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New Left Review 8, March-April 2001


Multiculturalism is the right-minded rhetoric of diversity of the moment. What is its political substance? Brian Barry reads Britain's ParekhReport and considers the animating philosophy behind it. How far are they compatible with an egalitarianuniversalism, and what are the implications for traditionalist minorities? Are doctrines of karma just a harmless metaphysical whim?

BRIAN BARRY

THE MUDDLES OF MULTICULTURALISM

The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, better known as the Parekh Report, was published in the autumn of 2000. [1] The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain. The Report of the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, London 2000 (henceforward PR). It was the work of a 23-strong Commission set up by the Runnymede Trust under the chairmanship of the political theorist Bhikhu Parekh, recently retired from his chair at the University of Hull and elevated to the House of Lords as a working Labour peer. In his Preface, Parekh writes of his fellow commissioners that ‘the Report is entirely their creation, and I can only hope that the understandable but regrettable tendency to identify a report with a commission’s chair will be studiously resisted’. Different chapters, his account suggests, were prepared by different members of the commission, and then revised in the light of discussion. At the same time, Parekh’s sweeping disclaimer of any creative role in its preparation lacks plausibility. Much of Part One of the Report, around a third of the book, is hard-core political theory and, making allowances for simplification and abridgement, its content corresponds closely to Parekh’s own Rethinking Multiculturalism, published a few months before. [2] Bhikhu Parekh, Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural Diversity and Political Theory, London/Cambridge, MA 2000 (henceforward RM). [See Gopal Balakrishnan, ‘The Politics of Piety’, NLR 7, Jan–Feb 2001.]

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