Why Merkel's attack on multiculturalism is wrong
Oct 17, 2010

Why Merkel's attack on multiculturalism is wrong

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel made disparaging remarks about multiculturalism on Saturday claiming it has "failed, utterly failed". Her comments both implicitly and explicitly reference in particular Islam and immigration. I find her comments to be not only wrong and misappropriating the problems but to be fundamentally damaging. Sadly, these comments are part of a larger pattern of xenophobia - particularly islamophobia - that is sweeping through the west.

I should make the distinction at the outset about the descriptive versus normative definitions of the word. The descriptive definition of multiculturalism simply describes a demographic reality while the normative definition is claim that we ought to both accept and even praise cultural diversity within our society. This is in contrast with a normative "melting pot" aim where one aims for increasing homogeneity and integration within society. Merkel's comments are a little of both, they are claiming that (descriptively) the existing demographic diversity is harmful and further that (normatively) we ought to not maintain multiculturalism as a goal.


Additionally, Merkel's comments need to be seen within the context of a larger movement of cultural nativism, anti immigration, xenophobia and in particular islamophobia that is sweeping the west. From French and Quebec movements to ban the niqab and burqa in various settings, to the Swiss banning of minarets to the American outrage at the ground zero mosque, the sad reality is that islamophobia and very public attempts to quell aspects of their culture are very prevalent throughout the west. Merkel's comments are I believe a reflection of this building momentum - even if said with the best of intentions. Islam is the world's fastest growing religion - largely through pollution growth resulting from a delayed modernization of Islamic host countries - an large Muslim immigrant pressure face much of Europe while large Mexican immigrant pressure dominate in the US. This is why (more even than terrorism and the wars I think) that Islam is such a focus in Europe.

Given this preamble, we must now address the question of whether multiculturalism has failed. Perhaps the clearest way to see the value of multiculturalism especially with regards to immigration is to step back a moment and look at the history. The pattern repeats itself over and over. A new wave of immigrants arrives for various socioeconomic or political reasons and are very often demonized at the time for being a source of whatever the countries current problems are (such as unemployment in the US) get blamed in the new wave of immigrants (in this case, Mexican and in particular illegal immigrants). After perhaps a generation or so, the communities become integrated into the society and indeed considered a part of the society. At times throughout the US history the Irish, Germans, Chinese, Japanese and many others major immigrant groups have been cast in a very negative light only to now be considered a part of the societal fabric and beneficial to the US at large.  So when we see today how Mexicans and Muslims get so quickly vilified we have to ask, is this really the first group where, contrary to this historic pattern of discord than acceptance and mutual benefits, they are actually going to be a long term problem? At the least, we see that such a claim would require an extraordinary amount of support in order to maintain such exceptionalism.

Far from being damaging, multiculturalism is beneficial to societies. It allows for the best aspects of a diverse array of cultures, traditions, ideas, experiences and expertise to flourish. Instead of being suppressed, this diversity should be embraced. In the west we typically embracing the market as the optimal medium for determining the best economic choices, yet seem hesitant to extend this to culture as well allowing cultures to "compete" freely, side by side, without animosity. It is important to realize that one can not immediately decouple aspects of a culture. People feel I think this need to restrict things they dislike - such as the nicab - while being okay with a cultural shift to things they do like - such as sushi. The problem is that such a decoupling of the good and bad aspects of a culture (as decided by whom?) cannot take place over night and should one try to restrict some aspects of Islamic culture it will amount to a suppression of the culture at large, build animosities and burn the bridges that lead to acceptance of the "good".

More than just being wrong, her comments are also harmful and serve to inflame passions, entice resentment and hurts relations. For the immigrant, it is easily perceived as a message that they are not wanted or accepted as who they actually are. Can you imagine your leader saying that the very idea of having your cultural identity coexisting was a failure? This would hardly be motivator for accepting the native culture. For the host residents however it is almost worse. It apologizes, justifies and normalizes their intolerance. Someone who thinks or acts in an intolerant or perhaps genuinely bigoted way now has their leader dismissing the idea of multiculturalism. Even if they were true, no good can come of statements like these.

Regardless of any benefits or harm of multiculturalism seen a priori or through the example of history, a support of multiculturalism is also a moral issue. Allowing people to freely express a cultural identity as they see fit is simply a morally obligatory thing to do. Attempting to curb this expression by mandating through the government what people can wear or where and how their religious buildings should be and look like is an unacceptably immoral action.

I have written before with respect to granting statehood to nations how giving acceptance to a distinct community is, perhaps counterintuitively, a step along the path to a post-national world with innumerable multilateral beneficial relationships. Giving state hood allows for the building of genuine relationships between nations opposed to a subservient relationship. The same is true here with distinct cultural groups taking a miniaturized role of "nations". The goal for supporters of multiculturalism is not necessarily distinct from the goal of an integrated society free in animosity and exhibiting much cohesion and multilateralism. Indeed, the first step to allow such integration is to embrace people for who they are, make them feel welcomed, and reach out to their culture. Acceptance of other cultures is thus a precondition to a genuinely mutually beneficial relationship. Forcing them through social pressure or government policy to instantly adapt to an inflexible cultural paradigm will only breed animosity and prevent this free flow of culture. No society that is unwilling to change will ever prosper, history has been very clear about this, and multiculturalism is an important way we can embrace positive change.

Living in Toronto, sometimes referred to as the most multicultural city in the world, I can see an example of multiculturalism working daily. One only needs to take a single subway ride to see many different ethnicities represented (it is effectively impossible for black, Asian and caucasions to not be found on any given car) and not uncommon to hear people chatting in Farsi, Spanish and Cantonese all on the same subway. The other day I sat beside three nicab clad girls gossiping about Lady Gaga. Ethnic food from around the world, all different types of religious buildings, neighborhoods for many different countries around the world (I live in between a predominantly Italian and Ukrainian neighborhoods) don't just exist but flourish. Religious and racial conflict is amazingly low and the result is a wealth of cultural diversity that I find far more aesthetically compelling than the homogenized cultures of many other places.

Don't get me wrong, I fully understand legitimate challenges exist and a simple comparison to Toronto is not fair. The lack of acceptance, for instance, is of course often as much on the immigrants side as it is on the host countries native side. What I would suggest however is that it is through being accepting and trying to work together that these legitimate problems can be best solved. Further, it is important not to generalize the issues or to attack symbols of the issues. For example, a surge of immigrants does indeed suppress the labour markets. Often immigrants take low pay jobs undesirable by the resident populations, but it is a pressure nonetheless. One can attempt to resolve this problem but should not conflate the issues by attacking the immigrants at large. Especially when it comes to symbols of their culture. This is the case with the niqab which has become a symbol for a lot of what the west perceives as "wrong" about Islam. Regardless of the justification of these claims, the widespread support that often exists for banning this is symbolic of the larger islamophobia that exists.

I conclude by noting that while I have been rather disparaging towards those who aim to combat multiculturalism, I do find it quite a natural sentiment and am not surprised or angry at an individual who thinks this way. The reason is simple. We grow up in our own cultures all our lives; we believe in the values and traditions of our cultures. When we see a force of change on our current culture it is quite natural to desire to resist it. Especially when our lives face challenges and we experience a locally zero sum loss (an immigrant got our job) it is easy to appropriate the anger at them and not see the larger societal way in which multiculturalism is not at all zero sum.

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19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just my two cents: I think she did not talk against multiculturalism (as a societal concept) but about being laissez-faire about it. If anything, her speech meant that she wants to put intergration of foreiners into the soceity to top priority. She did not put it very well, though...

Hegelincanada\'s blog said...

There is very little in German immigration history that spells Multiculturalism. And while parts of the integration of "people of other cultures of origin than German" may have failed, it is hard to blame that on the limited and half-hearted German attemps at multicultural policies (15 years), when that came after 60 years of actively attempting to keep immigrant groups separate from the German population,
Maybe Merkel needs a crash course in the History of German Immigration Policies?

bazie said...

Ya that is a good point hegel, even the attribution of the all of the German immigrant problems towards "multiculturalism" goes to far. A lot of the problems undoubtably stem from NOT engaging in genuine multiculturalism.

jasonc65 said...

That sounds like one issue the Iron Frau has her head screwed on right about. She's a fresher voice than John McCain on that issue. Say no to Islamic Jihadists!

jasonc65 said...

I got news for you: Germany is not Nazi; Dar al-Islam is.

bazie said...

You are making a false equivalence between Muslims and jihadists.

jasonc65 said...

There is no false equivalence. Muslims feel more affinity with their own fundamentalists than with the moderates of any other religion. Muslims are sympathetic to the myths of their religion, as with all religionists. Muslim myths are of the worst kind, because they inspire all the violence Islam is known for. The most liberal Christian cannot help having some sympathy with the notion of the innocent lamb of God taking on the suffering of the world because it's in their religion, whether they take it literally or not. I'm one of those who actually take it literally. It's the same with liberal Muslims; they cannot help but sympathize with the notion of Muhammad as God's messenger because it's in their religion, whether they like it or not. They also cannot help believing in some idea of jihad; they may spiritualize it away by saying it refers to spiritual warfare or whatever, but they cannot denounce jihad by name, just as liberal Christians cannot denounce the cross of Christ by name, however much a metaphor it has become.

Here is what happens in debates. A liberal Christian gets in a debate with a fundamentalist Christian, and the debate is about whether the cross of Christ is literally the means by which the believer has peace with God and gets forgiveness. If the debate is allowed to be had based on what the Bible says and the Bible is allowed to be assumed to be correct, the fundamentalist wins. But often even that premise is not agreed upon. Even the fundamentalist acknowledges such a thing as separation of church and state. At best, the liberal is kicked out of the church. In many churches, the liberal actually wins or gains much influence.

Not so in Islam. There, everyone assumes the Quran is infallible because that's what they were taught. When the fundamentalist debates the liberal, the fundamentalist always proves his point by backing it up with the Quran and always wins.

Fundamentalist Christians used to impose their sect on other Christians, and they used to not understand separation of church and state. Thus Catholics and Protestants did not tolerate each other. That was when times were dark and people lived in ignorance. Luther and Calvin did not comprehend religious freedom. Rogers and Hutchinson did. As knowledge increased and political freedom gained ascendancy, fundamentalists and moderates would get in debates, and when the issue was doctrine, the fundamentalist would win, but when the issue was liberty of conscience the moderate or liberal would win, because the fundamentalist could not prove from the Bible that God commanded the church to control the state and impose religion by coercion. In fact, the moderate could prove just the opposite: example could be drawn from the scripture that union of church and state was not a good thing. In fact, the Pauline doctrine of Christian liberty supports religious freedom. So eventually a more enlightened fundamentalism would arise that still held that the Bible was true and that its doctrines meant what they literally said; yet God was to be worshiped in liberty and the state's function was separate from that of the church. Thus the Christian today understands that "there is no compulsion in religion".

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Continued...

Islamic fundamentalists, on the other hand can always prove from the Quran what they have always taught from the Quran: not only Muhammad is God's messenger but God has ordained bloody war in his name to conquer the infidel. They can also prove that God abrogated things he once said, because the Quran says that now there is compulsion in religion, even if at one time there wasn't. In Islam God is clever, and he is good at pulling the wool over your eyes; if he said while his messenger was still a minority leader in Mecca: "there is no compulsion in religion", he does not mean that now. Hugh Ross has a problem with the idea that God deceives people into believing that the earth is billions of years old; Muhammad would have no problem with that at all. Muslims have a word for it: Taqiyya, lying under contract. Arafat used Taqiyya in an attempt to deceive Israel and its allies and was proud of it.

In short: Muslims hear from jihadists, Muslims are brothers with jihadists, Muslims become jihadists, Muslims are jihadists. The reason no-go zones exist is because the Muslim immigrants actually were jihadists. The equivalence is not false. It is reality. Just as there is no false equivalence between Muslim and sexist or between Muslim and Jew-hater. It is no small wonder that Hitler loved the Quran. As I said, Germany is not Nazi; Islam is.

jasonc65 said...

She is also right about multiculturalism. That notion is almost useless. Multiculturalism is almost equivalent with cultural anthropology. I was took an easy-A course in that subject.

Here is an excellent website devoted to debunking the notion:
http://www.multiculturalbunk.com/

They make the point that there is good culture and bad; good culture does not need migrants to spread; only bad culture does. Islam must spread by the sword because Islamic sexism is very undesirable. Chinese food spreads itself, because people like it (although the site actually thinks this is overrated). Christianity has many desirable elements such as forgiveness. The relationship Jesus had with Mary of Magdalene (and it was not sexual nor marital) is a good model of gender relationships, unlike the picture of Muhammad and his sex slaves.

So I say down with multiculturalism. The word itself is monstrous. Multiculturalism is racist and divisive. Let people live in enclaves as they choose. Let them teach their kids in segregated schools, as long as the schools are private. Let there be Anglo-Saxon enclaves as well as Black African. Allow people to learn from each other from a distance as well as from suitably chosen visitations. But do not force them to mingle against their will. That is coercive. And when the people want to enter the mainstream and give up their quaintness, allow them the freedom to do that, too. After all, the most valuable thing is liberty. Do not force the bushman to remain in the bush. Do not keep the Muslimahs in sexual slavery. Permit the Black American to be a Bush-loving Republican. Allow the Amish to become mainstream Baptists. And never, ever assume that anyone claiming to represent an ethic group actually speaks the true feelings of all of them. The NAACP may not agree with a particular person of color.

Multiculturalists/anthropologists/cultural materialists/Marxists have a way with words, and it is a bad one. They make up monstrosities when plain English (or plain German, or plain French, or plain Spanish, or conversational Latin) would do. They use words that are unnecessary. They fill their papers with meaningless fluff. They are vague. Their vagueness trickles down into more mundane subjects, such as project management: I just took a course in it, so I should know. Marvin Harris taught me nothing of value. Let's cut the crap. Use plain language, not vague drivel. Say what you mean, not what sounds over your head.

When it comes to sexism, do not say: it's a Muslim thing, you wouldn't understand. Say it's a despicable thing, and we despise it.

bazie said...

"In short: Muslims hear from jihadists, Muslims are brothers with jihadists, Muslims become jihadists, Muslims are jihadists"

Islam is not a monolith, its 1.5 billion people have tremendous diversity. Statements like this are simply bigoted, there is no way around this. If you read your posts, almost every single statement is a generalization - bigoted, without justification, and patently false.

I submit that few words I could say would change your mind at this point. What I would suggest instead, is that you seek out forming a friendship with a muslim in your community. This is easy in a city like Toronto, I don't know how difficult it is where you live. Perhaps if you became more familiar with everyday muslims living in the west, you would not be so tempted to make such gross generalizations.

jasonc65 said...

Muslims don't want me for a friend. The Quran forbids. Allah says they will receive no help from him except by way of precaution. That is not a bigoted statement; it is a fact. Muslims are bigots. Any that doesn't want to be one doesn't want to be a Muslim. Please do yourself a favor and get your head screwed on right. I see Merkel already has hers. The police should cordon off the no-go zones and forbid food to enter. That would be a simple solution and effective.

jasonc65 said...

Islam is a monolith, like Microsoft Windows. You cannot extend it; you cannot plug it into feminism; you cannot run a free republic on it because it will crash. Islam is a monopoly; it tolerates no competition. This is not a bigoted statement; any Linux user would understand.

jasonc65 said...

I am a proud Islamophobe. Everything about Islam is repulsive; I do not mince words about it. I do not apologize. Muslims beat their wives. The Quran says they are to. Muslims are also bisexuals, rapists, and child molesters of the worst kind. Muslims own black slaves. They still do today. A moderate Muslim is like moderate Nazi. Islam is totalitarian. Muslims hate Jews. Nazis hide out in Muslim countries and are treated with hospitality even today. Muslims are murderers. Muslims are liars. Never trust a Muslim who tells you he is not like the rest of them. He is practicing Taqiyya, which is lying under oath. It's OK with him. He will go to paradise, which is an eternal orgy, while you will go to the hell fire as the Evil Quran says. Do not trust the leftist who says that Islam is morally equivalent to Western society from which feminism originated. He too is lying under oath.

jasonc65 said...

Muslim areas are no-go zones for the police. Very well, they should be no-go zones for food, too.

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