Multiculturalism in Europe is a Failed Policy

The July 22nd massacre in Norway has reignited the same-old debate: Does multiculturalism in Europe work? Flare-ups of terrorism, xenophobic rhetoric, and a deep cry for nationalism have been around for centuries, however, threats of terrorism which nations face today are different from the nationalistic uprisings of centuries past. For years, arguments that multiculturalism has failed have made international headlines. Multiculturalism has failed, namely because it promotes the exclusion of the migrant community. Europe in particular needs a new integration policy, as recent events in the Arab world bring an influx of migrants and serious demographic changes sweep across the continent. 

Poor integration policy is obviously a very real security threat; we’ve seen attacks in London, Madrid, and race riots in Paris, Marseilles, and Lyon.

We need to better understand the problem. Integration policy in Europe has always focused on the political inclusion of migrants and their offspring, but not on societal inclusion. While Britain recruits foreign writers, teachers, and community leaders of Muslim origin for programs at the local level, the country is still developing a curtain of isolation for these migrants from the host society. “Integration” constitutes a multitude of factors. Stemming from this are issues of cultural identity, political participation, and acceptance of host country values, as well as factors such as economic deprivation and marginalization as an ethnic and religious minority.

Similarly, host-country natives must be willing to accept migrants as rightful members of society. In the 2002 French elections, 20% of voters supported the nationalistic far-right ideologies of Jean Marie Le Pen, further bolstering xenophobic and racist sentiment. People in power, politicians, and the media must stem the tide of this damaging rhetoric. It is a difficult task to ask society to change deep-rooted perceptions of national identity and threats to it, but for politicians and the media to encourage and adopt similar sentiments of fear only spreads the fire.

Traditionally, the concept of security has referred to threats against territory and the necessity to keep the unity of the state in terms of military and political means. Today, however, that definition has changed and become more ideological, focusing on the societal and cultural homogenization of the state. The media is especially guilty of employing terms with negative connotations when referring to immigration, such as a “flood,” “invasion,” and “intrusion” of immigrants.

For much of the past decade, Europeans have identified migration as one of the most significant threats to national security and cultural tradition. Policies in the EU promote cultural homogeneity as a stabilizing factor, and in this context, immigration becomes destabilizing and is seen as a security threat to Western societies. For example, France in April 2011 enacted legislation forbidding women to wear a full-faced veil in public. President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party supported this on the grounds of “public security and as an important assertion of French identity and values.” 

Migrants are generally viewed as an obstacle to cultural uniformity. Public opinion of immigrants hinders their ability to integrate successfully. Rhetoric fuels and encourages nationalist, racist, and xenophobic responses to immigrants, which further propels the idea that the immigrants and their offspring are serious burdens to European states and have no place in European society.

Anders Behring Breivik is not the first truly native terrorist, (anyone remember Timothy McVeigh?), and he won’t be the last, but the alarm bells going off after this horrific incident in Oslo should call for immediate scrutiny of how the native population perceives foreigners. 

Migrants have always been easy scapegoats; history can attest to that, and in a forlorn economic climate, with tepid political uncertainty, the rhetoric spouted by the media and politicians can spark further terrorist attacks. Multiculturalism misses the root of the problem, as what really needs to change is Europeans’ perception of immigrants. 

Photo Credit: francisco_osorio

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Kasia Broussalian

Kasia Broussalian is a publicist and writer at The New School in New York City. She is a recent graduate from New York University, where she studied international relations. Prior to coming to the city, Kasia worked as a documentary photographer and multimedia journalist in Colorado and throughout the Southwest.

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