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  Paradox of multiculturalism: tolerance for the intolerant?

Rimvydas Ragauskas
2012 09 10

In October 2010 the Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel announced that multiculturalism in Germany has “utterly failed”. This announcement reflected general moods in the crisis-driven EU, but the most important thing was that these words were said by the leader of Germany– she always tried to avoid sharp statements toward foreign-born people.

At the beginning of 2011 Angela Merkel’s opinion was supported by Prime Minister of Great Britain David Cameron and President of France Nicholas Sarkozy. In 2011, during the Munich conference, David Cameron expressed criticism about multiculturalism: “In the United Kingdom some young men find it hard to identify the traditional Islam practiced at home by their parents […]. But they also find it hard to identify with Britain too, because we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity. […] We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values.”

Several days after David Cameron’s statement, Nicholas Sarkozy said: ”Without any doubt, my answer is “yes”: it [multiculturalism] is a failure.  We have been too concerned about the identity of the persons who were arriving and not enough about the identity of the country that was receiving them. […]  If you come to France, you accept to melt into a single community which is the national community. And if you do not want to accept that, you cannot be welcome in France.”

Consequences of multiculturalism are often identified with the inability of new-comers from the Muslim countries to participate fully in the life of the host country, although this could be also applied with respect to all emigrants: language barriers, unemployment, abuse of social guarantees, new-comers’ lifestyle etc. Yet, most importantly, the European leaders first of all disclose much deeper discrepancy of multiculturalism which could be referred to as a paradox of multiculturalism.

According to the paradigm of multiculturalism, acknowledgement of cultural differences is a requirement of justice, and society is strong when all people are accepted the way they are, whereas the paradox of multiculturalism occurs due to the imbalance between the theoretical assumptions of this paradigm and its practical realization. The multicultural paradox is the exaggeration of the minorities, their culture, lifestyle and differences to a point where the idea works against the main principles of multiculturalism fostering open minds and tolerance. The reasons which created the preconditions of tolerance toward the foreign-born resulted in the emergence of various taboo preventing the majority of the socium from the expression of their own identity and from the criticism of the lifestyle of foreign-born (first of all the Muslims). Affected by this paradox discussions between various public groups have been suppressed, though multiculturalism should encourage dialogue between communities.

Multiculturalism promoting the coexistence of various communities could be quite controversial if we look into the common core of the EU identity. EU is a family of European countries united by the core values: democracy, tolerance, respect of human rights, freedom of speech etc. These criteria define the European community, therefore situation resulting from multiculturalism is contradictory: apart from the local nations, communities of democratic states have religion-based communities which do not recognize human rights (e.g. the role of women in the Muslim societies), freedom of speech, principles of democracy, and do not self-identify as members of the state they reside, including the country’s culture, traditions, outlook, lifestyle etc.

It should be noted that the above words do not refer to all immigrants, even the immigrants from the Muslim countries. Yet, politicians frequently refer to Muslims (their number in Europe has been steadily rising) when discussing the alleged failure of multiculturalism. Their inability to become part of Western societies increases the danger of extremism, social exclusion and hostility. The issue of loyalty to the state where they live is also painful: if part of the diaspora identifies with the radical Islam, these people might support terrorism, be hostile toward Western countries and reluctant to integrate into the social environment of the host state.

We should acknowledge that national though indirect support of the approach dividing society into groups looks strange, and that avoidance of discussing the issues inconvenient for the foreign-born, have nothing to do with the real tolerance. Therefore debates and the search for the ways of integrating foreign-born communities into social life are the first steps which could break the taboo and initiate serious discussions on how not to live apart when living together.

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