If, as W. E. B. Du Bois observed, the problem of the twentieth century was the problem of the color line, the problem of the twenty-first century may be one that reaches back to premodernity: religious identity. Even before 9/11 it was becoming evident that Muslims, not blacks, were perceived as the "other" most threatening to Western society, even in a relatively pluralist nation such as Britain. In Multcultural Politics, one of the most respected thinkers on ethnic minority experience in England describes how what began as a black-white division has been complicated by cultural racism, Islamophobia, and a challenge to secular modernity. Tariq Modood explores the tensions that have risen among advocates of multiculturalism as Muslims assert themselves to catch up with existing equality agendas while challenging some of the secularist, liberal, and feminist assumptions of multiculturalists. If an Islam-West divide is to be avoided in our time, Modood suggests, then Britain, with its relatively successful ethnic pluralism and its easygoing attitude toward religion, will provide a particularly revealing case and promising site for understanding.
Tariq Modood is professor of sociology, politics and public policy and the founding director of the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship at the University of Bristol. He is also the cofounding editor of Ethnicities.