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Multiple division

Is the sun setting on multiculturalism?

Issue: "Libyan exodus," March 26, 2011

If one world leader says it, it's a tic. If two say it, it's a trend. If three say it, it's a tide. And when more prime ministers, legislating bodies, and men-on-the-street chime in, we might hazard a guess that the mighty wheels of established public policy are squealing in reverse. Specifically, it looks like the decades-long European cult of "multiculturalism" is coming to an end.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Oct. 16 speech to the youth wing of the Christian Democratic Union sounded the first clear note, especially in its most-quoted line: "[T]he tendency had been to say, 'Let's adopt the multicultural concept and live happily side by side . . .' But this concept has failed, and failed utterly."

In February, UK Prime Minister David Cameron agreed, in a more nuanced fashion, that "under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream. We've failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong." A few days after Cameron's speech, French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed his own position: "We have been too concerned about the identity of the person who was arriving and not enough about the identity of the country that was receiving him." He made the statement in a televised debate, confirming, in answer to a follow-up question, that efforts to accommodate religious and cultural differences were clearly a "failure."

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Broadly speaking, Merkel's doubts about multiculturalism are based on economics, Cameron's on democratic values, and Sarkozy's on national identity. Lesser dignitaries have been more blunt. Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of France's National Front party, equates the Muslim practice of public praying with the Nazi occupation. Horst Seehofer, state premier of Bavaria, has said, "I don't have to recognize anyone who lives from the state, rejects that state, refuses to ensure his children receive an education and continues to produce little headscarfed girls." Last November the easy-going Swiss voted to ban minarets; in January tolerant Swedes elected a significant number of anti-immigrant right-wingers to parliament.

Patience with immigrants-particularly with vocal or violent radical Muslims-is understandably wearing thin. But the pendulum, as pendulums tend to do, may well swing too far to the other side. Angela Merkel's speech came only days after a well-publicized study reported that 30 percent of Germans believed their nation was "overrun by foreigners," while 13 percent would welcome a Fuhrer to apply "a firm hand" to reckless economic and social policies. Of such restless mutterings dictatorships are spawned, and spaghetti-spined multikulti is no corrective.

Multiculturism is defined simply as "respect for other cultures," but, as anyone who's ever suffered through a diversity seminar knows, the flip side is lack of respect for one's own. That's what David Cameron was getting at in his speech: How can Muslim immigrants even begin to identify with British culture when the Brits themselves are busily denying its worth? Jahan Mahmood, a second-generation immigrant who works with Muslim youth in Birmingham, observes that whites and Muslims feel alienated from each other-which seems only natural, but Mahmood, a historian, insists it wasn't always so, or not for everybody.

During the glory days of the Empire, hundreds of thousands of Indian Muslims voluntarily joined the British army and served with valor. Why? Because they saw something worthy of serving: the old liberal virtues of freedom of speech and worship, equal rights, the rule of law. That respect lingers in the noisy streets of the Middle East, where people are rebelling in the name of freedom who have never experienced it.

"Multiculturalism" as it's understood today has as much to do with authentic culture as Vegas' Venetian Casino has to do with Venice. It's a political invention, not a social phenomenon. The rootless young men of Mahmood's Birmingham neighborhood, both English and Muslim, are alienated from their own heritage as much as from each other-a possible metaphor for Europe as a whole. We aren't there yet, but without a whole-hearted commitment to historic Western virtues we soon will be.
Email Janie B. Cheaney

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.


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