Cycnos | Volume 25 n°2 - 2008 Britishness - Whence and Whither? 

Tariq Modood  : 

Multicultural British Citizenship and Making Space for Muslims


The 7 July 2005 London bombings have clearly raised the question of the limits of Britain’s multicultural society. It remains however to be seen whether or not its hallmark has been separation. After all, ‘Citizenship (…) consists of a framework of rights and practices of participation but also discourses and symbols of belonging, ways of imagining and remaking ourselves as a country and expressing our sense of commonalities and differences, and ways in which these identities qualify each other and create – or should create – inclusive public spaces.’
This is all the more inevitable as all social groups (the Muslim community to begin with) are characterized by internal diversity. Religious fundamentalism e.g. ‘cannot be equated with the participation of religious groups in multicultural citizenship’. It is absolutely crucial, indeed, to bear in mind that most forms of protest by Muslims, like the emergence of Muslim minority organizations campaigning for equality (with a view to promoting integration, not separation), are grounded in British political discourses and notions of citizenship.
The danger of separation is even less of a threat if representation is understood as being ‘a democratic constellation of organizations, networks, alliances and discourses’. Furthermore, though some argue that the multicultural and the national are incompatible, it is necessary, when integration is aimed at, to offer something ‘strong, purposive and inspiring to integrate into’ (i.e. not just a set of core values, but something that promotes inclusion through positive difference). Either that or meaning-conferring identities will be found elsewhere. Integration therefore is not just a minority problem.


keywords : citizenship , integration, multiculturalism, Muslim community, representation


Texte intégral

1France is famous for its concept of ‘citoyen’ but the idea of citizenship has had a low profile in Britain. Indeed, till the Nationality Act of 1981 there was no such thing in law as a British citizen. The 1948 Commonwealth and Nationality Act had designated the population of Britain as ‘subjects of the Crown’ and as ‘citizenship of the United Kingdom and colonies’ (Lester 2008). Yet, this was also the designation of all the subject populations of the British Empire like the West Indies, and the former colonies, such as India, that chose to be a member of the Commonwealth; for the latter had the British monarch as its Head. It was this status of ‘subjects of the Crown’ that enabled migrants from the Empire and the Commonwealth to freely enter Britain and enjoy the same legal status as the native residents of this country. This began to end with the immigration controls of 1962 onwards but continued in some respects till the law defined British nationality and citizenship in 1981.

2Yet in the last few years discourses of citizenship can be found on government lips and espoused by many public intellectuals. Ironically, this is attributed to an alleged failure of a policy designed to accommodate the post-1948 imperial and Commonwealth, especially non-white, immigrants and settlers. The policy in question is multiculturalism, which is supposed to have encouraged ‘difference’ at the expense of commonality, separate communities at the expense of integration. It is widely felt that it is Muslims in particular that have been the most unwilling to integrate and while that might have been tolerated, the emergence of violent jihadism within Britain itself and perpetrated by British-born citizens brought things to a head. For example, Gilles Keppel observed that the 7th July, 2005 London bombers ‘were the children of Britain’s own multicultural society’ and that the bombings have ‘smashed’ the implicit social consensusthat produced multiculturalism ‘to smithereens’ (Keppel, 2005). So, does the new British interest in citizenship, with tests for those who wish to naturalise and ceremonies for those who succeed mean the end of multiculturalism? Is Britain coming to regret its ‘Anglo-Saxon’ errors and recognising the value of French republicanism?

3I want to argue here that multiculturalism is a civic idea, no less than republicanism. The difference lies in the conceptions of citizenship. I shall sketch a conception of citizenship that I believe is informed by an evolutionary British political tradition, that is compatible with multiculturalism, indeed it is integral to multiculturalism, properly understood – or at least one that I wish to defend. I shall then go on to discuss some developments amongst British Muslims that I think illustrate forms of civic engagement that should be encouraged. I will conclude by commending a form of British national identity, a plural Britishness, that I think is a valuable accompaniment to citizenship.

I. Citizenship

4Citizenship is not just a legal status and set of rights but is amplified by a certain kind of politics. I have nothing specific to say about the former, the basic, foundational levels of citizenship except that they are necessary – in the way of skeleton to a living body – to all wider meaning of citizenship. T.H.Marshall (1973) famously conceptualised a wider citizenship as a series of historical-logical developments, each necessary to later stages, by which legal rights such as habeas corpus were gradually extended to include rights of political participation and then later to social rights such as the right of citizens to receive health care funded by the citizens as a whole. These developments were a long process of centuries, involved a history of political struggles, not least in extending the body of citizenry, the rights-holders, from an aristocratic male elite to all adults. With some plausibility it has been argued that through egalitarian movements such as the politics of difference the second half of the twentieth century has seen the emergence of a fourth stage in the form of a demand for cultural rights (Roche 1992; Turner, 1993), while also seeing an erosion of some social rights. Social citizenship has certainly not been accultural; rather it has been informed by an assumption of cultural homogeneity, such as its support of a male breadwinner model of the nuclear family (Lister 2003). The homogeneity has been particularly exposed by social change and change in attitudes and critiqued by feminists. I would, however, here like to outline an understanding of this historically developing citizenship – which has not been a simple liner process - in terms of certain over-arching characteristics rather than by types of rights, though like Marshall I believe the citizenship I speak of is particularly informed by British history, though it can be seen at work in many other places too.

I.1. Non-Transcendent or Pluralist

5Citizens are individuals and have individual rights but they are not uniform and their citizenship contours itself around them. Citizenship is not a monistic identity that is completely apart from or transcends other identities important to citizens; in the way that the theory – though not always the practice – of French republicanism demands. The creation of the UK created new political subjects but did not eliminate the constituent nations of the UK. So a common British citizenship did not mean that one could not be Scottish, English, Irish or Welsh, and so allowed for the idea that there were different ways of being British – an idea that is not confined to constituent nations but also included other group identities. The plurality, then, is ever present and each part of the plurality has a right to be a part of the whole and to speak up for itself and for its vision of the whole.

I.2. Multilogical

6The plurality speaks to itself and it does not necessarily agree about what it means to be a citizen, there can be a series of agreements and disagreements, with some who agree on X while disagreeing on Y, while some who disagree on X may agree and others disagree on Y and so on. But there is enough agreement and above all enough interest in the discussion for dialogues to be sustained. As the parties to these dialogues are many, not just two, the process is more aptly described as multilogical. The multilogues allow for views to qualify each other, overlap, synthesise, modify one’s own view in the light of having to co-exist with that of others’, hybridise, allow new adjustments to be made, new conversations to take place. Such modulations and contestations are part of the internal, evolutionary, work-in-progress dynamic of citizenship.

I.3. Dispersed

7Related to citizenship not being monolithic is that action and power are not monopolistically concentrated and so the state is not the exclusive site for citizenship. We perform our citizenship and relate to each other as fellow citizens, and so get to know what our citizenship is, what it is composed of, not just in relation to law and politics but also civic debate and action initiated through our voluntary associations, community organisations, trades unions, newspapers and media, churches, temples, mosques etc. Change and reform do not all have to be brought about by state action, laws, regulation, prohibitions etc but also through public debate, discursive contestations, pressure group mobilisations, and the varied and (semi-) autonomous institutions of civil society.

8Citizenship, then, consists of a framework of rights and practices of participation but also discourses and symbols of belonging, ways of imagining and remaking ourselves as a country and expressing our sense of commonalities and differences, and ways in which these identities qualify each other and create – or should create – inclusive public spaces.

II. Muslims and Identity

9With any identity, for some it will be a background, while others will often foreground it, although much will depend on context. So it is with Muslims. Even with those for whom a Muslim identity is in many contexts not just a background, it does not follow that it is the religious dimension that is most salient1: it can be a sense of family and community; or for collective political advancement, or righting the wrongs done to Muslims. Indeed, we cannot assume that being ‘Muslim’ means the same thing to them. For some Muslims – like many Jews in Britain today – being Muslim is a matter of community membership and heritage; for others it is a few simple precepts about self, compassion, justice and the afterlife; for some others it is a worldwide movement armed with a counter-ideology of modernity; and so on. Some Muslims are devout but apolitical; some are political but do not see their politics as being ‘Islamic’ (indeed, may even be anti-‘Islamic’). Some identify more with a nationality of origin, such as Turkish; others with the nationality of settlement and perhaps citizenship, such as British. Some prioritise fund-raising for mosques, others campaigns against discrimination, unemployment or Zionism. For some, the Ayatollah Khomeini is a hero and Osama bin Laden an inspiration; for others, the same may be said of Kemal Ataturk or Margaret Thatcher, whose policies created a swathe of Asian millionaires in Britain, brought in Arab capital, Islamist exiles and who was one of the first to call for NATO action to protect Muslims in Kosovo. So it is no more plausible to ascribe a particular politics (religious or otherwise) to all Muslims as it is to all women or members of the working class.

10So when we speak of allowing Muslims to politically organise as Muslims without any sense of illegitimacy and for them to raise distinctive concerns, to have group representation in political parties, trades unions, various public bodies and so on, this means allowing Muslims to organise in ways they think appropriate at different times, in different contexts and for different ends. The result will be a spectrum of activity, a democratic constellation reflective of the ‘family resemblance’ of a group (Modood, 2007: 43-46, 91-98 and passim). The idea that such a constellation of an internally differentiated notion of groupness, not a monolithic, essentialist idea of a group can be summed up as ‘fundamentalism’ (as in the view of Women Against Fundamentalism 1990) simply because it represents some of the public/political aspirations of religions is scare-mongering; or, relatedly, it is to tar moderates and ideologists with the same brush. Religious fundamentalism, like all fundamentalisms and ideology, is a potential threat to democratic civic life but it cannot be equated with the participation of religious groups in multicultural citizenship (Casanova 1994).

11This means that the recognition of religious groups like Muslims will not necessarily mean the promotion of religious leaders. I do not rule out that in some contexts it could have that effect but ultimately the issue is not whether we should have more or fewer religious leaders in our civic life. Muslims – or any other group – should be free to appeal (or not) to religious discourses but it should be as participants in multicultural citizenship, a citizenship in which other kinds of discourse will also be present and will engage, qualify and synthesise with each other. Religious discourses are legitimate civic discourses; religious leaders are legitimate civic leaders if their presence is a result of the civic participation of fellow citizens who must be included and respected as fellow citizens. As Peter Jones says, ‘[t]he recognition that is demanded is recognition directed at a group of people rather than at a system of belief… [eg]… what the majority is called upon to recognise is not Islam but Muslims – not a religious faith but those who subscribe to it’ (Jones 2006, 29). Even ‘subscribe’ is probably too strong; or at least it does not mark where recognition begins, for that is (in the present case) not those who subscribe to a faith but those who identify with the Muslim family of communities.

12Those who think we are beyond such identity politics may see a confirmation of this in Sir Iqbal Sacranie’s valedictory speech as Secretary-General of the Muslim Council in Britain (MCB). Describing Muslim community development over a quarter of century in terms of three stages, he labels the period since 1997 – the period of New Labour and of the MCB itself – as ‘identity politics’ and suggests the way forward lies in thinking of the good of society as a whole, of Britain, which, in his view, means the end of identity politics (MCB website; see also Masood 2006a). I do not, however, see identity politics as being antithetical to political perspectives focussed on the good of society as a whole. British Muslim identity politics had been stimulated by The Satanic Verses Affair. It was a crisis that led many to think of themselves for the first time as Muslims in a public way, to think that it was important in their relation to other Muslims and to the rest of British and related societies. This is for example movingly described by the author, Rana Kabbani, whose Letter to Christendom begins with a description of herself as ‘a woman who had been a sort of underground Muslim before she was forced into the open by the Salman Rushdie affair’ (Kabbani 1989: ix). Yet such shocks to Muslim identity are hardly a thing of the past. The present situation of some Muslims in Britain is nicely captured by Farmida Bi, a New Labour Parliamentary candidate in Mole Valley in 2005, who had not particularly made anything of her Muslim background before 7/7 but was moved by the London bombings to claim a Muslim identity and found the organisation, Progressive British Muslims. Speaking of herself and others as ‘integrated, liberal British Muslims’ who were forced to ask ‘am I a Muslim at all?’, she writes: ‘7/7 made most of us embrace our Muslim identity and become determined to prove that its possible to live happily as a Muslim in the west’ (Bi 2006).

13This sense of feeling that one must speak up as a Muslim is of course nothing necessarily to do with religiosity. Like all forms of difference it comes into being as a result of pressures from ‘outside’ the group as well as the ‘inside’ (Modood 2007: 39-40). In this particular case, both the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’ have a powerful geo-political dimension. The emergence of British Muslim identity and activism has been propelled by a strong concern for the plight of Muslims elsewhere in the world, especially (but not only) where this plight is seen in terms of anti-imperialist emancipation and where the UK government is perceived to be part of the problem – tolerant of, if not complicit in or actively engaged in the destruction of Muslim hopes and lives, usually civilian. Political activity, charitable fund raising, the delivering of humanitarian relief and sometimes the taking up of arms has taken place in connexion with Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, just to mention the most prominent cases. As a consequence, Muslims have been perceived by some other Britons as disloyal and have experienced recurring and deepening tensions connected with dual loyalties and alienation from New Labour, initially seen as a champion of British Muslims (Werbner 2004). It is not that unusual, even for successful, integrated and respected minorities, to be strongly identified with an international or a ‘homeland’ cause; British and American Jews in relation to Israel and Cuban-Americans in relation to Cuba are notable examples. Yet, as these latter cases demonstrate, these causes are usually where one’s government is either neutral or on your side. The western Muslim identification with the international ummah has a clear parallel to how postwar Jewish identification has come to be more centred on heritage and Israel than Judaism. Nevertheless, the fact that British, American and Australian (perhaps to some extent most western) Muslims are having to develop a sense of national citizenship, to integrate into a polity, which has a confrontational posture against many Muslim countries and is at war or occupying some of them in what is perceived by all sides to be a long term project is an extremely daunting task and I suppose one has to say that success cannot be taken for granted. Moreover, domestic terrorism, as well as political opposition, has become part of the context. The danger of ‘blowback’ from overseas military activity is, as 7/7 has already shown, considerable and capable of destroying the movement towards multicultural citizenship.

14The crisis of multiculturalism, however, must not be responded to in panic but with a cool reappraisal of what multiculturalism is and what is needed for it succeed. One of the reasons why I do not think we should simply give up and pursue a less attractive political goal is that I am impressed by how most British Muslims have responded to and are responding to the crisis. Despite this dependency on overseas circumstances outside their control and so where one might anticipate passivity and a self-pitying introspection, what is clear from many Muslims is their dynamism, energy and confidence that they must rise to the challenge of dual loyalties and not give up on either set of commitments. Ideological and violent extremism is indeed undermining the conditions and hopes for multiculturalism, but, contrary to the multiculturalism blamers cited at the beginning of this essay, this extremism has nothing to do with the promotion of multiculturalism but is coming into the domestic arena from the international. The government, having created the political extremism through its foreign policies, by blaming multiculturalism and the Muslim communities for the crisis, is losing the one sure resource that is necessary for a long-term victory over domestic terrorism; namely, the full and active ‘on-side’ cooperation of the Muslim communities. (That at least would be the lesson from Northern Ireland.)

III. Debating Muslims

15It is ironic that Muslims are experiencing the pressures to step up and be British Muslims in the same context in which members of other minorities might be coming to feel an easing of identity pressures and feel free to mix and match identities on an individual basis (Hall 1992). Perhaps as a result of a combination of these two factors – the public avowal of a socio-political Muslim identity and the general loosening of unitary definitions of identity – 7/7, and before it 9/11, accelerated and heightened a trend that was already visible, namely the proliferation of Muslim organisations, each seeking to create a public platform for a distinctive point of view and to display – to other Muslims, to co-citizens, to the    government – and promote a particular Muslim identity. Sometimes the distinction is based on doctrine and tradition (eg Sufi v Wahabbi), sometimes on politics (eg the degree of critical distance from New Labour, MCB or international Islamism), sometimes on a combination, but in each case what is being sought is not some private belief but a working out of what it is to be a Muslim in a public space called Britain. Some of the most interesting developments are the emergence of organisations – the scale of which is currently still relatively small – which want to belong to the family of public Muslims but are thoroughly critical of a religious politics. I have already mentioned Progressive British Muslims; another is Muslims for a Secular Democracy. Such groups have to be distinguished from those who see themselves as anti-Islamic or as ex-Muslims (like Salman Rushdie or Aayn Hirsi Ali), and while the former may be part of the broad swathe of contemporary Islamic modernism,2 what is particularly distinctive about them is the relative thinness of their appeal to Islam to justify their social democratic politics. They could just as easily seek to privatise their Muslimness but feel a socio-political obligation to do the opposite. They manifest the general truth that identity politics is not necessarily undermining citizenship and can be propelled by a sense of civic as well as communal duty. In addition, there is the more specific truth that in many western countries today even those Muslims distant from Islamic discourse, let alone Islamism, feel they must stake a claim in the growing Muslim identity. There is a felt need to join the public constellation of Muslim identities rather than walk away from them. Some contemporary Muslim identity politics, then, takes the form of, what might be called ‘existential Muslims’, where Muslims argue about what it is to be a Muslim in an existential and pragmatic way, eg by bridging the communities and institutions that one belongs to, say, Muslims and the Labour Party, or Muslims and racial equality institutions (Modood and Ahmad, 2007). It is to treat being ‘British Muslim’ as a hyphenated identity in which both parts are to be valued as important to oneself and one’s principles and belief commitments. Of course to bring together two or several identity shaping, even identity defining commitments will have an effect on each of the commitments. They will interact with each, leading to some reinterpretation on both (or all) sides, for example, on what is highlighted in each identity. This has certainly been happening with Muslims in Britain, and the West generally, especially the United States (Leonard, 2003). Often this has been happening in a practice-led way as indicated in those cases that Fauzia Ahmad and I have called ‘existential Muslims’ (Modood and Ahmad 2007). Sometimes it can go well beyond this and involves scholarly engagement with the Islamic intellectual heritage.

16One of the key areas of renewal and reinterpretation has been equality and related concepts. This can be seen in debates about gender equality in which Muslim cultural practices and taken for granted assumptions have been subjected to severe critique through fresh readings of the Qur’an, the sayings and practice of the Prophet Muhammad and Muslim history, tracing the emergence of conservative and restricted interpretations at moments when other interpretations could and should have been favoured (Mernissi 1991, Ahmed 1992, Wadud 1999). In relation to issues to do with minorities, namely groups such as themselves,Muslim impulses and sensibilities, including the experience of negative difference, of Islamophobia, are clearly entering British citizenship but they are adjusting to and being translated into contemporary, western civic discourses and practices (Modood 2005a). A very good concrete example of this translation is how protestors against The Satanic Verses initially spoke of apostasy, then blasphemy and in due course most settled on the policy goal of creating a legal offence of incitement to religious hatred.The notions of minorities and groups that Muslims are deploying are generally on a par with those employed by other equality seeking groups such as women and ethnic minorities and are reflective of the national political culture. Thus the normative conception of ‘minority’ and ‘minority rights’ used by most Muslims in Britain is grounded in British political discourses and notions of equality and not the classical Muslim idea of ‘dhimmi’ (non-Muslims in Muslim ruled states who enjoy legal protection but not equality with Muslims). On the other hand, plurality is emerging as an important Muslim idea. Despite certain ideas that one might associate with Saudi Arabia or the Taliban most Muslims have no theological or conscientious problems with multi-faith citizenship – after all the Prophet Muhammad founded just such a polity. The first organised, settled Muslim community was in the city of Madina which was shared with Jews and others and was based on an inter-communally agreed constitution. The late Sheikh Dr Zaki Badawi, widely regarded as the most learned Muslim theologian in modern Britain, has described it as the first example in history of a multicultural constitution, in that it guaranteed autonomy to the various communities of the city (Badawi 2003; see also Wyn-Davies 1988, Khan, 2002 and Asani 2003 for ‘ideas that form the seeds for a theology of pluralism within Islam’).

17There is a general understanding amongst the authors mentioned and their readers that these projects of recovering and reinterpreting Muslim precedents and texts has to be done within a framework of democratic citizenship. Citizenship and politics narrowly interpreted have not had the importance in the Muslim world that they have come to have in the west for while participation in communal governance is a feature of Muslim thinking and practice, participation in state governance much less so. Using ‘citizenship’ in the wide sense outlined earlier in the chapter, Muslim notions of citizenship are more communitarian than state centred, but this is generally true of traditions outside the west (cf Parekh’s discussion of human rights and Asian values, 2000: 136-141). Islam has a highly developed sense of social or ethical citizenship, in which, in line with contemporary western communitarian thinking, duties as well as rights are emphasised. This is illustrated in one of the ‘five pillars of Islam’, namely, zakat, the obligation to give a proportion of one’s income or wealth to the poor and needy. This is not an act of charity, that is to say something left to the discretion and goodwill of the individual, for the amount is specified, but nor is it a legal compulsion like a Christian tithe or a state tax; it has a civic character for it is not simply a responsibility to one’s kith and kin or to those known in face to face relationships such as those in one’s neighbourhood or at one’s workplace, it extends to strangers, to an ‘imagined community’. The idea that it needs a state to enforce social citizenship or religious law more generally is very much twentieth century theology – one of the innovative ways in which thinkers such as the radical Sunni, Mawdudi, and the radical Shi’a, Khomeni have sought to modernise the Islamic heritage. What is interesting in this move is that it seeks to place the political over the legal (the shariah); another strand of Islamic modernity has countered this authoritarian tendency by seeing the shariah not as a body of unchanging law, but as a set of ethical principles with legal conclusions that apply to specific places and times only and so have to be continually reinterpreted, and so placing the ethical over the legal and the political (Sardar 1987; Ramadan 2004).

18Such ethical perspectives on sharia and citizenship are examples of how western Muslim sensibilities are manifesting themselves and drawing on extra-European heritages, while at the same time reinterpreting them in a context of a democratic citizenship and thereby pluralizing it and making it one’s own.3 The process, both in method and goal, is illustrative of what Parekh has theorised as the multiculturalising of liberalism and of western societies in general (Parekh 2000). As Muslims discuss these matters and as Muslim discourses become part of British debates, these things will become more openly considered and political maturity could mean that when we seek Muslim voices or civic participants we will not seek exclusively one or even a few kinds of Muslims. This is easier to achieve at the level of discourses, more difficult in terms of institutional accommodation but not impossible. After all, it seems to work to some degree in relation to other groups, eg the Jews. A variety of Jewish people can be taken to represent one or another strand of Jewish opinion and may be consulted as such, whether as organisations like a federation of synagogues or the Board of Deputies, or as individuals. So we must not set the bar too high for new groups of ethnic and religious minorities. To take the severe view that for a group to enjoy public representation they must all agree, otherwise no representation is possible is either to use double standards or to succumb to an essentialism about that group. Moreover, it is a positive virtue that there is internal variety within any group and that (organised) members of any one group will want to locate themselves in different parts of the representational landscape – secular, religious, close to government, distant from mainstream political parties – for that is true integration; new groups should have similar opportunities to old groups and will not need to conform to a singular minority perspective. They will spread themselves across society in ways that suit them and also create or give rise to new discourses, new patternings in political activity and in social organisation. This is to make the idea of group representation consistent with the understanding of the variability and transmutations of groupness. The result will be a democratic constellation of organisations, networks, alliances and discourses in which there will be agreement and disagreement, in which group identity will be manifested by way of what Wittgenstein called ‘family resemblances’ rather than by the idea that one group means one voice (Modood 2007: 95-96).

19We must, however, also avoid simplistic and reductive models of democratic citizenship. Overcoming the marginality of a minority and integrating it into the political structure might indeed require some degree of corporatism in the way that the Anglican Church as an organisation is guaranteed representation in the House of Lords; or the Catholic Church is a partner in the state educational system; or the trades unions have substantial representation in the Labour Party and formal and semi-formal representation on a panoply of public bodies and advisory government committees. We may reasonably be guided by some existing ways in which churches and Jews are represented, though avoiding top-down state control of religious organisations and facilitating lay community, not just ‘clerical’, representation (Modood 2007: 78-84). Such corporate representation is not necessarily undemocratic but can be pillars in the extensive architecture of participation in the multilevel decision-making processes of a democratic society in which power is shared and not overly concentrated in the hands of career politicians and state bureaucracies. There are two points here to underline. First, that the ‘recognition’ of difference can be institutionalised in varied ways which can include (but does not have to include) some degree of corporate representation depending on the circumstances, especially whether the minority in question is capable of and willing to institutionalise itself in that way. Secondly, the formalised partnership with government that I am speaking of here is, no less than the election of legislatures or governments, part of the participative structure of self-governing societies, and as such something into which identity groups should be accommodated.

IV. National Identity

20Multiculturalism has been broadly right and does not deserve the desertion of support from the centre-left, let alone the blame for the present crisis. Some advocacy of multiculturalism has, however, perhaps overlooked or at least underemphasized the other side of the coin, which is not just equally necessary but is integral to multiculturalism. For one can’t just talk about difference. Difference has to be related to things we have in common. The commonality that I have been emphasising, in common with most multiculturalists and others, is citizenship. I have emphasised that this citizenship has to be seen in a plural, dispersed and dialogical way and not reduced to legal rights, passports and the franchise (important though these are). I would now like to go further in suggesting that a good basis for or accompaniment to a multicultural citizenship is a national identity.4

21Many multiculturalists and others for whom equality and difference are politically important do not agree with me but national identity seems to be relevant here. This is partly because conceiving of citizenship in the very broad way that I have outlined already begins to overlap with much of what we mean when we speak of the ‘national’, as in, for example, the national news, national history, national dynamism, national malaise, national agenda and so on. Indeed, modern democratic citizenship has nearly always – if not in theory, then in fact – been accompanied by a national identity. Of course, these national identities have not usually been welcoming of difference and sometimes have actively suppressed it, so I am not simply recommending unreformed historical models of nationhood. Many people today think that the dynamics of globalisation are fatally undermining national identities for in a context of global economic organisations and instant international communications, migrations as part of globalisation are giving rise to diasporas, transnational and cosmopolitan identities which are dissolving nations in terms of both objective structures and personal sentiment. There is some truth in this, though it is easily exaggerated. In any case, the developments just referred to do not so damage national citizenship that it cannot be a container for multicultural currents.

22We in Europe have overlooked that where multiculturalism has been accepted and worked as a state project or as a national project – Canada, Australia and Malayasia for example – it has not just been coincidental with but integral to a nation-building project, to creating Canadians, Aussies and Malayasians etc. Even in the US, where the federal state has had a much lesser role in the multicultural project, the incorporation of ethno-religious diversity and hyphenated Americans has been about country-making, civic inclusion and making a claim upon the national identity. This is important because some multiculturalists, or at least advocates of pluralism and multiculture (the vocabulary of multiculturalism is not always used) – even where they have other fundamental disagreements with each other - argue as if the logic of the national and the multicultural are incompatible (Gilroy 1987 and 2004,5 Anthias and Yuval-Davis 1992, Sayyid 2000 and 2007, Joppke 2004,6 Cannon 2006, O’Donnell 2007). Partly as a result many Europeans think of multiculturalism as antithetical to rather than as a reformer of national identity. A dramatic illustration was the immediate public reception of the report of the Commission on Multiethnic Britain report (CMEB 2000). Despite its stated intention of placing issues of multiculturalism into the re-making of the national story, it was almost uniformly but mistakenly received by the press – broadsheet and tabloid alike – as being anti-patriotic (McLaughlin and Neal, 2004), and sometimes welcomed for its alleged post-national vision (Robins, 2001).

23No one can deny that national identity, even where it has been connected to a national citizenship, has simultaneously or at other times been involved in ideological forms of nationalism which have led to exclusion, racism, military aggression, empires and much else. But looking at recent and contemporary history, especially in western Europe and countries like Canada, suggests that it is possible to disconnect national identities from strong forms of nationalism. Perhaps it is also possible to disconnect citizenship from national identities, and so from the national altogether, perhaps to invest our civic loyalties and sense of belonging into some principles of a human rights based political order, what Habermas (1992) calls ‘constitutional patriotism’. I would concede that recent trends in the countries mentioned above, where for many, especially younger people, citizenship can be prized but nationality is looked at with suspicion or indifference, are just as supportive of the idea of a non-nationalism national identity as they are of the fading of national identity.7 Nevertheless, my judgement is that attitudes such as constitutional patriotism or cosmopolitanism are not affective enough for most people, especially the relatively non-political, and at times of crisis. They are unlikely to hold people together and to give them the confidence and optimism to see through the present crisis of multiculturalism as described at the start of this essay. Indeed, what we see happening is that it is all too easy in these times of fear and panic for ordinary, decent people to be very anxious and – where multicultural national identities are weak or at least are not inclusive of Muslims – to wrap themselves in strong nationalisms, militarisms and other dichotomising, confrontational ideologies.

24Moreover, it does not make sense to encourage strong multicultural or minority identities and weak common or national identities; strong multicultural identities are a good thing – they are not intrinsically divisive, reactionary or fifth columns – but they need a framework of vibrant, dynamic, national narratives and the ceremonies and rituals which give expression to a national identity. It is clear that minority identities are capable of having an emotional pull for the individuals for whom they are important. Multicultural citizenship requires, therefore, if it is to be equally attractive to the same individuals, a comparable counter-balancing emotional pull. Many Britons say they are worried about disaffection amongst some Muslim young men and more generally a lack of identification with Britain amongst many Muslims in Britain. As a matter of fact, surveys over many years have shown Muslims have been reaching out for an identification with Britain. For example, in a Channel 4 NOP survey done in Spring 2006 82% of a well constructed national sample of Muslims said they very strongly (45%) or fairly strongly (37%) felt they belonged to Britain.8 Yet the survey also found that many Muslims did not feel comfortable in Britain. For example, 58% thought that extreme religious persecution of Muslims was very likely (23%) or fairly likely (35%); and 22% strongly agreed or fairly strongly agreed (11% in each category) that the 7/7 London bombings were justified because of British support for the US war on terror – in each case the figures were higher amongst the young.9 The last set of views are connected to foreign policy and so in some cases cannot be changed without a change in policy but nevertheless to not build on the clear support there is for a sense of national belonging is to fail to offer an obvious counterweight to the ideological calls for a jihad against fellow Britons.

25A sense of belonging to one’s country is necessary to make a success of a multicultural society. Not assimilation into an undifferentiated national identity; that is unrealistic and oppressive as a policy. An inclusive national identity is respectful of and builds upon the identities that people value and does not trample upon them. Simultaneously respecting difference and inculcating Britishness is not a naïve hope but something that is happening (Modood 2007: 103-110), and leads everyone to redefine themselves. Perhaps one of the lessons of the current crisis is that in some countries, certainly Britain, multiculturalists, and the left in general, have been too hesitant about embracing our national identity and allying it with progressive politics. The reaffirming of a plural, changing, inclusive British identity, which can be as emotionally and politically meaningful to British Muslims as the appeal of jihadi sentiments, is critical to isolating and defeating extremism. The lack of a sense of belonging to Britain that can stand up to the emotional appeal of transnational solidarities is due to several causes, including causes that belong to the majority society and not the minorities. One of these is exclusivist and racist notions of Britishness that hold that non-white people are not really British and that Muslims are an alien wedge. Another, and this time from the Left, is the view that there is something deeply wrong about rallying round the idea of Britain, about defining ourselves in terms of a normative concept of Britishness – that it is too racist, imperialist, militaristic, elitist and so on – and that the goal of seeking to be British in the present and the future is silly and dangerous, and indeed, demeaning to the newly settled groups of population. But if the goal of wanting to become British, to be accepted as British and to belong to Britain is not a worthwhile goal for Commonwealth migrants and their progeny, what then are they supposed to integrate into? And if there is nothing strong, purposive and inspiring to integrate into, why bother with integration? And if inspiring and meaning-conferring identities can be found elsewhere – in some internationalist movement – that’s just fine and if that’s at the expense of your country and its citizens, well they don’t really matter all that much in the ultimate scheme of significance? We cannot both ask new Britons to integrate and go around saying that being British (or English) is a hollowed-out, meaningless project whose time has come to an end. This will rightly produce confusion and will detract from the sociological and psychological processes of integration, and offer no defence against the calls of other loyalties and missions. Today’s national identities certainly need to be re-imagined in a multicultural way but if this is thought impossible or unnecessary then multiculturalism is left not triumphant but with fewer emotive resources.

26So integration – like multiculturalism as a whole – is not simply or even primarily a minority problem. If too many white people do not feel the power of Britishness, it will only be a legal concept and other identities will prevail, including ones that will be damaging to multicultural citizenship. Earlier I recognised that the development of a British Muslim identity was dependent on overseas events and international politics. I am now pointing out that whether and what kind of integrative citizenship takes place is inevitably dependent upon majority attitudes and interests. I believe that in many circumstances, as in Britain, the best support for multicultural citizenship is a national identity but I am unsure as to whether there is enough interest amongst white Britons in a British national identity. It is therefore to be welcomed when politicians of the left show an interest in British national identity. A leading example of this is the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. He has argued for the need to revive and revalue British national identity in a number of speeches, most notably at the Fabian 2006 Annual Conference, entitled ‘Who Do We Want To Be? The Future of Britishness’ (Brown, 2006). Brown wants to derive a set of core values (liberty, fairness, enterprise and so on) from a historical narrative yet such values, even if they could singly or in combination be given a distinctive British take, are too complex and their interpretation and priority too contested to be amenable to be set into a series of meaningful definitions. Every public culture must operate through shared values, which are both embodied in and used to criticise its institutions and practices, but they are not simple and uniform and their meaning is discursively grasped as old interpretations are dropped and new circumstances unsettle one consensus and another is built up. Simply saying that freedom or equality is a core British value is unlikely to settle any controversy or tell us, for example, what is hate speech and how it should be handled. Definitions of core values will either be too bland or too divisive and the idea that there has to be a schedule of value statements to which every citizen is expected to sign up is not in the spirit of a multilogical citizenship (Brown 2005). National identity should be woven in debate and discussion, not reduced to a list.

27An alternative approach is to be found in the Commission on Multi-Ethnic Britain (CMEB) report. It suggested that if people are to have a sense of belonging to society as a whole, to have a sense of sharing a common fate with fellow citizens and nationals they must be able to feel ‘that their own flourishing as individuals and as communities is intimately linked with the flourishing of public institutions and public services’ (CMEB 2000: 49). The report insisted that this sense of belonging required two important conditions: the idea that one’s polity should be recognised as a community of communities as well as a community of individuals; and the challenging of all racisms and related structural inequalities (CMEB 2000: 56). It is clear in the CMEB report that the concepts of recognition and belonging are about much more than culture and cultural rights. They are interpretations of the idea of equality as applied to groups who are constituted by differentia that have identarian dimensions that elude socio-economic concepts. The realisation of multicultural equality is not possible in a society in which the distribution of opportunities are restricted by ‘difference’ but equality cannot be confined to socio-economic opportunities. For central to it is a citizenship and the right to make a claim on the national identity in which negative difference is challenged and supplanted by positive difference. We cannot afford to leave out these aspects of multicultural citizenship from an intellectual or political vision of social reform and justice in the twenty-first century. Rather, the turning of negative difference into positive difference should be one of the tests of social justice in this century. It is because inclusion through positive difference is a condition of a sense of belonging that I think that not merely the evolving British citizenship but our sense of national identity has to be central to the current challenges of equality and integration. A multicultural Britishness may sound contradictory to some and undesirable to others but I hope I have shown why I do not share either of those points of view.

Notes de bas de page numériques

1  Perhaps to even talk about a ‘religious’ dimension is already to be thinking of Islam in terms of a western, Protestant originating category (Asad 2003), though it is by now a category that many Muslims, western and others, have by now made their own.

2  Some leading examples of Islamic modernism in the west are Sardar 1987, Safi 2003, Ramadan 2004 and Aslan 2005; for a brief introduction, see Masood 2006b. Strictly speaking this modernist strand is just one of several opposed strands. For there is an alternative, radical Islamic modernism of figures such as the Ayatollah Khomeni (Sayyid 1997). While the former sees Islamic and western concepts and values in terms of overlap and the possibilities of co-development, the latter emphasises alterity. Hence I would call the former ‘moderate’ Islamic modernism but for the fact that the term ‘moderate Muslim’ has been so sullied that it is refused by many Muslims I would use the term of (Modood and Ahmad 2007); I have explained earlier in the article that I am defining ‘moderate X’ as compatibility of X with my conception of multicultural citizenship.

3  This is to correct an impression I may have given in Modood 2005 that Muslims were merely using without modifying western egalitarian discourses. I am grateful to Sean McLaughlin (2006) for pointing this out and also to a discussion of this point with Bhikhu Parekh.

4  For a very helpful elaboration of nationality, though which in places takes a too circumscribed a view of multiculturalism, see Miller 1995.

5  Gilroy 2004 presents most contemporary stirrings of English/British national identity as a form of melancholia, a depression introduced by a loss of Empire.

6  I do not share the view that the ‘national-identity dimension of multiculturalism has nothing in common with the minority-focussed ‘politics of recognition’ (Joppke 2004: 244). Much of what Joppke describes as accommodation in fact is what I have argued is recognition and not, as Joppke thinks, toleration.

7  Of course for some, especially, younger people, even citizenship is not prized and certainly not compared to entertainment and shopping. So, if all we wanted to do was to follow trends, even constitutional patriotism would look out of date.

8  Full survey at _survey/index.html.

9  ‘Justified’ here does not necessarily mean approval of the bombings (for other questions about political violence elicited much less support) but more a sense that one thing causes another – the cause of the bombings lies in Anglo-American foreign policy. A Populous The Times Poll of British Muslims, 6 February, 2006 found that 7% agreed with ‘There are circumstances in which I would condone suicide bombings on UK soil.’



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Pour citer cet article

Tariq Modood, « Multicultural British Citizenship and Making Space for Muslims », paru dans Cycnos, Volume 25 n°2 - 2008, mis en ligne le 11 mars 2010, URL :


Tariq Modood

Tariq Modood is Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy and the founding Director of the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship at the University of Bristol. He has researched and published extensively on the politics of being Muslim in the West and co-founded the international journal, Ethnicities. He is a regular contributor to the media and policy debates in Britain, was awarded a MBE for services to social sciences and ethnic relations in 2001 and elected a member of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2004. His recent publications include Multicultural Politics: Racism, Ethnicity and Muslims in Britain (Edinburgh University Press, 2005), Multiculturalism: A Civic Idea, (Polity, 2007); and as co-editor, Multiculturalism, Muslims and Citizenship: A European Approach (Routledge, 2006) and Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship (Cambridge University Press, November 2008). University of Bristol