Here is a significant viewpoint from Kenan Malik on some problems with European multiculturalism. He begins by undermining three widely held notions about immigration that are shared across the political spectrum: (a) The "idea that European nations used to be homogeneous but have become plural in a historically unique fashion", (b) The "claim that contemporary immigration is different from previous waves, so much so that social structures need fundamental reorganization to accommodate it", and (c) The "belief that European nations have adopted multicultural policies because minorities demanded it." He then looks at how European multiculturalism has evolved as a political process.
Malik argues that European multicultural policies did not respond "to the needs of communities, but have helped create those communities by imposing identities on people." In elevating conservative/religious figures without a democratic mandate as the representatives of entire communities, these policies saw each cultural community as homogeneous and ignored internal conflicts within them—conflicts of class, gender, politics, religious subdivisions, and other differences. "Once political power and financial resources became allocated by ethnicity, then people began to identify themselves in terms of those ethnicities, and only those ethnicities." By "putting people in ethnic boxes", he says, multiculturalism has in fact increased conflicts between communities and undermined diversity and free speech.
It is somewhat alarming to be asked to present the European perspective on multiculturalism. There is no such beast. Especially when compared to the Canadian discussion, opinion in Europe is highly polarised. And mine certainly is not the European perspective. My view is that both multiculturalists and their critics are wrong. And only by understanding why both sides are wrong will we be able to work our way through the mire in which we find ourselves.
Thirty years ago multiculturalism was widely seen as the answer to many of Europe’s social problems. Today it is seen, by growing numbers of people, not as the solution to, but as the cause of, Europe’s myriad social ills. That perception has been fuel for the success of far-right parties and populist politicians across Europe from Geert Wilders in Holland to Marine Le Pen in France, from the True Finns to the UK Independence Party. It even provided fuel for the obscene, homicidal rampage last year of Anders Behring Breivik in Oslo and Utøya, which in his eyes were the first shots in a war defending Europe against multiculturalism. The reasons for this transformation in the perception of multiculturalism are complex, and at the heart of what I want to talk about. But before we can discuss what the problem is with multiculturalism, we first have unpack what we mean by multiculturalism.