Multikulti: Scheitern oder Sicherheit?

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?


24 thoughts on “Multikulti: Scheitern oder Sicherheit?

  1. Chris says:

    As you indicate, to reach that conclusion – multikulti failed – you first need to define what exactly you see as multikulti and what parts of it failed. Merkel’s phrase must be criticised, as it does not offer any solution to that – as does your article.
    At the moment the topic of multiculturalism in Europe is getting securitised, implying that there is an imminent danger coming from it. But in fact, there is no such danger, at least not on a large scale.

    European states so far failed to name clear rules for coming into a country. Should language tests be required or not? Who should come into the country, only highly qualified people?

    Applying Deutsch’s inter-state theory to this intra-state problem will not get any nearer to the solution.

  2. seastar says:

    the brutal murderous business of war angela merkel adores
    creates millions of displaced innocent suddenly homeless stateless citizens of nowhere
    Instead of taking stand against wars she thinks it’s more courageous to criminalize the victims of greed and savagery
    is this the best she can do?

  3. Multiculturalism has never actually been German policy. This is a country where the establishment traditionally refused to acknowledge the existence of any immigrants. It’s been fairly routine for the more rightwing figures in the CDU/CSU (more so in the CSU) to harrumph about “christliche Leitkultur” for years.

    It’s probably more informative to realise that informed observers are talking about efforts inside the CDU to vote Merkel out as chancellor. The centre-right coalition is widely viewed as a failure, and among other things, it looks likely that the FDP is going to get spanked at the next election (remind you of anyone?).

    Merkel has always been an odd duck in the CDU – she’s Prussian, northern, Protestant, ex-East German, more liberal than conservative, and she’s a woman, all things that the party struggled to cope with (its stereotype is Bavarian or Baden Wurttemberg, southern, Catholic, West German and very NATO-minded, quite rightwing, and pompously male). Back in 2002, the party refused to accept her as candidate although she was the party leader and instead picked Edmund Stoiber, who lost the election through being too Bavarian, too Catholic, too southern, too rightwing, and too macho. She spent the next few years picking off the grey men one by one.

    Now her chancellorship has bogged down, they’re after her again, and this is an exercise in trying to undercut their support base with the cheapest possible weapon – talk.

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  4. olaf says:

    Many thanks for the posting and the comments.

    Most societies are a result of encountering cultures, with no exceptions. Even closing borders for three hundred years, as during Tokugawa Japan, could not change this because Japan at the time was already an amalgamate of Ainu, Japanese, Chinese, Jakutian, Mongolian, and Korean influences.

    If multi-culturalism is not the answer to Angela’s questions, creolization is it. This is nothing new. A German (or an Austrian) can easily find Roman, Baltic, Slave, Gallic, and/or Magyar ancestors to have composed his culture, even if he claims to be a representative of the ‘Christliche Abendland’. The typical German does not exist, and if so, he/she will disappear – something different will be typically German every twenty years or – currently its eating Döner Kebab, and having lots of beer with it.

    Angela Merkel’s true problem is not one of multi-culturalism, ‘multi’ means more than two. Merkel’s problem is one of dual culturalism, more exactly the tensions between Turkish and German people. There is, and there were never any comparable, significant problems with Italian, Yugoslavian, Greek, or Spanish guest workers in Germany.

    Much of the tensions mentioned is down to the fact that those Germans who always promoted multi-culturalism have been disappointed by the targets of their friendly ambitions. There was perhaps a desire for multi-power-flower-culturalism in German society in the 1980s and 90s, but it has never materialised as an official policy. Especially so because the Turkish recipients did not care about it.

    The turn of the ideological tide on the left (a result of this rejected “love amongst the peoples”) gives Merkel a perfect chance to pick up her ‘I told you so’ tirades. As said in a posting above, multi culturalism has never been official policy in Germany, and all you hear now from Merkel is pure conservative triumphalism – She says multi-kulti did not work, but the message is multi-kulti would not have worked. If one has no workable policy on offer, one can still blame others with the failure of a policy that has never existed in the first place – and get away with it.

  5. Formerly Grant says:

    If a liberal democracy tries to move away from the theory of peaceful interaction and tolerance I don’t think there really is a good alternative. Personally I hope that for the U.S at least the fears of Muslims and Hispanics is roughly equivalent to the fears of Catholics and Eastern Europeans decades ago; that is to say something to gradually fade away over time. For Germany and Europe in general who knows?

  6. Madhu says:

    I cannot escape identity politics on the internet, it seems.

    I started commenting on a fairly popular blog for the Indian American community years ago. I don’t comment there anymore. It’s changed and I am no longer interested in the topics discussed. I got tired, too, of constantly discussing racism. Or so it seemed to me.

    Sometimes I think those of us browns that don’t spend as much time thinking about racism in society are happier because we don’t see slights everywhere. That is not to say such slights don’t exist, but, seriously, some of the worst complaints on that website were about getting teased by other kids for “smelling like curry.”

    A lot of kids get teased. It’s just a facet of childhood. To put that stuff on the same spectrum as being threatened physically – or bullied – seemed utterly bizarre to me, and yet, the ethnic-studies types will get all hot and bothered. Well, it left me cold. Others had their point of view and I had mine. I am my own person. It’s not fair to lump me into a group just because you are trying to make immigrants feel better. I am my own person and I don’t need a government funded spokesman. I will make my own way if you just give me a fair chance. That’s how I felt about it then, and still do. I dislike authority. Can you tell? :)

    At any rate, the site had Indian readers and South Asians from Britain, Australia, Canada, and sometimes Germany. Oh, the online arguments! That’s why I’m so bossy and rude online sometimes, you know. My internet beginnings were as a part of a global diaspora arguing like we were all family or something.

    The individual must be at the center of any truly free society. The problem with certain identity politics, in my opinion obviously, is that some attempts to protect minorities from the majority might end up making the situation more difficult for the individual. What if your parents are terribly strict and don’t want you to marry outside your community? What if you do anyway, but the ethnic community you belong to disapproves, and in trying to support minorities, the larger culture looks the other way at your own individual attempts to be free? To be independent? To be your own person? What then? You are stuck. You are not brown enough, and yet, you are not white enough either. Where do you belong? Perversely, identity politics and multiculturalism as practiced by credentialed members of the state may increase immigrant alienation.

    Oh, this is just rambling. Sorry. I’ve spent a life time thinking about this stuff. I have contradictory thoughts and others in my ethnic community disagree with me. See? We are individuals, not interchangeable cogs of culture.

    I think you need a common civic culture and all parts of society must take part in that civic culture. Within that civic culture there exist not only rights, but responsibilities. To live as a full member of the society and enjoy its freedoms, the same must be asked of you as any other member of the larger society. When you give “outs”, you inadvertently create a second class citizen.

    Language is perhaps the best example. You need a common language in any given geographical area to order society in the most efficient way. That’s what language is for. You know, a lot of immigrants want to learn the language of their adopted countries. I know of many poignant examples where an immigrant would like to take an English class, but how, when, and where? They are shy to ask even as they know they should.

    In addition to language, you must all follow the same rule of law. It must be there to protect everyone, but if you allow “outs” for cultural reasons, you are breaking the civic bond. The welfare state is also problematic because how do you decide where your country begins and where it ends? What I mean is that a social contract must have clear boundaries. If you keep changing the rules – who is eligible, who is not, from exempting elites to recent immigrants – you create societal disruption. Can’t be helped sometimes, but you must understand that confusions will happen.

    Okay. I have to think about this some more. By the way, does anyone else find academic blogs like, well, this one, the best that academia can be? Any person may take part as long as he or she follows the blog rules. How wonderful.

  7. Madhu says:

    You know, it occurs to me that this falls along the old “melting pot” versus “mosaic” argument that takes place in America.

    I am partial to the melting pot, myself. If the larger culture should accept you, then why can’t you accept the larger culture? Tolerance and diversity and respect must go both ways. Where to draw the line will always be a moving target, but when you ask only certain groups to partake, you create resentment. How can you have common cause?

    • olaf says:

      It is interesting that Americans have such difficulties to recognise their own very particular case of acculturation. The US has perhaps been the only country where immigration went had in hand with a strong drive for ‘Americanisation’. Take the German immigrants to the North Western states for instance…how many Hans Müllers have become Jack Millers immediately after arrival? The Leitkultur was WASP, and it was admired and adopted. In Europe migration was not so much a ‘braking of all bridges’ to a former life…there peoples have always moved, and boundaries have always been moving to the extent that a person could change his nationality twice in a lifetime without ever leaving the village of birth. This hardly ever included a drastic cultural change. Belgium has longer been under Spanish rule than independent, and still the local Leitkultur remained Flemish.

      American ‘melting pot’ versus ‘mosaik’ discussions oversee perhaps the role of an agreed on Leitkultur. Cultural creolisation does not necessarily mean melting, mixing, or going along…it means adaptation plus cultural enrichment as it is accepted by the ‘early-arrivers’.

  8. Madhu says:

    Last comment:

    Your point about freedom of religion. The individual decides how he or she wants to practice, so your example isn’t valid in that sense. How is it freedom of religion if you – the individual – can’t decide how you want to practice? In your example, the freedom of the individual to practice as she sees fit is being denied by the state and by the courts.

  9. Sam says:

    Perhaps this is only tangential to the debate, but this particular sentence “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?” is somewhat unsettling, if one views it [as I did] through the lens of early civil rights discourse in the United States. Specifically, the arguments put forward by those who supported the mandate of ‘separate, but equal’. It might be simplistic to view it as such, but I don’t believe integration should be an ‘option’ to be debated. Whether a society/state arrives at it organically or otherwise, is a subjective choice, but arriving at ‘it’ should not be.

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  11. David Betz says:

    FB, great post, And really interesting comments, especially Madhu and Olaf. Many thanks. If I may add a few thoughts, you ask a question which I feel Government and society has been dancing around rather awkwardly no doubt because it is reluctant to admit of the possibility let alone likelihood:

    ‘What can we do to ensure that Bradford, Luton, and Brixton do not become battlefields?’

    I am rather pessimistic, I’m afraid. The answer at this point is not much. Over the last couple of decades we’ve done just about everything we could to encourage the increasingly resolute alien ‘otherism’ of the Muslim minority of the country (in which like we have complimented the efforts of Islamic extremists pulling from the opposite side hoping to achieve the same effect). Take for instance the general public stance on pictorial representations of Mohammed which says that this is absolutely wrong, fundamentally at odds with Islamic belief and tradition, which it decidedly is not. In actuality there’s a diversity of opinion on this in the Muslim world which is evident in the diversity of their artistic representation. It is the belief of conservative Muslims such as the Wahhabists that any and all representations of Mohammed are an affront and we have conceded to them the point. In effect lots of people who probably couldn’t give a crap get lumped in with the howling bug-eyed fanatic on the Karachi street demanding the head of some Danish illustrator. There are lots of examples of this alienating/polarizing effect ratcheting away on societal cohesion. Like for instance the way that the Government has basically conceded the point of there being ‘Muslim Areas’ of Britain into which even cabinet ministers could not intrude. Not so long ago a fanatic yelled just this thing at a visiting minister; but nowadays by and large I think it is a widely held view.

    I think the major reason that extremists are able to wrench society apart in this way does in a crude somewhat over-generalizing way come down to multiculturalism (or its underpinning philosophies). If you believe in inherent rightness and desirability of a large degree of cultural apartness when things are good and denigrate attempts to build some sort of cultural melting or demand outright assimilation then why expect that people will not retreat to more tribal identity when things are bad? What happens if, when, there is a Beslan-type attack in UK? Something of that order if not exact type? Will society be more unified or less as a result? My bet, less. You can see it already happening, here and also in the US faster than I thought it would, as intolerance spreads and hardens. It will crack at some point and the historical pattern of such upheavals tends to the ‘nature, red in tooth and claw’ sort.

    That these developments coincide with an historically deep economic downturn that is killing off the welfare state which one might argue has had an emollient effect is highly worrisome. Add in a couple of technological developments, most notably the Web which this estimable blog inhabits (thank you for the compliment Madhu), which means that even the extremest of extremists can find company, the proliferation of cheap weapons and knowhow for turning civil components into weapons, and a global mediascape which will broadcast and amplify the shock of your propaganda by deed and you have… what? A ‘perfect storm’, says I.

    Not sure if it can be headed off. But surely if there is any chance it starts with saying that as thinsg are currently constituted it seems a likely eventuality.

  12. wsam says:

    German politicians are currently visiting Toronto to see how multi-culturalism can be a success.

    However, I have lived in Toronto for years and feel most of the official cant supporting multiculturalism here to be little more than I’m-Okay-You’re-Okay sloganeering. It’s basically validating what people would do anyways, i.e. participate in practices culturally-relevant to them.

    Canada and Toronto’s success with ‘multiculturalism’ probably has more to do with Canada’s unique position as a wealthy society built by immigrants, lacking one dominant mythology. Interplay between French, English and Native communities means Canada has always been multicultural. It was the only choice we had. As for much of our history no one side could dominate the other. Many Canadians do not see this necessarily as a good thing.

    War Studies MA grad


    • olaf says:

      Native North-American Canadians are an interesting case. Few years ago I have visited the (Mohawk) Akwesasne reservation, which is 50 percent on US territory, and 50 percent on Canadian territory – North and South of the St Lawrence.

      The biggest variety there was one of police uniforms. US state police, US Mohawk police, Canadian police, red uniforms, blue uniforms, and Canadian Mohawk police. What a fine example of multiculturalism. The best thing was that the Mohawks – who did not think of themselves as US, or Canadian citizens, have the right to cross the border at will, the different police must not. At least, if Homeland Security has not changed that.


    • wsam says:

      They also carry their own Mohawk passports — recognized by both Canada and the US, but not, sadly, the UK.

  13. Daniel D says:

    Apart from the “Us vs Them, making Them US etc” and the variations on the arguments I am amazed to see such a topic come up for discussion on this blog.

    Not because I dont think its a relvant topic but because it shows how far the idea of what war and conflict are have changed over time. And perhaps its getting much closer to the point of studying war than any discussion of things like tanks, planes, Afghanistan etc are by trying to get to the core of what is driving the nebulous yet persistent threat of terrorism and forces of globalism, which seem to be much more of what war is in the modern age is than good ol WW2.

    Well done to FB for bringing this up.

  14. Madhu says:

    Hey, who reads the comments section around here?

    Most people instinctively understand the right approach to integration. We just have to articulate and enforce it. This approach is to distinguish clearly and carefully between the common space, shared by all citizens, and the space where we can be different. We have different faiths. We practice them differently. We have different histories, different cultures and different views. Some citizens will genuinely and properly not like some of the more liberal tendencies of Western life. We can differ over this.

    But there has to be a shared acceptance that some things we believe in and we do together: obedience to certain values like democracy, rule of law, equality between men and women; respect for national institutions; and speaking the national language. This common space cannot be left to chance or individual decision. It has to be accepted as mandatory. Doing so establishes a clear barrier between those citizens of the host community who are concerned for understandable reasons and those who are bigoted.

    Just kidding!

    Olaf: thanks for the corrective to my comments. I appreciate the response.

    • David Betz says:

      I saw that too, Madhu. I considered blogging about it too, something along the lines of ‘Gee, I wish Tony Blair were still around.’ I’ve always thought that the problem with Tony was that he came with the Labour Party attached, not to mention the insane Scotsman who blighted public policy and the economy in this country for a decade. But I reckoned that was too political and might drive some of our regular readers mental. So I’ll just hide the thought here in comments.

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