Is multiculturalism over?

After September 11, the idea that “multiculturalism is dead” appeared. Since then multiculturalism policies have been under attack in most Western societies, being labelled as a failed policy. Some critics, such as Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek in an interview to the Euronews channel, have gone as far as to define multiculturalism as “inverted racism”.  They question why, if everyone is the same, supporters of multiculturalism try to understand, and even ‘celebrate’, differences between people. In order to create a more tolerant society, Žižek defended creating a code of conduct for people who had different life experiences.

Julia Kristeva, the Bulgarian-French philosopher, considered a reference point for feminism and multiculturalism, has abandoned the idea of political correctness. She now says that many of the ideas used by feminist activists, gays and ethnic leaders are outdated. For her the assertion of ethnic and religious identities erodes democracy, the way to reverse this is by giving more importance to the individual freedom over communitarianism.

The most liberal countries in Europe, like Netherlands and Denmark, have shifted from policies of multiculturalism to monoculturalism, thinking that this would prevent the further rise of far-right political parties, but these policies are having reverse results as societies are getting more divided. By saying multiculturalism is dead, European leaders are abandoning their old values to make relatively small political gains. Monoculturalism is not the solution, and multiculturalism is not entirely dead.

William S. Smith suggests that by supporting multiculturalism we “will produce future leaders with an attitude of tolerance toward different cultures and a respect for worldwide diversity who will foster international comity”. For a diversity and peaceful world we need to accept and respect our differences, self-restraining our character to prevent conflicts.

Multiculturalism policies failed because of a broken relationship between the State and the wider society. The success of multiculturalism relies upon the combination of effective policy-making by the State and the resourcefulness of civil society managed by intermediate bodies.  Europe, known as the ‘Old Continent’ is getting even more older. With fertility rates going down, there will be limited population growth without migration, and without a young workforce the States will not be able to finance their economies. Instead of pointing to the death of multiculturalism, Europe should be trying to create a more tolerant society that will permit the continent’s economy to grow while receiving immigrants to work in our countries. European countries will continue to need workers for their economies, the increase of immigrants will increase the diversity within cities and solutions to promote stable social relations between different social, religious or ethnic communities are needed.

António Guterres, the current United Nations Secretary General and former UN High Commissioner between 2005 and 2015, declared that “migration is not the problem but the solution” for an aging Europe. “When elected officials hesitate to choose between values and the next election, I would advise them to choose values. If they go for short term [electoral gain] they will lose both, because there will always come a time when they lose an election. At that point, it becomes very hard to recover the values that have been abandoned.”.

Globalisation is underway and there is no way back- Western and Eastern, Northern and Southern people will have to live together in this globalised world, both will have to learn how to live in a new society, learn to respect the differences of each one in order to have a peaceful coexistence. As Guterres said, we should not abandon our values, we should preserve the rights and culture of minorities, while we ensure the values of the majority of the population. The cultural mosaic in Europe is not over, the cultural diversity will continue to rise, people from different cultures will continue to arrive and live in our neighbourhoods.

Confrontation will always occur. While this is human nature, a more tolerant society that respects different cultures needs to be constructed. For this, Europe needs multiculturalism policies modelled on countries like Canada or Azerbaijan. “United in diversity” is the motto of  the European Union, but European leaders and even European citizens might have forgotten that Europe is what it is because, between our cultural diversity, we have found a common ground that permitted us to be united for peace. The civil society, with the right policies, can push multiculturalism further in our societies, making us remember why we are united with our differences.