Failed, Politically Bankrupt, in a word Dead

German Chancellor Angela Merkel kicked off the offensive, British PM David Cameron threw it into the scrum and now President Nicolas Sarkozy has converted it, the match view is unanimous, multiculturalism in the EU is failed, politically bankrupt and dead.

The French President has lined up to bury multiculturalism.

So what have the leaders of the EU’s three most populous states (212 million people) just buried, burned and banished?

The 1970s concept of “multiculturalism” has, these days, essentially become popular shorthand for indigenous concerns about immigration, religious intolerance — basically the Muslim exception — and the undermining of Enlightenment freedoms, liberties, equalities, rights and values as espoused by figures such as Rousseau, Locke and Mills.

Even its earliest advocates admit that as a concept multiculturalism is ill- defined. “Multiculturalism is best understood neither as a political doctrine with a programmatic content nor a philosophical school with a distinct theory of man’s place in the world but as a perspective on or a way of viewing human life. Since the multicultural movement sprang up unplanned in many different political contexts … it lacks a clear focus and identity.” writes Bhikhu Chotalal Parekh, Professor of Political Theory at the University of Hull, UK in a paper that is now 11 years old (see below).

The crux of the matter as far as he is sees it is that: “Multicultural societies in their current form are new to our age and throw up theoretical and political problems that have no parallel in history. The political theories, institutions, vocabulary, virtues and skill that we have developed in the course of consolidating and conducting the affairs of a culturally homogeneous state during the past three centuries are of limited help, and sometimes even a positive handicap, in dealing with multicultural societies…This is a formidable theoretical and political task and no multicultural society has so far succeeded in tackling it…”

So and in the words of its advocates, it is a still-evolving, poorly-defined and experimental “perspective” that major European leaders have now dramatically ditched as a disaster.

What then, some might well ask, is all the fuss about?

Among the euro-Left attacks on multiculturalism are seen as intolerant political extremism of the worst kind. Diametrically opposite of course is the view of the euro-Right for whom multiculturalism is a looming threat to the very survival of old Europe.

For the record this is what President Sarkozy said February 10 during a marathon nationwide television exchange on TV1: “My answer is clearly yes, it is a failure … Of course we must all respect differences, but we do not want a society where communities coexist side by side. Our Muslim compatriots must be able to practise their religion, as any citizen can, but we in France do not want people to pray in an ostentatious way in the street. If you come to France, you accept to melt into a single community, which is the national community, and if you do not want to accept that, you cannot be welcome in France. The French national community cannot accept a change in its lifestyle, equality between men and women and freedom for little girls to go to school.”

Difficult to find a clearer clarion call for the assimilation and integration of immigrant communities and a directive that it is the mother culture that the incomers must absorb — “melt into a single community” he said — not the other way round.

Rather than an outcry in the immediate aftermath of President Sarkozy’s disclosure that he shared the views of the leaders of Germany and Britain on multiculturalism, there was an eerie silence in the news cycle.

Despite the recent significant rise of support for a reinvigorated Front National under its new leader Marine Le Pen — who now proudly asserts her party’s main policies are driving French political debate — the Left did not seem to have readied its defences of a pan-European concept that it hijacked in the late 70s to force through transformational change in conservative western societies with strong folk memories of their different tribal origins.

This may of course have been because until recently multiculturalisme has not been a concept with a stratified place in France, a bastion of the nation state where there are no formal records of a citizen’s ethnicity, culture or religion, and such data is specifically omitted in the decennial census. While the French may not acknowledge multiculturalisme as a state construct, the presidential antennae are acutely attuned and Sarkozy knows exactly why his EU counterparts have held the Requiem Mass for multiculturalism.

He is also uncomfortably aware how strongly the French feel about issues covered by this piece of politically correct shorthand. (A TNS-Sofres poll found mid-January that 32% of voters in the UMP party, led by President Nicolas Sarkozy until his election, would support a UMP-FN government in 2012).

The political Right has now made its point absolutely clear, the 2012 presidential elections are set to be fraught with ethnic/religious tension and it will all be the Left’s fault.

So it was curious that it took more than 24 hours for the Left to pick themselves up off the floor after the presidential punches had landed and cobble together their defence of programmes increasingly under challenge across an economically disintegrating Europe.

French sociologist, Michel Wieviorka defends Multiculturalism

Finally they managed it and the silence was somewhat timidly broken by sociologist, Michel Wieviorka (of EHESS-l’Ecole des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales) in this contribution to the left-wing website: “Will the left unquestioningly swallow the convergent attacks from the right and extreme-right against what they call ‘multiculturalism’” he asked?

Mr Wieviorka then proceeded to remind his audience what the media and its readers meant by the use of the word ‘multiculturalism’: “not a set of clearly identified cultural differences, which are strictly speaking the subject of multiculturalism, but a nebulous group of concerns related to immigration, terrorism, crime, delinquency, insecurity and especially Islam, that is to say a religion.”

Continuing his analysis of the Sarkozy Statement, he added: “(it is) legitimate and desirable for a head of state to attack terrorism and violence, and take measures to end domination by groups and their leaders on individuals within minority groups, beginning with women. But to attribute these evils to multiculturalism, is to find too convenient a scapegoat (…) Criticism of multiculturalism by the extreme-right and right always includes a noteworthy aspect: it goes hand in hand with a call for the proper integration of all immigrants. This call is always presented as a need that is basic to nationhood, and the society as a whole; it is never advanced from the perspective of the immigrant (…) In France in particular, with its attachment to the republican ideal, and its national version of universal values, the prevailing philosophy and this includes that on the left, has often resulted in a rejection of everything that might lead to a recognition of minorities, and an encouragement therefore of the horrors of communitarianism. (…) Well-tempered multiculturalism, subject to regular re-assessment, implemented with caution, and without premature generalisations, is not necessarily the abomination that the extreme right and right would have us believe, it might even offer solutions for a left eager to articulate absolute respect for universal values, and differences…” he concluded.

This cerebral and academic defence of the ‘perspective’ seems more designed as food for an enjoyable Left Bank debate by Parisian intellectuals than as effective ammunition against the shrapnel in the political messages the three leaders have clearly been getting from focus groups and grass roots in their respective countries.

The significance of the French presidential position on multiculturalism — it took four months to gestate post-Merkel remember — should not be overlooked.

France with the largest Muslim population in western Europe– five to six million (8-9.6%) of the total according to a BBC European factsheet “favours Muslim integration. But the growth of the community has challenged the French ideal of a strict separation between religion and public life”.

These factors are now of growing political import following the resurgence of the Front National party as FrenchNewsOnline has previously reported here and here

Story: Ken Pottinger

A long and interesting essay “What is Multiculturalism” can be read in this paper by Bhikhu Parekh, Professor of Political Theory at the University of Hull, UK

A later essay from 2000 entitled “Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural Diversity and Political Theory” is dissected in this Culture Machine Review

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5 Responses to Failed, Politically Bankrupt, in a word Dead

  1. S T Vaughan March 7, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    It would appear the whole of Europe agrees multiculturalism is dead in Europe, so that solves the problem, and the problem now just goes away and everyone carries on doing their own thing – Germany ignores its immigrants, France shoves them on a ferry to England and England gives them a house and benefits, and all agree multiculturalism just doesn’t work!

    S T Vaughan
    B14 4EA

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