Europeans Against Multiculturalism

Political Attacks Misread History, Target Muslims, and May Win Votes John R. Bowen

British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Chancellery in Berlin / The Prime Minister’s Office / Flickr(cc)

One of the many signs of the rightward creep of Western European politics is the recent unison of voices denouncing multiculturalism. German Chancellor Angela Merkel led off last October by claiming that multiculturalism “has failed and failed utterly.” She was echoed in February by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron. All three were late to the game, though: for years, the Dutch far right has been bashing supposedly multicultural policies.

Despite the shared rhetoric, it is difficult to discern a common target for these criticisms. Cameron aimed at an overly tolerant attitude toward extremist Islam, Merkel at the slow pace of Turkish integration, and Sarkozy at Muslims who pray in the street.

But while it is hard to know what exactly the politicians of Europe mean when they talk about multiculturalism, one thing we do know is that the issues they raise—real or imagined—have complex historical roots that have little to do with ideologies of cultural difference. Blaming multiculturalism may be politically useful because of its populist appeal, but it is also politically dangerous because it attacks “an enemy within”: Islam and Muslims. Moreover, it misreads history. An intellectual corrective may help to diminish its malign impact.

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