Modood, Tariq. Multiculturalism: A Civic Idea. Polity Press, 2013 (2nd edition)


Nazia Hussein


In the second edition of the book Multiculturalism: A Civic Idea, Modood challenges the belief that in post 9/11 and 7/7 circumstances multiculturalism as a political idea has failed, especially in terms of the Muslim community in the West. He claims that multiculturalism as a form of integration is a prime candidate for ‘Themes of Twenty-First Century’ as this book series is entitled and claims that in the current state of matters multiculturalism is the only form of integration of the immigrants, especially Muslims, that has a chance of succeeding in Britain. He clarifies that there is a crisis in terms of multicultural political states, which he puts forward as- not just some utopian idea but something that has a strong state policy existence in terms of qualifying citizenship and informing actual policies as well as relations in civil society. But he urges that the pursuit of a policy, politics and real-world development oriented multiculturalism should not end now. He identifies multiculturalism as compatible with contemporary democratic policies, especially that of the centre and left.

In the first three chapters, against the views of the current British government Modood talks of an integration process where both the immigrant/minorities and the majority community are required to change socially, economically and institutionally to accommodate one another, creating new forms of belonging and citizenship, at the same time helping sustain origins and Diaspora identities of communities. This is seen through formation of hyphenated identities such as British-Muslims which are legitimate form of political mobilization and lobbying rather than attacks as disloyal or disruptive. In the following chapters he identifies how multicultural accommodation of Muslims fit very well with moderate secularism but not radical ideological secularism like France and Netherlands. His two newly added chapters further elaborate on the idea of how political secularism is now a major site of multiculturalism.

Moddod’s critics like Bhargava (2010) and Kymlicka (2012) claim that European multiculturalism has failed compared to that of India and United States respectively. They argue that countries such as Britain separate the state and Church (religion) unlike USA and India, and they call this a ‘weak establishment’ of ‘moderate secularism’ of Britain which alienates majority of the Muslims who may have a strong sense of British identification and national pride. Only by recognizing religious affiliation of citizens can parity of minority groups be achieved with those of Christian/ other majority religious beliefs.  Muslims in Britain complain that Britain is ‘too unreligious and anti-religious, too hedonistic, consumerist, materialist and so on’ which means that the difficulty for Britain of integrating Muslims is dependent on ‘drastic secularization’ and countries like US are more favorable for minority religious groups as they have  a stronger religious presence in their countries (p 185).

However, Modood recognizes that although US is a more secular state with a strong Church presence which allows an area of public life to be religion neutral and beyond religion, Britain is more of a secular society and increasingly opting for a secular political culture where religious majority can have recognition but exercise self-effacement in democratic and public cultures and processes. Thus in US and India there can be religious groups who are anti-Muslim and are as aggressive as Europe (only in Europe these groups are not primarily religious). Modood is more optimistic about the capacity of Europeans to multiculturalize their institutions under moderate secularism to reform and evolve where states provide a plural set of resources from which there can be mutual construction of the multi-faith and multicultural citizenship.

One of the strengths of the book is the variety of public policy examples Modood draws from to explain and support his arguments and analysis. He weaves together complex historical events and political movements with those of current times from a variety of literature on Western and some Eastern countries like Australia, Canada, many countries of Europe, Britain and India. A further strength of the book is its take on ‘culturalism’ and integration which recognizes social reality and the sense of solidarity of people of similar origin, faith or mother tongue. Such often imagined feelings are rooted in lived experiences and embodied in formal organizations dedicated to fostering group identity and keeping it alive (p 45). Thus Modood pushes for hyphenated identities like Jewish-American and British-Muslim which recognizes the group as a whole and not just the individual. It recognizes that groups can vary in a variety of ways and they also have the provision to become part of the bigger social landscape in different ways.

Although the book maintains its focus on the British Muslim community throughout its discussion of different theoretical perspective to develop a comprehensive understanding of multiculturalism and integration in Britain, it lacks detailed discussion of the state of the Muslim minority community in Britain. At some instances the discussion also remains quite abstract making the dialogue difficult to comprehend for non-experts.

Modood takes up a timely issue of multiculturalism in Britain, especially as UK politicians draw battle lines over immigration.  Recent government advertisements on vans asking illegal immigrants to ‘go home or face arrest’ was criticized by deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour peer Lord Lipsey reported the campaign to Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for providing misleading information. Another recent policy, Theresa May’s GBP 3000 visitor bond for five countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, two Muslim countries and the third comprising of the second largest Muslim population of the world, which are labeled ‘high risk’ is an example of the practice of poor multiculturalism in Britain. During this unrest in immigration law and policy, British politicians could use such an optimistic perspective as that of Modood. However, the question is if such academic engagement with multiculturalism actually has the potential of influencing British politics today.


Bhargava, R. (2010) ‘States, Religious Diversity and the Crisis of Secularism’, [Last accessed: 17/8/2013]

Kymlicka, W. (2012) Multiculturalism: Success, Failure, and the Future. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute.


Nazia Hussein is a PhD student at the Centre for the Study of Women and Gender at University of Warwick, UK. Her expertise is in the area of gender in Bangladesh, gender in South Asian media , gender and culture, gender and religion (Islam), gender, globalization and modernity and gender and development. She has published her Master’s thesis in the Journal of Intercultural Studies, titled Color of Life Achievements: Historical and Media Influence of Identity Formation Based on Skin-Color in South Asia. She currently teaches on the module International Perspectives on Gender at University of Warwick. She also holds the position of Junior Lecturer at the Independent University, Bangladesh. She previously worked as a Gender Sector Specialist at BRAC, Bangladesh (NGO).