Has Europe failed multiculturalism?


Photo by Michael Panse/Flickr

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent comment that German attempts to build a multicultural society have “utterly failed”, has prompted mass debate within Germany and in Europe. Up until Merkel’s comments, this topic was deemed too sensitive; a taboo within German society.

Yet even before Merkel made her speech in front of younger members of her party, the Christian Democratic Union, fears of the impacts upon German society were being expressed in the German press, with Islam purported as the main protagonist and focal point for criticism. So intense was the anti-Islamic feeling, prompted by former Bundesbank member and one-time politician Thilo Sarrazin’s book, ‘Germany Abolishes Itself’, that German President, Christian Wulff was forced to make a statement, insisting that Islam, “had become part of German culture”.

His statement was met with a hostile reception within the German press, with Bild newspaper accusing the President of “sucking up to Islam”. However Merkel’s comments only reflect a growing insensitivity and backward view of pan-Islamism on the European continent, with fellow European neighbours taking rash measures to counter the spread of Islam.

Not so long ago, Switzerland banned the building of minarets, while France’s Senate has just passed a bill banning Muslim women from wearing the veil. Furthermore, the Dutch government solely exists today because of the deal it struck with right-wing politican Geert Wilders, placing limitations on overt expression of Islam within the Netherlands. Moreover who are we to ignore the despicable behaviour towards Roma gypsies by the Italian and French governments?

The hostility towards Islam within Europe however prompts a wider debate about the repercussions that could be inflicted upon the continent. Whilst there is the obvious threat of international terrorism being thrust upon Europe’s doorstep, this also proves further difficulty in solving the ‘Cyprus problem’ and a possible backlash within the Balkans.

As a contender for EU membership for over a decade, Turkey, with a population comprised mainly of Muslims, has taken dramatic steps to fit in with the EU’s idea of a liberal democracy. However, the EU has strangled Turkey’s entrance into its club until both the latter and Greece resolve the issue of independence for Cyprus, with Greece ruling the South, and Turkey the North. It remains to be seen then just how this anti-Islamic sentiment affects diplomatic ties between Turkey and its European counterparts.

It seems then that Merkel’s remarks and the measures taken by other European nations to repel Islamic culture is in effect a ‘white flag’ to the concept of multiculturalism. The very fabric which holds Europe together, and which the EU has been promoting since the Treaty at Maastricht in 1992, is being ripped at the seams, and shows no signs of being repaired anytime soon.

The question is then: why has Europe’s attitude towards embracing multiculturalism stagnated or in some cases headed backwards? There are many strands of thought to this question; mainly derived since the attacks on 9/11, nine years ago. Furthermore it is also true that this feeling of hostility towards Islam has been purported and galvanised by the death of British and NATO soldiers, fighting in the ongoing military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The economic crisis has also been a significant factor in explaining the downturn in Europe’s actions towards promoting social integration. During times of crises it is often common for the political centre ground to be ‘drowned-out’ by the right and the left, as people search for an alternative for the political ‘norm’ that is the idea of compromise.

During these times of crisis people will not seek to rise above self-interest and for the benefit of the ‘greater good’; we only have to review the recent public mood in Britain and Spain to see the disdain sections of the public had for migrant workers and how it was perceived they were taking away jobs from citizens of those countries. It is ironic then that we forget just how important migrant workers and their families are to our economies and the money they pour into government budgets through direct and indirect taxes.

More importantly, it angers me to hear and see Europe as the beacon for human rights and yet we cannot afford to give immigrants the most basic of human rights: respect and dignity. In turn, how can we ever expect complete social integration if all we can offer immigrants is a paradoxical attitude; ‘we’ll tolerate you, so long as you don’t kick up a fuss’.

Unless Europe wakes up from its dormant status and seeks to regain the initiative in advancing towards a multicultural society, then how can we ever dream of living in one?

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