Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Has multiculturalism failed?

This was the claim stated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently (and widely reported). The argument is that immigrants are very welcome in Germany (indeed, perhaps needed to help maintain the German economy), but only welcome to stay if they made greater efforts to adopt German culture, including German language.

One concern with this argument is why the situation should be entirely one-sided. We might argue that there is some value in immigrants having some knowledge about their new homeland, including its cultural heritage and language. However, it is the state that has encouraged immigrants to leave their native countries for the benefit of Germany. While it may not be unreasonable to support some measures, it is also not unreasonable to expect -- in return -- that the state, in this case Germany, take measures to better accommodate the new cultures and practices of the immigrants that they have courted. Anything less is unfair at least.

A second concern is whether we can say with any authority that multiculturalism has "utterly failed" in Germany or anywhere else. There is much evidence that multiculturalism has existed for as long as there have been people.

Instead, I suspect this may be posturing ahead of elections with anti-immigration sentiment rising in many countries in Europe and beyond. If it is, then it could be very damaging as immigrants most often bring more benefits than costs. Germany needs a larger workforce and attracting a talented immigration pool must be part of its longterm strategy. However, if immigrants are to provide a major favour and benefit to the state, then the state should offer something in return. One such offer might be greater respect for difference.


Idi Amin said...

How does an education system thrive if the students dont all speak the same language? Multiculturalism will continually fail until everyone understands the sacrifices. That includes a willingness by immigrants to learn the language used in the country they move to.

The Brooks Blog said...

"Idi Amin"-

Let me answer with a question: why think *all* students in *every* school speak the *same* language? It is interesting that it is Germany declaring the failure of multiculturalism -- and not countries such as Canada, the United States or Switzerland. For example, there is no single national language in the United States whatever the high use of English nor are all schools taught in English. We find no end to multiculturalism there. Therefore, I suspect it is highly premature to declare the end of multiculturalism.

Equally, I find it somewhat alarming how popular Merkel's statement has proven amongst primarily rightwing and right-centre audiences. Yet, again, this seems perhaps an ideological posture and not a statement based upon facts, or at least not upon facts that I can see.

Finally, you also wrongly assume a country has one national language: you speak of immigrants learning "the language" (and not "the languages" nor "one of the principle languages") which, yet again, suggests that multilingual and multicultural countries, such as Canada, the US, and Switzerland, have not entered into consideration. On the contrary, they should.

Siren of Brixton said...

Hi Thom, Glad to know I'm not alone in being uncomfortable with Merkel's statement. I think it is posturing - unless politicians are completely deluding themselves. I think you've hit it on the head when you say multiculturalism has always existed. Anyway, I had a rant about it on my own blog, if you are interested http://sirenofbrixton.wordpress.com/rants/multiculturalism-is-the-new-black-or-jew-or-communist/

Soso said...

Failed? Why has it failed? It's an ongoing process somewhat related to globalization. Instead of focusing on the wellfare of German of France we have to carry the responsibility not only as citizens of a single state or a continent but members of the human society in general. That responsibility forces us to consider how will our choises primarily affect other members of the community and the world, as opposed to the consequences we will have to face on an individual level. Some aspects of multiculturalism are a threat to any European society (such as religious invasion) because they prevent the individual in question (the immigrant) to contribute to the society in best possible manner. Or all this is completely irrelevant?