Point • Counter-point: Multiculturalism



Has multiculturalism failed? In Europe, at least, this appears to be the case.
At the Munich Security Conference earlier this month David Cameron, prime minister of the United Kingdom, made a speech in which he criticized his country’s longstanding policy on multiculturalism, which he believes has “encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream.”

Cameron’s remarks echoed statements made last year by chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel when she also called multiculturalism a failure. These comments reflect a push by European governments to better integrate immigrants, given persistent domestic tensions between different cultures. In Britain, we see this policy most prominently in separate religious schools, which are all funded by the government.

Within such a framework children are taught to identify with their own ethno-religious groups. They are taught to hold certain beliefs and values important to their own particular sect. It is no wonder that there is a lacking in national identity. 

And not only have we seen the results of this policy in perpetuating the sectarian strife in Northern Ireland. It is also partly to blame for fostering Islamist extremism. Terrorism has been committed by people born and raised in the U.K. Young men deluded by a toxic form of Islam have been led down the road of domestic terrorism.

They have set out plans to kill and maim their fellow citizens and unfortunately some of these horrific plans have succeeded. Many of them are from middle-class homes and are university graduates who know no other home than the country they have been brought up in. 

What then must we do? First of all appeasement has never been an effective policy. People of other cultures who come to live in the West cannot expect to continue practices fundamentally opposed to the values we hold dear here in the West.

The practice of “hands-off tolerance” only breeds division.  I think Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France, got it right when he said that we must all respect differences, but we do not want a society where communities exist side by side. The goal is not assimilation, but integration. 

Liberal societies must stand by their roots if they are to pass them on to the next generation. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the rule of law, equality before the law regardless of sex, sexual orientation or colour: these are some of the values that define us as a society.

Failure to instil liberal values leads to a sense of marginalization that can breed sectarianism and lead down the road to extremism.

Nevertheless, we should not throw out multiculturalism altogether, nor should we succumb to xenophobia. The reality of the situation is that we all have to live together. Whether you were born a native, arrived as an immigrant or are the offspring of immigrants there is no difference.

For all these people to live together successfully multiculturalism needs to be redefined in a more harmonious way. This is not done by appeasing minority groups or by simply ignoring them. Instead there needs to be more of a dialogue and sense of understanding between cultures.

– Andrew Chai


Littered throughout British prime minister David Cameron’s speech about the failure of multiculturalism were inferences to the extremism and radicalization multiculturalism has seemingly given birth to.

Although he spoke of a country with “common values” striving to relieve itself of separatism to achieve a national culture devoid of the terrorist threats, such words may have done more harm than good by encouraging blame to be placed solely at the feet of Muslims.

Multiculturalism is a policy Canada has abided by since the days of Pierre Trudeau. Even as residents of such a cultural mosaic, many individuals have mixed ideas of what multiculturalism is and have found themselves backing Cameron as well as other individuals such as German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The common theme is that multiculturalism has promoted a safe haven for those with anti-western viewpoints. It gives rise to extremists. What I find a little discerning is how many individuals share this viewpoint.

Multiculturalism has failed? What an incredibly sweeping statement that does a disservice to millions of immigrants to the U.K. who struggle to keep their cultures and traditions alive while embracing British values. Individuals can integrate while keeping their own cultures alive. Extremists exist in every cultural, religious and political viewpoint and they are adept at achieving publicity, stirring up division and achieving national unrest.

From my personal viewpoint, despite the fact that this entire debate has centred upon avoiding extremism and radicalization, multiculturalism has very little to do with these concepts. Terrorism is a political issue. Although labeled with religious drivers, it is often political unrest that drives terrorism. A good example is the English Defense League (EDL), made up of violent extremists. However, the group is not a product of failed multiculturalism or its success for that matter.
Being uneducated about Britain’s culture, the English language or western ideology is not a driver for terrorism. In fact, many of the worst terrorists in the world are very well educated.

Muscular liberalism did not help individuals like Mohammad Sidique Khan, a fully integrated Muslim who was the ringleader in the London bombings in 2005. He was a teaching assistant, smart and well educated, with his free time spent playing soccer with his friends. Prime victim for extremism? I wouldn’t think so.

Western culture is a multicultural construct itself. The idea of one monogamous culture does not appeal well as our cultures include everything from deep conservatism to amoral self-entitlement.

Condemning other cultures promotes segregation, rather than understanding and common ground. To equate certain immoral practices with multiculturalism as a whole is an invalid statement that can often make individuals feel more isolated in western countries.

One of the points Cameron made was about ethnic residential segregation as a negative outcome of multiculturalism, but did it cross his mind that this may be the result of fear of discrimination and not self-segregation? And since when is it a problem living with people you identify with? There are LGBT communities in downtown Toronto, New York and Brighton.

Talking about the level of tolerance we have for other cultures is worth having, especially when it comes to certain practices that are incompatible with liberal democratic values. However, it should not be attached to a counter-terrorism agenda or a politically convenient way to define Islam as a root cause for our issues with cultural integration. Such a practice will only serve to further isolate cultural communities in a sea of hostility.

– Shagun Randhawa

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