Tuesday, 15 February 2011
Angela, David and Nicolas agree: multiculturalism has failed
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.
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?