The Crisis of Multiculturalism in Europe
Professor A. R. Momin
(This is the text of a public lecture given by Professor A. R. Momin at the Institute of Sociology, Graz University (Austria) on April 17, 2008. Professor Momin is at present a Visiting Professor at Graz University.)
One of the distinctive features of our globalizing era is the increasing salience and recognition of ethnic, cultural and religious diversity that exists not only globally but also within national societies. This recognition is reflected in the United Nations’ Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001) which regards cultural diversity as the “common heritage of humanity”.
Different European societies follow different models of societal integration. These models have evolved over a period of time in response to changing economic, social and political conditions. Thus, Germany, Austria and Switzerland initially started with what came to be known as the guest worker model, which assumed that the immigrants would eventually return to their countries of origin after the expiry of their contracts. Accordingly, the state did not make any special efforts to integrate them into mainstream society. In Germany, for example, the descent-based model of nationality and citizenship operated for a long time. However, from the late 1980s, when permission for family reunion was granted and the immigrants decided to settle permanently in the country, the guest worker model was abandoned in favour of an alternative one which was fairly inclusive and accommodative.
The prevailing models of societal integration in many European countries reflect a good deal of ambivalence and incoherence. Some European countries, such as Britain, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and the Scandinavian countries, follow broadly multicultural policies. They have accorded public recognition to ethnic and cultural diversity and are generally accommodative of the rights and sensibilities of minority groups. By and large, three distinct models, namely, assimilation, differential exclusion and exclusion, and multiculturalism, seem to be prevalent in European societies.
Many European countries contain sizeable indigenous communities or national minorities, such as the Flemish in Belgium, the Catalans and Basques in Spain, the Sami in the Scandinavian countries and the Basque in France. In most cases, these minority groups were either ruthlessly suppressed in the past or forcibly assimilated into the dominant national group. In the 18th and 19th centuries, France banned the use of Basque and Briton languages in schools. It is interesting to note that at the time of the French Revolution, less than 18% of the population in the country spoke French. In the course of time, the regional languages were suppressed and only French was allowed to flourish. Britain tried to suppress the use of Welsh. Traces of the assimilationist model are still observable in some European countries, such as France, Spain, Belgium, Denmark and Italy. For more than a century France has followed the republican model which emphasizes individual integration into the country’s civic culture defined by laicite, leaving religion and ethnicity to the private realm.
Differential integration and exclusion may be defined as a situation or context which allows for the integration of immigrants and minorities in certain areas of society (such as employment) but denies them access to other areas (such as citizenship). Differential integration and exclusion may be effected through legal mechanisms (such as refusal of naturalization), through institutionalized racism (in areas such as housing and employment), or through informal practices, such as discrimination and stigmatization.
Spain, and to a lesser extent Italy, define citizenship and national identity in terms of the ethos and cultural traditions of the dominant national group, which systematically excludes the immigrants and minorities. The definition of Spanish identity is strongly coloured by religion (Catholicism) and language (Spanish), which leaves out Jews, Muslims and all non-Spanish speakers. Similarly, in Italy citizenship is defined in predominantly ethnic terms, particularly in terms of kinship by blood or through marriage. The procedure for acquiring Italian citizenship is so complex and cumbersome that it effectively excludes people of non-Italian descent. Elements of differential integration and exclusion can also be found in Germany and Switzerland.
Multiculturalism is a distinctive model for the management of ethnic diversity in the public domain. It emphasizes the public recognition of ethnic diversity, especially the recognition and accommodation of minority cultures, identities and sensibilities. Canada was the first country to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy in 1971. In Europe, multiculturalism was first adopted as an official policy by Sweden in 1975 to deal with the issue of integration of immigrants. Subsequently, Britain, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries also adopted multicultural policies. Britain has followed a community-based model of multiculturalism which provides for the recognition and accommodation of community-specific rights. Some European countries follow policies which are located at the intersection of multiculturalism and assimilation.
In Germany, some scholars and politicians advocated multiculturalism in the early 1990s as an alternative to the prevailing view of German society as culturally homogeneous. They emphasized that German society was no longer homogeneous, that it had turned into a country of immigrants and had therefore become a multicultural society. They argued in favour of a change in the ethnically-defined concepts of nationality and citizenship in Germany and for a reform of citizenship laws.
However, their arguments were rejected by a majority of German politicians. The commonly used German term multikulti refers to selectively recognized cultural differences and the coexistence of the German and the Auslander. It is sometimes described as the “Doner-principle,” derived from the popularity of the Turkish Doner kebap in Germany (and also in Austria). This view suggests that only those foreign elements can be recognized and which are accepted and adopted by the general population.
During the last three decades, multiculturalism has enjoyed substantial popularity in many European countries. It has enthusiastically been supported by immigrants and minority groups. However, multiculturalism has been subject to a great deal of controversy and contestation in recent years. The critics of multiculturalism—and their numbers are growing—point out that it encourages and strengthens ethnic cleavages and thereby breeds separatism and ghettoization. Multiculturalism is also assailed for its encouragement to the cult of ethnicity and its failure to contribute to societal cohesion and integration. Certain events at the turn of the century, including the attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, the Madrid train bombing in 2004, the murder of the Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh in November 2004 and the terrorist attack on London in July 2005, have accelerated the rethinking on multiculturalism as a viable model of societal integration. Britain, the Netherlands and Denmark seem to be moving away from multiculturalism.
Trevor Philips, former head of Britain’s Commission for Racial Equality, has recently suggested that multiculturalism may be outdated. He said Britain could be sleep-walking into ethnic segregation because of a failure to create common values, with some districts in the country on their way to becoming fully-fledged ghettos—black holes into which no one goes without fear and trepidation and from which no one ever escapes undamaged. In 2007 Britain launched a new Commission for Integration and Cohesion, which is headed by a British Indian. While launching the Commission, one of former prime minister Tony Blair’s cabinet members, Ruth Kelly, announced that the UK had moved away from a “near-uniform consensus” on the value of multiculturalism. She added that it was legitimate for Britain to encourage a debate whether multiculturalism has encouraged separateness. The new Commission is expected to discuss the drawing up of “community charters,” signed by community leaders, endorsing respect for democracy and the rejection of racism and violence. A few years ago, Tony Blair had said, “Multiculturalism is not what we thought it was. He declared that tolerance was a must. “Conform to it or don’t come here. The right to be different. The duty to integrate. That is what being British means,” he added.
The strongest criticism of multiculturalism has been launched by far-right political parties and organizations. Italy’s far-right party, Lega Nord, argues that to “transform Italy into a multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-religious country modeled after the US means to keep Italy divided”. A right-wing think-tank in Britain, Civitas, pointed out in a report in 2005 that the concept of multiculturalism was divisive and encouraged racial hatred.
For over two decades, the Netherlands has espoused “tolerance of diversity”. In the aftermath of 9/11, Dutch politicians have increasingly emphasized that the government must pressure immigrants to assimilate into Dutch society. The discourse of multiculturalism in the Netherlands has begun to be replaced by that of integration and assimilation.
In her speech during the last Christmas celebrations, the Dutch Queen Beatrix pleaded for tolerance and respect for the country’s minorities. The Queen pointed out that the right to freedom of expression did not automatically mean the right to offend the religious sensibilities of the minorities or other sections of the population. Geert Wilders, leader of the Netherlands’ far-right party, condemned the Queen’s speech as “multicultural rubbish” and audaciously demanded that she be stripped of her constitutional position as head of the government.
Wider issues and concerns
The contestation surrounding multiculturalism has raised a host of complex and problematic issues, including immigrants and their integration into mainstream society, limits to the public recognition and accommodation of cultural diversity, societal cohesion and harmony, racism and xenophobia, and human rights.
European societies are characterized by a good deal of diversity and heterogeneity, which is reflected in the linguistic situation, in denominational and sectarian distinctions, in regional cultural traditions, and in the religious and ethnic composition of the continent. This diversity is reflected not only at the pan-European level but also in national societies. Britain, for example, has no homogeneous society or national identity. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own distinctive identities, which are reflected in their separate flags and emblems, their established churches, and their respective legal and educational institutions. According to research conducted by the Institute for Public Policy Research in London in 2007, Britain is in the grip of a national identity crisis as the country’s white population is increasingly fragmented into English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish identities. It found a steady decline in the sense of Britishness among the white population. The Report of the Commission for the Future of Multiethnic Britain, brought out by the Runnymede Trust, views Britain as “a loose federation of cultures held together by common bonds of interests and affection and a collective sense of being”.
Officially, French society recognizes no distinctions based on ethnicity or religion. The fact of the matter, however, is that French society has become multiethnic and multicultural. It is estimated that 14 million French citizens—nearly a quarter of the French population—have at least one immigrant parent or grandparent. In the past, generations of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese immigrants were successfully assimilated into French society. But the wave of immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East in the post-War period put a big question mark on the ideal of assimilation. “Today integration is a total failure,” says Jean-Francois Cope, mayor of Meaux, 54 kilometers northeast of Paris, which counts 29 different ethnic groups among its 50,000 residents.
France has suppressed indigenous cultures and languages for centuries. Now there is a remarkable resurgence of local cultures and languages. This revival is reflected in the proliferation of Basque and Breton-language schools, in the rising popularity of celtic music, the cult of local cuisine and the spread of provincial festivals. International tourism has greatly stimulated this revival.
There are an estimated 21 million immigrants across the 27 members of the European Union. They comprise nearly 12% of Sweden’s 9 million people and nearly 10% of Austria’s population. Immigrants comprise nearly a quarter of London’s population and in one area—Wembly—just over half of its residents. In most European societies, cultural diversity, immigration and the integration of immigrants in mainstream society have become sites of intense contestation. Three points, in this connection, are note-worthy. First, the experiences of immigrants and the record of European societies in addressing their concerns and in integrating them into mainstream society present a mixed kind of picture. There is no denying that, by and large, European societies offer the immigrants a fairly good package, including better economic prospects, opportunities for higher education and occupational mobility, civil rights, personal autonomy, and religious and cultural freedom (which are scarce in many countries from which immigrants come). Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed in all European countries. Nearly all European countries provide facilities for imparting instruction in the native languages of immigrants.
In Austria, Islam was officially recognized as a religion in 1912. A 1979 law recognized Islam as a religious congregation under public law with similar privileges as those enjoyed by Christian denominations. As early as in 1974, Belgium passed a law granting Islamic worship the same status as that accorded to established religions in the country, namely, Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism. The Netherlands has developed the “pillarization system” which grants the right to all religious communities in the country to develop their religious, cultural and educational institutions with state subsidies. In Austria, the wearing of religious headgear and beards are permitted for Muslims in the defence service. There is also provision for religious holidays. In a few companies in Germany (such as Ford in Cologne and Fraport in Frankfurt), special spaces for prayers have been set up for Muslim employees and consideration is given to their dietary requirements in canteens.
Some European countries have endeavoured to provide substantial representation to Muslims and other minority groups in government. In Britain, for example, Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s cabinet includes two Muslim ministers. The House of Lords has some members from Muslim, Hindu and other backgrounds. The Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s cabinet has some Muslim ministers.
There are wide variations in the integration of immigrants in the European countries. A recent study sponsored by the European Union has found that Sweden scores a top position in respect of the welfare and integration of immigrants. Latvia was found to be at the lowest rung of the ladder. Overall, EU countries were found to be only doing half as much as they could.
A consortium of European organizations, led by the British Council and the Migration Policy Group in Brussels, prepared the Migration Integration Policy Index, based on 140 indicators. The major indicators include immigrants’ rights in the work place, opportunities for permanent settlement, permission for family to join them, and laws to combat racism and prejudice.
France, Germany, the UK, Spain and Italy have the largest immigrant populations. These five countries are home to nearly half of all immigrants across the continent. The study found that Sweden could be described as entirely favourable to promoting integration, followed by Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands and Finland. The countries which scored low on the integration index included Latvia, Cyprus, Greece, Austria and Slovakia.
The immigrants play an important role in the economy of European nations. Immigration is likely to continue in the years to come, especially in the context of a projected labour shortage and the growing imbalance between retired and active workers. In some countries, immigrants have made a notable contribution to sports, music and the arts. The young athletes from North African background were part of the World Cup-winning French national soccer team in 1998.
There seems to be a positive correlation between the public recognition of the culture and identities of minority groups, the degree of social and cultural autonomy available to them and their felt sense of self-assurance, and their integration into the wider society. A reassuring and enabling social environment—free from xenophobia, mistrust and hostility—is likely to facilitate and strengthen their involvement with the wider society and to channel their capabilities and energies in a socially productive direction. On the other hand, discrimination, exclusion and stigmatization are often the breeding ground of alienation, separatism and extremism.
A recent report of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia points out that the experience of discrimination and exclusion has a crucial bearing on the integration of ethnic and religious minorities into mainstream society. In the Netherlands, for example, the groups that feel the most discriminated against (such as Turks, Moroccans, Surinamese) are also the groups that seem to be the least integrated and isolated in Dutch society. On the other hand, in Germany, the public recognition of ethnic and religious minorities, especially Turkish immigrants, has played a significant role in their integration into mainstream society. Muslim associations in several provinces in Germany, enjoy the status of religion-based communities, like churches. In Hamburg language teachers, even those with Turkish nationality, are treated as civil servants.
Racism and xenophobia
Racism, xenophobia and exclusion of minority groups are widely prevalent across Europe. This is reflected in the rise in anti-Semitism in many European countries, in the stigmatization of Gypsies, in the discrimination of national minorities, and in the marginalization of immigrants. A recent report of Amnesty International points out that attacks on Jews, especially on synagogues, cemeteries and schools, have sharply risen in recent years, especially in France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Britain. In France, which is home to Europe’s largest Jewish population, there were974 incidents of attacks on Jews in 2004, following which the former Israeli premier Ariel Sharon called French Jews to migrate to Israel because of “the wildest anti-Semitism prevalent in the country”.
The 2004 annual report of the Vienna-based European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia pointed out that Europe’s 8 million Gypsies face the worst kind of discrimination and exclusion in many different forms, from inadequate access to education and meager employment opportunities to poor housing, ghettoization and stigmatization.
Immigrants and ethnic and religious minorities in many European countries are faced with many problems and challenges, including widespread discrimination, lack of legal security, unclear citizenship status, institutionalized racism, marginalization and ghettoization. During the past couple of decades, racist sentiments and violence against foreigners and immigrants spearheaded by the neo-Nazi and other racist outfits have been on the rise in many European countries. The report of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia notes that the record of most European countries in combating racism and xenophobia is at best mixed. The report says that some European countries are too slow to enact anti-racism legislation or take measures which in effect curtail the rights of immigrants. The report reveals that the British police received nearly 53,000 complaints of racist attacks on immigrants and foreigners in 2004, followed by Germany with 6,474 complaints.
In many European countries there is a wide gap between constitutionally-enshrined legal norms (such as equality, citizenship, secularism) and the reality of racial discrimination and exclusion experienced by immigrants and minorities. In Britain, for example, legislation on discrimination on grounds of race was passed in the 1960s. However, racial discrimination and exclusion continue to be widely prevalent. A recent report of the Commission for Racial Equality in Britain points out that racial discrimination is still a reality in the country and that Britain continues to be racially divided. The report notes that Britain remains a place of “inequality, exclusion and isolation”. The report points an accusing finger at health, education, home and foreign offices of the government and says that they have failed to meet their own obligations in tackling discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities. The report warns that continuing discrimination and marginalization might lead some people from the minority communities to follow the path of religious and political extremism.
Nick Johnson, director of the Commission, candidly pointed out that “the simple fact is, despite the progress that has been made, if you are an ethnic minority in Britain, you are still more likely to be stopped by the police, be excluded from school, suffer poorer health treatment and live in poor housing”.
There are a number of far-right political parties in European countries, which are openly against immigrants and foreigners. These include the British National Party, the National Front in France, Freedom Party in the Netherlands, the Swiss People’s Party, Lega Nord in Italy, Vlaas Belang in Belgium, the Austrian Freedom Party and the Greater Romanian Party. The Swiss People’s Party emerged as the largest group in the Swiss parliament in the October 2007 elections, securing nearly 29% of the vote. The party’s campaign had focused almost entirely on the issue of immigration. It had displayed a controversial poster during the campaign, which showed three white sheep kicking a black sheep out of Switzerland. This poster drew a sharp criticism from the United Nations’ special rapporteur on racism. Last year the Swiss People’s Party had started a campaign to ban minarets on mosques in Switzerland. It argued that minarets symbolize Islamic law which has no place in Switzerland’s legal system. In Belgium, the Vlaas Belang Party (which won nearly a quarter of the national vote in the 2004 elections) wanted to disallow the immigrants to get brides from their native countries. In Britain many members of the ruling Labour Party are also inclined to this view.
A new political group in the European Parliament, consisting of far-right political parties and known as Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty (ITS) was formed in 2007. Far-right political parties from four EU countries (France, Belgium, Austria and Bulgaria) have recently unveiled plans to form a pan-European “patriotic” party, aimed at defending Europe against immigrants and what it calls Islamisation.
Geert Wilders, leader of Freedom Party in the Netherlands, makes no secret of his hatred for immigrants, especially Muslims. He has carried out a vicious campaign against the Quran, comparing it to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, asserting that the Muslim holy book is incompatible with Dutch values, and telling Dutch Muslims that if they wished to stay on in the country they should tear up half of their holy book. He has in fact demanded a ban on the Quran in the Netherlands. He has made a highly controversial film on the Quran and posted it on the Internet. The film describes Islam as an enemy of freedom. The film opens with a copy of the Quran, followed by footage on the attack on the United States on September 11, 2001. It ends with someone turning pages of the Quran, followed by a tearing sound.
Laws, policies and procedures in many European societies betray bias and discrimination against the immigrants and minorities. In Britain, for example, there is an avowedly colour-blind allocation of housing, which in reality is discriminatory in respect of non-whites. There are 22,000 state-funded schools in Britain, out of which nearly 7,000 are run by Anglican, Catholic and Jewish managements. About a quarter of all pupils in Britain attend state-funded religious schools. For many years minorities in the country have been demanding that this privilege should be extended to schools run by them. It was only a couple of years ago that five Muslim schools and one Sikh school were allowed this privilege.
Britain and Denmark have anti-blasphemy laws which apply to only Christianity. Nick Griffin, a leader of the far-right British National Party, said in a speech a few years ago that Islam was a vicious, wicked faith. He was tried for incitement to racial hatred but on February 3, 2006 walked free at the end of the trial. In his defence, Griffin argued that he was attacking a religion, not a race. In Denmark both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party have opposed a parliamentary move to abolish the anti-blasphemy law to make it applicable to other religions as well.
In Britain, until recently, acts of discrimination against Muslims were not considered illegal because the courts did not recognize Muslims as an ethnic group, although Jews and Sikhs are recognized as ethnic groups.
A recent report of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia points out that some EU countries, such as Germany, leave the decision to allow Muslim women to wear the headscarf to federal states or individual schools. Legislation banning the wearing of headscarves has been introduced in Saarland and Lower Saxony in Germany, but Christian and Jewish symbols are excluded from the ban.
France swears by the republican ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. In reality, however, immigrants from North African (including their descendants born and raised in the country) experience widespread discrimination, exclusion and racism. France is set to celebrate the anniversary of laicite, according to which the state does not recognize distinctions of ethnicity and religion. But in reality French society is differentiated according to class, ethnicity and religion. Catholics, Protestants and Jews continue to own places of worship, religious schools and chapels in the army. Unlike BBC and CNN, French TV has no non-white presenters and all MPs from mainland France and white.
The suburbs of Paris where the immigrants are concentrated are characterized by poverty, high unemployment rate, crime and drug addiction. Faced with this gloomy situation, many French youths of North African descent are forced to change their names and conceal their addresses for fear that the disclosure of their real identity will jeopardize their chances of getting jobs. The vandalism and rioting by North African youth on the streets of Paris in November 2005 exposed the fragility of French society.
A recent report of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, brought out in 2006, notes that Muslims living in the European Union are often victims of multiple discrimination on the basis of their religion, race, national or ethnic background, language, colour and gender. They are often subjected to negative stereotyping, at times reinforced through negative or selective reporting in the media. The report points out that many Muslims, particularly young people, have limited opportunities for professional or career advancement. To make matters worse, they often experience social exclusion and discrimination which produces hopelessness and alienation.
The report notes that Muslims are often disproportionately represented in areas with poor housing conditions, while their educational achievement falls below average and their unemployment rates are higher than average. In Germany, the unemployment rate for foreigners in 2004 (around 20%) was almost twice as high as the national average. In France, the unemployment rate among Muslims of North African descent is as high as 20-30%, compared with the national average of about 10%.
In Spain, migrants in both urban and rural areas face serious housing problems, including homelessness, overcrowding and illegal boarding houses. In Denmark, “ethnic markers”—such as accent, religious clothing or non-Danish names--may result in individuals experiencing discrimination in housing. In France in 2004, the Monitoring Centre on Discrimination at the University of Paris sent out different curricula vitae in response to 258 job advertisements for a sales person. It was found that a person of North African descent was five times less likely to get a positive reply.
Combating racism and xenophobia
Racist ideologies and outbursts in Europe have not gone unchallenged. In spite of making determined efforts to capture political power by inciting primordial passions, the far-right political parties in Europe have not made much headway. By and large, they have been rejected by the electorate. The European Parliament’s far-right bloc collapsed last November after five Romanian MEPs resigned over an Italian colleague’s xenophobic remarks. The resignations take the bloc’s membership below the minimum required for a grouping in the European Parliament.
Britain passed the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006, which applies to intentional acts of threatening words or behaviour and the display, publication, broadcast or distribution of threatening material that is likely to stir up religious or racial hatred.
During the recently-held municipal elections in Graz, a candidate of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party launched a vicious attack against immigrants. However, she and her party were repudiated by the wider society. When the results were announced the Austrian Freedom Party ended up with the lowest percentage of votes.
There are several watch-dog institutions in Europe, such as the Vienna-based European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, which regularly keep a watch on incidents of racist attacks on immigrants and foreigners. Similarly, there are organizations which monitor the display of racist behaviour in sports. Football Against Racism in Europe is one such organization which regularly keeps a tab on the display of racist flags and chants during football matches across Europe.
In December 2005, the European Union launched an initiative to deepen ties with Muslim countries and reach out to 25 million Muslims living in Europe. This is sought to be done by clarifying the discourse on Islam, by using the right vocabulary to steer clear of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, and by avoiding references to pejorative terms like Islamic terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. The emphasis is on developing a “non-emotive lexicon for public communication” related to Muslims.
The controversial film made by Geert Wilders has been criticized and condemned not only by Muslims in Europe and across the world but also by the Dutch government. Dutch broadcasters have refused to show the film. The Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said that the film wrongly equated Islam with violence and that it serves no purpose other than to offend. He added that “the Netherlands has a tradition of freedom of speech, religion and lifestyle, but it also has a tradition of respect, tolerance and responsibility. Offending certain groups does not belong here”.
The idea of multicommunitarianism, which has been conceptualized in the context of present-day multiethnic societies, emphasizes the overriding importance of societal cohesion and harmony while making due allowance for cultural diversity. Essentially, it connotes living together in a framework of equality, an open, explicit recognition of cultural diversity, respect for the sensibilities of others, sharing of social, cultural and civic spaces, and societal engagement. The basic theoretical premise underlying the perspective of multicommuntarianism is the dialectic of diversity and unity. Multicommunitarianism seeks to transcend the inherent limitations of multiculturalism. While multiculturalism focuses on the recognition and accommodation of cultural diversity, multicommunitarianism emphasizes societal cohesion and harmony. Furthermore, the discourse of multiculturalism is largely confined to the relations between the immigrants and the mainstream society. Multicommunitarianism, on the other hand, is concerned not only with the integration of immigrants and minority groups in the wider society but also with the broader issue of European integration.
Multicommunitarianism is basically concerned with the wider issue of societal cohesion and harmonious coexistence between mainstream society and minority groups, including national minorities (such as Corsicans, Catalans, Basques, Gypsies, Bretons, Scots, Muslims (IN Russia) and others; ethnic and religious minorities such as Muslims; Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and others, and immigrants.
The process of European integration has opened up a tripolar identity space characterized by the coexistence of three levels of identity: the transnational European, the national, and the local-regional context. The interface between these three levels of identity is fraught with complexities and tensions, especially in the context of our globalizing world. A few years ago, Greece’s socialist government wanted to replace the old identity cards with new cards that would not include information on religion, so as to prevent such data from being used to discriminate against minority groups. Tens of thousands of Greek Orthodox faithful took out a massive rally, chanting “hands off the Church”. The Archbishop of Athens urged the cheering crowd to fight against efforts to strip Greece of its orthodox heritage. “We must remain what we are: firstly Greeks and secondly Europeans,” he said.
A French economist, Alain Minc, says that in 20 or 30 years, there will be no more French society but a European society. “It will be close to the US model with some differences. We will retain our language, culture, literature and wine, but as a people we will be European,” he said. But this prognostication seems exaggerated. The coexistence of diversity and unity in the context of the continent as a whole and in national societies is likely to continue in the future.
A measure of homogenization, especially in respect of popular culture, has been brought about in European societies as a result of globalization and Americanization. Sometimes it is perceived as posing a threat to European identities. Some French intellectuals and writers articulate concern for French distinctiveness and identity in the face of American “cultural imperialism”.
There are undercurrents of xenophobia and exclusion in many European countries. In some European countries, such as Spain, Italy and Denmark, national identity is still defined and articulated in exclusionary terms. For example, Spanish national identity is defined and projected in terms of the discourse of cultural nationalism or Hispanidad, which refers to a homogeneous, exclusive community of Spanish-speaking Catholics, to the exclusion of Jews, Muslims and all non-Spanish speakers. On August 25, 2006, Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s former prime minister, said that he and his centre-right allies believed in an Italy that was “Catholic and for Italians”.
In some European countries, the disenchantment with multiculturalism has resulted in the increasing demand for the assimilation of immigrants and minority groups into mainstream society. The assimilationist model has proved to be a failure in the long run. Despite centuries of persecution and stigmatization, the Jews have assiduously maintained their religious and cultural identity. Similarly, national minorities in many European countries have safeguarded their distinctive identities and their aspirations for autonomy. The Scandinavian countries have provided substantial autonomous spaces to indigenous people. Similarly, Belgium, Spain and Britain have granted regional autonomy to their national minorities. In the US, the model of the melting pot has failed and has been replaced by the metaphor of the glorious mosaic and the salad bowl. In Canada, the Quebecs and the indigenous Indian communities (called the First Nations) continue to assert their distinctive identities and cultural rights. It is increasingly realized that cultural homogeneity is not a prerequisite of national unity and integration.
After First World War, Italy annexed the German-speaking region of South Tyrol. Mussolini tried to forcibly assimilate the people of South Tyrol into mainstream Italian society but they resisted it. Many of them chose to migrate to Austria and other countries. In Italy, a new political movement known as the Northern League emerged during the 1990s to push for the north of the country to become an independent state because of the national government’s tilt towards the less prosperous south.
Most of the national minorities in Europe have jealously guarded their distinctive identities and traditions in the face of assimilationist pressures and have launched social movements and political parties to defend their identities and cultural rights, including the right to autonomy and self-determination. National minorities in Spain, such as in the Basque Country, Catalonia and Galicia, want to be recognized as nations within Spain. Some national minorities, such as the Irish people in Northern Island, the Corsicans and the Basque, have chosen the path of violent confrontation with the dominant national population. In 1969, Britain had to send troops to keep order in the face of ongoing threats from Irish Catholics to secede from the UK and join the Republic of Ireland.
A report of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia emphasizes that there can be no disagreement about the need for the integration of immigrants and minority groups in mainstream society. However, it is important to stress that integration should not be a one-way process and that it need not be achieved at the expense of the ethnic and religious identity of minority groups. It emphasizes that integration is a dynamic, two-way process of mutual accommodation of immigrants and mainstream society. This view was endorsed by the European Council in June 2003.
There is a near-consensus on the continent that Europe is a culturally diverse region. There are nearly 80 indigenous languages in Europe and 20 of them are officially recognized. Multilingualism is officially recognized by the European Union. In fact the motto of the European Union is Invarietate concordia (united in diversity). This was reiterated in the Berlin Declaration, approved on March 25, 2007, which said: “We, the citizens of Europe, have united for the better. The unnatural division of Europe is now consigned to the past. We preserve in the European Union the identities and diverse traditions of its member-states”. The EU is an extraordinary construction which has no parallel in recent history. Over 500 million people from 27 different countries have come together to create the world’s first transnational political and economic space.
The celebrated Spanish-American historian Americo Castro has famously described the atmosphere of harmonious coexistence, accommodation and tolerance that characterized medieval Spain as convivencia (living together). In my view, the edifice of multicommunitarian Europe should be built on this principle.
A process of cultural hybridization, born out of interaction between immigrant communities and mainstream society, is at work in many European countries. Thus the British tourist board has declared the Indian curry to be the official British dish. Immigrants of North African descent in France have produced popular hip-hop, rai and rap musicians and singers who have influenced French youth across the country. It is now a multi-million dollar alternative music industry in the country.
Role and responsibility of immigrants
The mistrust and hostility surrounding the issue of immigration in European societies is not entirely the outcome of racist and xenophobic sentiments. The issue of illegal migrants poses a serious problem in many European countries. Some sections of immigrants and asylum seekers have been found to indulge in criminal activities. In Austria, for example, nearly 60% of inmates in the country’s jails are foreigners.
The discourse on the cultural rights of immigrants and minority groups in European societies can be clouded by myopia unless it is accompanied by a discussion of cultural responsibilities and obligations. The immigrants and minority groups are obliged not only to obey the laws of the countries where they live but also to respect local norms, cultural traditions and the sensibilities of the host society. They need to engage with the wider society, to overcome the obstacles and difficulties that they face and to take greater responsibility for integration. They need to make sincere and sustained efforts to earn the goodwill of the host society by learning the local language, by participating in local-level voluntary activities, by inviting their neighbours and colleagues to their homes on festive occasions, and by encouraging their children to join voluntary organizations and sports leagues.
Immigrants need to overcome the obstacles that they face by availing of the opportunities and avenues afforded by the host society, especially in respect of education and professional training. Patrick Weil, a professor of history at the Sorbonne, says, “What bothers me is that people say immigration is good because it gives us athletes and artists. I would like to see business people, lawyers, teachers, intellectuals, men and women policy makers. We are not seeing that”.
Muslims in Germany are seeking the recognition of their legitimate rights in accordance with legal provisions enshrined in the country’s constitution, and not in the name of minority rights. The freedom to slaughter animals according to religious ritual, the exemption of Muslim girls from common swimming lessons and the right to wear the headscarf have been secured by Muslims in the country through the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religious expression.
Some human rights activists and NGOs in France have advocated a new “diversity charter” encouraging companies to reflect the “diversity of French society” by hiring qualified non-whites. Some of them point out that the head of Vodafone, one of Europe’s largest companies, is an Indian, Arun Sarin. When this happens here, we will know France has changed.
Non-governmental organizations run by immigrants and minority groups can play a highly important role in facilitating the integration of immigrants into mainstream society. In Cologne, Germany, for example, the Muslim Women’s Training Centre, established in 1996, provides facilities for education, training and counseling to Muslim women. One of the important activities of the centre is to create and foster an atmosphere of understanding, dialogue and mutual accommodation between the host society and the immigrants. Incidentally, In October 2005 the European Commission adopted a proposal to declare 2008 as the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue. The inter-cultural dialogue should be wide-ranging encompassing the national minorities, regional communities, immigrants and minority groups. Sine Muslims constitute the largest contingent of immigrants in Europe it should encompass a dialogue with the wider Islamic world as well.