IT COULD be argued that everything about Bhikhu Parekh's book is based on a huge mistake, from the title to the last detail of its intricate argument. The idea of multiculturalism depends, obviously, on their being things called cultures. That is, people usually belong to communities of belief and custom which possess internal coherence, clear boundaries, and enough longevity for those beliefs to be thought "traditional".
There are, I believe, good reasons for thinking that this view of culture is mistaken - an error almost as gross, albeit less deadly, as thinking that humans divide into things called races. Indeed, talking about "cultural diversity" has often become a thinly disguised way of talking about " race".
If the basic assumptions of "multiculturalism" are wrong, then policies based on them are bound to go astray, and even the most subtle theorising is built on quicksand. It only makes matters worse if the book concerned comes with such a dreary title. To say you're "rethinking" something is a warning signal for academic incest.
It may seem paradoxical, then, to suggest that such a book can still be brilliantly argued, rigorous, acute in its theoretical insights and persuasive in its practical suggestions. But so it is. Bhikhu Parekh has produced something very important here. Rethinking Multiculturalism is sophisticated but also accessible; it really does force the most sceptical to "rethink" a wide range of issues. It even convinces that Parekh's recent appointments to the House of Lords, and as chair of the new Commission on the Future of Multi- Ethnic Britain, are a redeeming instance of the Blairite patronage system rewarding the truly deserving.
The most publicised attacks on multiculturalism have come from the right: from conservatives, cultural nationalists and, locally, the swelling chorus of voices defending a mythical Englishness. For them, the idea of cultural diversity is a near-revolutionary threat. But most variants of multiculturalist thought have also been rather conservative. …