The Oxford dictionary defines multiculturalism as ‘the policy or progress whereby the distinctive identities of the cultural groups within a society are maintained or supported’ (Oxford, 1999.) Some people would consider this to be an accurate definition whereas
others not, whether or not one agrees with the above depends on ones interpretation of multiculturalism and whether they are pro or contra a multicultural society. Multiculturalism does not always have a positive function in society and that due to fundamental differences in cultures, it may never be possible for a society such as Europe to be fully integrated to be multicultural. This essay will firstly look at the different views on multiculturalism before exploring whether or not Europe is a multicultural society.
Multiculturalism was first used to describe Switzerland in 1957, but came into common currency in the late 1960s. (www.wikipedia.com/multiculturalism.)When one thinks of multiculturalism one thinks of a term used to describe societies, especially nations, which have many distinct cultural groups, usually as a result of immigration, as mentioned in the introduction this can lead to anxiety about the stability of national identity, yet it can also lead to cultural exchanges that benefit both cultural groups. Whether or not one takes it to be positive or negative is dependent upon ones interpretation, more often that not, this is due to economic and social backgrounds. Ruth Lea director of the centre for policy studies voices her opinion of multiculturalism as ‘there are two ways in which multiculturalism is interpreted, the first one being more common, that is every culture has the right to exist and there is no over-arching thread that holds them together, and, the other way is what I would call diversity, where people have their own cultural beliefs and they happily coexist – but there has to be a certain level of Britishness to hold society together.’ (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3600791.stm)
A recent study by the BBC on 1000 people in Britain highlighted the fact that 62% of the people surveyed said that multiculturalism made Britain a better place to live, but also found the public opinion to be that ethic minorities need to adapt to the British way of life to be accepted by society at large.
(http://news .bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4138616.stm.)Does this mean that if the immigrants were not of the minority they would be more welcomed? Let us not forget that the United Kingdom has been a multicultural state composed of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and also a multicultural society. During the potato famine of 1845-1850, which saw many Irish immigrants arrive upon British shores, were these immigrants asked or expected to obtain a certain level of Britishness in order to be fully accepted in society, or is it purely a racial thing to outcast ethic minorities as they are seen as the ‘other.’?
Rhian Beynon of the joint council for the welfare of immigrants believes that multiculturalism and statements such as the above, have fallen victim to a negative press, Beynon states that ‘multiculturalism is like asylum seeker, it’s become tainted because of the way some individuals have used it and I think there is a school of thought that lumps multiculturalism in with political correctness and would jeer at it’ (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4138616.stm)
In Kenan Maliks essay titled ‘against multiculturalism’ he states multiculturalism as ‘an authoritarian, anti-human outlook’ (http://www.kenanmalik.com/essays/against_mc.html) and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair confessed to the BBC that ‘I never know, although I use the term myself occasionally, quite what people mean when they talk about multiculturalism.’ (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4138616.stm) Could it be that this level of uncertainty of multiculturalism, even by the prime minister, be the reason that many people including Trevor Philips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) are calling for multiculturalism to be scrapped? Or is it that multiculturalism separates communities? (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4138616.stm)
One thing is for sure, multiculturalism requires that all cultures should be open, self-critical, and interactive with their relations with each other and whatever ones interpretation of multiculturalism is, it is important to remember that to understand it is to appreciate that it means many different things.
With taking all of the above into account, how far can we go to say Europe is or is not a multicultural society? If one takes a look at the surface of Europe one can say that it appears to be a multicultural society, after all ‘Euroland’ is made up of different countries, each having their own distinct languages, customs and traditions. The recent expansion to ‘Euro 25’ bridging the gap between western and Eastern Europe, (one must take into account that the customs and traditions of most of eastern Europe are very different to western Europe, and are more a liking to Russian customs and traditions, due to its long occupation by the former Soviet Union.) One can look at these and see that Europe is a sort of ‘melting pot’ in which customs and traditions are shared. One can see religion as another factor making Europe multicultural; one can see that Christianity lives side by side with the orthodox religion. Music being another factor, for example, popular music from Italy is also just as common and popular in France and Spain, just as much as it is in its country of origin. Eating habits being passed from country to country. Culinary delights being bought and sold all across Europe. Another strong factor in that Europe is a multicultural society is the Euro, the single European monetary system. Surly the Euro must signify that Europe is indeed not only a multicultural state but also a multicultural society. Or does it? Take a closer deeper look; after all, in order to answer the question efficiently and effectively, one needs to take a look into the deep heart of Europe.
Italy, is a country which immigration is a fairly new process, yet, the Italian people along with the Italian government (Forza Italia party) are not hesitant in letting immigrants know that they are not welcome and that integration is not wanted, after all, one of the mottos for the Forza Italia party is ‘Italia per Gli Italiani’ (Italy for the Italians) and the recent closing down of a mosque in Milan provides one with evidence of this. Mr Berlusconi also recently declared that ‘We don’t want Italy to become a multiethnic, multicultural country. We are proud of our traditions.’ (http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1740902,00.html)
France once believed in immigration in principle, but pretended to itself that its Muslim North African immigrants would eventually go away. (http://www.unieurope.org/showarticle.php?id=785.) This of course was not the case and January 2006 saw Paris as the centre of violent attacks between ethic minority groups from the Parisian suburbs with the French police. Furthermore in February 2004 French congress banned headscarves and other ostentatious religious symbols from French state schools. With France having the largest Muslim population in the European Union with around 5million, making it also the second largest religion. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/663862.stm) So why did the country whose values are Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité ban headscarves? Was it an anti-Muslim legislation? No, it was not an anti-Muslim legislation; in fact the reason lies deep within the French constitution, the constitutional requirement of Laïcité, whose origin stems from Greek, which means ‘secular.’ (Baubérot, Paris, p10.) The French government is legally prohibited from recognising any religion; instead it recognises religious organisations [….] Laïcité is best described a belief that government and political issues should be kept separate from religious organisations and religious issues [….] French consider religion a private matter, and, any ostentatious displays are generally out-of-place (Baubérot, Paris.) Considering the above, does this mean that Laïcité along with article one of the French constitution which states France is a secular republic; La France est une republic, une indivisible, laïcité et sociale.’(www.wikipedia.com/frenchconstitution) pose as a barrier to France ever being a multicultural society? What effect will this have on Europe being a multicultural society?
Germany, country with the largest number of immigrants than any other E.U state, one would consider being multicultural and at the forefront of multicultural rights, just like it is on environment issues (Cini, 2003.) Germany is in fact, where nationality was long conceded ethic in origin, immigrants originally were excluded from cultural or political assimilation, with the fiction that they were all ‘guests’ that would all one day go home, (www.unieurope.org/showarticle.php?id=785) made and does make it hard for immigrants to integrate in order to give birth to a multicultural society.
The Netherlands whose aim was a ‘multicultural society composed of equals’ (www.unieurope.org/showarticle.php?id=785) on the 2nd November 2004 witnessed the murder of Dutch film maker Theo Van Gogh, by Dutch Muslim Mohamed Bouyeri, who claimed to have acted in the name of Islam made it difficult for them to achieve their goal and left many Dutch people having new reflections about Europe. (http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,1763492,00.html)
The United Kingdom also had the aim of a ‘multicultural society composed of equals’ (www.unieurope.org/showarticle.php?id=785) did not even want to join the Euro, the single European currency. Surly this would have been the first stepping-stone in achieving this goal! The United Kingdom like the Netherlands also saw an attack in the name of Islam, this time the London underground bombings. This ‘attack’ left shockwaves throughout the nation. The bombings were carried out by people who have lived in the United Kingdom for a long time or were even born in Europe (http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,1763492,00.html) The attacks along with Van Gogh’s murder creates more barriers not only for certain states to become multicultural, but, for Europe becoming a multicultural society.
In conclusion and with taking all the above facts into account, one does not think that Europe is a multicultural society and the idea of Europe being a multicultural society is merely just an image trying to portray Europe as multicultural. It is this ‘image’ that is the idea of Europe; the idea being the main goal of what Europe should be, cultures coexisting peacefully and harmoniously. When one looks into the deep heart and inner soul of Europe one can see that this image is a long way off and far from being achieved, in fact this image of the ‘idea’ of Europe is nothing more than a delusion that the governments of Europe are trying to achieve, by many numerous strategies such as introducing the ‘Euro’ and uniting east and west.
Those who want to live in a ‘foreign’ country regardless of gender or ethic make-up, for a long time should learn to over come the sense of ‘foreignness’ by getting to know the country better, by having an open mind and be willing to accept new things and try ‘integrate’ into the ‘new’ society. Only then can we try to establish a multicultural European society.