Is multiculturalism in Europe dead?

These days multiculturalism seems to be a dying policy among most European leaders who have for years seemingly encouraged separation and segregation rather than integration. This is a dangerous trend.

Indeed, a number of prominent EU leaders have been rather vocal on the topic. Last summer French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared that multiculturalism was dead in France going on to crack down on immigrants. According to Sarkozy, those who come to France need to accept that they have to melt together into a single community, which is the national community, and if they do not want to accept that, they will not be welcome. Meanwhile British Prime Minister David Cameron slated the UK’s doctrines of state multiculturalism, stating: “We have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream. …We even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.” His counter-part in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel, gave her two cents worth when she announced that multiculturalism in Europe had failed amid a national debate sparked by a racially loaded bestseller written by German bank official Thilo Sarrazin that criticized Arabs. The main argument of the book was that Islam did not fit comfortably with Western values. The message coming out of Germany is that the country does not want to integrate into its culture Islamic values but rather to retain its own cultural identity, which those newly arriving should make greater efforts to adopt.

Furthermore the “Arab Spring” has sparked heated arguments and discussions within countries in the EU. Panic spread across Europe as tens of thousands of economic refugees arrived in boats (mainly from Tunisia) in Italy. Italy, not wanting to deal with them, pushed them on to France, an act that led to a massive debate over whether the EU’s entire borderless Europe “Schengen Policy” should be resconsidered and some border controls reinstated.

It seems to be increasingly fashionable to question the concept of multiculturalism. By embracing the narrative of failed multiculturalism and championing the need for greater integration of immigrants, leaders such as those of France and Germany are executing a strategy of attempting to limit the discursive ground of the right-wing parties by widening their own scope. This has certainly been the case in France where President Sarkozy has jumped on the anti-migrant bandwagon, becoming almost as xenophobic and Islamaphobic as the leader of the far-right, Marine Le Pen, in order to garner votes in the 2012 presidential elections. Even less prominent leaders such at Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme have now joined the critics cautioning that multiculturalism divides and weakens society, hinting that it should be done away with. While the inflow of immigrants presents a serious political and economic challenge, it is usually manageable unless certain red lines are crossed, such as lack of tolerance towards another race, religion or culture at the hands of immigrants. There is no universal agreement on the concept of multiculturalism, but the idea of tolerant treatment of others is clear and has been a cornerstone of modern Europe. Economic growth in Europe was not only a magnet to attract foreigners, but was also a significant consequence of their presence. Whenever we witness economic improvement, increased immigration usually follows quickly afterwards. However, on the flip side, migration and tolerance usually become the first victims of an economic crisis and downturn, as has been witnessed numerous times in history. What may begin as a simple lack of tolerance can quickly escalate into something far more dangerous? Furthermore, it is also difficult to eradicate extreme xenophobia once the seeds have been sown. It usually snowballs as has been the case in countries like the Netherlands, which has gone from being seen as a tolerant nation to one of the post racist and, in particular, anti-Muslim in Europe thanks to political figures such a Dutch MP Geert Wilders.

Unfortunately, for the time being the increase of regression in tolerance, austerity measures and frugality is increasingly leading to a mindset of nationalism and xenophobia across Europe which is being manipulated by politicians. This paints somewhat of a bleak picture. It can only be turned around if both sides begin to take greater steps to tackle the problem. Successful integration is a two-winged plane: While of course it is the job of the country concerned to implement successful integration, anti-racist and anti-discrimination policies, at the same time, immigrants that arrive need to understand that they must do more to integrate into their new country and that they simply cannot only cling onto the values and customs of the country they have just left. Immigrants also have their own obligations and must accept that they need to adopt the core values of European society: liberalism, secularism, gender equality, etc.

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