David Howell’s Jan. 22 article on multiculturalism, “An idea whose time has gone,” is a very mixed bag of half-truth and exaggeration. The fact is that immigration into Britain and other wealthy nations was simply a way of guaranteeing a supply of cheap labor.

Howell’s own party, the Conservatives, was as prepared as the Labour Party to allow immigrants from the Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) to enter the United Kingdom. The U.K. Muslim population comes largely from this background. The Muslim community has been traditionally passive in its relationship with the host community, but inevitably an element of the younger generation has become estranged and a very small minority has become attracted to extremism.

Howell seems to hold out little hope for “common loyalties and values,” but perhaps he might reflect that in nearby France, under the new presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, a government minister of Muslim and North African ancestry has been appointed. There is no magic solution, but an official willingness to have citizens from ethnic backgrounds in the highest positions is potent demonstration of a pluralist society at ease with itself.

n.r. williams