Political Retreat from Multiculturalism?
Here are my final thoughts, ideas and meditations related to the subject of this course, and to some connections between policy and multiculturalism in particular. The biggest challenge to multiculturalism may not be philosophical but political: a political retreat or even backlash against immigrant multiculturalism in particular. Some scholars have diagnosed a “retreat” from multiculturalism in Europe and Australia, which they attribute to a lack of public support based partly on the limited success of such policies to foster the integration of minorities (Joppke 2004, McGhee 2008). But other scholars argue there is lack of evidence of any such retreat. Based on their analysis of British policies, Varun Uberoi and Tariq Modood find that legal exemptions for minority religious practices, anti-discrimination measures, and multicultural education policies remain in place, and there is no country-wide evidence suggesting that public services are no longer delivered in different languages (2013, 134). Further research is needed on whether and why there has been a retreat from multiculturalism policies.
Perhaps the claim about a “retreat” from multiculturalism has less to do with any actual changes in state policies and more with concerns about lack of social unity and increasing tensions among diverse groups in liberal democratic societies and the sense that multiculturalism is somehow to blame. Consider then-Prime Minister David Cameron's 2011 speech: “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 [young Muslims] feel they want to belong” (Cameron 2011). According to Cameron, multiculturalism stands for separation and division, not integration and unity. But the survey of different theories of multiculturalism above demonstrates that most theories of immigrant multiculturalism do not aim at separation but rather devising fairer terms of inclusion for religious and cultural minorities into mainstream society (Kymlicka 1995).
Public debate about immigrant multiculturalism should be pursued in a broader context that considers the politics of immigration, race, religion, and national security. Multiculturalism may become an easy rhetorical scapegoat for public fear and anxiety when national security is threatened and when economic conditions are bad. In Europe, concerns about the radicalization of Muslim minorities have become central to public debates about immigration and multiculturalism. This is especially true in the face of the European migration crisis as over a million people fleeing war and violence in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere have made perilous journeys by sea and land into Europe. The migration crisis has tapped into fears about terrorism and security, especially after the November 2015 Paris and July 2016 Nice attacks; it has also renewed concerns about the limits of past efforts to integrate newcomers and their descendants. Evidence from across Europe suggests that Muslims are struggling to succeed in education and the labor market in comparison to other religious and cultural minorities (Givens 2007). Socioeconomic and political marginalization interacts with immigrants' own sense of belonging: it is hard to imagine newcomers feeling integrated before they make significant steps toward socioeconomic integration. Integration is a two-way street: not only must immigrants work to integrate themselves, but the state itself must make accommodations to facilitate integration, as many multicultural theorists have emphasized. As Cecile Laborde observes, North African youth in France are “routinely blamed for not being integrated,” but this blame “confuses French society's institutional responsibility to integrate immigrants with immigrants' personal failure to integrate into society” (Laborde 2008, 208). The challenge of integrating immigrants has been heightened by increasing public acceptability of expressions of anti-Muslim sentiment. The rise of far-right political parties and their anti-Muslim publicity campaigns, coupled with the media's willingness to report, often uncritically, their positions damage the prospects for integrating Muslims in Europe (Lenard 2010, 311). Muslim political leaders report that it is “part of mainstream public dialogue” to refer to the “menace of foreign cultures and the threat posed by immigrants in general, and Muslims in particular, to social solidarity and cultural homogeneity” (Klausen 2005, 123). Muslims have been, in Laborde's words, “reduced to their presumed identity, culture, or religion, and consequently stigmatized as immigrant, Arab, or Muslim” (2008, 17). The challenges posed by integrating Muslims are thought to be more complex than the challenges of integrating earlier waves of immigrants, but as Patti Lenard argues, this alleged complexity derives from the simplistic and unfair elision between Islamic fundamentalism and the vast majority of Muslim minorities in Europe who desire integration on fairer terms of the sort that multiculturalists defend (Lenard 2010, 318).
In conclusion, I can assume that in light of these concerns with immigrant multiculturalism, multicultural theorists need to continue to make the case that the ideal of multicultural citizenship stands for fairer terms of integration, not separation and division, and offer answers to questions such as: Why is multicultural citizenship more desirable than the traditional liberal ideal of common citizenship based on a uniform set of rights and opportunities for everyone? Are multiculturalism policies actually fostering greater integration of immigrants and their descendants? How should we think about the relationship between multiculturalism and struggles to address inequalities based on race, indigeneity, class, gender, sexuality, and disability? It is also important to study the development of multiculturalism beyond the West, including whether and how Western theories and practices of multiculturalism have traveled and been incorporated. For example, what lessons have states that only recently opened up to significant immigration, such as South Korea, drawn from the experiences of other states, and what sorts of multiculturalism policies have they adopted and why? (Lie 2014) This is what we could probably decide to ponder on in more detail after completing this highly informative and thought-provoking course as well, I think.