part of the wider whole, in which each learns about and respects the other. So given the official title of the event, ‘Multicultural: Has It a Future?’, my answer is decisively ‘Yes!’.