Understanding the European-wide assault on multiculturalism

Understanding the European-wide assault on multiculturalism


Written by: Liz Fekete

In singling out multiculturalism as a threat to national identity, the leaders of Europe’s centre-right parties are using the same kind of rhetoric and specious arguments as Enoch Powell did forty years ago.

The leaders of mainstream political parties across Europe are, one after the other, announcing the death of multiculturalism in their countries. They tell us of the need to focus instead on national identity. The language, terms and metaphors used subtly (and in some cases crudely) convey a sense of national victimhood, of a majority culture under threat from Muslim minorities and new migrants, who demand special privileges and group rights and refuse to learn the language. What this amounts to is the mobilisation by leading members principally, but not entirely, from the centre right, of a new popular ‘common sense’ racism against Muslims and foreigners. It is a racism that builds on the proliferation of stereotypical generalisations about ‘Muslim culture’ and the Islamic mind-set that have been generated over the last decade. We are witnessing the revival of arguments first used by Enoch Powell, the Conservative shadow defence secretary who was sacked by Edward Heath in 1968 for his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech that warned of the dangers posed by mass immigration from the New Commonwealth.[1] Only this time, it is not one rogue European politician carrying the flag, but the leaders of centre-right parties now replacing race and immigration with culture and religion as the watch words. And it is taking place at a time of economic crisis and swingeing cuts, when politicians are desperate to deflect public anger and explain away societal break down.

Sarrazin establishes framework

In the last six months, leading (mostly) centre-right politicians from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom have made speeches, heavily trailed in the media, attacking what British prime minister David Cameron described as ‘the state doctrine of multiculturalism’ or what leading Norwegian Conservative Torbjørn Røe Isaksen dismissed as ‘the naive liberal ideology that people can live together in peace and freedom if they just understand each other well enough’.[2] One of the factors driving the current discussion was the publication in Germany in August 2010 of Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany Abolishes Itself), a book by Thilo Sarrazin, a Social Democrat (facing expulsion) and former member (he was sacked) of the Executive Board of the Deutsche Bundesbank. Deutschland schafft sich ab, now in its sixteenth edition, is one of the most-read books in Germany since Mein Kampf, and its publication has made Sarrazin a millionaire many times over. Many German citizens, particularly among the middle classes, are drawn to Sarrazin’s message that a once great nation is now at grave risk of descending into idiocy as immigrants (i.e. Turks) are genetically of lower intelligence and have higher fertility rates. Since his removal from the board of the Bundesbank, there is increasing support for Sarrazin as a victim of political correctness. Since opinion polls and surveys across Europe routinely show immigration to be a key voter issue and that voters would like to see restrictions on freedom of religion for Muslims, the Sarrazin view poses a very real problem for mainstream politicians. How can they distance themselves from such arguments, clearly based on a revival of Social Darwinism, while not criticising or losing out on the votes of his avid followers?

The solution for many German politicians is to publicly criticise Sarrazin’s tone while arguing that when it comes to issues of multiculturalism and integration (of Muslims in particular), Sarrazin might just possibly have a valid point. The debate that Sarrazin unleashed had particular resonance in other German-speaking countries such as Switzerland and Austria. Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the extreme-Right Freedom Party (with 27 per cent of the vote, the second largest party in Vienna) identified himself with the ‘hunted’ Sarrazin who deserved to be given political asylum in Austria.[3] Austria’s interior minister , Maria Fekter (Austrian People’s Party, ÖVP) went further than other senior Conservatives when she too identified herself with Sarrazin, saying she felt ‘confirmed’ by the debate he had initiated.[4] Ever since 2009, Fekter had been under attack from NGOs working in the fields of immigration, refugees, human rights and anti-racism who initially refused to endorse the assimilationist bent of her National Action Plan on Integration (NAPI) and accused her of pandering to Islamophobia and stereotyping Muslims with her emphasis on integration into ‘values’ (suggesting Muslims were a threat to democracy and a state based on the rule of law).[5]

By October 2010, evidence emerged that centre-right politicians across Europe were using the Sarrazin thesis for their own political advantage as a means of introducing a strident assimilationist tone into debates on integration. As country after country plunged into economic crisis and austerity measures loomed, politicians began to identify multiculturalism with social regression and all that was tearing Europe apart. In Germany, where there will be elections in seven of the country’s sixteen states in 2011, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had previously described Sarrazin’s book as ‘not helpful’, set the parameters for discussion. She received a standing ovation from the youth wing of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) when she declared in a speech in Potsdam on 16 October 2010 that the multicultural society had ‘utterly failed’, that the ‘multikulti’ concept – where people would ‘live side-by-side’ happily – did not work, and that immigrants needed to do more to integrate – including learning German.[6] Sharing the podium with her in Potsdam was Horst Seehofer, the leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU, the CDU’s sister party in Bavaria). Seehofer declared that multiculturalism was dead, adding that the Right was committed to a ‘dominant German culture’ (Leitkultur).[7]

The outgoing Belgian prime minister Yves Leterme (Christian Democrat & Flemish party – CD&V) stated in a radio interview on 2 November, on the eve of a visit by the German Chancellor to Brussels, that he believed Merkel to be right in her remarks in so far as ‘the policies of integration have not always had the beneficial effects that were expected of them’.[8] Other Conservative leaders – from French president Nicolas Sarkozy, Dutch deputy prime minister Maxine Verhagen, to Danish Liberal Party immigration minister, Søren Pind and the British prime minister David Cameron – strove to introduce variations on Merkel’s theme. Verhagen (Christian Democrat Appeal, CDA) repeated Merkel’s claim that multiculturalism had failed, stressing that the Dutch no longer felt at home in their own country while immigrants were not entirely happy either, and called on the Dutch to be prouder of their nation.[9] During a television interview, and using a characteristically impatient tone, Sarkozy declared that ‘We do not want … a society where communities coexist side by side. 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.'[10]

Søren Pind, Denmark’s controversial newly appointed immigration minister – a former advisory board member of the notorious Free Press Society[11] – spoke out in favour of assimilation, ‘as a mixture of cultures does not work’. ‘It should be set in stone,’ Pind argued, ‘that Denmark only has room for foreigners that adopt and respect Danish values, norms and traditions; if they don’t, they shouldn’t be here at all.'[12] At an international security conference in Munich on 5 February 2011 (the same day that the far-Right English Defence League was marching through Luton), British prime minister David Cameron pitched in declaring that ‘under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream’. The ‘weakening of our collective identity’, furthermore, in what could be defined as ‘a passively tolerant society’ needs to be replaced. With possible reference to the 19th century ethos of muscular Christianity – widely seen as a key engine driver of British colonialism – Cameron argued in favour of a ‘much more active muscular liberalism’.[13]

Multiculturalism as proxy

All the European Conservative and Liberal party leaders and government ministers, in making these statements, presented themselves as courageous iconoclasts. They imply that multiculturalism has become a form of political correctness against which it is difficult to speak out. Through what Cameron describes as a ‘hands-off tolerance’, states have conceded too much power to minorities. This idea that, through an excess of generosity and decency, countries have put in place benign multicultural policies, is part of a European-wide myth constructed over the last decade. So too is the notion that politicians are now doing something new in attacking multiculturalism. The term may be the new bogey but it is in fact merely a proxy for Powell’s idea of aggressive immigrants and their supporters, out to ‘overawe and dominate the rest’.[14]

Enoch Powell was the British Conservative MP who, in the late 1960s, systematically tried to establish the idea that immigrant workers were an alien horde violating the deepest instincts of a culturally homogenous people. But Powell had admirers on the continent, like the far-right Swiss MP James Schwarzenbach. He called in 1970 for a national referendum on Überfremdung (excess of foreigners). Ulrich Schlüer, Schwarzenbach’s secretary in those days, is now a Swiss People’s Party MP who has taken to campaigning against the excesses of Islam. He was co-president of the Swiss anti-minaret movement that successfully campaigned via referendum to forbid the construction of minarets.

Powell and Schwarzenbach’s flame was kept alive in the UK in the 1980s by a coterie of New Right ideologues (influenced by Friedrich Hayek) including Roger Scruton (founder of the Conservative Philosophy Group), philosophy professor Anthony Flew and head teacher Ray Honeyford – with their supporters in the tabloid press. They drew on the Powellite heritage to launch a concerted attack on cultural pluralism/multiculturalism which they said had given rise to a ‘reverse racism’ and a cultural relativism which posed a threat to the unity of the British nation and its (superior) values and traditions. (The Institute of Race Relations was, for example, attacked for the ‘bias’ in the educational books ‘Roots’ and ‘Patterns of racism’ it had produced for young people [the media suggested they were so inflammatory as to have ignited riots by black youngsters in north London and extreme-right politicians asked the government to ban them from schools and shops] and for the position taken by its director, A. Sivanandan, whose anti-racist ‘mischief’ was specifically deplored in the book Anti-racism – an assault on education and value edited by Frank Palmer, The Sherwood Press, 1986.)

Again, there were similar movements on the continent, such as the Nouvelle Droite in France, whose theorists Pierre-André Taguiff and Alain de Benoist attacked anti-racism as a form of xenophobia and the German academics in the Heidelberg Circle which, in 1982, issued a manifesto arguing that citizenship via naturalisation threatened the ethnic purity of the German Volk. For many of today’s European advocates of New Right thinking Enoch Powell still remains the iconic figure – a hero in the rightwing resistance to immigration and multiculturalism. For instance, the Swiss People’s Party MP Oskar Freysinger, in his keynote speech at the December 2010 ‘Against the Islamisation of Europe’ conference in Paris (jointly organised by the fascist Bloc Indentitaire and the Left Riposte Laïque) declared Powell his hero while calling for the ‘Swiss model’ of banning minarets to be exported to other European countries.[15]

Could this attack on multiculturalism have been more coordinated than it appears at first glance – particularly since the European People’s Party (the largest grouping in the European parliament, with 256 members) reacted coolly to the Party of European Socialists’ call in October 2010 for all European parliament groupings to adopt a five-point code of conduct on isolating the extreme Right? Indeed, since the Dutch Conservatives and Liberals entered in September 2010 into a coalition government, which is reliant on the support of Geert Wilders’ Islamophobic Freedom Party, it has become clear that centre-right parties are preparing for future power-sharing with the extreme Right, as tacitly acknowledged by Wilfred Martens, the President of the European People’s Party. He said that while Conservatives would not work with the extreme Right in the European parliament, the European People’s Party would not dictate to national parties, thus leaving the door open for collaboration at a national, regional and local level.[16] It would seem that the centre Right is responding to the greater coordination of the European anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim electoral forces in preparation for the 2014 European parliament elections by embracing their arguments. This mirrors the way Margaret Thatcher stole the clothes of the National Front in January 1978 in her notorious ‘swamping’ speech. It is no exaggeration, therefore, to say that the centre Right and the extreme Right are simultaneously building on the anti-immigration, anti-cultural pluralism and anti-anti racism legacy of Powell and the New Right. In line with the whole shift in racism following the war on terror (from anti-black to ‘civilisational’ racism) culture and religion have now replaced biology and colour in a discourse where multiculturalism is being used as the whipping boy, to explain away the impact of the economic and social crisis.

Mobilising the majority, establishing victimhood

In fact, this new New Right discourse closely resembles the old Them/Us, black/white debate. There is again the playing of the ‘race card’, only now it is the ‘Islam card’ or the ‘anti-Muslim card’ which is most often dealt in electoral politics. It is true that few of the political leaders speak in overtly anti-Muslim, or anti-Islamic terms. But some, like Bavarian prime minister Horst Seehorfer or French president Nicolas Sarkozy, certainly do. Seehorfer was accused of indulging in ‘arsonist-style rightwing populism’ when he railed against the difficulties posed in integrating immigrants from ‘other cultures’, namely ‘cultural circles’ like ‘Turkey and the Arab countries’ and called a halt to all such immigration.[17]As fears grow that the deeply unpopular Nicolas Sarkozy could even be knocked out in the first round of the 2012 presidential elections by the Front National’s (FN) Marine Le Pen, and some Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) politicians openly discuss local and regional survival through a UMP-FN pact, Sarkozy announced in March 2011 a national debate on Islam’s place in secular France. Even before the national discussion took place, Sarkozy was offering a list to journalists of things that France definitely did not want: halal food options in school canteens, prayers outside mosques, veils, definitely non – and oh, non to minarets![18]

Other politicians play the ‘Islam card’ in a more roundabout way and with qualification to establish their bona fides. But once their speeches are decoded, much of the same anti-Muslim message breaks through. As a former head of communications at Carlton Television, the British prime minister David Cameron has emerged, in the last few months, as the past master of argument by qualification. Cameron’s discourse is perfectly crafted à la English liberal, the reasonable man par excellence. In his Munich speech, for instance, he spoke approvingly of Islam as a peaceful religion and criticised the ‘hard Right’ for its ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis, something he thoroughly rejected. But as the theme of his Munich speech was Islamist extremism, terrorism and national identity, when he argued that we have been ‘too cautious, frankly even fearful, to stand up to them’, even in the face of the ‘horrors of forced marriage’, there can be no doubt that ‘them’ meant Muslims. And here once again we see the redrafting of the theme of ‘aggressive minorities’ out ‘to overawe and dominate the rest’. But if Cameron echoes the Powellite theme of aggressive minorities dominating the rest of the nation, his delivery is studiously without Powell’s emotionalism and inflammatory language.

All the political leaders purport to represent the voice of the beleaguered majority, but define the majority culture and the national identity that they are defending in different ways. In some cases, the politicians argues that the case against Muslims and immigrants (the two seem interchangeable, there doesn’t for instance seem to be a single German Muslim in the whole of Germany, only Muslim immigrants) is made on the basis of secularism, Enlightenment values and liberalism. In other cases it is made in defence of Christianity, or the Judaeo-Christian western tradition. In a few cases it is even made on behalf of the white majority. The choice of words, the juxtaposition of arguments, draw from a lexicon of victimhood: the majority are victimised by the minority, national identity is under threat from ‘alien cultures’.

In Germany, where every one of these elements has been at play, it is the Christian leitmotif that is emerging as the dominant note in the debate about Leitkultur (leading culture). The fact that German culture is now defined by the Christian religion is a fact deplored by the respected philosopher Jürgen Habermas, who senses that behind this is a relapse into an ‘ethnic understanding of our liberal constitution’. ‘With an arrogant appropriation of Judaism – and an incredible disregard for the fate the Jews suffered in Germany – the apologists of the Leitkultur now appeal to the “Judeo-Christian tradition” which distinguishes us from foreigners’, laments Habermas.[19]

Like Cameron, Angela Merkel attempted to be conciliatory in her Potsdam speech, stating that Islam was part of Germany. But she immediately cancelled that out by arguing in the next breath that Germany was defined by Christian values and that ‘those who do not accept this are in the wrong place here’. Since Merkel’s speech, several leading Bavarian politicians have made the link between German nationalism and Christianity even more forcefully. The Bavarian interior minister Joachim Herrmann for instance stated, ‘Our fundamental values are clearly grounded in the Christian-western tradition. Germany does not want to integrate to Islam but rather to preserve its cultural identity’.[20]The Bavarian minister for social affairs, Christine Haderthauer argued for a hierarchy of religions stressing that ‘religious freedom must not become religious equality’.[21] And, at the beginning of March 2011, after a gun attack at Frankfurt airport which left two US servicemen dead, the new federal interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU) declared that Islam did not belong in Germany. In his first press conference as a minister, Friedrich said that while Muslims should be allowed to live in modern Germany, ‘to say that Islam belongs to Germany is not a fact supported by history.'[22]

Another tack altogether has been taken by the German federal minister for family, youth and seniors, Kristina Schröder (CDU) who (apparently unable to grasp the essence of racism ) is in charge of government policies to counter far-right extremism. In an interview with the Bild newspaper, which focused on the problem of Muslim youth, Schröder declared that ‘we are dealing with fundamentally hostile attitudes towards other groups – particularly against Germans and Christians. We need to act as decisively against this as against xenophobia.'[23] Her comments came during a vigorous debate in the right-wing media promoting the New Right ‘reverse racism thesis’, and suggesting that the biggest threat to Germany came from ‘hatred against Germans or ‘racism against white Germans’. The argument of reverse racism with Germans as the true victims of the Muslim population, is gaining ground. The Stern TV even promoted a survey on the topic, the conclusion of which was that 85 per cent of white German participants said they had experienced discrimination.[24] That Schröder, the minister in charge of preventing extremism, could make recourse to the New Right reverse racism thesis is disturbing in itself. But when it happens whilst there is an upsurge in far-Right violence and Islamophobic attacks in Berlin, one has to question whether she should be handling the brief to counter right-wing extremism. Since November 2010 several mosque and cultural centres have come under repeated arson attack. At least thirteen arson attacks on residential buildings of migrants in Berlin Neukölln took place in the first three months of 2011.[25]

Nativism, jobs and benefits

The fact that mainstream politicians are now speaking to the fear and hatred promoted by the extreme-Right’s anti-multicultural platform, and thereby legitimating conspiracy theories about Muslims, is not lost on the extreme Right. As an excited Geert Wilders told the Spiegel news magazine, both Merkel and the CDU have taken ‘the lead in the domain of Islam criticism’.[26]The FN’s Marine Le Pen told the Financial Times, David Cameron’s attack on the failures of multiculturalism is ‘exactly’ the ‘type of statement that has barred us from public life for thirty years. I sense an evolution at European level, even in classic governments. I can only congratulate him.'[27]

In most cases, centre-right politicians frame their attack on multiculturalism in terms of a need to dismantle barriers to integration or, even, in the case of Søren Pind, assimilation. They steer clear of the extreme-Right’s inflammatory rhetoric, with its undertone of cultural cleansing. But this is not always the case. Nicolas Sarkozy rarely fails to reach for incendiary vocabulary. But his repeated attempts to rally FN voters often rebound on his own party. Thus, in March 2011, Sarkozy had to sack his diversity adviser Abderrahmane Dahmane after Dahmane called on all Muslim members of the UMP to withhold party membership unless the national debate on Islam and secularism was cancelled. In fact Sarkozy’s wish-list – no Muslims praying outside, no halal meat options in schools, and no minarets – is merely a pale reflection of the FN’s programme, as UMP members full know. In December 2010, Marine Le Pen compared Muslims praying in the street outside the overcrowded mosques of certain Parisian neighbourhoods to the Nazi occupation and described fifteen areas of France where Muslims so worshipped as occupied territories.[28] And the FN has launched its own programme against halal products, claiming that the majority of meat sold in supermarkets is halal, but the consumer is not being informed, even suggesting that eating such meat could somehow lead to the conversion of non-Muslims![29]

But all those politicians who single out the multicultural society as a threat to national identity also speak to the agenda of national preference that has always been central to the extreme Right. Just as Powell’s attacks on immigration led to the closing of the door to primary immigration from the New Commonwealth through the immigration acts of 1968 and 1971, today’s attacks on multiculturalism have brought in their wake a round of policy proposals aimed not just at Europe’s Muslim communities, but also at residents, Third Country Nationals, migrant workers and new arrivals. Islamophobia is the route politicians have travelled in order to introduce new legislation to deny migrant workers access to public services, potentially exclude long-settled immigrants from a range of social benefits, and establish a policy of national preference (nativism) in employment. In this sense, it is true to say that Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism today also serve an economic purpose.

Merkel in her Potsdam speech did not just attack multiculturalism. She also, crucially, declared that immigrant workers should not be considered for jobs ‘until we have done all we can to help our own people to become qualified and give them a chance’.[30] National governments used to guarantee their citizens full employment, but no-one speaks of full employment anymore. As unemployment soars and employment rights are rescinded, as governments attack pension rights and the rights to sickness benefits, the discussion on employment resolves around the threat to ‘native workers’ posed by foreign workers. How can we discriminate against foreign workers, or in the words of former British prime minister Gordon Brown protect ‘British jobs for British workers’. Already in Denmark in July 2010, Karsten Lauritzen, integration spokesman for the ruling Liberal Party (Venstre) suggested paying immigrants half the current minimum wage. Even some in his party were horrified, and other politicians argued this would stigmatise immigrants and lead to hostility as they would be seen to undercut the wages of Danish workers.[31] And in the Netherlands, where there has been a poisonous debate on migrants from eastern Europe, most of whom are on short term contracts via employment agencies, Marnix Norder, the Hague City Council member in charge of integration policies (Labour Party, PvDA), published a policy paper in November 2010 advocating that the ‘tsunami’ of eastern European migrants be sent home. Of course he had ‘nothing against them individually, but there are so many’.[32]

The centre right is establishing a narrative, with some centre-left parties following suit, to justify the biggest round of public spending cuts since the 1920s, blaming the current economic crisis not on the bankers and the global financial crisis, but on immigration. Witness David Cameron’s address to party members in Romsey, Hampshire on 14 April. Though drawing from his usual bag of caveats, Cameron, with a nod to Powell, blamed New Labour for presiding over ‘the largest influx of people Britain has ever had’, adding that ‘mass immigration’ had placed ‘pressures on communities up and down the country’, ‘on schools, housing and healthcare’.[33] The coalition agreement of the Dutch Liberal and Christian Democrat parties, which depends on the support of Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party, on coming to power in September 2010, included five pages of proposals aimed at ‘a substantial reduction of immigration’. Soon Wilders was warning the coalition that there would be trouble ahead if immigration from ‘non-western countries’ was not reduced by fifty per cent. Only the amendment of five EU directives and four European Treaties could realise Wilders’ dream, according to Professor Cees Groenendijk, an expert on national and EU law.[34] But the coalition government’s riposte (to keep Wilders quiet ) is to exclude certain groups from public services, establishing thereby, a system whereby new migrants are taxed but denied access to key services. It is an approach being perfected in Denmark where the Danish People’s Party, in return for propping up the Liberal-Conservative coalition, has established a stranglehold on immigration policy. There has been a long debate in Denmark about the cost of immigration in which the DPP has created the fiction that non-western immigrants take more out in benefits than what they contribute in taxes and national insurance payments. Following the establishment of a cross-party committee to investigate foreigners’ rights to public services, the Danish government outlined in April 2011 twenty-eight proposals – all of which are targeted at foreigners – to ease the pressure on the welfare state. Migrants will have to earn their right to healthcare and social services, but will still have to pay taxes. Other proposals include: mandatory private health insurance for foreigners in their first four years in the country; foreigners having to pay to visit the doctor in their first two years; extending the required residency of foreigners to qualify for housing subsidies; reduced child care benefits in the first two years.[35] The government has also proposed a change to pension rules for refugees, establishing a requirement that they have lived in Denmark for forty years before they qualify for a full pension.

Language as nation

A recurring theme in the debates about multiculturalism and national identity and immigrants and Muslims causing the economic crisis, is the issue of language or, more accurately ‘language deficit’. Government hypocrisy is at its most blatant when immigrants are blamed for not learning the language when the self-same government slashes funding for language provision. As the Austrian cabinet approved new pre-entry integration language requirements, and the Social Democrat Conservative coalition government considered new legislation which would lead to the deportation of immigrants whose German does not reach a certain level in the first few years of living in the country, the Green party spokesperson for integration in Vienna, Alev Korun warned, ‘The German language is increasingly being used as a marginalisation tool’.[36] David Cameron, in his Hampshire speech, even went so far as to blame those who fail to learn the language for the breakdown in neighbourhood connectedness stating that ‘real communities’ are bound together by ‘common experiences … forged by friendship and conversation’ so that when ‘significant numbers of new people’ arrive in neighbourhoods ‘perhaps not able to speak the language’ neighbourhoods become more ‘disjointed’. In an interview with the Guardian, German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble (CDU) underlined his belief that it had been a mistake to recruit so many guest workers from Turkey during the economic boom of the 1960s. He claimed that he now found that some people were living in Germany who do not speak the language.[37](It is worth noting that in times of full employment and when countries such as the Netherlands and Germany relied on foreign workers from Turkey and North Africa, the fact they did not speak Dutch or German never seemed to cause a problem.) At the October 2010 party conference in Munich, the CSU adopted a seven-point plan which included sanctions against those immigrants who could not speak fluent German. Proposals in other European countries are also based on sanctions for a so-called language deficit.

A new word has been coined in German – Integrationsverweigerer (literally integration refuser). It is used to describe those immigrants who show a lack of willingness to adapt, for instance, by failing to attend German language classes. The language issue is so potent for those who want to revive German nationalism that the rightwing Bild has backed an initiative by the Association for the German Language and the Association for German Cultural Relations to change the German Constitution so that the primacy of the German language is acknowledged. The paper is encouraging its readers to send letters to the Association for the German Language stating ‘I don’t want third generation immigrant families who refuse to learn the language of the country they live in’. The fight to defend cultural, religious and civil rights in Europe – which currently centres around the veil, mosques and minarets – may have to extend to include a fight to preserve minority languages. Cameron’s observation that ‘real communities’ are forged by ‘friendship and conversation’ can easily morph – as indeed it already has, on occasion, in Berlin and, in the past, in Rotterdam – into an administrative instruction that no foreign languages be spoken in the playground or in public spaces. Kenan Kolat, chair of the Turkish Community in Germany clearly saw such regressive thinking as a distinct possibility when he warned that if the German Constitution were indeed changed there had to a sub clause to the effect that ‘The state must respect the identity of cultural and linguistic minorities’.[38]

Thanks to Sibille Merz for research on Germany.

References: [1] For a discussion of those arguments, and how they were revived during the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, see Nancy Murray, 'The press and ideology in Thatcher's Britain', Race & Class, Winter 1986. [2] Interview with Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, Klassekampen, 15 February 2011. Translation by Mari Linløkken. [3] Austrian Independent, 7 October 2010. [4] Austrian Independent, 4 October 2010. [5] See the critique of Carla Anna Baghajati, 'Almost worse than Strache', Die Presse, print edition, 4 November 2009. [6] Guardian, 18 October 2010. [7] Ibid. [8] Migration News Sheet, December 2010. [9] DutchNews.nl, 15 February 2011. [10] Agence France Presse, 12 February 2011. [11] Pind resigned as a member of the board in 2009 following the prosecution of its chair, Lars Hedegaard - a member of the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party - who was acquitted on a technicality of violating Danish anti-racism laws following a prosecution for comments to the effect that girls in Muslim families are 'raped by their uncles, their cousins or their fathers'. Free Press Society-Denmark was created in 2004 by Lars Hedegaard, a newspaper columnist, citing increasing pressure on free speech, and the 'cartoons crisis'. It is linked to the International Free Press Society whose Board of Advisors includes leading neoconservatives and New Right figures such as Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer, Geert Wilders and regular Fox News commentator Andrew Bostom. [12] Copenhagen Post, 9, 17 March 2011. [13] 'David Cameron's speech on radicalisation and Islamic extremism, Munich, 5 February', New Statesman, 5 February 2011. [14] Speech delivered on 20 April 1968 which continued: 'As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman I seem to see "the River Tiber foaming with much blood".' [15] 'Quand les assises de l'Islamisation applaudissent Michel Onfray', Les Indiginès de la République, 16 January 2011. [16] EU Observer 16 October 2010. [17] The accusation was made by Claudia Roth, the co-chair of the Green Party. See Guardian, 11 October 2010. [18] Guardian, 4 March 2011. [19] Jürgen Habermas, Leadership and Leitkultur, New York Times, 28 October 2010. [20] Migration News Sheet, November 2010. [21] Migration News Sheet, November 2010. [22] The junior partner in the coalition government seems to be hostile to the stance taken by the other two parties, which seems driven by the Christian Social Union, which has strong roots in Bavarian Catholicism. Justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger (Free Democrat Party FDP) attacked the minister, stating that 'of course Islam belongs in Germany', adding that 'I assume that the new minister will follow the lead of his predecessor and will take his responsibility for integration policy seriously, and campaign for cohesion rather than exclusion.' Guardian, 4 March 2011. [23]Bild, 2 November 2010. [24] 'Deutschenfeindlichkeit - Realität an Schulen?', STERN TV, 21 October 2010. [25] Migazin, 24 March 2011. [26] Earth Times, 7 November 2010. [27] As cited in Guardian, 11 February 2011. [28] Telegraph, 12 December 2010. [29] Financial Times, 9 February 2011. [30] Guardian, 17 October 2010. [31] Der Spiegel, 15 July 2010. [32] Dutch News, 2 November 2010. [33] Guardian, 14 April 2010. [34] Migration News Sheet, November 2010. [35] Copenhagen Post, 7 April 2011. [36] Associated Press, 6 March 2011. [37] Guardian, 18 March 2011. [38] Deutsche Welle, 9 November 2010.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

2 thoughts on “Understanding the European-wide assault on multiculturalism

  1. I understand your concern about Islamophobia, but I think you’re overlooking the fact that Europeans are seeing the tolerance we’re so very proud of being gradually eroded in many of our cities. I myself am a Dane, and I’m a very socially progressive and liberal one at that, but the policy of multiculturalism, along with a stream of asylum seekers, has not been a particularly good one.

    Assaults by conservative Muslims (note: not ALL Muslims) against gays and lesbians have skyrocketed, as have verbal and physical assaults on Jews and even women. Some parts of Copenhagen are “no go zones” for many Danes because of a parallel society that has been established there, with immigrants enforcing “their” cultural rules.

    As a proud liberal I am all for helping and welcoming those who seek asylum from conflict zones or political oppression, but we must do this more intelligently. We need a policy of assimilation, not multiculturalism. I cannot remain silent any longer when the safety of other minority groups and women are being put at risk in the name of being tolerant to every cultural value.

  2. I simply couldn’t depart your web site before suggesting that I really enjoyed the usual information an individual supply to your guests? Is gonna be again ceaselessly to investigate cross-check new posts

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