Failed Multiculturalism

David Cameron argued that “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” (Cameron, 2011, www.number10,gov.uk). Although the majority of his speech focuses on the responsibilities of immigrants when they come to Britain, he points that the responsibility of the government is that “we must build stronger societies and stronger identities at home. … It’s that identity, that feeling of belonging in our countries, that I believe is the key to achieving true cohesion.” 

However, his words have been interpreted as a change from multiculturalism to singularism: “Cameron was showing his support for Angela Merkel and her German Christian Democrat party’s idea that security and cohesion are brought about not through integration and pluralism, but through monoculturalism and assimilation into the dominant Leitkultur (lead culture)” (Fekete, 2011, www.irr.org.uk). Although it has been argued that Cameron’s views were more subtle than Merkel’s and Sarkozy’s (Bagehot, 2011). He distinguished between piety and extremism and notes that the government has a responsibility and needs to manage the situation. Nonetheless, Cameron’s speech was welcomed by nationalist party members (Le Pen in France, Batty, 2011). In fact, Sarkozy argued that too much attention was paid to the individual immigrant and not enough to the identity of the nation who hosts them.

A rejection of multiculturalism requires an assessment of what it is that’s being rejected. In 2004, Trevor Phillips (2004), the chairman of the then Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), said that multiculturalism was out of date and no longer useful, not least because it encouraged “separateness” between communities. In a criticism of the CRE (now Equality and Human Rights Commission), Lerman (2010) stated that it cannot be said that fully formed multicultural policies were ever followed by government: “Indeed much of what government has tried to do in this area has been contradictory and counterproductive. It failed to assert common values based on the primacy of human rights. It never effectively tackled racial inequality and its failures have been amplified by the disastrous performance of the EHRC. … And despite occasional cack-handed stabs at defining Britishness, it failed to provide any thoughtful leadership in developing a national narrative that would reflect the reality of multicultural Britain” (www.guardian.co.uk). Such media discussions highlight the challenges that government leadership face and whether the discussion needs to move on from a conceptual to a more pragmatic, evidence based management analysis.

In the UK, the Commission on Integration and Cohesion published the ‘Our Shared Future’ report, which indicated that there was a sense of shared values across the individuals and communities consulted.  In an independent report advising the commission, Buofino and Thompson (2007: 15) argued that ‘good mental health, satisfying and secure work, a secure and loving private life, freedom, moral values and a secure community were found to be the main factors affecting happiness’. The Commission concluded that their expectation that communities clash in terms of values was not found to be true but warned that ‘if the discrimination experienced by some groups within our society continues, we will not be able to achieve the goals we set out in this report for building integration and cohesion’ (Commission on Integration and Cohesion, 2007: 27). 

My thoughts are that multiculturalism has failed but that this isn’t a bad thing because multiculturalism isn’t necessarily the celebration of diversity some think it is. A very interesting study by Johnston Conover, Searing and Crewe (2004) found that British and American respondents’ views do not “monochromatically reflect either liberal, cultural pluralist, or communitarian models, but, instead leave cultural pluralism in the back cupboard and put forward complex mixtures of liberalism and communitarianism” (p. 1061). Moreover, they found that communitarian thinking is likely to impede liberal and cultural pluralist pathways to citizenship. This highlights the importance of value congruence in people’s mindset, even if they believe strongly in liberalism, cultural pluralism and equal citizenship. If this is the case, then government leaders need to take heed and manage such a potential cognitive dissonance. Thus, multiculturalism shies away from taking responsibility and engaging into a dialogue and potentially a conflict that needs to be managed, not avoided. That takes guts. From all involved.

 

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