2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Culture and Diversity

Multiculturalism is the idea or belief that modern societies should embrace and include distinct cultural groups with equal cultural and political status. Multiculturalism is a term often used to describe the cultural and ethnic diversity of a nation and advocates of it often argue that diversity is a positive force for a society’s nationhood or cultural identity. Multiculturalism contrasts with monoculturalism which had been the norm in the nation-state paradigm since the early nineteenth century. (Monoculturalism implies a normative cultural unity, 'monocultural' can be a descriptive term for pre-existing homogeneity). Assimilation implies the need for groups that fall out of the homogeneous norm to fully embrace and accept the dominant cultural paradigm as their own without concurrent adjustments from the dominant group. The term multiculturalism is often applied to distinct cultures of immigrant groups in developed countries (with the United States, Japan, and Australia as exceptions), not to the presence of indigenous peoples.

Multiculturalism began as an official policy in English-speaking countries, starting in Canada in 1971. It was quickly adopted by most member-states in the European Union, as official policy, and as a social consensus among the elite. In recent years, several European states, notably the Netherlands and Denmark, right-of-centre governments have reversed the national policy consensus, and returned to an official monoculturalism. A similar reversal is the subject of debate in the United Kingdom and Germany, among others due to a belief that immigrant communities do not "fit in" or want to integrate into a particular lifestyle.

But multiculturalism's history is not limited to official policy in the English-speaking world. As a philosophy it began its evolution, first as part of philosophy's pragmatism movement at the end of the nineteenth century in Britain and in the United States, then as political and cultural pluralism by the turn of the twentieth. It was partly in response to a new wave of European imperialism in sub-Saharan Africa and the massive immigration of Southern and Eastern Europeans to the United States and Latin America. Philosophers, psychologists and historians (including a couple who laid the foundations for sociology as a field) such as Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, George Santayana, Horace Kallen, John Dewey, W.E.B. Du Bois and Alain Locke helped facilitate the evolution for what we understand today as multiculturalism. James said in his Pluralistic Universe (1909) that he "believed that the idea of a plural society would be crucial in the formation of philosophical and social humanism," that the embracing of a multicultural society could help build a better, more egalitarian society.

Multiculturalism has its supporters and critics alike. Its supporters often see it as a self-evident entitlement of cultural groups, as a form of civil rights grounded in equality of cultures. They often assume it will lead to interculturalism - beneficial cultural exchanges, where cultures learn about each other's literature, art and philosophy ( high culture), and influence each other's music, fashion and cuisine. Its opponents often see it as something which has been imposed on them without their consent. As multiculturalism as an official policy is almost exclusively limited to Western countries, some in the West view multiculturalism as an assault upon the foundations of Western civilization. Opponents of multiculturalism see it as inherently divisive and fear it will lead to cultural ghettos, undermining national unity. In Europe especially, opponents see multiculturalism as a direct assault on the national identity, and on the nation itself, and sometimes as a conspiracy to Islamise Europe.

Before multiculturalism

It may be an anachronism to speak of multiculturalism in historical societies which did not use the term, especially before modernity. The degree of cultural homogeneity in past societies also depends on their size: smaller groups are more likely to show cultural unity. However, it is clear that in the past large states, especially empires, lacked the cultural unity of modern nation-states, and lacked the means to create it.

The monocultural nation-state (Europe)

Especially in the 19th century, the ideology of nationalism transformed the way Europeans thought about the state. Existing states were broken up and new ones created: in the associated wars, millions of people died. The new nation-states were founded on the principle that each nation is entitled to its own sovereign state, to reflect, facilitate, and protect its own unique culture and history. Unity, under this ideology, is seen as an essential feature of the nation and the nation-state - unity of descent, unity of culture, unity of language, and often unity of religion. The nation-state implies a culturally homogeneous society, although some national movements recognised regional differences. None of them, however, accepted "foreign" elements in culture and society. The older multilingual and multi-ethnic empires, such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire were derided as oppressive, and most Europeans no longer accept that such a state can be legitimate. British political thought was slower in accepting the implications of the concept of the nation-state.

Where the cultural unity insufficient, it was encouraged (and enforced) by the state. The 19th-century nation-states developed an array of policies: the most important was compulsory primary education in the national language. The language itself was often standardised by a linguistic academy, and regional languages were ignored or suppressed. Some nation-states pursued violent and oppressive policies of cultural assimilation, not to mention ethnic cleansing. Recently, Monoculturalism is being supported more than previous years due to events occuring in the recent past.

The Melting Pot Ideal (USA)

In the United States, continuous mass immigration had been a feature of economy and society since the first half of the 19th century. There was no fiction that the immigrants would return: immigration was seen as a permanent choice for a new country. The absorption of the stream of immigrants became, in itself, a prominent feature of the national mythos, along with the expansion westwards. The central metaphor is the idea of the Melting Pot - where all the immigrant cultures are mixed and amalgamated without state intervention. The Melting Pot implied that each individual immigrant, and each group of immigrants, assimilated into American society at their own pace, improving their income and social status on the way. It reflected and influenced official policy: although language courses were offered, they were rarely compulsory. As a result, several immigrant communities maintained a non-English language for generations. The nature of American national identity, with its emphasis on symbolic patriotism, allegiance, national values and a national mythos, facilitated the assimilation of immigrants. The Melting Pot attitude did not require a detailed knowledge of American history, acquisition of a complex cultural heritage, or English with an American accent. It allowed interest in the culture of the country of origin, and family ties with that country. In practice, the original culture disappeared within two generations. An Americanized (and often stereotypical) version of the original nation's cuisine, and its holidays, survived.

The Melting Pot concept has been criticized, as an idealized version of the assimilation process. One common criticism is that it apparently did not apply to English-speaking, US-born black people, who stayed at the bottom of the social ladder from the American Civil War on. Another criticism is that the Melting Pot model described the assimilation of immigrants from Europe, rather than the assimilation of any immigrant. The growth in the use of the Spanish language - the model implies it would decline - has led to calls for state-enforced language policy similar to those in Europe. More recently, some have argued that "the Melting Pot" leads to an erosion of groups individual heritage and have argued that the USA is better described as "a tossed salad", with each group intermingling with all, but maintaining their separate identity.

Note that the Melting Pot tradition co-exists with a belief in national unity, dating from the American founding fathers:

"Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people — a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs... This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties." ( John Jay, First American Supreme Court Chief Justice).

Ethnic selection (Australia)

Prior to settlement by the Europeans, the Australian continent was not a single 'nation', but had many indigenous cultures and between 200 and 400 active languages at any one time. The present nation of Australia resulted from a deliberate process of immigration intended to fill the "empty" continent (also excluding potential rivals to the British Empire). The earliest people that were not indigenous to the continent to live in Australia, were settlers from the United Kingdom, after 1800 including Ireland. Dutch colonization (see New Holland) and possible visits to Australia by explorers and/or traders from China, did not lead to permanent settlement. Until 1901, Australia existed as a group of independent colonies.

Proposals to limit immigration by nationality were intended to maintain the cultural and political identity of the colonies as part of the British Empire. The White Australia policy, which in various forms lasted 150 years but was not "official" policy per se for much of that time, was the most comprehensive policy of this type in the world. Such policies theoretically limit the cultural diversity of the immigrant population, and in theory facilitate the cultural assimilation of the immigrants, since they would come from related cultures. Taken from a historical perspective, however, this was not a matter of cultural diversity or otherwise, but maintenance of the British Empire aspects of the colony. The definition of "white" also changed quite substantially over the course of the White Australia Policy - as the Twentieth Century progressed, "white" moved further East through Europe, encompassing the Italians, Greeks and refugees from World War II in Europe.

Multiculturalism as introductory to monoculturalism

An anti-discrimination poster in a Hong Kong subway station. Circa. 2005
An anti-discrimination poster in a Hong Kong subway station. Circa. 2005

Multiculturalism, as generally understood, refers to ideology and policy in western nation-states, which previously had an uncontested national identity. Many nation-states in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are culturally diverse, and are 'multi-cultural' in a descriptive sense. In some, communalism is a major political issue. The policies adopted by these states often have parallels with multicultural-ist policies in the Western world, but the historical background is different, and the goal may be a monocultural or mono-ethnic nation-building - for instance in the Malaysian governments attempt to create a 'Malaysian race' by 2020.

Developing opposition to multiculturalism

United States

In the United States especially, multiculturalism became associated with political correctness and with the rise of ethnic identity politics. In the 1980s and 1990s many criticisms were expressed, from both the left and right, although predominantly from the right wing. Criticisms come from a wide variety of perspectives, but predominantly from the perspective of liberal individualism, from American conservatives concerned about values, and from a national unity perspective.

An early critic of multiculturalism was Ayn Rand, who feared the worldwide ethnic revival of the late 1960s would lead to an ethnic Balkanization destructive to modern industrial societies. She considered multiculturalism and monoculturalism to be culturally determinist collectivism (in the sense that individual human beings have no free choice in how they act and are conditioned irreversibly by society). Philosophically, Rand rejected this form of collectivism on the grounds that it undermines the concept of free will, arguing that the human mind is a tabula rasa at birth.

The liberal-feminist critique is related to the liberal and libertarian critique, since it is concerned with what happens inside the cultural groups. In her 1999 essay, later expanded into an anthology, "Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?" the feminist and political theorist Susan Okin argues that a concern for the preservation of cultural diversity should not overshadow the discriminatory nature of gender roles in many traditional minority cultures, that, at the very least, "culture" should not be used as an excuse for rolling back the women's rights movement.

A prominent criticism in the US, later echoed in Europe, was that multiculturalism undermined national unity, hindered social integration and cultural assimilation, and led to the fragmentation of society into several ethnic factions - Balkanization.

In 1998, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., a former advisor to the Kennedy and other US administrations and Pulitzer Prize winner, published a book with the title The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society. Schlesinger states that a new attitude - one that celebrates difference and abandons assimilation - may replace the classic image of the melting pot, in which differences are submerged in democracy. He argues that ethnic awareness has had many positive consequences to unite a nation with a "history of prejudice"; however, the "cult of ethnicity", if pushed too far, may endanger the unity of society.

In the United States, the cultural relativism implicit in multiculturalism attracted criticism. Often that was combined with an explicit preference for western Enlightenment values as universal values. In his 1991 work, Illiberal Education, Dinesh D'Souza argues that the entrenchment of multiculturalism in American universities undermined the universalist values that liberal education once attempted to foster. In particular, he was disturbed by the growth of ethnic studies programs (e.g., Black Studies).

Conservatives - in the US, largely Christian conservatives - tend to see multiculturalism as an attack on America's traditional Christian culture. They may attribute the introduction of multiculturalism to the civil rights movement and the 1965 Immigration Act or the (Hart-Celler Act).

Criticism of multiculturalism in the US was not always synonymous with opposition to immigration. Some politicians did address both themes, notably Pat Buchanan, who in 1993 described multiculturalism as "an across-the-board assault on our Anglo-American heritage."

Buchanan and other paleoconservatives argue that multiculturalism is the ideology of the modern managerial state, an ongoing regime that remains in power, regardless of what political party holds a majority. It acts in the name of abstract goals, such as equality or positive rights, and uses its claim of moral superiority, power of taxation and wealth redistribution to keep itself in power.

Another recent critic of multiculturalism is the political theorist Brian Barry. In his 2002 book Culture and Equality: An Egalitarian Critique of Multiculturalism, he argues that some forms of multiculturalism can divide people, although they need to unite in order to fight for social justice.


Approximately 35% of today's Canadian citizens were born outside Canada, the highest immigration rate of any G8 country. Recent immigrants are largely concentrated in the cities of Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, which have high population growth due to this concentrated immigration. In Canada, the most noted critics of multiculturalism are Kenneth McRoberts, Neil Bissoondath, and Daniel Stoffman.

As a young man, McRoberts worked for the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, and his career as a political scientist has roughly coincided with the policy of multiculturalism. While some argue that the shift in official discourse from biculturalism to multiculturalism has had a neutral effect on relations between Quebec and the rest of Canada, McRoberts believes that it was disastrous for Canadian nationalism, as it offended Québecois and their dualistic vision of Canada as a bilingual and bicultural society.

To many French Canadians, multiculturalism threatened to reduce them to just another ethnic group. Of all Canadian provinces, Quebec has been the least supportive of multiculturalism, due in part to a widespread view that multiculturalism was implemented at the federal level to dilute the two founding peoples philosophy which had preceded it, thereby diminishing the place of the province's French majority within Canada, and due in part to Quebec's policy internally of welcoming people of all origins but insisting that they assimilate into Quebec's French-speaking society. Recently, however, the more assimilationist aspects of this policy have been tempered with a recognition that Quebec is a de facto pluralist society and an understanding of pluralism as a feature of modern Quebec society or any other society that welcomes immigrants. The Quebec government has therefore adopted a form of multiculturalism termed an " interculturalism policy."

This policy seeks to integrate immigrants into the mainstream French-speaking society of Quebec on the basis of French, the language of the majority, as the common public language of all Québécois; all citizens are in this way held to be invited to participate in a common civic culture. Interculturalism is in this way consistent with the Quebec government's view of itself as the "national" government for all Québécois, because interculturalism is viewed as less threatening than multiculturalism, to the idea of Quebec's population as a single and distinct nation within another nation. Whether as a first, second, or third language, French becomes the instrument which allows the socialization of Québécois of all origins and forces interaction between them.

In his Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada, the Trinidad and Tobago-born Bissoondath argues that official multiculturalism limits the freedom of minority members, by confining them to cultural and geographic ghettos. He also argues that cultures are very complex, and must be transmitted through close family and kin relations. To him, the government view of cultures as being about festivals and cuisine is a crude oversimplification that leads to easy stereotyping.

Daniel Stoffman's Who Gets In raises serious questions about the policy of Canadian multiculturalism. Stoffman points out that many cultural practices, such as allowing dog meat to be served in restaurants and street cockfighting, are simply incompatible with Canadian and Western culture. He also raises concern about the number of recent immigrants who are not being linguistically integrated into Canada (i.e., not learning either English or French). He stresses that multiculturalism works better in theory than in practice.


The response to multiculturalism in Australia has been extremely varied, with a recent wave of criticism against it in the past decade. An anti-immigration party, the One Nation Party, was formed by Pauline Hanson in the late 1990s. The party enjoyed significant electoral success for a while, most notably in its home state of Queensland, but is now electorally marginalized. In its 1998 policy document on Immigration, Population and Social Cohesion, One Nation advocated the complete abolition of multiculturalism, asserting that there was "no reason why migrant cultures should be maintained at the expense of our shared, national culture." According to One Nation, multiculturalism represented a "threat to the very basis of the Australian culture, identity and shared values." Such a policy in combination with high immigration, One Nation argued, would eventually lead to "the Asianisation of Australia."

Many of One Nation's criticisms echoed those made by one of Australia's most significant and popular historians, Professor Geoffrey Blainey, during the 1980s. In his 1984 book All for Australia, Blainey criticized multiculturalism for overemphasizing the rights of ethnic minorities at the expense of the majority of Australians, thus unnecessarily encouraging divisions and threatening social cohesion.

Opposition to multiculturalism in Australia is, as of 2006, focused on the position of Islamic immigrants from Middle Eastern countries. Prior to the September 11 attacks, the main targets of anti-immigration campaigns were immigrants from southern Europe, and later east Asia.

A Federal Government proposal in 2006 to introduce a compulsory citizenship test, which would assess English skills and knowledge of Australian values, sparked renewed debate over the future of multiculturalism in Australia. Andrew Robb, then Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, told a conference in November 2006 that some Australians worried the term "multicultural" had been transformed by interest groups into a philosophy that put "allegiances to original culture ahead of national loyalty, a philosophy which fosters separate development, a federation of ethnic cultures, not one community". He added: "A community of separate cultures fosters a rights mentality, rather than a responsibilities mentality. It is divisive. It works against quick and effective integration."

In January 2007 the Howard Government removed the word 'multicultural' from the name of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, changing its name to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

Intellectual critique

Following the upsurge of support for the One Nation Party in 1996, Australian anthropologist Ghassan Hage published an notable critique in 1997 of Australian multiculturalism in the book White Nation. Drawing on theoretical frameworks from Whiteness studies, Jacques Lacan and Pierre Bourdieu, Hage examined a range of everyday discourses that implicated both anti-multiculturalists and pro-multiculturalists alike. The book was taken by many merely to be an attack on White Australians, but its analysis is more sophisticated than a charge of racism by the dominant ethnic group. Hage's analysis suggests that Australian multiculturalism has fallen a long way short of its original ideals and works much more as a form of assimilation by the participation of Whites and non-Whites alike in maintaining the centrality of a set of cultural values associated with Whiteness.

The Netherlands

In the 1950s, the Netherlands was generally a mono-ethnic and monocultural society: it was not monolingual, but almost everyone could speak standard Dutch. Its inhabitants shared a classic national identity, with a national mythos emphasising the Dutch Golden Age, and national heroes such as Admiral Michiel de Ruyter. Major immigration in the form of labour migration began in the 1960s, and accelerated in the 1970s, with Morocco and Turkey as the main origin countries. From the 1970s, multiculturalism was a consensus ideology among the 'political class', and determined official policy. The principle was expressed in the phrase "Integratie met behoud van eigen taal en cultuur", that is, social integration while retaining the language and culture of the immigrant groups. Immigrants were treated as members of a monolithic cultural bloc, on the basis of nationality - their religion only became an issue in the 1990s. These communities were addressed by the Dutch government, in what it considered to be their own languages - Arabic for Moroccan immigrants, even though many of them did not speak it. Opposition to the consensus was politically marginal. The anti-immigration Centrumpartij had occasional electoral successes, but its leader Hans Janmaat was ostracised, and fined for his strident opposition to multiculturalism.

The elite consensus on multiculturalism co-existed with widespread aversion to immigration, and an ethnic definition of the Dutch nation. Dutch nationalism, and support for a traditional national identity, never disappeared, but were not visible. When these factors re-entered political debate in the late 1990s, they contributed to the collapse of the consensus. The Netherlands has now attracted international attention for the extent to which it reversed its previous multiculturalist policies, and its policies on cultural assimilation have been described as the toughest in Europe.

The multicultural policy consensus regarded the presence of immigrant cultural communities as non-problematic, or beneficial. Immigration was not subject to limits on cultural grounds: in practice, the immigration rate was determined by demand for unskilled labour, and later by migration of family members. Gross non-Western immigration was about three million, but many of these later returned. Net immigration, and the higher birth rate of the immigrant communities, have transformed the Netherlands since the 1950s. Although the majority are still ethnic Dutch, in 2006 one fifth of the population was of non-Dutch ethnicity, about half of which were of non-western origin . Immigration transformed Dutch cities especially: in Amsterdam, 55% of young people are of non-western origin (mainly Turkish and Moroccan). . For opponents of multiculturalism and immigration, this is unacceptable and wrong. At the end of the 1990s, their opposition became more structured.

Intellectual critique

In 1999, the legal philosopher Paul Cliteur attacked multiculturalism in his book 'The Philosophy of Human Rights' Cliteur rejects all political correctness on the issue: western culture, the Rechtsstaat (rule of law), and human rights are superior to non-western culture and values. They are the product of the Enlightenment: Cliteur sees non-western cultures not as different, but as backward. He sees multiculturalism primarily as an unacceptable ideology of cultural relativism, which would lead to acceptance of barbaric practices, including those brought to the Western World by immigrants. Cliteur lists infanticide, torture, slavery, oppression of women, homophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, gangs, female circumcision, discrimination by immigrants, suttee, and the death penalty. Cliteur compares multiculturalism to the moral acceptance of Auschwitz, Stalin, Pol Pot and the Ku Klux Klan.

Cliteur's 1999 work is indicative of the polemic tone of the debate, in the following years. Most of the 'immigrant barbarities' which he names, are regularly cited by opponents of multiculturalism, sometimes as a reductio ad absurdum, but also as factual practices of immigrants in the Netherlands.

Another more recent and conservative criticism, based largely upon the Nordic and Canadian experience, is presented by the administrative scientist Gunnar K. A. Njalsson, who views multiculturalism as a utopian ideology with a simplistic and overly optimistic view of human nature, the same weakness he attributes to communism, anarchism, and many strains of liberalism. According to Njalsson, multiculturalism is particular to a western urban environment and cannot survive as an ideology outside it. Some variants of multiculturalism, he believes, may equip non-egalitarian cultural groups with power and influence. This, in turn, may alter the value system of the larger society. This realist criticism of multiculturalism maintains that in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the US, multiculturalism may aggravate a situation where old-stock families are not permitted by the countries of their forebearers to consider themselves English, French, Scandinavian, etc., while newer arrivals can claim two or more national identities.

In 2000, Paul Scheffer - a member of the PvdA (Labour Party) and subsequently a professor of urban studies - published 'The multicultural drama', an essay critical of both immigration and multiculturalism. Scheffer is a committed supporter of the nation-state, and his starting point is that homogeneity and integration are necessary for a society: the presence of immigrants undermines this. A society does have an 'absorptive capacity' for those from other cultures, he says, but this has been exceeded in the Netherlands. Specifically:

  • a huge influx of people from diverse cultural backgrounds, in combination with multiculturalism, resulted in spontaneous ethnic segregation.
  • the Netherlands must take its own language, culture, and history seriously, and immigrants must learn this language, culture, and history.
  • multiculturalism and immigration led to adaptation problems such as school drop-out, unemployment, and high crime rates.
  • a society which does not respect itself (its Dutch national identity) also has no value for immigrants
  • multicultural policy ignored Dutch language acquisition, which should be a priority in education.
  • Islam has not yet reformed itself, and does not accept the separation of church and state. Some Muslims did not accept the law in Amsterdam because its mayor was Jewish.
  • immigrants must always lose their own culture - that is the price of immigration, a "brutal bargain" (quote from Norman Podhoretz)

Scheffer approvingly quoted the sociologist J.A.A. van Doorn, that the presence of immigrants in the Netherlands had "put the clock back" by 100 or 150 years. The high immigration rate, and the lack of 'integration' threatened society, and must be stopped. His essay had a great impact, and led to what became known as the 'integration debate'. As in the essay, this was not simply about multiculturalism, but about immigration, Islam, the national identity, and national unity.

In 2002, the legal scholar Afshin Ellian - a refugee from Iran - advocated a monocultural Rechtsstaat in the Netherlands. A liberal democracy cannot be multicultural, he argued, because multiculturalism is an ideology and a democracy has no official ideology. What is more, according to Ellian, a democracy must be monolingual. The Dutch language is the language of the constitution, and therefore it must be the only public language - all others must be limited to the private sphere. The Netherlands, he wrote, had been taken hostage by the left-wing multiculturalists, and their policy was in turn determined by the Islamic conservatives. Ellian complained that there were 800 000 Muslims in the country, with 450 mosques, and that the Netherlands had legalised the "feudal system of the Islamic Empire". Democracy and the rule of law could only be restored by abolishing multiculturalism.

Political reaction

The intellectual rejection of multiculturalism was accompanied by a political transformation, which led to the abandonment of official multiculturalism. It is often described in the Dutch media as a populist 'revolt' against the elite. The catalyst was Pim Fortuyn. He was a critic of multiculturalism, and especially of what he called the "Islamisation of the Netherlands", but succeeded primarily because of his charisma. Unlike the intellectual critics, who wrote for fellow members of the elite, Fortuyn mobilised millions of disillusioned (and occasionally xenophobic) voters. Overturning the political stability of the 1990s, Fortuyn came close to being prime minister of the Netherlands. When he was assassinated in May 2002, his supporters saw him as a national martyr in the struggle against multiculturalism, although he was in fact shot by an animal rights activist.

Following Fortuyn's death, open rejection of multiculturalism and immigration ceased to be taboo. To a large extent, open racism also ceased to be taboo: negative reactions to immigrants became the norm, for a section of the population. The new cabinet, under premier Jan-Peter Balkenende instituted a hard-line assimilation policy, enforced by fines and deportation, accompanied by far tighter controls on immigration and asylum. Many former supporters of multiculturalism shifted their position. In a 2006 manifesto "one country, one society", several of them launched an appeal for a homogeneous society.

The most prominent figure in the post-Fortuyn debate of the issue was Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Her first criticisms of multiculturalism paralleled those of the early liberal-feminist critics in the United States - the emphasis on group identity and group rights diminished individual liberty for those within the minorities, and especially for women. As time went on, her criticism was increasingly directed at Islam itself, and its incompatibility with democracy and western culture. By 2004 she was the most prominent critic of Islam in Europe. When she scripted a short film on Islamic oppression of women, featuring texts from the Quran on the naked bodies of women, its director Theo van Gogh was assassinated by an Islamist. Threatened with death and heavily guarded, she spent most of her time in the United States, and moved to Washington in 2006 to work for the American Enterprise Institute. In 2006 she also expressed support for the Eurabia thesis - that Europe is being fully Islamised, and that its non-Muslim inhabitants will be reduced to dhimmitude. In a speech for CORE in January 2007, she declared that Western culture was overwhelmingly superior: dream is that those lucky enough to be born into a culture of "ladies first" will let go of the myth that all cultures are equal. Human beings are equal; cultures are not.

United Kingdom

London's Chinatown, near Leicester Square.
London's Chinatown, near Leicester Square.

The United Kingdom has continuous high immigration rates, among the highest in the EU. Most of the immigrants of the last decades came from the Indian sub-continent or the Caribbean, in other words from the former colonies. Recently, the largest group of immigrants is from eastern Europe, especially from Poland.

In the UK, supporters of the Labour government's approach saw it as defending the rights of minorities to preserve their culture, while encouraging their participation as citizens — that is, integrating without assimilating. Critics say the policy fails on all accounts: if social conditions and racism become barriers to the integration of minorities, then multiculturalism does not properly function. There is now a lively debate in the UK over multiculturalism versus "social cohesion and inclusion." The current Labour government appears to favour the latter. In the wake of the July 7 Bombings 2005 (which left over 50 people dead) the opposition Conservative shadow home secretary called on the government to scrap its "outdated" policy of multiculturalism.

Prominent critics of multiculturalism include Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Uganda-born author of After Multiculturalism, and one-time black activist Trevor Phillips the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality. In 2006, Phillips was criticised by London mayor Ken Livingstone, who accused him of fuelling hostility towards ethnic minorities, by attacking the principle of multiculturalism. Livingstone accused Phillips of being so right-wing that he would 'soon be joining the British National Party'.

In the May 2004 edition of Prospect Magazine, David Goodhart, the Editor, temporarily couched the debate on multiculturalism in terms of whether a modern welfare state and a "good society" is sustainable as its citizens are becoming increasingly diverse. Open criticism of multiculturalism, given Prospect's pedigree and reputation, was thereafter firmly part of the mainstream. Since then events - such as the London bombings - have shifted the debate away from sustainability and cohesion, towards a focus on the uneasy bedfellows of free speech and security.

In November 2005 John Sentamu, the first member of an ethnic minority to be appointed as Archbishop of York stated, “Multiculturalism has seemed to imply, wrongly for me, let other cultures be allowed to express themselves but do not let the majority culture at all tell us its glories, its struggles, its joys, its pains.” . Criticisms have been voiced by bishop Nazir Ali of Rochester.

In August 2006, the community and local government secretary Ruth Kelly made a speech, which some saw as signalling the end of multiculturalism as official policy. In November 2006, Prime Minister Tony Blair stated that Britain has certain "essential values" and that these are a "duty". He did not reject multiculturalism as such, but he included British heritage among the essential values:

"When it comes to our essential values - belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all, respect for this country and its shared heritage - then that is where we come together, it is what we hold in common."

Islam, Europe and multiculturalism

There is a developing distaste toward the idea and policies of multiculturalism in Europe, especially, like stated earlier, in the Netherlands, Denmark, United Kingdom and Germany with many others starting to build up their dislike and disagreement with multiculturalism and how it actually creates friction within society. This is not just Christianity against Islam, as many are led to believe as this is not the case. For example Bosnia and Herzegovina which could be termed as a Muslim country are disliking multiculturalism, like living with Christians. As the population that have a majority do not want their country and its traditions to be eradicated by immigrants. Although this is quite obviously a difficult issue to discuss, it must be a priority as it needs to be observed and debated.

From the 1990s, especially in Europe, the debate on multiculturalism began to focus on Islam and its status in the Western World. In several European countries, the majority of immigrants are from Islamic countries - Algeria, Morocco and Turkey. Although not all of them are practicing Muslims, their religion became a powerful symbol of their essential difference from the surrounding national community. (In Europe, only Bosnia and European Turkey have a substantial indigenous Muslim population). The perceived status of the immigrant minorities shifted - the 'Turkish immigrants' became the 'Muslim immigrants'. Conversely, the construction of mosques, and the increased adoption of the Islamic headscarf and in a few cases the burqa, made Muslims a distinctly visible minority. The examples cited by opponents of multiculturalism to show what they considered unacceptable, were increasingly Islam-related - female genital cutting and honour killings, for instance. (Many Muslims dispute that these practices have nothing to do with Islam). The opponents began to appeal to a Clash of Civilisations perspective, seeing Islam as incompatible with democracy and western culture. The emergence of Islamist terrorism confirmed, in their eyes, the dangers of multiculturalism and immigration from Muslim countries. Pim Fortuyn, for instance, proposed a specific ban on 'Islamic' immigration. And although strictly speaking it is not a multiculturalism or immigration issue, the possible accession of Turkey to the European Union became a contentious issue there.

In Canada, the possible introduction of sharia family courts became a contentious issue, and received much media attention.

From the late 1990s multiculturalism came under sustained intellectual attack in Western Europe, again largely, but not exclusively, from the political right. The reaction was more vehement than in North America, since it was associated with several other factors - the return of explicit nationalism as a political force, the revival of national identity, the rise of Euroscepticism, and concerns about Islam in Europe. (The September 11 attacks in 2001 exacerbated the tensions around Muslim immigration, but they existed already). The period saw the rise of anti-immigrant populism in Europe, which was uniformly, and often fanatically, hostile to multiculturalism. The debate became increasingly polarised, and increasingly associated with Islam and terrorism. The multiculturalism issue merged with the immigration policy issue. The most extreme rejection of multiculturalism comes from supporters of the Eurabia concept (see Bat Ye'or). For them, Islam is a political movement comparable to fascism, which is attempting to seize control of Europe, and to destroy its civilisation. Their hostility to multiculturalism is often combined with militant euroscepticism, as in this essay by blogger Fjordman:

The EU must die, or Europe will die. It’s that simple. Bat Ye’or in her book Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis is right in pointing out that ordinary Europeans have never voted for this merger with the Islamic world through massive Muslim immigration and Multiculturalism. This is closely tied to the rise of the European Union, which has transferred power away from the people and the democratic process to behind-the-scenes deals made by corrupt, Eurabian officials and bureaucrats. ... The creation of Eurabia is the greatest act of treason in the history of Western civilization for two thousand years, ... they are creating a civilizational breakdown across much of Western Europe as the barbarians are overrunning the continent.

Post-multiculturalism in Europe

Following the collapse of the consensus on multiculturalism, several European Union countries have introduced policies for 'social cohesion', 'integration', and (sometimes) 'assimilation'. They are sometimes a direct reversal of earlier multiculturalist policies, and seek to assimilate immigrant minorities and restore a de facto monocultural society. They include restriction of immigration - assimilation and immigration law on new immigrants are no longer seen as separate issues. The policies include:

  • compulsory language courses in the national language, assessed by a compulsory language test - for immigrants, and in some cases for those of immigrant descent
  • compulsory courses and/or tests on national history, on the constitution and the legal system, see Life in the United Kingdom test
  • introduction of an official national history, such as the national canon defined for the Netherlands by the van Oostrom Commission, and promotion of that history, for instance by exhibitions about national heroes.
  • official campaigns to promote national unity, and individual identification with the nation - such as the campaign Du bist Deutschland in Germany
  • official lists of national values, and tests of acceptance of these values
  • tests designed to elicit 'unacceptable' values, such as the "Muslim-test" in Germany. In Baden-Württemberg immigrants are asked what they would do, if their son says he is a homosexual. (The expected answer is that they would accept it).
  • restriction on spouses or children joining immigrants already in the country, and age and income restrictions on non-western marriage partners, sometimes with language tests for potential spouses, in their country of origin
  • official declarations - so far not laws - specifying that only the national language may be spoken in certain areas.
  • language prohibitions in schools, universities, and public buildings. Language bans have also been proposed for public transport and hospitals.
  • prohibitions on Islamic dress and especially the burqa.
  • introduction of an oath of allegiance or loyalty oath for immigrants, usually following naturalisation, and usually during a compulsory ceremony.

Some of the measures, especially those seeking to promote patriotic identification, have an element of kitsch. In the Netherlands, the naturalisation ceremony includes a gift symbolising national unity. In Gouda it is a candle in the national colours red-white-blue, in Amsterdam a Delftware potato with floral motives.

There are proposed measures, which go much further than these. They typically, but not always, come from right-wing parties and their supporters. Although implementation is not on the political agenda in any EU state, the proposals illustrate the 'post-multicultural' climate: a loyalty oath for all citizens, legal prohibition of public use of a foreign language, cessation of all immigration, withdrawal from the European Union, a compulsory (non-military) national service, a ban on the construction of mosques, closure of all Islamic schools, or a complete ban on Islam. These could be put in place in the near future in some EU countries which could start to an all round policy on monoculturalism and the policies stated above.


Although these policies often have the stated aim of increasing national unity, one result has been an increased polarisation. With the disappearance of former taboos, open criticism of the culture and values of specific minorities became common. Muslims in Britain or the Netherlands may occasionally hear that their culture is backward, that western culture is superior, and that they have a duty to adopt it. In turn, overly-defensive reactions include an increased self-identification as 'Muslims', and adoption of Islamic dress by women and 'Islamic' beards by men. Part of the Muslim minority is now alienated and hostile to the society they live in, and sympathetic to terrorism. In Amsterdam's secondary schools, about half the Moroccan minority does not identify with the Netherlands: they see their identity as 'Muslim', and regularly express anti-western views. In turn society is increasingly hostile to Muslims: a survey showed that 18% in Britain think that "a large proportion of British Muslims feel no sense of loyalty to this country and are prepared to condone or even carry out acts of terrorism". A TNS/Global poll showed that 79% in Britain would feel "uncomfortable living next to a Muslim". A major attitude survey of teenagers in Flanders showed that 75% refuse to have a relationship with a black person, a Muslim, or an immigrant. Half want all immigration stopped, and 41% say they distrust anyone from another ethnic background.

The rejection of the multicultural consensus in Europe included the revival of a traditional national identity, often defined by ethnicity. Paradoxically, that excludes not only first-generation immigrants, but their identifiable descendants, from full membership of the nation. New terms for minorities of immigrant descent have come into use: the (originally geological) term allochtoon in Belgium and the Netherlands, and 'nichtdeutsche Herkunft' or 'ndH' in Germany ('non-German origin'). Both are applied regardless of citizenship. The renewed emphasis on historical culture places higher demands on cultural assimilation. Immigrants must learn to identify and describe cultural heroes and historical figures such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel and William of Orange. The adoption of semi-official 'national values' may occasionally undermine the national unity, which it is supposed to promote. For instance, the 'Muslim test' in Baden-Württemberg implies that those who do not accept homosexuality, cannot be German. It was criticised for this, and/or for inconsistency (it was introduced by a Christian-Democrat administration).

Issues of nationality and loyalty are often divisive. In the Netherlands, the Party for Freedom of anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders opposed the nomination of two ministers because they had dual nationality. The party subsequently proposed a motion of no confidence in both ministers. The party doubts their loyalty to the Netherlands, in cases of conflict with their countries of origin (Turkey and Morocco). Accordign to an opinion poll more than half the population agrees with the party. Opinion is sharply divided by political party: 96% of Wilders' voters agree with him, and 93% of GreenLeft voters disagree.

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