British multiculturalism and what can Europe learn: Prof. Modood on “middle-aged” minorities

Prof. Tariq Modood presented the model of British multiculturalism in relation with integration of migrant and minority communities, highlighting impacts of EU and Brexit.

Is the British model of integration of migrant and minority communities relevant for other European countries? How well does it speak to the international norms like the Framework Convention on National Minorities, or other European convention-based human rights norms? Can the British example be a ‘role model’?

After presenting the British model of multiculturalism at the ECMI/EURAC conference “What’s in a Name? Extending the Existing Scope of Protection for National Minorities to Migrant Communities in Europe” in Villa Vigoni, Prof. Modood received some positive comments stating that in spite of the differences, the British model has something that others can learn from. “In Britain people are willing to rethink the idea of national identity in order to be more inclusive, rather than saying ‘this is what British means, fit in or get out’,” said Prof. Modood, giving an example of what the British perspective has got to offer on minority rights and minority inclusion. “If needed, people like me can assist in interpretation, adaptation and conversation.”

Putting forward the importance of national context in comparison with the international norm, he noted: “I am not as committed to saying international norms are the best way to move forward. I think every country should work with its historic experience, its context and resources.”

Why is the British example different? Prof. Modood explained it through the diversity of historical backgrounds of minorities in Britain, recognising its “fortunate” fate: “I would be naive if I did not recognise that Britain is fortunate in the resource base that we have, which includes minorities themselves. Minorities came to Britain 50-60 years ago with a certain sense of being British and of making claims of being included. We did not have a passive guest worker model and we did not have a sense that they are foreigners only. The slogan that activists used in the British public was: ‘we are over here because you were over there’. So we say: ‘we already have a historical relationship, so let’s work at being together’. I think that gave British ethnic minorities certain confidence.”

What is the current state of British multiculturalism? Brexit and the impact of the EU

Looking at other models of multiculturalism, such as of Canada, Australia, Sweden or the Netherlands, Prof. Modood outlined the British model as the “most activist oriented”, with a system of political mobilisation from the bottom up. “However, I can’t pretend it is a complete success,” he said, mentioning some of the existing challenges. “After 9/11 we have new divisions to do with insecurity, fear of Muslims, Muslims distrusting British state. I think it has to some extent retarded multiculturalism.”

Prof. Modood also touched also upon the issue of Brexit and the EU Freedom of Movement policy. “I think European insistence on freedom of movement has also damaged our multiculturalism. Our multiculturalism was based upon a compromise that immigration would be controlled and rights would be extended and when immigration expanded too fast and could not be controlled because of the EU, it destabilised multiculturalism. It is not the only reason, there have been others, but it is a contributory factor. So while I regret the Brexit decision, I don’t regard the EU as necessarily good for British multiculturalism.”

Prof. Tariq Modood delivered a keynote speech at the ECMI/EURAC Conference entitled “What’s in a Name? Extending the Existing Scope of Protection for National Minorities to Migrant Communities in Europe”, taking place in Villa Vigoni in Italy. “This is a wonderful location for a symposium at the Villa Vigoni, with this wonderful view of Bellagio. I think this kind of brainstorming character of this symposium, bringing a number of different perspectives together, is an interesting but slightly risky idea”, reflected Prof. Modood on the conference topic. During the conference he talked about British multiculturalism, bringing up the term “middle-aged minorities”. “My contribution to this interdisciplinary symposium is to say what British multiculturalism has offered to minorities who have about 50 years’ historical depth in Britain and some historical connection before arrival in Britain because of the British Empire. I call these minorities middle-aged minorities, as they are neither old nor new.”

Prof. Modood is a British scholar and the founding director of the Bristol University Research Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship. Focusing on multicultural politics and ethnicities, he is an author of over 200 articles or chapters in political philosophy, sociology and public policy.

More information about the conference

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