The End of Multiculturalism? Immigration and Integration in Germany and the United Kingdom

By Laura Muchowiecka
2013, Vol. 5 No. 06 | pg. 12/12 |

Conclusions: multicultural society as the clashes of interests

The problem which one can find striking about multiculturalism debates presented in this thesis is the fact that at the heart of modern ethnically diverse societies such as Germany and the lie seemingly irreconcilable clashes of interests of various parties with differing wishes. Social tensions and clashes of different groups are of course an indispensable part of every society, however there can be observed peculiar patterns of interest clashes in regard to multicultural societies. Hence, based on the above provided overview of multicultural histories and debates in these countries, three main interest groups may be distinguished: immigrants, natives and states.

Firstly, there are ethnic minorities and immigrants who have arrived and settled since the post-war decades. Today they make up on average around 10% of German and British population. In both countries majority of them represents non-European traditions, mainly connected to . In a nutshell, their interests refer to equal rights with native citizens. To understand their claims it would be worth mentioning a non-European perspective.

It seems that those who oppose to migration inflows to Europe in general often fall into a trap of West-centrism, a notion of a supposed uniqueness and cultural and political superiority of the West civilisation. This notion argues that , humanism, scientific rationality, freedom and all uniquely belong to the West. They have all emerged as a result of heritage of ancient Greece and Rome, , Renaissance and the Enlightenment and finally as a fruit of industrial and democratic movements. In fact, this standpoint ignores the profound achievements of other cultures and civilizations, such as for example Chinese, Indian and Turkish cultures (that are largely represented among minorities), which have been far in advance of anything in the West for ages. Thus, ethnic minorities definitely cannot be marginalized or perceived as a threat to European cultural achievements. Immigrants and people with a migration background should have the same right to live in with dignity and to cultivate their own cultural and religious traditions. In terms of human rights, they can also freely create housing communities and get the welfare support in the countries in which they have been allowed to stay. Their cultural practices are equally valuable as of host societies as long as they do not violate basic human rights which are internationally recognized.

Secondly, there are native societies with their interests relating to the notion of a homogenous nation. In both Germany and Britain the concept of citizenship has been largely based on nationhood. Additionally, after the there was a widespread misconception of these countries being one-nation state. Cultural pluralism and religious diversity in particular brought by immigrants from other continents have been greeted with increasingly unfavourable public sentiments. Throughout decades there was only a marginal public endorsement of foreign influxes. It is reflected in numerous public researches that majority of citizens feel threatened by the ethnic ghettos and diverse worldviews brought by immigrants, which sometimes seem to be at odds with set of values declared in liberal democracies. Most of the natives find few of the groups unwilling to integrate and become a part of a broad society. In both Germany and Britain, there is a growing recognition that social benefits are unevenly spread, with the advantage of communities. Some more radical circles represented by right wing politicians even argue that they should not belong to their nations as their ethnical roots differ. An example of such political opinions can be British National Party (BNP) in the UK and National Democratic Party of Germany (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands – NPD) in Germany.

But apart from the radical nationalistic movements, some of the social anxieties about the massive immigration seem to be more than just ethnic and religious prejudices. The question remains which practises should be accepted in the name of tolerance and equality and which should be banned as violating human rights. For instance, this dilemma was the centre of a recent lively debate in Germany on Muslim and Jewish ritual practise of male circumcision. Should it be allowed in the name of religious freedom or rather banned as inflicting bodily harm to a child? Besides, it is still unsettled what kind of patriotic attachment and national feelings, if any, should be expected from the immigrants who want to settle and become citizens. Finally, the so called ‘Muslim question’ leaves it inconclusive in what way Islam might be a inextricably connected to sharia law which appears to be contrary to democratic secular legislation systems.

Last but not least, there are states of the receiving societies. Germany and UK have their own economic interests and labour market capacity as well as limited welfare system. The states have their types of wanted and unwanted immigrants. The ideal immigrant for the state is a young, highly qualified and skilled in a relevant field individual or, alternatively, an investor with both financial and business capital who is able to create job positions and contribute to the stimulation of the economic growth. Other wanted immigrants are international students as well as scientists and researchers – mostly those of technological fields that can transfer their findings into practise and increase the country’s competitiveness. Additionally, all types of ideal immigrants should be adaptable and culturally close to the host society and ready to return to the countries of their origin as soon as there is no economic need for their skills on the labour market. The least desirable migrants, on the other hand, are asylum-seekers. Majority of asylum applications have been rejected in both countries. They are perceived as the group with the highest risk of being socially dependent with low adaptability and employability skills.

Those three different interest parties have been in a dynamic and multi-faceted relation throughout more than a half of the century. They themselves have been heterogeneous and included a variety of groups and movements. After World War II Britain experienced massive migration inflow from its colonies, while Germany, undergoing a fast economic growth, recruited workforce from abroad. Both countries were socially and politically unprepared for new residents from non-Western areas. They had to grapple with discrimination, racism and inequality in opportunities. The process of formation of the multicultural societies has been strained and resulted in serious anxieties whether the principle of ethnic diversity which has been somewhat unwittingly chosen is safe.

What comes next?

Multiculturalism as an ideology or a political doctrine may be indeed dead, as some commentators and researchers suggest. The movement forward from multiculturalism as the idea of a diverse society in which every community is perceived as equal yet separate is now a fact. Although it appears problematic to clearly reconcile the argument whether multicultural policies contribute to the threat of , it is undisputed that they have created a space for radicalisation of certain religious minorities. The Salman Rushdie affair also known as The Satanic Verses controversy, the murder of the filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist, London terrorist bombings and Muhammad cartoons controversy in Denmark have been some of the best recognized flashpoints revealing a series of doubts over the idea of a multicultural Europe. In the case of Germany, on the other hand, ‘multikulti’ has never been an influential ideology and it was lack of immigration recognition that led to multiculturalism in the descriptive sense, that is, a high number of population with an immigration background.

The glory days of multiculturalism as a term are probably over at least in the European context. It would be a mistake to underrate the backlash against multiculturalism and its repercussions. General top-down support for equal opportunities for minorities will likely be maintained. But the ideology of ‘multiculturalism’ has too negative connotations relating to the failure of creating a peaceful ethnically plural society with no enough emphasis on the common cultural basis.

One may ask, how then a common cultural basis is possible in the case of the societies where different parallel cultures exist having apparently little in common. What first comes to mind when a phrase ‘common values’ is addressed against the multicultural background is mostly terms of ‘integration’ (used mostly in Germany) and ‘community cohesion’ (peculiar for Britain). Both concepts imply measures which aim at creating a shared vision and a sense of belonging as well as developing strong and positive relationships between people with different ethnic backgrounds in schools, neighbourhoods and workplace. The measures include such initiatives as bridge-building interreligious projects, workshops for school children from different ethnical profiles organised by the local councils and organisations in the UK. Germany’s policies for immigrants emphasise the advantages of publicly supported and socio-cultural courses for migrants. As Gary Freeman notices, “there is now a clear trend toward a middling from incorporation – call it integration – that rejects permanent exclusion but neither demands assimilation nor embraces formal multiculturalism.”144The move from multiculturalism is thus not away from it but beyond it into other forms of what may be called ‘interculturalism’.

It seems that the term ‘interculturalism’ has been slowly replacing multiculturalism in many debates on cultural diversity. The key point is that instead of celebrating diversity and emphasizing the differences between cultures represented by minorities and a dominant culture, what is promoted here is encouragement of intercultural dialogue. Within the multiculturalism there was also a space for the dialogue but it was not enough stressed. What differentiates interculturalism from multiculturalism is that it avoids a tendency of treating non-Western cultures as totally separate from the West. Instead, interculturalism recognizes that cultures are historically and contemporarily connected. This conception indirectly relates to the phenomenon of the so-called trans-cultural diffusion, where cultural items such as innovations, religions, values, social institutions are adopted from one culture to another. Even if the connection is small or does not exist there are still shared axiological norms and other parallelisms which have developed independently from each other in different regions. The idea of interculturalism acknowledges the contribution of non-Western cultures as well as postulate understanding of how various conceptions (of freedom, tolerance, social order, rationality etc.) have developed across the globe.

The concept of interculturalism or – as some researchers call it – ‘superdiversity’ is just one possible path of approaching ethnically plural societies – which will likely replace multiculturalism but not necessarily. However, it is clear that in today’s globalised world ethno-cultural diversity is unavoidable. The migration inflows in the second half of the 20th century to Germany and Great Britain, as has been demonstrated, have changed their faces. Despite of the lack of wholly public endorsement to the multiethnic character of their societies, migration was and still is a vital factor shaping their societies and economies. What is more, it will probably be increasingly intense in the future given such phenomena as labour demands of new knowledge economy, decreasing birth rates among native citizens and free labour mobility of the expanding .


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144.) Freeman G. (2004) ‘Immigrant incorporation in Western democracies’, International Migration Review 38(3), p. 945 (as cited in: Vertovec S., Wessendorf S. (2010) Op. Cit., p. 26).

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