The term multiculturalism covers different form of cultural pluralism. Right from the beginning celebrated by some and rejected by others, multiculturalism has been controversial because of its real or perceived (in) compatibility with the traditional notion of national unity: as a discourse, multiculturalism can broadly be understood as the recognition of co-existence of a plurality of cultures within the nation.
The basic spirit behind it is that immigrants should be free to maintain some of their old customs regarding food, dress, religion, and to associate with each other to maintain these practices. Liberal multiculturalism, as a theory of ethnic and cultural identities and their links to political institutions, which has been developed most elaborately by the Canadian political philosopher, will kymlicksa, postulates that ethnic identity is the main source of cultural self-identification and the principle form of political mobilization in democratic and multiethnic liberal states.
Ethnic identity is the main basis for political solidarity and, subsequently, the most tenacious political grievance and must be therefore recognized, i.e. institutionalized on all levels of government: grouping along ethnic cultural lines. According to Ana device, it is an ideological position according to which formal types of recognized and (especially) access to privileges are predicated on membership on an already defined cultural groups.
The first country to officially adopt such a multiculturalism policy at the national level was Canada in 1971. but it has since been adopted in many other countries, from Australia and new Zealand to Sweden, Britain, the Netherlands and elsewhere, it reflected a concern to make the liberal democracies of the west more sensitive to the existence of cultural pluralism within boundaries of the nation state, which had till then been considered to be culturally homogeneous, extension of liberal principles to those sections of the society which had been disadvantaged and thereby excluded from the polity. It is a significant moment in the extension of liberal principles and can be considered a further development after the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s in the US.
In countries like Canada and Australia, multiculturalism consists of four broad meanings. First it is a descriptive term which suggests that the country is composed of numerous cultural groups thus making it a polytechnic society.
Secondly, it is and ideology based on perception about the way the society should be organized. This implies an acceptance that migrants will want to maintain their language and cultural traditions and that it will continue across several generations.
Thirdly, multiculturalism suggests a principle for social policies which assumes government responsibilities for removing structural advantages and implementing policies which ensure equality and access.
Fourthly, it means a set of special institutions which are designed to implement principle of participation, access and equity. In short, the policy is based on the premise that the support of the cultural identities of diverse ethnic groups within, accompanied by exchange and interaction among them, will facilitate the integration of society as a whole.
This multiculturalism, as Anne Yeatman points out, is likely to intensify rather than to decrease over time, and the social scale over which social organization is dispersed is likely to become increasingly global in character. Multiculturalism in this context refers simply to the empirical reality that the participants in bounded fields of social organization are by cultural and linguistic affiliation multi-ethnic, and to what follows from this, namely the communication within these fields of social organization has to assume inter-cultural features with all that this implies for the protocols and procedures of social organization. When differences of ethnicity, cultural history, sexually and gender have entered the constitution of social movements and dynamics of social change, neither assimilation nor exclusion can be legitimate processes as far as state response is concerned. This comes from the policy of multiculturalism.
Multiculturalism is viewed as unproblematic harmony, achieved via the balancing of individual choices. The basis for this is that to be an equal member of any society, not only must we have equal rights, but our identities must be given equal value. And as our ethnic background informs these identities, our cultural heritage cannot be ignored or scorned without damaging our sense of personal dignity.
Multiculturalism, however, is also facing criticism from some quarters.
Some feel that policies of multiculturalism were threatening the social homogeneity considered vital for maintaining a stable social and political order. Basically multiculturalism is seen as divisive because special programmes are funded for migrants. There also is widespread fear that today’s immigrants will remain ghettoized and that as a result society will become increasingly balkanised.
According to them this approach risks perpetuating intolerance between ethnic communities and also promoting favoritism and inequalities. Such consequences would also, according to them, be offensive to the liberal and egalitarian elements of western culture. It is also suggested that governments have no place in promoting ethnic diversity, since this is seen to undermine important liberal values and to encourage social and political conflict.
There are also critics from the left deriving critical insights from political economy arguing that multiculturalism is a state ideology whose function is to lessen the inevitable class and labor conflicts that arise from the process of capital accumulation. By its stress on social cohesion, multiculturalism mystifies and obscures accumulation the underlying structural features of social and economic inequality, and class exploitation at work. Nevertheless, instead of fostering social cohesion, multiculturalism has often produced the opposite.
In this context, some also see multiculturalism as the ideal form of ideology of global capitalism. According to this view, the attitude which forms a kind of empty global position , treats each local culture the way the colonizer treats colonized people as ‘natives’ who are to be carefully studied and respected. That is to say, the relationship between traditional imperialist colonialism and global capitalist self – colonization is exactly the same as the relationship between Western cultural imperialism and multiculturalism, in the same way that global capitalism involves the paradox of colonization without colonizing.
Nation-state metropolis, multiculturalism, involves, patronizing euro-centrist distance and/or respect for local cultures without roots in one’s own particular culture. In other words. Multiculturalism is a disavowed, inverted, self-referential form of racism, a racism with a distance- it respects the others identity, conceiving the other as a self enclosed ‘authentic community towards which, the multiculturalism, maintains a distance rendered possibly by his privileged universal position. Some of the commentators representing the ethnic groups have also felt the multiculturalism as mere tokenism; that is it only promotes symbolic ethnicity or those aspects of non-Anglo ethnic cultures which did not threaten the Anglo-Saxon dominated status quo.
Multiculturalism thus is facing serious challenges, not only from society and extreme right parties and groups, but also from the Luke-warm attitude of governments and policy makers particularly after September 11, apprehension and perceived security concerns. The critics, however, are ill founded and have no empirical substance. The fact, as will kymlicka, points out is that none of the policies related to multiculturalism involve encouraging groups to view themselves as separate and self governing nations. On the contrary they are intended precisely to make it easier for the members of immigrant groups to participate within the mainstream institutions of the existing society. Immigrant groups are demanding increasing recognition and visibility within the mainstream society. In short, these multiculturalism policies involve a revision in terms of integration.