The Failures of Multiculturalism

by Aidan Maconachy - Date: 2007-03-30 - Word Count: 1169 Share This!

A backlash against multiculturalism has been building in Europe over the last few years.

The high profile murder of the Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh at the hands of the Islamist, Mohammad Bouyeri, was a wake up call for many. The bombings in London and Madrid drove home the message that the multicultural status quo far from being a successful model for harmonious co-existence, is in fact creating a gulf of separation between communities and providing sanctuary for those whose primary objective is to attack the host societies from within.

The backlash in Europe has led to greater support for parties on the far right. For example in Holland the Freedom Party has emerged as a major contender in Dutch politics. In the UK the government is tightening up citizenship requirements, and just recently issued guidelines that will enable school authorities to ban forms of religious dress such as the niqab. In France there is a growing chorus calling for tougher immigration laws and a crack down on immigrant crime. Presidential hopeful, Nicolas Sarkozy, has been reading the tea leaves and is now playing to a constituency that far right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen might consider a preferred audience.

These reactions are entirely predictable. However the problem with this backlash and the rules and regs being introduced is that it doesn't address the root of the problem. These are cosmetic measures at best. At worse they may even deepen cross-cultural hostility.

A fundamental hypocrisy lies at the root of the problematic European experiment with multiculturalism, and it is the view that multiculturalism is a sort of creche for immigrants. The host societies have never viewed themselves as equal partners in the multicultural mosaic.The old blood-and-soil view of culture still reigns supreme in Europe, as does the covert racism and elitism that is inherent in that sort of cultural ascendancy.

In contrast to the US where assimilation is the overriding priority, the host societies in Europe have traditionally preferred to play the role of benevolent parent. So naturally they are horrified that the children they invited into their home and placed in the creche have turned out to be unruly. Some subversive brats are even fond of placing stink bombs and booby traps around the house. This late hour attempt to toughen up the rules will simply have the effect of hardening attitudes on both sides. Perhaps even making a bad situation worse.

France is a good example of a European double standard that masquerades as equality. The public line that advocates of French multiculturalism like to promote is that the French are egalitarians with an inclusive, laissez-faire approach. Nothing could be further from the truth. The recent rioting by Muslim youths in France, was really an explosion of rage coming from people who have been marginalized by racism and systemic discrimination. The notorious sink estates that are home to immigrants bear witness to a type of unofficial segregation. A "French first" mentality on the part of the host culture pretty much ensures that if you are a young second or third generation Frenchman, but happen to be named Ali or Hassan, your chances of getting a decent job are slim to zero.

A host society's liberal pluralism that celebrates the distinctiveness of immigrant communities while at the same time exercising cultural prejudice on an individual level, is a societal powder keg in the making. New immigrants should be encouraged to assume a cultural identity based on individual value, not an identity that is merely an extension of their ethnic community. This individualism should place them on an equal footing with host citizens and allow for assimilation in real terms.

In the US, the American creed serves this purpose. Unlike Europe where immigrants will often say they are "Muslim" first or "Moroccan" first, newly minted US citizens from all quarters of the world are happy to announce they are "American" first, and only American. When they do reference their ethnic and religious background, it is a private disclosure, rather than a public assertion or protest.

The situation in Europe is very serious. European paternalism and what the French philosopher Bernard-Henry Levy characterized as societies of "blood and soil", have been sleep walking toward a disaster. Their birth rate is falling precipitously even as they patronize immigrants who place a high value on fertility. In Italy some 50% of females in the 16 to 25 bracket claim they don't wish to have any children. By 2050 the population of Italy could shrink by as much as a third. In Germany the birth rate has also shown a marked decline, especially in East Germany. According to one demographic study, by 2010 in Europe as a whole there will be more citizens 60 and older than citizens in their 20's.

What is overlooked by the proponents of European multiculturalism is that along with cultural distinctiveness, immigrant communities also bring political agendas. Over and above terrorist outrages, there has been a deliberate campaign on the part of some Muslim immigrants to challenge the laws of the host societies. Challenges have also been mounted against their customs, traditions and national emblems - such as the flag of St George in the UK. One might argue that the flag needs to go anyway and that Europe requires a more inclusive emblems of national identity, however there is some question whether militant Islamists view themselves as candidates for integration in any new deal that requires accommodation.

Unlike some writers whose criticisms of multiculturalism tend to be sweeping, I would draw a sharp distinction between the European and Canadian models of multiculturalism. In Canada there is no homogeneous host society rooted in the politics of "blood and soil". Many of the early settlers were themselves outcasts from a class system in Europe in which they felt ostracized, including the ancestors of the Quebecois with their tightly knit culture. The First Nations in Canada represents the only culture that can claim this type of ancestral blood relationship with the land.

On the whole Canadian society has been much more amenable to the aspirations of the individual immigrant. Challenges certainly exist, but I believe it is misleading to place Canada in the same category as Europe in a discussion of this sort.

European multiculturalism with its political correctness codes is designed to promote harmonious co-existence. In reality, it has served to radicalize immigrant communities and has created gulfs of separation. The proponents of this failed model now require an infinite capacity for self-deception and denial in order to maintain even passing credibility. They have helped to create this problem, and their advocacy on behalf of a failed social experiment doesn't offer any way out of the impasse.

By the same token, rules, regs and right wing blow-back won't provide a long term solution either. What is needed in Europe is a serious effort to get away from the community based "sociological" model of multiculturalism. An inclusive European national identity is urgently needed, one that includes immigrants as equal partners - not just in the context of their community - but as individuals in their own right.

Related Tags: europe, immigration, muslims, multiculturalism, islamists, european multiculturalism, theo van gogh

Aidan Maconachy resides in Ontario, Canada. He has a BA Hons and a BEd. He taught in the UK and Canada, and has been a contributor to a variety of magazines and newspapers over the years. You can visit his blog at

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