Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Angela, David and Nicolas agree: multiculturalism has failed

European leaders don't seem to be able to agree on much these days, but it seems one idea they can all get behind is that 'multiculturalism' has failed in European societies.

Over the past few months there's been a torrent of speeches from Europe's most high-profile leaders declaring the European 50-year experiment a failure. It started with Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel, who declared in October in a much-anticipated speech that the country's efforts to create a multicultural society where immigrant groups maintained their own identity and culture had "utterly failed". Weeks later, Belgian prime minister Yves Leterme said he agreed with her and the experience in Belgium has been the same.

At the start of this month British prime minister David Cameron picked up the theme while speaking at a security conference in Munich, announcing in a headline speech that "state multiculturalism" in the UK had failed, and that a stronger British identity needed to be forged and passed on to immigrants. Five days later French President Nicolas Sarkozy, responding to a question during a television interview, also condemned multiculturalism. "We have been too concerned about the identity of the person who was arriving and not enough about the identity of the country that was receiving him," he said.

Yesterday the Netherlands became the latest country to join the anti-multiculturalism club, with the leader of the ruling Christian Democrats telling a TV show that the Dutch model of a multicultural society has failed.

All of these leaders are conservatives from centre-right parties, which now dominate European politics. This is of course an idea that has been popular within conservative circles in Europe for some time, so perhaps it is not surprising that the idea is rising so high up the agenda now that Europe is conservative-dominated. At the same time, these leaders all (except Merkel) face a growing threat from the far right in their respective countries. These far-right parties are attracting increasing shares of the vote with an anti-immigration message. Whether it's the British National Party, the National Front or the Party of Freedom - all of these centre-right leaders risk losing votes to the far right unless they can reassure people that they are doing something about the so-called "immigration problem". Perhaps not coincidentally, David Cameron's speech was given at the same time as a large English Defence League rally was happening back home in Britain.

What's been interesting to observe is that despite the fact that all of these centre-right leaders come from countries with very different 'multicultural situations', their messages and the words they're using have been almost exactly the same. All of them were made in the context of preventing Muslim radicalisation and terrorism. The messages all went something like this: We have forgotten what it means to be (insert nationality), and our encouragement for all of the (insert Muslim ethnicity) to keep their own culture and beliefs has created an alienated second class prone to radicalisation.

But the extent to which multiculturalism was ever a guiding force in some of these countries is highly debatable. For instance, Britain has had an active government policy to encourage multiculturalism, seeking to emulate the success of the policy in Canada. Anyone who's lived in both Britain and France can tell you the idea that France ever sought to adopt a similar policy is ludicrous. Ethnic minorities in France remain extremely poorly integrated. And nobody could ever claim that the French don't have enough of a "national identity," as Cameron has asserted for the British. Germany has also never actively pursued a policy of multiculturalism in the same way that Britain has. On the other hand, the Netherlands has had a similar history of state-encouraged multiculturalism as the UK.

Oddly enough, one can observe that the countries which pursued multiculturalism more actively - Britain and the Netherlands - have paradoxically been more successful in getting ethnic and religious minorities to integrate. Germany, France and Belgium, on the other hand, have appalling records when it comes to integrating the ethnic and religious minorities that have entered their countries over the past 50 years. So the states that seemed the least interested in encouraging multiculturalism have ended up with minority ethnic populations that feel the most culturally separate from the majority population.

Of course the alienation that Muslim youth feel in Europe is a common problem throughout all these countries, irregardless of how integrated ethnic minorities feel in general. Could it be that the phenomenon of alienated Muslim youth has little to do with the extent that multiculturalism was pursued?


Europasionaria said...

This is an excellent analysis. The French and British integration policies are radically different. In fact, France has never had a multicultural approach to integration. On the contrary, it has had an integrationist approach, according to which immigrants had to forget all about their origins if they wanted to integrate.

I don't like this way of framing the debate. Multiculturalism is not the problem. Multiculturalism is a good thing. If we say it's not, then we deny the foundation of our democracies, which is the respect for the other, whatever they think and wherever they come from. The problem is elsewhere.

Javier said...


Very interesting article. There is much talk of this problem here in Spain too. The opinion of the conservative Partido Popular is very similar to Cameron. And they probably will win next general election.

I also think that multiculturalism has failed, just I don't think different cultures can live without relating to each other and multiculturalism this is.

I think we must create a new common culture and all, natives and immigrants, Christians and Muslims, must work to create it
and must implement it on this century.

Unfortunately there is no evidence that any political force, the European people or inmigrant population are thinking to do so.


Captain Kid said...

This is a hypocrit discussion. We have a large community of Japanese people here in Düsseldorf. They arrn't integrated at all. They all live in a Japanese neighbourhood, send their children to Japanese schools, etc. Nobody has a problem with that and Merkel never adressed this Japanese community. But when it comes to our Muslim friends, everybody talks about integration and stuff. This has nothing to do with multicultiralism, because otherwise the situation of the japanese people would be handled the same way. This is more of a anti-Muslim rhetoric to win elections.

Multicultarlism has not failed. I'm living it. My grandparents came from Portugal, I live in Germany, I'm studying at University level, a Turkish man cuts my hair, my two best friends are German and Tamil, respectively. My favourite pizza is made by a Greek woman, my Futsal manager is Brazilian and my "Comic Book guy" is Iranian.

Bernie said...

Just seconding all the comments on how interesting this analysis is (and so much better informed and thoughtful than stuff I've read in the British press). Just one point is that I don't think that Cameron is saying what he says to stave off growth in support for far-right parties, which is thankfully still relatively low (despite the BNP European success with their two seats, which I think was the result of crazy British anti-Europe feeling, they have suffered many losses nationally). I think he actually thinks it himself and is much much more right-wing than many think. Anyhow, thanks for another very interesting and illuminating analysis.