Angela Merkel’s recent assertion that multiculturalism in Germany has been an utter failure has prompted strong reaction from all quarters. Conservatives, in Germany and elsewhere, have agreed with her, nodding their heads, thanking the stars that someone finally said what was on everyone’s mind. Political correctness be damned, said they, assimilate or be gone. Progressive observers were shocked, and those still a little leery of German resurgence, found much grist for their mill.
Moving away from the cultural and economic arena, within which this debate is largely raging, let’s look at the issue from the perspective of security. Is a multikulti society more or less likely to erupt into violence? Is integration the answer, or would attempts to force it merely provide the sparks that might ignite the powderkeg formed by masses of unemployed ‘Others’ within countries like Germany, France, Britain, and America? This is not a problem for tomorrow, but one for today, as locations like Arizona–and I am not saying that they have it right–have signalled.
As an interesting starting point, we might examine the concept of ‘security community’, originally devised by Karl Deutsch in 1957, with reference to the North Atlantic Community. He believed that in such a security community large scale violence would be unthinkable. The community was founded on the
agreement on at least this one point: that common social problems must and can be resolved by processes of ‘peaceful change’, [which is] the resolution of social problems, normally by institutionalised procedures, without resort to large-scale physical force.
While Deutsch applied this concept amongst states, it must also be applied within states. Societies must also rely on processes of peaceful change, if any sense of security is to be had.
Working four decades later, Adler and Barnett amplified Deutsch’s theory, adding that in order to be a security community, there must first be a
sense of community, mutual sympathy, trust, and common interests.
This, then, brings us back to Merkel’s conclusion. The idea behind a multicultural society is that there could be these things–mutual sympathy, trust, and common interests–even in the midst of co-existing groups, be they racially, ethnically, linguistically or religiously defined. Starting with the idea of ‘tolerance of difference’, but moving well beyond it to advocating ‘respect for diversity’ and then moving further still to championing the image of a modern society as a ‘cultural mosaic’, the process–the project–of multiculturalism has taken on several forms, from a legalistic liberalism to a crusading cosmopolitanism.
But has it worked? Merkel is not alone in doubting it. Belgium seems to have decided that its ‘biculturalism’ is not worth the beer, and even Canada–a nation of immigrants–is asking itself whether or not the project has been successful. What if there is no sense of community? What if vast masses of disgruntled gastarbeiter in Germany, the unintegrated inhabitants of les banlieues, or the indigent Roma in Italy cannot be trusted, and the problems which arise between ‘them’ and ‘us’ cannot be guaranteed to be resolved peacefully?
What if our societies are not, in and of themselves, security communities?
What can we do to ensure that Bradford, Luton, and Brixton do not become battlefields? What is the compromise between ensuring ‘freedom of religion’ and preventing sharia courts from punishing women for not wearing veils outside their homes?
If Merkel is right–if multiculturalism is not the answer–what is the solution?