The failure of European multiculturalism

Ideas@TheCentre – The CIS newsletter (Sydney), 11 February 2011

Neither British Prime Minister David Cameron nor German Chancellor Angela Merkel could be remotely described as xenophobic, let alone racist right-wingers. In the broad church of modern conservatism, the two usually share the non-committal comfort zone.

Yet in the past weeks and months, both politicians have delivered scathing attacks on the concept of multiculturalism. First Merkel declared that the multicultural approach had ‘utterly failed’. Then, at last week’s Munich Security Conference, Cameron went further. The Prime Minister linked ‘the doctrine of state multiculturalism’ to the segregation of society and the rise of Islamist terrorism.

Waking up to the realities of Europe’s failing version of multiculturalism does not come a day too early. The lack of migrant integration into mainstream society has been visible for decades. If Europe’s top politicians had spent as much time in Bradford or Berlin-Neukölln as they do in Davos or Munich, they would not sound so surprised now.

It is most welcome that Merkel and Cameron finally talk about the failure of their countries’ immigration and integration policies. It is less fortunate, however, that the prime minister chose to deliver his keynote speech on multiculturalism at an international security conference. It sends all the wrong signals.

To attack Muslim extremism in front of an audience of mainly white, Western government officials gathered in the Bavarian capital does not require much courage. Had the prime minister instead spoken at the controversial East London Mosque, his message would have been far more powerful. To reach the Muslims of Britain with his remarks, Cameron should have talked to them directly.

It was also problematic to focus almost exclusively on terrorism. Though it is a serious issue in the context of multiculturalism, it is not the only one. It may not even be the most pressing concern for European society.

For too long, Europe’s lax migration policies had opened the door to poorly qualified migrants who lacked basic education and language skills. Their path into life-long welfare dependency was as straight as it was predictable. Those migrants were confined to a life at the fringes of society, and they reacted to this predicament with segregation and often radicalisation.

In modern industrialised economies, where there is a diminishing need for unskilled labour, unskilled immigration is a recipe for disaster when combined with the ready availability of welfare. The best way to counter the segregation tendencies, therefore, is to carefully select migrants that fit in and educate those unskilled migrants who are already there (and the same applies to genuine refugees). This is no guarantee for reversing the process of segregation, but it is Europe’s only hope.

Europe’s political class finally acknowledges that their pet project of free-for-all multiculturalism was a delusion. But to correct its disastrous consequences requires more than carefully crafted speeches at international conferences.

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