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New Left Review 7, January-February 2001


Gopal Balakrishnan on Bhikhu Parekh, Rethinking Multiculturalism. How radical is the new discourse of concern with race and religion?

GOPAL BALAKRISHNAN

THE POLITICS OF PIETY

The discourse of multiculturalism, often regarded as characteristically American, has in recent years steadily gained ground in Europe. This can be seen as a belated response to the often striking transformation of the metropolitan Lebenswelt by the inflow of millions from Asia, Africa, the Antilles and the Middle East. Decades of friction between majorities and minorities in the streets, on the labour market, in public housing, over access to welfare and in schools have thrown up fractured ethno-landscapes all across the continent. At a time when the orthodoxies of the market have all but eliminated any alternatives from the political field, both admirers and detractors of multiculturalism insist on the increasing centrality of a new axis of group differentiation and the problems that it poses to inherited conceptions of nationalidentity. The presence of large immigrantcommunities in the EU, often dating from the twilight era of colonialism, acquires a more pregnant significance—it is often felt—in an era of globalization, as the main vectors of economic development, geopolitics and mass culture all seem to point to a featureless horizon beyond the nation-state. Immigrants from the non-European world appear to introduce an extra element of uncertainty into this transition, perhaps threatening to derail the train to Euroland altogether.

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