Herbert London is president of the Hudson Institute and author of the book Decline and Revival in Higher Education (Transaction Publishers).
At long last a European politician, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, lifted the curtain on the pernicious dimensions of multiculturalism. After several decades of home grown terrorism and an acceptance of separation by Muslim groups in the United Kingdom, the prime minister said, “enough.”
A new course will be charted that moves from accommodation to integration. There may be a risk of xenophobia with the Cameron approach, but it is a worthwhile trade-off if terrorist impulses are thwarted.
Mr. Cameron called his strategy “muscular liberalism,” to wit: confronting extremist Islamic thought and challenging those efforts that attempt to undermine Western values. For example, the prime minister made special mention of zero tolerance for the subjugation of women, a practice permitted because of Islamic separation and application of sharia.
The notion that different groups within a society should be encouraged to pursue their own cultural paths is a formulation based on religious tolerance. But as George Santayana, among others, noted the first duty of the tolerant man is to exercise intolerance for intolerance. In other words, a proverbial line in the sand must be drawn when religious groups use societal tolerance to promote intolerance.
For at least two generations Europeans have failed to integrate immigrants into their societies. These are recent immigrants who don’t speak the language of the host country and have not accepted the basic historic and cultural background of the nation in which they now reside.
After observing the corrosive influence of multiculturalism a consensus is beginning to emerge. In addition to Cameron’s comments, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared multiculturalism a “total failure.” Swiss voters approved a ban on the construction of new minarets on mosques. French authorities have issued a prohibition on burqas and other full body robes worn by some Muslim women. And the Swedish Democratic Party, which had almost no influence in the politics of the country, gained 5.7 percent of the vote in national elections after campaigning on a platform of anti-multiculturalism.
France, which has about 10 million Muslims, has introduced mandatory courses for all immigrants on “French values,” women’s rights and an overview of the national history. Whether national identity can be imbibed or transcend religious imperatives remains to be seen.
From a sociological perspective integration represents a compromise between the traditions of the mother country and the host nation. Presumably one can be French, share the tradition of liberalism and at the same time be a Muslim. But is this compromise realistic? Will Islam allow for sharia to coexist with liberal traditions?
On the other hand, assimilation demands the acceptance of the host nation’s values and the shedding of the past. This is an all or nothing position that forces a stark and unalterable choice. Put bluntly, “if you want to join us, you will do so on our terms. After all, no one has forced you to enter our shores.”
Clearly Europeans have a right, some would argue an obligation, to defend their Christian heritage against an onslaught from radical Muslim intrusion. The question is how best to defend those traditions. Cameron’s well stated diatribe against multiculturalism is the sound of national tocsin, a battle cry to preserve British culture. On this side of the Atlantic it is a welcome statement that sets the tone for the challenges the West now faces and will be facing in the decades ahead.