Is Multiculturalism a Problem?

| Forum Columnist

Coming hot on the heels of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s comments on multiculturalism, another head of state has fired broadsides into Europe’s integration policy. Last Saturday, British Prime Minister David Cameron criticized Britain’s “state multiculturalism,” calling instead for “muscled liberalism.” Along with France’s recent law banning the burka, this new attack on multiculturalism is in reality a thinly veiled (pun fully intended) barb aimed at Muslims.

Behind the bravado it is hard to see this as anything other than political posturing. Throughout Europe there has been a resurgence of the far right, surfing on the current wave of Islamophobia. A book recently came out in Germany condemning the Turkish minority and, instead of being denounced, 61 percent of Germans said they agreed with the author’s arguments. The English Defence League held a demonstration against Islam in Luton. Other countries like Austria and Switzerland have also had to deal with a renewal of intolerance, with far-right parties entering government. Political leaders have been reacting to what they perceive as a shift of the center ground.

The problem with the critiques is that they announce the failure of a system because of a very small minority. Most second-generation immigrants are proud of their home country and of their roots. Being an English Pakistani is not an oxymoron, just as it is not incompatible to be French and English, or Chinese and American.

There seems to be a particular problem with Islam. It is extremely unfair to tar everyone with the same brush. Islam has often been painted as intolerant and disrespectful of other cultures. This view has been extended to all of Islam, not just extremists: One of Cameron’s main accusations was that Muslims were doing very little to fight extremism.

However, all around the Middle East, different communities have been calling out for an end to conflict. After the terrorist attack in Alexandria, one would be forgiven for considering Egypt as an unlikely place for religious harmony. How surprising, then, to see Muslims and Christians forming a human shield around each other during prayers in Tahrir Square, putting their own lives in danger to protect members of other faiths.

It should be obvious to everyone that the problem is not religious but social. If young Muslims in England are turning to violence, it is not Islam’s fault, but because they feel increasingly hemmed in. There is no chance for them to move up in the world. With no hope, it’s no wonder that some may feel tempted by radicalism. When presented with a system that doesn’t seem fair, it’s normal to try to look for a substitute. Just like Communism before it, radical Islam has spread in countries where government is weak and poverty is rife. Instead of taking the easy route and announcing the failure of multicultural policies, Europe’s leaders need to find a repairman for their broken social ladder.

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