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article imageOp-Ed: Multiculturalism better in America than Europe?

By Michael Cosgrove     Oct 17, 2010 in Politics
Angela Merkel’s cat-amongst-the-pigeons declarations concerning the failure of German multiculturalism are pertinent and they must not go unheeded by the rest of Europe. Should we be looking towards America for new sources of inspiration?
I used to work as a pedagogical manager in a language training school here in France and was once given the job of pre-interviewing 12 candidates for a vacancy as a French teacher for foreign businessmen, and after interviewing them I submitted a short-list of six to my superior as she had asked me to do. Her eyes ran down the list and in less than ten seconds she had crossed out the names of three of them and handed it back to me. She then asked me to invite the three who were left for a final interview and I left her office.
Walking back down the corridor I looked at the list to see who she had eliminated and saw instantly that she had crossed out the names of the three candidates with Arab-sounding names. Those remaining had French names.
That incident came to mind when I read the details of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s speech yesterday during which she stated matter–of-factly that attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany have “utterly failed” and that the “multikulti” concept – as it is called in Germany – where people would “live side-by-side” happily did not work, adding that immigrants should do more to integrate, including learning German.
She surely had political reasons to say that, but the mere fact that she did, in a country where a recent survey suggests that more than 30% of Germans think that their country has been “overrun by foreigners” and where anti-immigrant sentiment is increasing, shows that it is now acceptable for a senior European leader to declare 60 years of integration efforts as having been a waste of time.
I mention Europe because it’s the same story everywhere. The French think exactly the same thing although their leaders would never admit it for reasons of national pride, Britain is in the midst of soul-searching and heated debate on immigration, Holland's Geert Wilders and Austria's Jörg Haider are only two of the increasing number of right-wing and anti-immigrant politicians whose names are known all over Europe, and indeed the world, and the list goes on and on. That is what led me to consider in a recent article some of the political reasons why Europe is lurching to the right.
Multiculturalism in Europe has been a disastrous failure, period. The only glimmer of hope left for the future is that this fact is finally being acknowledged after far too many long years of denial.
So maybe it’s time to consider how this mess can be fixed, because immigrants are – and shall remain – an essential part of Europe’s identity. But before acting, we need to consider the fundamental reasons which mean that we in Europe are handicapped in our efforts compared to the United States, which – along with Canada and Australia – is one of the only western countries which has tried to tackle racism and discrimination with a certain degree of success.
The first reason concerns the very origins of our respective continents. Europe has “always existed” and as such has always had indigenous populations and imported labor. Europe was never consciously constructed or designed and its populations have never had to chart the waters of what kind of society it wanted for the future. Everything just happened ‘naturally.’
This is in stark contrast to America (Canada and Australia too as it happens), where there is no such thing as an ‘American’ in comparative terms to Europeans. Many those who made America what it is today were of European origin, and they decided together to ‘create’ their institutions and ‘formalize’ the county’s existence. They were not immigrants, just a hotch-potch of people from different countries who all found themselves on the American continent for a lot of different reasons. Still, they worked together to 'create' a country. This is a very prominent feature of the “get out there and do it, your life is in your hands only” element of the American psyche, whereas in Europe it's all about the state creating jobs. It is this incidentally, which partially explains the inherent dislike that Americans have for the high taxes and heavy social security nets that Europeans now ironically say are being exploited by immigrants.
Secondly – and the slave trade in America notwithstanding seeing as France and the rest of Europe also imported slaves albeit on a smaller scale – Europe, unlike America, still has a colonialist mindset. Europe, including well-meaning Liberals and Socialists, still talks about immigrants from its “ex-colonies” in condescending terms as if they were “imported labor” and not an integral part of the continent, whereas America sees immigration as being an essential part of its continuing capacity as a major world player, despite the inevitable hiccups that occur.
Another major factor concerns modern-day American society. Despite the ups and downs of its multicultural existence, America has an infinitely better record than Europe when it comes to tackling inequality in practical terms instead of just brushing it under the carpet à-la-European. America – and one could even find it strange for a people which dislikes state intervention in its affairs – has developed a very comprehensive array of anti-discriminatory legislation in many areas of society. And America enforces it to a degree which would be unimaginable in Europe. Europe does have some vague anti-discrimination legislation, but it is no secret that compared to America only lip-service is paid to it.
All this means that in America yes you can be president if you’re black, yes you can be one of the top military commanders in the country if you’re Hispanic, yes you can run multinational companies if you were born of Japanese immigrant parents in Detroit and yes you can be mayor, governor or senator too if you’re of Italian origin. Europe’s credentials here are lamentable.
Using France as a comparative example (and France is by no means unique in the matter) no you cannot be president, in fact you cannot even be a deputy (three immigrant-origin deputies out of nearly 600), no you cannot be a military commander, as the uproar over the recent appointment of an Arab as a police prefect proves, no you cannot be the boss of a multinational - whites only please, from good schools preferably - and no you cannot in practical terms be mayor or anything else, as almost all immigrant candidates are only appointed by the parties in sure-lose seats but at least they can say they put up immigrant candidates.
But as I mentioned, at least the issue is finally being addressed and suggestions are beginning to be discreetly expressed. One suggestion that is instantly rejected however is the following; “What if we took a look at what the Americans are doing? After all, things aren’t as bad there.” The response invariably includes “proof” that it doesn’t work in America because of the Indians, the blacks, the riots in the 60’s, southern segregation and other errors.
Taking a leaf out of America’s book would be considered here as admitting that our old world and its models have failed, that the world has changed, and that the young upstart America can now give it lessons. Considering the adoption of any American way of doing things here is seen as being a treasonous intellectual act. “The Americans are dumb and we have nothing to learn from them” is all you hear.
Fair enough, but if Europe doesn’t find inspiration which will reduce the spiraling increase in racism and discrimination which is beginning to cause serious problems in all sectors of society, there will be big trouble just around the corner.
Instead of dismissing the American model outright, Europe should begin to look at it and adapt what is suitable within it to the European mindset. Europe has nothing to lose and everything to gain by considering the few options it has left open to it, of which the American model is the most promising.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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