Europe’s tolerance finds its limit: Death of multiculturalism
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Tolerance may have died in Europe the day Mohammed Bouyeri murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh.On the morning of Nov. 2, 2004, as Mr. van Gogh cycled to work in Amsterdam, the bearded young man in a long Middle-Eastern-style shirt fired at him with a handgun.
The mortally wounded filmmaker tried to run for cover. But the killer chased him, shot him once more and slit his throat from ear to ear.
Then, he plunged two knives, one with a five-page letter attached, into the body.
The note began: “This is my last word, riddled with bullets, baptized in blood … “
It was filled with jihadist slogans and threats and contained a blood-curdling diatribe against Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born Dutch politician who had written the script of Mr. van Gogh’s last film, Submission. The 10-minute short about the abuse of Muslim women had upset some Muslims because it showed sacred Koranic texts superimposed on a semi-naked woman.
Bouyeri’s missive ended with a threatening chant: “I know for sure that you, O America, are going to meet with disaster. I know for sure that you, O Europe, are going to meet with disaster. I know for sure that you, O Holland, are going to meet with disaster.”
The savagery of the killing triggered revulsion across Europe. Today, the continent is attempting to cope with increasingly bitter racial and religious squabbles and is riven with doubts about its future.
Decades of open-door immigration policies have transformed Europe through the arrival of several million immigrants, mostly Muslims, from North Africa, Turkey and Southwest Asia.
But as the region became one of the most multicultural regions on Earth, its people have gradually turned against the policies that made it this way.
From Amsterdam to Paris and Brussels to Berlin, politicians want to restrict immigration and force recent arrivals to integrate more thoroughly into their new homelands.
The Netherlands, where 6% of the country’s 16 million people come from Islamic countries, has found itself at the forefront of a general hardening of European attitudes toward Muslim minorities.
In the two years since Mr. van Gogh’s murder, the Dutch government has adopted sweeping reforms aimed at forcing immigrants to integrate more fully into society. Immigrants must now pass a language test within five years of arrival or risk being deported. They must also take special integration classes when they apply for a visa.
Rotterdam has published a code of conduct suggesting that immigrants speak Dutch when out in public and the government runs courses to train imams in Western values.
This week, elections in the Netherlands seemed to reinforce the growing distrust between the native and immigrant populations when the Freedom Party, a previously insignificant far-right fringe group, won nine seats in parliament.
Led by Geert Wilders, a strident radical who goes out of his way to insult Muslims and warn that the Netherlands is about to be engulfed by an “Islamic tsunami,” the Freedom Party is now the fifth- largest in the Dutch parliament.
Mr. Wilders is the political heir of Pim Fortuyn, a populist politician who campaigned on immigration issues and was assassinated in 2002 just before elections.
This time around, Mr. Wilders called for an end to immigration and demanded bans on building religious schools and mosques.
“We need more decency in this country, more education and less Islam,” he recently told Dutch television.
“We have had enough Islam in the Netherlands. I believe Islam is a violent religion and the Koran is a violent book. There is no such thing as moderate Islam.”
Similar far-right movements are flourishing, along with large Muslim immigrant populations, in Austria, Belgium, Germany and Italy.
In France, one citizen in five voted for right-wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen in the 2002 presidential election.
Now, Nicolas Sarkozy, the hardline Interior Minister who hopes to represent the centre-right in next April’s presidential contest, has begun to court the anti-immigrant vote, unveiling a proposed immigration act that is a virtual copy of the Dutch regulations.
“The French way of integration no longer works,” he said recently, referring to last year’s riots in immigrant neighbourhoods, the worst civil unrest in the country in decades.
But it’s not just the far right that is declaring the death of multiculturalism.
Britain’s ruling Labour party has abandoned the laissez-faire pluralism of the past and introduced a U.S.-style citizenship ceremony, complete with declarations of loyalty. Naturalizing immigrants must also pass language and citizenship tests.
More recently, Jack Straw, a former foreign secretary, created a huge controversy when he declared he wanted Muslim women to abandon the veil.
He insisted he didn’t want to be “prescriptive,” but felt that covering people’s faces makes it more difficult to communicate.
“Communities are bound together partly by informal chance relations between strangers — people being able to acknowledge each other in the street or being able to pass the time of day,” he said.
“That’s made more difficult if people are wearing a veil.”
The comments caused many Muslims to insist they are being persecuted simply for being different.
“The implication is clear: niqab- or hijab-wearing women, and, through them, European Muslims are being asked to submit not to the law of the land, but to each country’s dominant way of life,” Naima Bouteldja, a French journalist, wrote in The Guardian newspaper.
“The mounting campaign against multiculturalism by politicians, pundits and the press, in Britain and across Europe, is neither innocent nor innocuous,” said Ambalavaner Sivanandan, director of Britain’s Institute of Race Relations.
“It is a prelude to a policy that deems there is one dominant culture, one unique set of values, one nativist loyalty — a policy of assimilation.”
Still, in the wake of last summer’s suicide bombings on London’s transit system by home-grown terrorists, there are growing fears multiculturalism protects and preserves every culture — except the host culture.
The native-born terrorist has become a symbol of multiculturalism’s failure. Usually, these new extremists do not feel at home in the West but have only the most tenuous ties to their families’ original homelands.
As a result, they are susceptible to arguments of religious certainty and promises of eternal glory.
The cultural isolation encouraged by multiculturalism also lets Islamist activists find refuge and anonymity in Europe’s immigrant communities.
“The fruits of 30 years of state-endorsed multiculturalism have only increased inter-racial tension and inter-racial sectarianism,” analyst Patrick West wrote in a recent report for the British think-tank Civitas.
“The fact that the London suicide bombers of July 7  were born and bred in Britain — and encouraged by the state to be different — illustrates that hard multiculturalism has the capacity to be not only divisive but decidedly lethal.
On the other hand, Trevor Phillips, a black political journalist who heads Britain’s Commission for Racial Equality, suggests multiculturalism is outdated because it fails to address cultural differences or reinforce common values.
Britain could be “sleepwalking” towards segregation, he warns, saying, “We have allowed tolerance of diversity to harden into the effective isolation of communities.”
“The multiculturalism beloved by our political and civic bureaucracies has not only failed to deliver peace, but is the partial cause of alienation and extremism,” said Michael Nazir-Ali, the Pakistani-born Anglican Bishop of Rochester.
When that isolation and extremism combine with the simmering resentments of Europe’s immigrants, neither tolerance nor understanding are likely.
In such a globalized clash of cultures, multiculturalism seems doomed to be eclipsed by anger and fear.
NEW EUROPEAN POLICIES STRESS INTEGRATION
Danes used to pride themselves on their multiculturalism. Then last fall the newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a dozen cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed.
Muslims around the world were outraged.
By the time things settled, Danes were beginning to see their 200,000 Muslim immigrants as a threat to their own national identity.
In recent years the Danish government has adopted several policies that aim to hasten the integration of the 5% of the population who are immigrants — mainly Muslims — from countries such as Turkey, Somalia, Pakistan, Lebanon and Iraq.
Family members, for instance, must now pass an “attachment test” showing their loyalty to Danish society and values.
France has the largest Islamic presence of any country in Western Europe — its more than six million Muslims, half of them citizens, make up nearly 10% of the population. Many live in drab suburbs that have become no-go areas for the authorities, plagued with drugs, gang rapes and fear. Periodically they erupt in violent protests such as the two weeks of riots in November, 2005.
France’s official policy is of assimilation and integration, but such laws as the 2004 ban on female students wearing Muslim headscarves are fuelling resentment and reinforcing immigrants’ sense of exclusion.
A new “social integration contract” requires immigrants to take a half-day civics class and, if necessary, up to 500 hours of language instruction.
Immigrants would receive a 10-year residence permit and discrimination protections in return for undertaking to learn French and get a job.
Getting German citizenship was once as simple as swearing an oath of allegiance to the country’s constitution.
Now prospective Muslim immigrants in Baden-Wuerttemberg are questioned on their personal political and cultural views.
Candidates are asked their opinions on religious freedom, sexual equality and homosexuality, with questions as blunt as, “Do you think a woman should obey her husband and that he can beat her if she is disobedient?”
In the past Germany did not even acknowledge it had immigrants. They were “guest workers” who would one day go home.
Some 3.3 million Muslims now live in Germany and, like the rest of Europe, the country has begun to adjust its laws to try to force greater integration.
The government provides new migrants with 600 hours of language training and 30 hours of civics instruction.
For decades Sweden has had some of Europe’s most liberal asylum laws.
As a result, it has one of its fastest-growing immigrant populations.
Of the nine million Swedish citizens, about 1.08 million are foreign-born and up to 40,000 asylum seekers are waiting to be approved.
Once proud of its multi-ethnic, multicultural reputation, Sweden has recently become aware it is a house divided. Immigrants dominate in some areas — they form nearly 40% of the population of Malmo, the third-largest city.
They feature largely on welfare rolls, have higher jobless rates and push up crime.
There are also fears radical Islamic groups are finding terrorism recruits in Sweden.
In October, 2005, a 19-year-old Swede, a refugee from Yugoslavia, was arrested in Sarajevo in an apartment that contained suicide-bomb vests and explosives.
To encourage greater integration and to underline efforts to re-emphasize Sweden’s Western values, the government wants to ban girls under 15 from wearing veils, introduce mandatory medical examinations to detect ritual genital mutilation, end arranged marriages and cut off state funding for religious schools.