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

By Laura Muchowiecka
2013, Vol. 5 No. 06 | pg. 1/12 |

Within a short span of time, immigration has become one of the major issues in the field of European politics and social discourse questioning the status quo of such conceptions as citizenship, nationhood and community cohesion. Migration within the borders of the European Union and above all external immigration has led to a phenomenon described as multiculturalism. As Elliot and Lemert suggest, the idea of multiculturalism, which has been recently proclaimed as a new model of not only modern neoliberal states such as Canada, Australia or the United States but also of countries in the Old Continent like France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom or Germany, acquires increasingly less public support. The support, if it existed at all, has turned into official and widespread sentiments of antipathy towards both some immigration groups and ethnic minorities as such and towards multiculturalism as an ideology of a political strategy in particular. It seems even that the idea has become a scapegoat of several social problems like segregation, poverty, increase in crime rate and unemployment, extremism, terrorist attacks, to mention but a few accusations.

“Much like other irritating subjects of the times – postmodernism, globalization, terrorism, among others – the very idea of multiculturalism, the ideology, disturbs out of proportion to what in fact it may be. The reality is that the world in which many people suppose they are living is actually plural . . . Yet, strangely, in a time like the one prevailing since the 1990s when a growing number of people began to profess the multicultural as a way of thinking about the worlds, their professions are often greeted with dismay.”1

The core questions which this thesis will seek to answer refer to those objections. Are those accusations justified and if so, in what way? What are the most often mentioned social anxieties and concerns about immigrants and changes which their arrival has brought about? What have been the responses of the authorities and governments to the permanent settlement of a variety of immigrant flows? To address these problems, first of all I shall have a look at the roots and examine how it happened that some Western societies have become so ethnically diverse, what the main groups of immigrants are and how well they have integrated into host societies. And finally: is it justified to speak of a crisis or even fall of multiculturalism?

The countries which have been chosen for the analysis are the United Kingdom and Germany. Since the end of World War II they have both been destination countries of different migration influxes. This thesis is divided into two chapters in which both countries are described following a similar pattern: the first subchapters deal with the history of immigration and immigration policies, next a description of integration of people with an immigration background is presented, then the overview of the topics of main debates on the issue of immigration and multiculturalism is given. In order to understand the meaning of the issues dealt with in this dissertation, it is crucial to provide a theoretical background and explain the term multiculturalism.

What is multiculturalism?

“Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream. We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.”2

These words of British Prime Minister David Cameron were a part of his speech delivered at Munich Security Conference in February 2011. His criticism of a longstanding multicultural policy stirred out a public debate on its supposed crisis or even failure. His critical remarks were also referred to an often-cited statement of German Chancellor Angela Merkel of October 2010. She set out her doubts on multiculturalism in a less subtle way, claiming the country's attempts to create a multicultural society have “utterly failed.” They are just two out of the growing number of European leaders who have come to the similar conclusion on the immigrant minorities and their alleged unsuccessful accommodation into European societies.3

It is thus undoubted that multiculturalism has become a fraught issue in European politics in recent years. It has also been reflected in the academic discourse. Casting an eye on some recent scholar titles on the issue such as: The Multiculturalism Backlash, The End of Multiculturalism? Terrorism, Integration and Human Rights, Crisis and new challenges? ,Recited truths: the contours of multicultural crisis, Rethinking multiculturalism – is enough to agree that the topic is controversial among scholars, too. What three decades ago was viewed as a solution to some social and economic problems and a glorious continuation of human rights movements has now been questioned by growing numbers of people. The reasons of this transformation of the way it is perceived are complex. But before the main ‘allegations’ towards multiculturalism in Great Britain and Germany are be presented, the term multiculturalism needs to be addressed.

Part of the difficulty of multiculturalism is that its meaning is ambiguous and flexible. As Charles W. Mills writes, it is a “conceptual grab bag” of several issues related to culture, race and identity of modern Western plural societies.4In describing this term I will refer to an approach of Kenan Malik, an English writer, lecturer and author of a recently published book Strange Fruit: Why Both Sides Are Wrong in the Race Debate. He argues that the misunderstandings over multiculturalism lie in the fact that the term has two different meanings which are rarely distinguished. First, it refers to certain state responses to such diversity which aim at managing it. Second, it stands for the ‘lived experience of multiculturalism’ – the factual changes which have occurred in some Western countries that have resulted in more ethnic and cultural diversity. Those two aspects are also called a descriptive and a normative level of multiculturalism.5 The ‘crisis’ or the ‘fall’ of multiculturalism is sometimes referred to the first and sometimes to the latter meaning. In the above-mentioned remarks of Cameron and Merkel, both politicians questioned multiculturalism in its normative sense (as “a doctrine,” a policy which is based on the philosophy of multiculturalism). However, some of the criticism aims at multiculturalism as a state of being of today’s diverse populations. These are mainly, but not exclusively, right-wing circles which are strictly against immigration and immigrants in general, and Muslims in particular.

Multiculturalism in a normative sense is characterized as “a feel-good celebration of ethnocultural diversity, encouraging citizens to acknowledge and embrace the panoply of customs, traditions . . . that exist in a multi-ethnic society.”6 In its centre lies the affirmative concept of recognition and mutual respect towards each community and their unique values that make up a society. Multiculturalism is supposed to challenge earlier ethnic and racial hierarchies as it supports the belief that there is no better and worse culture – and none of them have the right to dominate other.7 In practise, multiculturalism involves many different measures which do not consist of one set of policies. The measures vary in each country but generally some main practices and rules can be distinguish, such as: public recognition (support for ethnic minority organizations), educational recognition (including diverse cultures’ knowledge in school curricula and establishing state and private schools for minorities), legal recognition (protection from discrimination and allowing some cultural exceptions to laws), religious recognition (permission and support for cultivation of minorities’ religious rites regarding places of worship, time off work for main religious holidays).8

In a descriptive meaning of multiculturalism it seems to be very close to a term of ‘plural society’. Some even argue that the rhetoric of multiculturalism should be reduced to not that controversial term of pluralism.9 Therefore, some definitions of a plural society can also refer to multiculturalism. One of them will be used in this thesis as the most apt and rich description of the discussed issue. Multicultural society is hence a society which is

“a medley of peoples . . . for they mix but do not combine. Each group holds by its own religion, its own culture and language, its own ideas and ways. As individuals they meet, but only in the market-place, in buying and selling. There is a plural society, with different sections of the community living side by side, but separately, within the same political unit.”10

Remarkably, this definition was coined by John S. Furnivall to describe Burma, one of former British colonies. After half of a century this picture is relevant in case of post-colonial countries such as Great Britain or France. The direction of the migrant flows has reversed. While earlier there were Europeans who arrived as foreigners, now there are citizens of post-colonial regions who immigrate to the countries of their former colonialists.

One can also say that this descriptive understanding of multiculturalism as characteristic of societies in which different communities live ‘side by side but separately’ is a result of the normative dimension. In other words, certain policies (or lack of them) encouraged immigrant groups to stay among themselves and not to view themselves as a part of a host society. Great Britain and Germany are called multicultural societies, though their roads have been quite different both in terms of immigration inflows and policies. To see why multiculturalism as a “liberal tolerance” reflected in policies has been recently questioned, we only need to look at the experience of both countries. They will be discussed in more detail in the main part of this thesis, here short presentations will be provided, the aim of which is to answer the question: what have been the roads to multiculturalism of Britain and Germany.

Three decades ago the UK was a different place than it is today. Racism was vicious and widespread. Physical attacks on immigrants from such post-colonial areas as Asia and the Caribbean were common. Workplace discrimination and inequality was endemic. Police brutality towards ethnic minorities was well known. It all caused increasing anger and frustration which resulted in a series of riots that took place in London, Liverpool, Bristol, Brixton and other cities in the late 70s and early 80s. Local authorities recognized this situation as a public menace and a threat to social order and stability. In this context the policies of multiculturalism were launched. They involved set of different strategies of equality such as establishing race relation units or funding minority organisation. Multiculturalism was introduced to school curricula as a programme of giving the opportunity of teaching children other cultures’ markers such as clothing, cuisine or music (which was later criticised as superficial “3S” syndrome: ‘saris, samosas and steel drums’).11 The multicultural polices did not mean to help ethnic minorities develop British identity or adopt the norms and traditions of the country. They were rather giving them the right to cultivate their own identities, the histories of countries of their origin and pursuing their own lifestyle. Their differences were even emphasised and reconfirmed. The so-called leaders of their communities were treated as representatives of their communities – although they were often of conservative views. More progressive movements which were also present were not seen as representative. Muslims were commonly more associated with radicals than with secularists – and it has not changed much. In this way, multicultural policies, which emerged as an opposition to unjust racial inequalities, promoted diversity that paradoxically confirmed ethnic minorities as being ‘others’ rather than a part of ‘Britishness’. It contributed to creating more radical sentiments among Muslims which in some way led to incidents like riots among Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities in three northern cities in 2001 and to London bombings in 2005. Multiculturalism is supposed to be a factor which created a space for such radicalisation of minorities and, coming back to the statement of Cameron, “encouraged different cultures to live separate lives,” which he blames for fostering extremist ideologies.

Germany’s response toward post-war immigrants was different. Unlike Britain, Germany’s main immigrant flows were not the result of decolonization but of labour shortages which the country faced in post-war decades. The foreign manpower was massively recruited from several countries such as Italy, Spain and Greece, and later Turkey. Both workers and the receiving country treated it in terms of a short time migration – therefore they were meaningfully called: Gastarbeiter, guest workers. However, many of them did not return and as such they established ethnic minorities in the country which regarded itself as a country of no immigration. Germany has not become a multicultural society by means of any ‘multicultural policies’ like Britain, but due to lack of any solid policies on minorities. The Turks and other immigrants were allowed to stay but were regarded as foreigners who have the right to keep their own culture as long as they do not cause problems. As a result, they did not get encouraged to integrate but became isolated from the mainstream society. In Germany, multiculturalism was not deliberate, it was rather an outcome of denial of the right to citizenship by immigrants. It can be argued that against this background of lack of multicultural strategy, the remark of Merkel of the failure of “multikulti” sounds ironical.12

Suggested Reading from Inquiries Journal

In the 1960s because of a stagnant economy, the Federal Republic of Germany (hereinafter as West Germany) invited Turks to Germany to work as "guest workers" (Legge 2003, 142). They were to work there for two years and then return to their homeland, but many of the "guest workers" stayed and brought their families. In 1960, there... MORE»
In recent decades, Japan and South Korea have become hosts to ethnic return migrants who have returned to their ancestral homeland after once emigrating overseas. Since the 1980s, the Brazilian nikkeijin, or... MORE»
The accession of Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal into the European Community was a significant move towards manifesting everlasting peace by means of a single market. The incorporation of these four weaker countries into the European Union (EU) marked a break from the EU’s traditional purview. The paradigm shift of the... MORE»
"Britain can take"[1] it refers to a film produced by the Ministry of Information in 1940, which had been originally titled “London can take it”[2] and produced for the American public. The film portrays a rather happy go lucky picture of Britain during the early stages of World War II. Did this film, with its bold statement... MORE»
Submit to Inquiries Journal, Get a Decision in 10-Days

Inquiries Journal provides undergraduate and graduate students around the world a platform for the wide dissemination of academic work over a range of core disciplines.

Representing the work of students from hundreds of institutions around the globe, Inquiries Journal's large database of academic articles is completely free. Learn more | Blog | Submit

Follow IJ

Latest in International Affairs

2022, Vol. 14 No. 04
With over 10 million stateless people globally, statelessness has increasingly become a pressing issue in international law. The production of statelessness occurs across multiple lines including technical loopholes, state succession, and discriminatory... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 09
The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated current global challenges. However, this article argues that this time of crisis can also be a unique opportunity for the existing global economic institutions - G20, WTO, IMF, and World Bank (WB) - to make the... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 02
On January 1st, 1959, a small band of Cuban rebels shocked the world, overthrowing the American-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. These rebels were especially known for their guerrilla tactics and their leaders, such as Fidel Castro and Ernesto... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 01
Israel has increased the nation’s security presence around the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank. Here, the research project analyzes how transaction costs resulting from Israeli security policy impact the output of manufacturing activities... Read Article »
2020, Vol. 12 No. 09
The necessity of international relief is unending as new crises continue to emerge across the world. International aid plays a crucial role in shaping how affected communities rebuild after a crisis. However, humanitarian aid often results in a... Read Article »
2019, Vol. 11 No. 10
This article aims to present the biopiracy of traditional knowledge from India by the United States, which has occurred directly through the use of patent law and indirectly through economic power and cultural imperialism. Throughout this essay,... Read Article »
2018, Vol. 10 No. 10
After joining the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2004, Estonians felt secure and in charge of their future. However, following the 2007 Bronze Horseman incident in the Estonian capital of Tallinn which included... Read Article »

What are you looking for?


7 Big Differences Between College and Graduate School
How to Select a Graduate Research Advisor
How to Manage a Group Project (Video)