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Is multicultural-nationalism possible?

Nations- states used to be the premier and most important form of human gathering, where this implies that this entity does have the necessary requirements of existence as a state such as (people, territory, sovereignty, etc) along with having just one nation within its territorial borders.

This was later changed due to the influx of immigration all over the world where immigrants move between countries either because of wars or seeking employment and better economic conditions or any other necessitating reason. This phenomenon led to the situation we are facing recently that almost all states now are culturally or religiously or ethnically diverse. Popper states this in such a criticizing way, “Principle of the national state is not only inapplicable…it is a myth…and utopian dream…”.

So, having multinational states became a fact that we have to deal with. The coinciding between the states borders and the inclusion of a nation is no longer the only form of countries. There are even cases when there are stateless nations.

This made Connor observes that now we can almost find only seven nation-states remaining, he named them: the Netherlands, Denmark, Portugal, Japan, Luxembourg, Iceland and Norway.

To be able to deal with such multinational states, we need to understand what both (multiculturalism and nationalism) mean. This will help us answer the main question of the paper; whether multicultural nationalism is applicable or not?

Nationalism and multiculturalism:

Nationalism is deeply related to nations, being the social phenomenon that refers to the unique relation between individuals and their homeland. Citizens identify with their nation through the commonalities they share (history, values, myths, identity, language, customs …etc). A central aspect of nationalism is that the individuals’ identity is being formulated through their membership to their society.

Nationalism has different forms where Sweeney identifies four types: The Civic Nationalism which is a desirable form of nationalism since it focuses on the civic values that unites the citizens, it stresses on both the territorial and cultural bonds and thus manages to recognize the various ethnic communities. The Ethnic Nationalism whose focal point is the common descent. The State Nationalism which calls for the superiority and the dominance of the ethnicity of the majority and finally Multicultural Nationalism which is a new phenomenon arising form the era of globalization we are living in and the high degree of interdependence that we witness all over the globe. Usually, both (civic and state nationalisms) are referred to as ‘top-down nationalism’ being directed by the state institutions, unlike the (ethnic nationalism) which depends upon the public, arising from the bottom to up.

From Sweeney’s famous typology, we can see how both the ethnic and state nationalisms are traditional forms of nationalism , unlike the other two types which are more modern and also similar in some aspects. Brown defines multicultural nationalism as, “a vision of community which respects and promotes the cultural economy and status equality of its component ethnic group”. This means it goes beyond the mere civic tolerance towards the different communities within the society, rather it respects them and is interested in such diversity. That is why I consider it wider than the civic nationalism since it encompasses it all; recognition of diversity, tolerance, respect and interest in promoting such diversity through different governmental and societal mechanisms.

Generally, Nationalism is perceived as a positive movement which is needed to strengthen the loyalty of nationals towards their country, uniting them to fulfil the national interests. But with the rise of multinational states, whether due to the existence of minorities, immigrants or indigenous groups, this claim is being questioned. Nationalism is no longer merely perceived as a positive force, rather now it is a double sided force. Through observing history we notice how sometimes violent banal nationalist movements lead to bloody wars and confrontations between different national groups especially when each of them is promoting their nationalism or if there is a minority which is calling for self independence. This can be seen clearly in what used to happen between the Scottish and the British in the United Kingdom. Thus, a rationalization of nationalist sentiments is what is needed nowadays to strike a balance between the new phenomenon of multinational states.

On the other side, Multiculturalism is not only a phenomenon; it is considered as both a descriptive demographic term to describe the existence of culturally different groups within a certain society; It refers to this feature of having multiple cultural and/or ethnic and/or religious backgrounds between the citizens, and it is also seen as a political concept to refer to the public policies adopted by a specific government to deal with the cultural diversity within its society where it calls for mutual respect and tolerance and acceptance for the diversity. As a public policy, multiculturalism first emerged in Canada to solve the problem between the French and the English divisions.

Parekh succinctly describes what multiculturalism means in this quote; “Multiculturalism doesn’t simply mean numerical plurality of different cultures, but rather a community which is creating, guaranteeing, encouraging spaces within which different communities are able to grow at their pace. At the same time it means creating a public space in which these communities are able to interact, enrich the existing culture and create a new consensual culture in which they recognize reflections of their own identity”

Like nationalism, multiculturalism also has different types. Grillo distinguishes between two kinds: the weak multiculturalism and strong multiculturalism where the former exists when multiculturalism only prevails in the private sphere while in the public sphere all citizens are required to fully assimilate and get absorbed within the majoritarian culture and values forgetting about their own culture ,while the latter exits when cultural diversity is recognized both in the public and private spheres, allowing the immigrants and minorities to preserve their national identity while integrating with the whole society.

Multiculturalism is considered an inescapable situation we have to deal with, bearing in mind that huge efforts should be exerted by the state and the wider society to ensure that the diversity within any one society leads to unity and exchange of benefits between cultures, rather than disintegration and ghettoization.

From this, we can see how both nationalism and multiculturalism are desirable phenomena on condition that their limitations are avoided, promoting only their positive side.

Is Multicultural Nationalism possible?

An important question rises about whether nationalism can be multicultural or not? Can they both coexist together? Kernerman highlights that the main objective of multicultural nationalism is striking a balance between both the diversity and the unity of the state, so that state is able to preserve its national sentiments and identity while at the same time promoting diversity and multiculturalism. He believes that the main question to answer is; “how are the various manifestations of diversity to be recognized and understood in relation to one another and to the political community?”

It is important to notice that we will focus in here on the multicultural state nationalism which tackles the way of dealing with the immigrants, accommodating them within the society while preserving the state’s original national identity. But, it is important to mention that on the other hand there is the multicultural sub- state nationalism which is concerned with the sub state nationalisms within countries. But, it is not the focus of this paper.

To understand how multicultural state nationalism exists, it is important to examine the state’s response and its policies regarding immigrants and the relation between those immigrants and the society as a whole to discover the possibility of having strong common feelings uniting all the citizens no matter where they originally come from. Can a multicultural society achieve both integration of immigrants while achieving national unity and cohesion?

The paradox of multicultural societies: Nationalism vs. Multiculturalism?

A debatable issue always takes place in multicultural societies and that is how to achieve the state’s national unity? Some suggest equal treatment for all citizens regardless of their origin; religion or ethnicity and that citizenship should be “difference blind”, while others believe this is illogical, calling for the recognition of differences and even going further calling for the adoption of policies that reflect these differences. This second approach believes that this will be more integrative to immigrants fostering their sense of loyalty and belonging to the society.

Due to this endless debate, we find that immigrants’ and minorities’ issues are gaining attention in state’s policies and debates, issues such as (minorities’ rights, immigrants’ representation, collective rights, state’s loyalty…etc). This increases the role of the state especially that such issues can not be left to the different communities within the society to resolve especially when each one of them will be aiming at deepening their national identity more than the others’ identities. This will lead to disunity and absence of common loyalty. That is why the state should be the main actor in the creation of a common identity that bonds all the citizens – including the immigrants. This identity should be as inclusive as possible focusing more on civic symbols and signifiers rather than cultural and ethnic ones. Different states differ in the way they fulfil this role depending upon their histories, their legal frameworks, their national interests…etc. But, all states should aim at ensuring that its national identity is preserved and not threatened by immigrants, rather is being inclusive for them.

Parekh highlights an important equation that is needed to achieve this: “If immigrants are to make an emotional commitment to society, the latter’s view of its national identity needs to be inclusive and hospitable enough for them to identify with it. Its self understanding should take full account of their presence; its view of its history should include the story of their arrival, settlement and contributions; its official symbols should symbolize them as well, and not be allowed to become the monopoly of a section of it; its national events should recognize their presence and contributions and not become occasions to display the solidarity of the rest of society against them”.

One of the best ways to achieve such equation is through the creation of a sense of common belonging between citizens. Such a process is double sided; it requires the efforts of both the immigrants from one side and the state along with the wider society form another side. Both should aim at fulfilling its duties so that its rights can be met by the other side. This is even formulated as one of the EU common basic principles of immigrants’ integration policy as follows: Integration is a dynamic, two-way process of mutual accommodation by all immigrants and residents of the Member States”

On the immigrants’ side, They do have the right to ask for certain claims from the government and even modifications within the polices of the governmental institutions so as to help them better integrate in the society but it is necessary for them to fulfill their obligations as citizens, being the only way they can secure that their rights will be met by the state.

Since immigrants settled willingly in the host society, they are expected to be loyal and to abide by the laws and rules of this society, especially that it is the rights of the nationals to act upon the preservation of their own society where they lived their whole lives, offering sacrifices for maintaining its well being. Consequently, immigrants must prove they are loyal to the society, showing all signs of good faith. This comes in different forms; (respecting the constitution and laws, being productive workers to add economic value, interacting socially and politically with the wider society…etc). This will make the immigrants an inseparable necessary component within the host society being active loyal citizens. But still this does not require them breaking ties with their original homelands, but they just are expected to be committed to the well being of the host society.

In return to this, the immigrants can claim some cultural rights from the host society, such as:

  • Asking to be excluded from some laws that may be hindering some of their religious practices. The state needs to take such claims into consideration because it will show how the state respects the immigrants’ cultures even if their practices are differently perceived from the majority but still as long as they are not harmful for the wider society, they should be allowed to practice them.
  • Calling for assistance to pursue some activities which help them get integrated within the society. Such as helping them acquire the cultural competence needed to adapt with the society (offering language classes, teaching them the societal life style, having publications about the society’s traditions, customs and history…). Also, sometimes this assistance is needed to overcome disadvantages that prevent the immigrants from practicing some of their rights or daily life practices, either because they are discriminated against and in this case the state is required to fight this racism or because these practices or activities were designed in a way that only fits the majority without considering others.
  • Immigrants can ask to be properly represented in the state’s institutions and governmental bodies so as to have voices that call for their rights and needs and to allocate them their shares of the public resources. Such a mechanism also helps greatly in fighting discrimination. Thos representatives can ask for some symbolic representation to the minorities such as national holiday or official name for the minority…etc.

The state and the wider society on the other hand should be meeting the other side of the equation by helping the immigrants to integrate, taking all the measures that can help in this.

From observation, we can notice that the states’ integration policies differed over time due to some changes that took place such as:

  • The influx in immigration especially that the old assumption that their number will decreases or that they will dissolve in the society did not happen, on the contrary they are increasing steadily compared to the western societies’ birth rates, especially that these societies are facing an ageing problem.
  • The increase in the immigrants’ consciousness about their rights due to the increase in the human rights’ organizations along with the democratic movements that make equality and justice basic priorities that can not be negotiated. Thus, this encourages minorities to have representatives calling for their needs and rights.

Such changes increased the necessity to respect the minorities’ and immigrants’ rights and it added a burden over the states to meet their role in integrating the immigrants within their societies.

Consequently, from the state’s side, there must be a commitment to help the immigrants integrate getting over any disadvantages they have (lack of knowledge about host society, being stereotyped…). The state needs to work on different levels to fulfill this role:

The state needs to address the exclusion problems that face the immigrants who get discriminated against in many spheres of life especially economically and socially .The state must set penalties on discriminatory acts against immigrants being illegal, this will increase the immigrants’ loyalty to the state, being just to them, looking after their rights. But, if the state did not respond to discrimination taking place, the immigrants will feel inferior and more alienated which make them easily attracted by terrorist organizations. The state needs to adopt policies that help the immigrants get over any disadvantages they face due to their transitional positions as we stated earlier (language classes, citizenship classes, equal employment opportunities…etc).Such policies may be accused of being discriminatory, but actually they are not since the immigrants are usually the least advantaged category in any society.

The state also shall make changes to the educational system so as to be more multicultural. This will help in creating attachments and a sense of belonging between the students and the citizens afterwards by fostering values such as tolerance, mutual respect and understanding, respect for diversity…etc. These values are necessary in such multinational societies as it ensures that each community preserves its national culture and identity but still all communities will be sharing one common civic identity that tighten the relations between them for the good of the society. This shall be leading to active citizens who are both responsible and productive. Such multicultural education will be teaching the students about the relationship with The other. this learning process will enhance their critical thinking about themselves and the immigrants. They may include histories about how these minorities contributed to the host society or mentioning their major historical events and national holidays. All this shall be implemented in a multicultural educational atmosphere where the administrators and teachers are all committed to promoting diversity and protecting the cultures of the students while fostering a common sense of identity.

Also, the civil society does play a role in bringing together different communities together in shared activities and interests to increase their sense of having a civic common identity which transcends the ethnic and national differences, while everyone is still retaining its own national identity and culture.

How to make these efforts work together while avoiding the critics stated against them?

These are the efforts and roles that need to be pursued by the state, the immigrants and the civil society. Cooperating together to ensure the preservation of a common sense of identity along with the preservation of each one’s national culture and identity, helps greatly in the success of the integration of the immigrants within the host society easily and quickly. It makes them integrated without being alienated or discriminated against. We find at the end by looking at different multicultural societies how all the communities are cooperating together having many shred interests and feeling a common sense of loyalty to the society, while at the same time they all feel both equal and different. This is the equation that need to be maintained; to assure that the national identity of the state (of the host society) is preserved while being inclusive to other different national communities through an over arching civic identity.

These efforts sometimes are criticized by being discriminatory to nationals in favor of immigrants – as stated earlier- but it is not, it just an engine for affirmative actions since the disadvantages faced by immigrants are much more than other citizens face. Also, some analysts think that such efforts are repressive imposing obligatory civic integration from above on the whole society. To avoid this we must ensure that the process of integration is smoothly undertaken , ensuring the help of all sectors of the society (civil society, citizens, local association, the government, the immigrants…etc) to assure the shared willingness of all to be one common whole, facing any disadvantages that may arise to achieve the common good for the whole state and the wider host society without threatening anyone’s culture or national identity, rather being more inclusive and more understandable to all differences while maintaining one common civic ground.

An important mechanism that can be a safe guard that integration is not imposed rather is a natural flow of interaction between the different communities is through encouraging dialogues between these communities with their different cultural backgrounds both through their representatives and between normal citizens as well. This dialogue it will help them understands one another culture and creating more common grounds between them. On the other hand, it will be asserting every one’s loyalty to his/her own national identity through critical analysis and constructive self criticisms. Such actions shall be ensuring on the long run that both the differences are understandably respected and that the state’s national identity is protected and even enriched through dialogue.

Others believe that on the contrary, the states now are less willing to accept/ integrate immigrants rather they count on their immigration policies as a mechanism to lessen immigrants’ entrance. But this is exaggerating, where although it is true that some countries have every strict immigration policies but still others are moderate. Countries in general tend to refine the immigrants accepted to entry to ensure the success of its integration policies according to its societal framework. Such immigration policies try to make sure that immigrants will be an added value to the society not an economic burden and that they are willing to commit to be good citizens to ensure a peaceful multicultural society that both preserves it identity while respecting its diversity. But still an important basic rule should be taken into consideration, immigration policies ought to be seeking the national interests of the state as a priority and in applying such a vision, it can not be accused of intolerance or discrimination against prospective citizens as long as it is logical in its requirements and limits.

By avoiding these limitations and consolidating all parties’ efforts, multiculturalism and state nationalism will be coexisting peacefully.


As Brown believes that when a country adopts the ideology of a multicultural nationalism it means; “the nation is viewed as a community bound by a commitment to the values of ethnic diversity and inter-ethnic equity”

An authentic multicultural state nationalism can flourish when both diversity and state national identity are being promoted and respected. Multicultural governance can achieve that with its focus on having a strong active citizenship along with a respected multicultural societal framework. Such multicultural authority not only protects diversity found within the society, rather it also works on flourishing it. In this way the citizens -including immigrants- can belong to the nation – state as a whole while at the same time keeping their attachment to their cultural or ethnic community. Multicultural governance, with the different state policies that aim at integrating the immigrants and with the efforts of both the private and civil associations along with the commitment of the immigrants to be loyal integrated citizens, creates a society where cultural freedoms are protected and national state identity is also asserted. The state needs to put in mind while doing her national policies that immigrants are “citizens in training” who need all the help and support to lead a good life in the host society where they can be active loyal citizens.

It should be noticed by now how multiculturalism neither negates nor avoids nationalism rather it just implies a society with various internal micro nationalisms. That is why they can work together as long as the efforts undertaken are genuine seeking the creation of spaces where various cultures are respected without weakening the state’s national identity. Since multiculturalism goes beyond tolerance towards recognition of others, it entails the reassertion of all identities and cultures involved in such an interaction.

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