Against Multiculturalism

In the 1970s, the idea that non-European immigrants could not be assimilated into white Christian societies was the familiar currency of the extreme right, of political movements that shaded into neo-fascist and neo-Nazi ideologies. Since 2001, though, such views have become increasingly common in respectable politics, even on the left. After years of regarding figures like Enoch Powell as political lepers, Europeans with solid left-liberal credentials found themselves asking urgently whether radical forms of Islam might indeed provide the kind of ideology that really could generate "rivers of blood." In 2002, the very liberal German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer asked whether Islamic traditions and teachings were compatible with the values of modern Western societies. Radical Islamists contributed to this reassessment by adopting positions and political styles that, for Europeans, brought back the worst memories of the 1930s. It was not difficult to find a convenient political label for a movement that preached anti-Semitism, burned books, and used paramilitary groups to dominate the streets.26

While there was agreement that many Muslims were failing to integrate into European societies, it was more difficult to specify what exactly immigrants are expected to assimilate to. What exactly were the core European values, the fundamental tenets of Britishness or French-ness? Many European countries traditionally defined their citizenship in terms of birth or blood, making it difficult for outsiders to join the national community, although they might well be welcomed as guests. Becoming Danish, say, is not an easy or natural process if one is not born in Denmark. Some more heterogeneous countries like France or Britain offered the possibility of joining in common loyalty to an overarching national state, in loyalty to crown or flag, but even these national loyalties have also been undermined in recent years. Since the 1940s, most European countries have consciously tried to move away from national identification and to encourage a new European consciousness, largely leaving the potent symbols of patriotism to the lower classes, or to the far right.

Sporting events offer virtually the only acceptable forms of patriotic expression. When the leader of the MCB is asked about his patriotism, he replies that he loves soccer, and that "when England plays, we always fly the flag." The high point of racial integration in modern France probably occurred in 1998 when Zinedine Zidane scored the two goals that won the World Cup for France, becoming a national hero to all French people of whatever religion or ethnicity. After years of deep embarrassment about tokens of nationalism, it was only during the 2006 World Cup that Germans finally felt confident enough to fly their black, red, and gold flag. And in a trend that surprised pessimists, German Muslims were among the most dedicated fans of the national team.27

Sport aside, though, immigrants are offered little in the way of national identity to which they can or should develop loyalty, however much they may want to. In all the depressing surveys suggesting that minorities of European Muslims reject their new countries, we should not forget that majorities do in fact identify with France, Britain, or Germany and hope that their children will be even more assimilated. But assimilated to what? Muslim feminist Neclá Kelek remarked reasonably enough that "someone once asked me if Germany was my homeland. I could only say that not even Germans consider Germany their homeland. How are we supposed to integrate in a place like that?" Critically, European loyalties are not linked to principles of rights or values in the way that they are in the United States. For all some Americans despair about the state of their melting pot, Europeans regard the modern American experience with integration as an exemplary success in contrast to their own failures. To quote a writer in the French Libération, immigrants in the United States threw themselves wholeheartedly into "the American Dream": in contrast, "there is no French, Dutch or other European dream. You emigrate here to escape poverty and nothing more."28

America's strong sense of national identity owes much to what is still a broad underlying consensus about rights and values. In the United States, a person who advocates undemocratic or intolerant views is condemned as un-American and violating the principles of the Constitution to which all swear allegiance. Even Americans with very little education have a good general idea of the terms and principles of the Bill of Rights. Europe offers nothing comparable and shows no signs of doing so. Though its proposed Constitution includes noble sentiments about rights and values, they are lost amid the bureaucratic verbiage. If, then, someone wishes to assert liberal values, he or she cannot do so simply by citing the traditional principles of Europe or its constituent states. Arguably, if a "mainstream" set of values can be deduced from the last 150 years or so of European history, they would be authoritarian, military, and hyper-nationalist, rather than pluralist and liberal.

In recent years, though, the urgency of the religious confrontation has forced European thinkers to define their beliefs far more explicitly and to specify the core values that newcomers should accept, however implausibly these can be presented as "fundamentally European." Apart from free speech and tolerance, values of gender equality and sexual freedom also occupy a central role. Inherent to this process of definition is the belief that liberal values are not just good in themselves, equal to those of other intellectual traditions, but they are actually superior. Wouter Bos, leader of the Dutch Labor Party, declared that "unlimited migration and failing integration are a serious threat to solidarity and to the degree of welfare sharing we are proud of as social democrats." He continued,

Those who favor more economic migration into western societies—and even those who simply consider it inevitable—will only be politically credible if they are also credible on the core contract of our society. It requires all citizens to accept civil liberties—including freedom of expression, the equal treatment of men, women, heterosexuals and homosexuals, the separation of church and state, the principle of democratic government and the rule of law.29

The idea of a "core contract" was widely cited. German novelist Peter Schneider remarked that Europe was now challenged to defend its values and principles both at home and abroad. The inner lines of conflict which we are seeing in current discussions on integration, forced marriage, the "Muslim Test" and the cartoon conflict display three broad themes: equality and sexual self-determination of women and homosexuals; freedom of opinion and the press; and the rights of the secular vis-à-vis the sacral world. In a nutshell, the conflict puts in question some of the major achievements of the Enlightenment, the foundation of secular Western societies. The West can only negotiate these questions at the risk of repudiating its soul.

Angela Merkel agreed that "the notion of multiculturalism has fallen apart. Anyone coming here must respect our constitution and tolerate our Western and Christian roots."30

Criticism of multiculturalism has been acute in Great Britain. To quote Salman Rushdie, "Multiculturalism . . . has all too often become mere cultural relativism, a much less defensible proposition, under cover of which much that is reactionary and oppressive—of women, for example—can be justified." Another powerful voice is Trevor Phillips, a popular black broadcaster who chairs Britain's Commission for Racial Equality. He has "warned that the country is 'sleepwalking towards segregation,' with society ever more fragmented by ethnicity and religion. Using remarkably frank language, Phillips added that parts of some cities will soon be 'black holes into which no one goes without fear.' "31

Some left and liberal thinkers now use an argument that for years has been the preserve of the political right, namely, that multiculturalism seemed to mean the glorification of every society and tradition in the world except the mainstream, which was consistently denigrated. York's Archbishop Sentamu called for a new pride in English cultural identity, complaining that multiculturalism had "seemed to imply, wrongly for me, 'let other cultures be allowed to express themselves but do not let the majority culture at all tell us its glories, its struggles, its joys, its pains.' "32

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