Monday 1 November 2010

Three Cheers for Multiculturalism

This post has been inspired by the recent comments from Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel.  Speaking to members of her own party (CDU) she asserted that, “multiculturalism has failed, utterly failed.”   In making this claim she seems to have a very limited understanding of what multiculturalism is about.  She said that allowing people of different cultural backgrounds to live side by side without integrating had not worked.  She then went on to say that this (multicultural) approach has failed.  This would seem to suggest that it is the failure of immigrants to integrate which has caused the failure of multiculturalism.
However by focusing solely on the demand that immigrants integrate, she clearly implies that the host nation and population do not need to do anything.  As usual blame the victims.  In another part of her speech she lets the cat out of the bag when she added: "We kidded ourselves a while, we said: 'They won't stay, sometime they will be gone', but this isn't reality."  As an outsider it seems to me that this is precisely the key to the particular difficulties now faced by those countries such as Germany which treated immigration as only a temporary phenomenon.
The workers and their families who came to Germany from the 1960s onwards were always referred to as Guest Workers.  People who would sooner or later go back home.  Thus there was never any expectation or requirement that they integrate into German society.  Why should Turkish immigrants go to all the bother of learning German and German customs if they were only here as temporary Guests?  And, most important of all, why would the German authorities, whether Federal, Land or local, spend good taxpayers money on helping those temporary guests integrate.  
To the extent that integration is crucial to the success of multiculturalism, then it must always be borne in mind that integration is a two way process.  While the immigrant population can be legitimately expected to learn the language and main customs of the host country, the host population has to be willing to accept the new arrivals as future citizens with welcoming arms.   And this is what does not seem to be happened in Germany, at least not in the early decades of immigration.  Angela Merkel would be better to look at the failures of Germany policy towards the immigrant Turkish community rather than blaming the immigrants.
This is not of course an important issue only in Germany.  All European countries have had problems in welcoming immigrants.  Scotland and the UK as a whole has had some terrible experiences in the past in failing to integrate immigrants.  Jews, East Europeans have all suffered from discrimination and violence from the local population.  In Scotland the most notable victims of this hostility to immigrants were the Irish who came to live and work in Scotland (and other parts of the UK) in the 19th century.  What is most interesting about this group was that the Irish were fellow citizens of the UK at that time, and in their majority spoke English.  Yet they still suffered great hostility and discrimination.  In part this was because they were seen as a threat to jobs and houses and so on.  The standard accusation thrown at all immigrants.  But what stood out in the hostility to the Irish immigrants was that they were Catholic.  Scotland at that time was an overwhelmingly Protestant country and many, perhaps most, Scots had a very strong dislike, verging on hatred of Catholicism.  This hostility and remnants of discrimination was to survive into the 1960s.  Thankfully it is now pretty much reduced to the mutual loathing between the football supporters of Rangers and Celtic.  Indeed in the past three decades there have been two very successful Papal visits to Scotland.  Something that would have been unimaginable only 50 years ago.
Returning to Germany and this notion that multiculturalism has failed as a result of the lack of integration by the immigrant community.  I would suggest that the experience of the Irish in Scotland and the rest of the UK, shows that integration is not the key issue at all.  The Irish immigrants were UK citizens and spoke English.  It was their religious differences that generated the hostility.  Then the victims were Catholics.   While now of course, in Germany as in most other European countries it is Muslim immigrants who face the brunt of popular hostility. 
In the long run these conflicts tend to die out.  In Scotland for example there is a large and flourishing Catholic community well integrated into all aspects of Scottish society, yet still Catholic and predominantly of Irish origin.  Likewise there are smaller, but equally flourishing Jewish, Hindu and Muslim communities throughout Scotland.  All continue to make Scotland a more attractive and interesting place in which to live.  The long run can however be a long time a’coming and meanwhile great damage can be done.  If integration is to be promoted then more Europeans need to welcome Muslims as fellow citizens and integration will follow.

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