Book Review of Multicultural Odysseys
Globalization is an issue that has raised concerns in many ways. The current world has been compared to a growing global village that continues to become smaller as days go by. Because of this, various changes have occurred that a person who lived in the eighteenth centaury will be taken for a rude shock had he visited the world now. With the current globalization people have traveled and settled in different places on the face of the planet far away from home, an issue that has led to mixing of cultures. This mixing has raised interests and it is of this reason that Will Kymlicka presents a 320 page book on Multicultural Odysseys. Kymlicka is a high profile author with five books published by the Oxford Press. He is a renowned liberal multiculturalist having written books such as Multicultural Citizenship (1995), Liberalism, Community, and Culture (1989) and Contemporary Political Philosophy (1990) that have defined debates in the area. Books such as Multicultural Citizenship (1995) have won him several awards including the Macpherson Prize and Bunche Award. He has also edited Rights of Minority Cultures and Justice in Political Philosophy and co-edited several other journals. He is presently at Queen’s University as Professor of Philosophy. His exemplary pieces in multiculturalism have won him a good reputation, making him one of the world’s leading liberal multiculturalists.
As stated earlier, we are living in a world where global multiculturalism has taken centre stage. This has been felt in the political discourse as well as the international legal norms. A lot of people have condemned this diffusion of multiculturalism. Most of them criticize it stating that it has been the major threat to universal human rights. There have been criticisms that multiculturalism has been the reason why there is negligence as far as human rights are concern. According to the critics, several crimes against humanity today have been attributed to the negligence caused by multiculturalism. Kymlicka appears to differ with the whole idea. In his book he shows that the today human rights revolution is the major inspiration to the globalization of multiculturalism. He argues that globalization of multiculturalism is constrained by the revolution (Kymlicka, 2007). Looking at the liberal democratic values of several states, I agree with the way he argues because the globalization appears to be embedded in these frameworks. He reaches this conclusion by examining various reasons behind the change, and their impact on universal human rights. He notes that the whole phenomenon has not received adequate scholarly attention despite it indicating a veritable revolution in international relationships. This revolution is the reason why several states have become sensitive in terms of how they treat the increasing ethnocultural groups.
Kymlicka takes interest in multiculturalism in this age of globalization. His attention is mainly on the dying popularity of multiculturalism in recent decades. He examines multiculturalism, both the historical activities and current practices going on. He tends to give more emphasis on intergovernmental organizations in relation to the establishment of international multicultural norms. To make his argument hold water, he presents the book Multicultural Odysseys in three major prts. The topic is broken down into three parts with each part being presented in an excellent analysis of the effects of various processes that have contributed either directly or indirectly to the establishment of these norms. By reading the whole book one gets the critical argument of how he conflates cultural norms of the western world with liberal multiculturalism.
The first part presents multiculturalism in the international context. In this part Kymlicka relates to various multiculturalism issues at the international level. From a historical perspective, he examines several multiculturalism policies and their growth over recent years and comes to a conclusion that various human rights revolutions acts led to the multiculturalism globalization being experienced today. According to him, international community became concern with liberal multiculturalism as a tool of preventing ethnic conflicts (Kymlicka, 2007). This was driven by the increased cases of ethnic wars within communist states as well as ethnic politics that are prone in western states. Kymlicka goes a head to argue that the whole post-communist Eastern Europe could not be subsumed by ethnic conflicts even though the time span was long. He attributes the growth of sentiment in multicultural states to other factors such as global warning and threats like terrorism with the states reporting high levels of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism here mainly referred to that of immigrant groups. However, Kymlicka still insists that human rights especially universal rights can be protected by adoption of liberal multiculturalism by non-western states. He argues that this is the best way of guaranteeing protection of human right therefore state should shift their attention to discussion on how the proposals can be implemented. The idea seems to speak for itself, looking at the increased cases of ethnic conflicts reported today.
In the second part of Multicultural Odysseys Kymlicka presents a close examination of the western states and the effects of liberal multiculturalism in these states. This is the section he presents a number of factors to be pre-requisite for multiculturalism. He also highlights minorities in three categories as the major addressees of separate multicultural policies. On the other hand, he argues that western states have recorded a growth in liberal multiculturalism courtesy of five major factors:- “increasing rights consciousness, demographic changes, multiple access points for safe political mobilization’ and ‘the desecuritization of ethnic relations and a consensus on human rights (on the part of the majority)” Kymlicka (pg 122). He demonstrates how the minority nation, indigenous and migrants have been targeted with these factors. The factors have led to establishment of multicultural systems that have affected by these groups in one way or the other. In my view I find this to be the capstone chapter of the book. All other parts seem to refer to this chapter, a suggestion that they are built on it.
On the other hand, I find the part to contain a number of flaws, a character trait that is not prone with Kymlicka. In the part he refers to immigrants as a minority group. He portrays the category as the most controversial aspect in the context of multiculturalism. This fact seems to contradiict with his approach in the section as most of his attention is directed towards the other two categories. In addition, despite the theme being important as far as multiculturalism is concern, he does not boldly bring it out in the entire book as expected. Most of his attention is focused at western states while in real sense most cases relating to migrants are recorded in non-western countries. I think he could have given more emphasis on migrant in non-western countries. For example, most figures of migrant workers have been recorded in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and a number of African countries. He proposes multiculturalism as away of protecting minority’s rights which is ok. However, he should also have indicated how migrants in other non-western countries will benefit from the protection. Another problem with this section is how Kymlicka compares liberalism to the western culture. In the entire book he does not (except someplace in a footnote where he appears to dismiss Buddhist or Islamic as possible ideas of multiculturalism) review liberal values as the ultimate guide to the ‘acceptable life’. As thus, we see him protecting his take on liberalism and liberal multiculturalism. One may argue that authors can come up with basis for goal oriented political projects. However, it is important to also note that in promoting liberalism as he is so doing, he does not explain how a totally western take on multiculturalism can be adopted as a universal value to be followed by all people.
To be particular, Kymlicka’s controversial and problematic approach to multiculturalism is portrayed in how he is unable to clearly differentiate what a liberal value is, and what is not acceptable in some segments of western culture. A good example is how he deals with issues involving women’s wellbeing. He appears to contradict himself with the issue on abortion. He notes a hospital board that forbids abortion from a religious perspective. When you read on he states that abortion is inherently a liberal act. According to him, prevention of abortion illiberal even if the right to prevent is democratic. Abortion is somehow acceptable in the west but can never be taken to be a coercion act but a personal choice. Another issue concerning the women that he appears not to discuss to depth is the female circumcision. He calls is female genital mutilation. Earlier on he talked about liberal democracies suggesting that it is important for non-western states to do away with inherently illiberal acts (Kymlicka, 2007). He states female genital mutilation to be among one of these inherently illiberal acts. Female circumcision is done in non western states therefore it can not be regarded as a choice, which makes his argument to be anti-western bias.
In conclusion, Multicultural Odysseys by Will Kymlicka is an excellent piece of work. It is a readable book with a good flow of language that is easy and friendly. In addition, Kymlicka presents his argument based on facts that hold water. Despite a few contradictions, he manages to clearly explain the impact of human rights revolution and its contribution in multiculturalism. However, one can easily be lured into thinking that Kymlicka promotes western culture especially when he cynically reads the book with more emphasis on non-western liberal multiculturalism.
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