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Multicultural Politics: Racism, Ethnicity,…
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Multicultural Politics: Racism, Ethnicity, and Muslims in Britain…

by Tariq Modood

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(From a lit review I wrote for a class)

Tariq Modood’s book Politics: Racism, Ethnicity, and Muslims in Britain presents two interlocking but separate critiques of traditional anti-racist discourse in Britain. Citing both practical and ethical arguments, Modood compellingly demonstrates failure of both race-based concepts of identity and secular multiculturalism to produce genuine cultural pluralism in Britain. Although his solution to this dilemma initially seems to be the establishment of a system of values which further curtails freedom of expression rather than expands it, he ultimately affirms the importance of dialogue and mutual accommodation.

Using a wide variety of sources, including government statistics, ethnographic studies, media representations, and public statements, Modood uncovers considerable variability in the experiences of different minority groups that is obscured by dualistic models of race relations that group all non-whites under the umbrella of racial “blackness.” Modood challenges the anti-racist establishment to transcend these color-based views of identity and recognize the existence of culturally-based minority identities whose roots and boundaries are defined by minority groups themselves. Restoring the power of self-definition to minority groups is an essential step forward, but Modood believes that anti-racists must also transcend the framework of secular multiculturalism in order to achieve true cultural pluralism in Britain.

To demonstrate the practical implications of this argument, Modood considers the responses of Britain’s Asian Muslims to the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Modood asserts that the inability of mainstream British society to grasp the depth of Muslim anger resulted from their failure to understand that for many British Asian Muslims, the most compelling identification was not racial or economic but religious. Consequently, they would respond most actively to perceived attacks on this aspect of their identity.

Modood’s analysis of the Rushdie affair leads him to propose a unique solution to the problem of pluralism in Britain. Arguing that anti-blasphemy laws failed to protect Asian Muslims from Rushdie’s defamation of the prophet Muhammad, Modood asserts secular liberalism cannot accommodate Britain’s cultural diversity. Secular liberalism implies the separation of public and private identities and the legal equality of individuals in a neutral public space. But public space is culturally constructed and generally reflects the values of society’s dominant classes. Therefore, legal equality in this space can produce unequal experience: members of the dominant culture perceive little discord between their civic and private selves, while minorities are often burdened by this disconnect. Modood’s research has shown that religion is more important to non-white Britons than to white Britons, and that their religions tend require active engagement in the public sphere. In light of his finding that policies of secularization are an inadvertent form of discrimination against cultural and religious minorities, Modood advocates gradual integration of new norms into existing state institutions.

Although his methods of investigation are sound and his diagnosis of the limitations of color-based and secular anti-racism is insightful, his proposed alternative is highly problematic. Modood suggests that existing British laws protecting racial and ethnic groups from group defamation should be expanded to include religious groups as well, and that defamation should be defined by the object of such rhetoric. This would allow minorities to determine precisely which content they find objectionable, however it would also give the religious groups an undue influence over the content of public expression. Anti-incitement laws should be applied extremely narrowly, in order to avoid undue restrictions on expression. Although religious minorities should not be excluded from group defamation laws, Modood weakens his argument for this inclusion through his exclusive focus on The Satanic Verses. He claims that slander of Muhammad defames Muslims as a group, making The Satantic Verses a work of incitement that should have been illegal to publish. Although its content offended many Muslims, the principle of freedom of expression that permits the publication of Rushdie’s book is the same principle that protects Muslim religious and cultural expression, including the 2003 law against religious discrimination. Though the state must protect minorities, it is wrongheaded to suggest that the rights of one group are best protected by curtailing those of another.

Ultimately, it is unclear if even Modood supports this extreme position. At the end of his work, he cautions against the exuberance of young radicals and reminds the reader that one must not abandon “moderate, egalitarian multiculturalism that has been evolving in Britain and has proved susceptible to gradually accommodating Muslim demands through a process of campaigning, debate, negotiation, and political consensus.” This quote reveals what is obscured by his focus on Rushdie, namely that progress comes from balancing majority and minority rights, rather than privileging either. ( )
  fannyprice | Jan 11, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0748621725, Paperback)

Muslims have come to be perceived as the 'Other' that is most threatening to British society. This book argues that what begins as a narrative of racial exclusion and black-white division has been complicated by cultural racism, Islamophobia and an unexpected challenge to secular modernity. Moreover, the idea of 'race' as underclass has had to contend with the creation of middle class formations and high levels of participation in higher education among some non-white groups. These plural divisions are not intractable but require us to rethink simplistic and monistic ideas about racism, secularism, liberalism and what it means to be British. Tariq Modood has developed a unique and influential perspective out of his sense that the concerns of South Asians lie at the heart of 'race relations' in Britain. This book gathers together a number of his key sociological, political and theoretical interventions, together with a substantial new Introduction and Conclusion, allowing readers to engage with a distinctive analysis of race and religion. Key Features: * Combines a discussion of racism and Muslim politics in Britain * Offers an interdisciplinary combination of empirical sociology with political theory of multiculturalism * Challenges the secularist bias of liberals and social scientists

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:06 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Muslims have come to be perceived as the 'other' that is most threatening to British society. This book argues that what begins as a narrative of racial exclusion and black-white division has been complicated by cultural racism, Islamophobia and an unexpected challenge to secular modernity.… (more)

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