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Towards ‘Multicultural’ Racism – OpEd

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By Dilek Karal

Last March, France was shaken by the news that a Frenchman, born to parents from Algeria, had killed seven people in armed attacks. By that date, several pieces of research were already supporting the impression that Islamophobia was generally on the increase across Europe. In France, it had pretty well turned into a full-scale battue. During the same month, anti-immigrant groups and racists held a joint meeting in Denmark, and proclaimed the message “Immigrants—or rather Muslims –out!”
While the debate in Europe was particularly focused on opposition to Islam, public opinion in the U.S.A illustrated was outraged during February by the shooting dead to death of a black youth by the name of called Trayvon Martin. The uproar which followed his death went all the way up to Congress. Congress held a special session on racial discrimination and hate crimes and condemned the event, while President Barack Obama became involved by declaring that if he had had a son, he would look have been like Trayvon, thus giving firm public support to the murdered youth. So while racism was being held to account in the U.S.A at a government level, Europe presented a gloomier picture.

Europe’s multicultural societies are posing a major test for the continent, and there is nothing novel about the issue question being posed so starkly. In 2010, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, made a speech to the Christian Democrat Union (CDU) in which she remarked that multiculturalism had collapsed, and gave the signal for harsher measures against immigrants. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has adopted a style similar to Merkel’s, emphasizing that the government’s multicultural policies pursued over many years have now collapsed and that “now is the time to be firmly attached to British identity.” These events have all put the debate about multiculturalism firmly back on the agenda.

Rethinking Multiculturalism

Bhikhu Parekh, a social scientist who was Chairman of the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain from 1998 to 2000, defines a multicultural society as one which contains two or more cultural communities simultaneously. This definition suggests that a society may either tolerate cultural diversity and reinforce this with social policies and so develop a multicultural structure, or it may prefer to assimilate different cultures within an oppressive culture. So the expression multicultural points to the fact that a society has a culture which harbours cultural diversity and ‘multiculturalism’ expresses the standard reaction to this fact. According to Parekh, neither Britain where cultural monism was dominant, nor France where human rights are limited by strong traditions of citizenship, is multicultural. Consequently, it might be more appropriate to speak, not of the bankruptcy of multiculturalism in Europe in particular, but of the abandonment of an ideal that has never been attained.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that issues of rights and freedoms are at the center of the debate on multiculturalism in Europe. The Union is a supra-national entity and the consistency of the citizens’ rights and freedoms of its member countries’ citizens’ rights and freedoms are is a matter that are is discussed internally by them. So the internal arrangements made by the individual countries of the European Union vary considerably. In legal terms, the 1992 Maastricht Treaty lays down established that the possession of citizenship of any member country directly confers membership of the Union.

Then again, experts like Ruud Koopmans, a signatory to European migration and integration projects, point out that a great many rights for which permission has to be granted— — e.g. how much social security they receive when unemployed, whether they can attend school with their heads covered or not, whether or not they can attend religious schools, whether or not they can receive education in their mother tongues, and even whether or not they are buried or cremated when they die— may totally vary according to the particular country of the Union in which the individual happens to be living. The French and Netherlands Dutch models, in particular, are centered on the freedom of the individual in their own apartment, i.e., they take as their base for their freedom on the acceptability of individual rights by society as a whole. This approach does not simply imply that the rights of an individual must not harm others, but that they also have to be endorsed by them. In this context, it is rather difficult to speak about a holistic dominant view of rights in most of the countries of the Union.

In the case of immigrant rights , the situation in many countries is still more confusing. According to Koopman’s research on rights accorded to immigrants since 1980, although immigrants’ rights are substantially wider in the EU outside France and Denmark, the 9/11 attacks seem to have been followed in many countries by significant new restrictions on immigrant rights. This research suggests that a large number of European countries containing diverse cultural groups vary in their arrangements on matters such as the right to employment in the public sector, cultural rights in education and social life, and the reunion of families.

To conclude, racism has recently been on the increase in the European Union and Europe as a whole, and it is not a groundless concern arising simply from the rhetoric of leaders targeting nationalist support. These countries revised their border policies in the period after 9/11 and toughened their immigration policies, and in them there is a growing wave of people who find themselves confronted by intolerance in their daily lives, or to put it more bluntly, by varying forms of racism. In those societies of our time, which are involuntarily evolving towards a form of multiculturalism, unfortunately racism is becoming a familiar daily response to these different cultures.

Dilek Karal
USAK Center for Social Studies
Turkish version of this article was published in Analist Journal, May Issue.

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JTW

JTW - the Journal of Turkish Weekly - is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

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