88 Race & Class 51(3)
other sections regurgitating the half-truths and conventional wisdoms of Nick Cohen, Andrew Anthony and Trevor Phillips.
What distinguishes Malik’s book from others in the ‘crisis of multiculturalism’ genre is his attempt to appropriate anti-racist history itself for this discourse and thus to give an anti-racist rather than merely liberal endorsement to the current attack on multiculturalism. In doing so, Malik draws, sometimes disconcertingly, on the same political traditions of radical anti-racism with which the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) has long been associated. Yet, he not only distorts those traditions; he also ends up reinforcing notions of liberal integrationism that are central to today’s anti-Muslim racism.
From the 1980s, says Malik, fuelled by collusion between the state and opportunist religious and cultural organisations in minority communities, there was a rise in ethnic identity politics. From the state’s point of view, multicultural policies were introduced as the most effective way to manage the discontent that racism produced. From the point of view of self-appointed community leaders, ‘ethnic’ funding was a golden opportunity to finance pet projects in the name of specific cultural needs. Multiculturalism thus served as a diversion from the anti-racist politics of the time – for example, the Asian Youth Movements (AYMs) that had sprung up in the late 1970s and which were less interested in having Asian culture officially recognised than in fighting state racism and racist violence. Moreover, the idea that each ethnic or religious group had its own unique and distinctive identity that needed nurturing led to segregation and, ultimately, inter-ethnic hatred and violence.
Such arguments would, of course, be familiar to anyone who read A. Sivanandan from the 1980s onwards. Malik, however, deploys them without any acknowledgement of their origins. Moreover, the way in which he reinterprets them for the current context takes him onto new and dangerous terrain. Whereas for Sivanandan, the anti-racist critique of multiculturalism is, first and foremost, directed at its denial of the political reality of racism, for Malik, the objection to multiculturalism is more that it fosters an illiberal Asian culture that is out of step with modernity. For Sivanandan, what matters is how culture is politicised: does it divide and ossify or is it, as Amilcar Cabral put it, a ‘combusting force’? For Malik, on the other hand, politics must be rigorously policed for any intrusion of ‘culture’ at all.
This leads Malik to claim that, for Asians, the issue today is whether ‘secondgeneration migrants’ are able to throw off ‘their parents’ cultures and traditions’; failure to do so, he says, leaves them ‘adrift’. Moreover, Malik argues that racism is no longer a problem that Asians face. He thus echoes the argument of US neoconservative Dinesh D’Souza’s 1995 book The End of Racism: it is not society that needs to be less racist but minorities who need to be more liberal; there are no racist barriers to lower, only non-white individuals who need enlightening. It is a position which Malik will, of course, find easier to sell to his editors than his older anti-racist radicalism.
‘There is,’ claims Malik, ‘no evidence of any kind of systematic targeting of minorities of the kind that was common in Britain just twenty years ago.’ Incidents of racist harassment are ‘so rare that every one makes a national headline’. He contrasts this with the late 1970s and 1980s, writing that in the ten years