In most countries, people of different religion, races and cultures live within their boundaries. How can these diverse communities of people be treated as equal within the framework of democracy? This is the question that multiculturalism poses and seeks to answer. Multiculturalism begins with the understanding that granting equal civil and political rights was an important achievement within democracy, but it has not adequately addressed the issue of discrimination in society.
Marginalized cultural communities, as minorities, continue to be disadvantaged even within the democratic nation-state. Culture-based discrimination exists even in the most advanced liberal polities of the west, and it cannot be redressed simply by giving identical rights to all people as citizens. What we need instead are a set of special arrangements that enable minority cultures to survive and flourish in the public arena.
The Ideal of Non-Discrimination
Multiculturalism aims to minimize discrimination of minority cultural communities and to promote the ideal of non- discrimination. Over the last three centuries or more, democratization has occurred by identifying sources of discrimination within the polity and finding ways to eliminate them. As countries became democratic, they set aside discrimination based upon religion, gender, caste and race. Multiculturalism contributes to this ongoing project of democratization by pointing to a site of discrimination that had received little attention before, namely, cultural identity.
The recognition that cultural identities may also be a source of marginalization, and that the actions of the liberal state may disadvantage members of minority communities is the singular contribution of multiculturalism to the discourse on democracy. More than any other strand of political theory, it is multiculturalism that has drawn our attention to the discrimination faced by vulnerable minority cultural communities within the state, and shown us that pursuing the goal of non-discrimination requires a radical re-consideration of the dominant tradition of liberal theory.