Amartya Sen on British multi-culturalism

Brilliant analysis of the British Government’s approach to identity politics by Indian economist Amartya Sen in Saturday’s Guardian.

Sen has written a new book, Identity and Violence, to be published in this country in July, which will take a trenchantly critical look at the British interpretation of multiculturalism. Sen sees it as his mission is to rescue what he sees as valuable in the idea of multiculturalism from the prevailing British idea of "plural monoculturalism", which he takes to be damaging and divisive.

"This is the way," he says, "that the British tried to interpret community divisions in India between Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians. To Indian nationalists, it looked a further example of divide and rule, emphasising the divisions. The way that the British are handling it today makes one wonder whether the cultural confusion that the British had then has now been brought back home." (Guardian Unlimited)

I agree that the official version of multiculturalism has a lot in common with the divide and rule tactics of empire.

The reason for this, I think is that historically, British identity is a creation of the British state rather than the other way around.

One way for the state to ensure a role for itself is to present itself as a unifying force. The paradox of this is that requires the existence of antagonisms so strong that they cannot be solved without the intervention of the state, which acts as the patron of the competing clients.

There is a good example of this at the moment in Iraq, where Jack Straw is calling for unity between Sunnis and Shiites, even though any real reconciliation would almost certainly weaken the coalition’s position. Indeed, the occupation has only lasted as long as it has by playing the two groups of against each other.






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