Monday, March 7, 2011

My editorial on the failure of multiculturalism with Glyn Ford

The ‘Failure’ of Multiculturalism

Glyn Ford, former MEP

Terri Givens, Associate Professor, University of Texas at Austin

Over the past few months we have seen Angela Merkel, David Cameron and most recently Nicolas Sarkozy in serial denial of "multiculturalism". They point to problems in communities of immigrant origin and leap to the conclusion that the sole reason for these problems is that these people have shown an unwillingness to submerge themselves in the culture and principles of their adopted homelands.

However, there is a major problem with these claims. Neither Germany nor France have actually ever pursued policies that any self-respecting social scientists would describe as “multiculturalism,” while many countries—like the Netherlands and Britain—gave them up a decade ago in the early 2000s. Instead it is clear that these leaders are using this false dichotomy to play to a populist xenophobia and tapping into a discontent with immigrants in general, and Muslims in particular, that conveniently scapegoats them for the wider problems caused by the global financial and economic crisis.

These sentiments echo those of recent books by French journalist Eric Zemmour and German social democratic politician Thilo Sarrazin blaming the decline of France and Germany on the influx of Muslim immigrants and declining birthrates of natives. The problem with all these approaches is that they feed directly into the discourses of extreme-right and anti-Islam forces that are on the rise again in Europe and threaten to compound rather than alleviate the real problems facing both the indigenous and immigrant populations in Europe's inner-city areas.

In the 1980s and 1990s there existed an elite consensus to fight the extreme right through anti-racism measures such as the European Union's Racial Equality Directive and a “cordon sanitaire” that kept right politicians from cooperating with the far right. This consensus collapsed as conservative governments came into power across Europe after 9/11. Now pandering to intolerance threatens to poison community relations for decades in exchange for cheap short-term political gains that will dearly cost Europe. If our political leaders think that the solution to the challenges facing us are to turn inward on ourselves, rather than to go forward together, they are leaving a toxic legacy for future generations to come.

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