WESTERN MULTICULTURALISM UPON CRISIS: NEW CHALLENGES AND DILEMMAS – I

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WESTERN MULTICULTURALISM UPON CRISIS: NEW CHALLENGES AND DILEMMAS – I

Crisis is a phase in the life of every society. Growth and decline cannot be perpetual and thus, crisis and recession is characteristic in the transitional phase. Every crisis can logically produce two outcomes. In the first case, any historical, political, economic process stagnates or completely stalls in the wake of a crisis. In the second case, begins the next process of economic growth, being a new process of economic growth. If a society is concerned, development of a society never stops. Therefore, crisis can only be coupled with the pursuit of finding a new pathway.

In this sense, crisis of multiculturalism, well-acknowledged process around the world, cannot last forever. Throughout its evolution the society must define its model of multicultural values in a certain time-frame. Existence of a society somewhere in the world, confined and isolated from global processes, appears unviable, given that process of globalization provides for inevitability of multiculturalism.

Political leaders, representatives of academic and social quarters and even religious figures are known to claim that policy of multiculturalism has failed. The failure is attributed largely to rejection of Western values as a common standard by the foreign labor force, particularly the Muslims, who once were welcomed in line with the migration policy of the Western European countries.

In reality however, Europe no longer fits the framework of classic Western values, regardless of causes and substance. The “Old Continent” reflects a lifestyle of bearers of a different culture. Albeit policy of multiculturalism pursued by the European officials has stagnated, different cultural values of present day Europe can neither be discarded nor can they become a standard practice. Therefore, the crisis must lead to finding new forms of bolstering of coexistence. That is to say, “Western model of multiculturalism” is in the search of new approaches. Before scrutinizing these approaches, let us highlight the challenges the West faces.

Western civilization in the face of new challenges

Having lost significant human resources in the WWII, the Western European countries started to compensate their wartime losses by welcoming migrants from the former colonies as cheap labor. In the wake of the war, dynamic pace of economic growth was several times greater that the capacity of its labor force. Aging of native population in Europe and abundance of affordable labor in the neighboring regions entailed encouragement of migration from former colonial countries.

Muslims are the biggest part of the migrant laborers community in modern Europe. Moreover, non-Muslims from Africa and migrants from India, adherent to their cultural values, have already become Europe’s new inhabitants. As a result, since the 1950s a new generation of immigrants, comprised of non-Christians and aliens to Western values, has started to emerge in France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and other Western European countries. If in the 1950s Muslim population of Europe stood at 800 000, in 2010 the figure was 44 million people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_Europe).

Thus, Europe, thought to be the cradle of Western civilization, faces two significant challenges. First, European society, built upon a national identity for centuries, was no longer comfortable within its traditional boundaries, encountering a new lifestyle as a result of the influx of migrants. Second, resettlement of Muslims in Europe has put the West against its own system of values at home.

With respect to the first challenge, it has to be emphasized that most European states of today are the migrant countries – with at least 10 % of the population made up of foreigners. Given the ongoing demographic crisis in Europe, the trend is clearly set to grow. According to Eurostat, the expected population growth in the European Union for 2010-2016 will be 16 million people, while immigration for the given period will account for 17 % of the total population, 86 million people that is. Owing to the past wave of migration, mixed marriages and birth rate difference between migrants and native population, the number of people with foreign origin will be quite high (http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache).

Notably, this is the very factor that separates the European model of multiculturalism from other Western models. In contrast to the “Old Continent”, the “New World” countries (such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and etc.) are not only facing any crisis but are also viewed by the experts as successful examples. The peculiar feature was that shaping of national identity coincided with the migration era and most migrants were of the European descent. National identity building in Europe, however, dates back to the Middle Ages. Therefore, new inhabitants of the continent struggle to integrate to the European society, and since migrants are yet to dominate, the assimilation clearly emerges as the main objective of the European model of multiculturalism.

Number of migrants differs from country to country but generally, there is a common approach. France can be distinguished from others in terms of the total number of migrant versus the general population. According to France’s National Institute of Statistics (INSEE), in 2008, 19 % (12 million people) of the population were either foreign-born or had 1 migrant parent (referring to I and II generations of migrants). Same research showed that in 2006-2008 roughly 40 % of new born children had at least 1 migrant grandparent.

The likes of Germany, United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium, and Netherlands host migrant community accounting for over 10 % of the general population. From ethnic and cultural standpoint these migrants represent quite different values. Along with bearers of Islamic culture, representatives of the Far East such as Indians, Chinese and Vietnamese also manage to preserve their values in the capacity of new European citizens. It clearly indicates that multiculturalism is a rather a necessity than an option for the European society.

It may not appear as a pressing issue for the countries with young population. Aging Europe however, with its dwindling working age population, cannot afford to abandon the ideology of multiculturalism. Based on the latest research, in 50 years time, Europe’s most populous country – Germany – will see 10 million drop and become a nation of 72 million. Aging will also be an ongoing process, unfolding at an alarming rate. Thus, if 20.5 % of the country’s population was above 65 in 2012, the number is estimated to reach 30.1 % by 2062. Meaning that migration of labor force is inevitable.

Greatest challenge facing European states that have already become migrant countries is demographic crisis and an immigration-centered policy to address it. In the meantime, it is impossible for Europe’s new population not to bring their values along. Europe to our mind, may overcome the crisis only by respecting and more importantly, embracing the values of the newcomers.

Future of Europe without migrants seems unimaginable. For the moment, Europe tends to dismiss moral values of the new residents and uphold Western ones instead. Migrants’ conduct and ethic norms are rejected owing to inconformity with the Western values, whereas the West has to view the migrants as an integral part of a homogeneous society. Past experience demonstrated that migrants encouraged coming to Europe failed to match the European “mould”.

Acceptance of a European society as a standard, based on Western cultural and religious values, fails to justify itself. It is fascinating that those who insist multiculturalism has failed, just because the arriving migrants do not accept the Western values, are the ones, who centuries ago, not only rejected but obliterated cultural diversity of the indigenous population across the oceans and of the slaves forcibly imported from Africa. Somehow, back then it was not regarded as a demise of multiculturalism. Therefore, in times of crisis the foremost dilemma facing the West becomes the acceptance of foreign values. This has to be underpinned not just by upholding of own values but displaying respect toward moral background of others.

Most troubling aspect for the future of the Western society

Influx of predominantly Muslim migrants to Europe emerges as yet another challenge for the West, although the former considers this not a challenge but a threat to its system of values and its future in general.

The Western civilization is known to attach great significance to religious values. For many centuries the Christianity has remained a nucleus of the Western system of values. And from the historical point of view, Islam has been regarded as Christianity’s main rival. Given the distance, Buddhism, deeply-rooted in the Far East, was unable to penetrate the “Old Continent”. Judaism was always oppressed in Europe, while Jews went through expulsions on several occasions and were only accepted as equal citizens starting from the XIX century. Islam-West relations were more aggravated and accompanied by bloody clashes, once one of the sides managed to tip the balance of power in its favor. Crusades in this sense were the bloodiest incursions of the Europeans into the Muslim world.

Throughout the history there were two episodes when Europe encountered influence of the bearers of the Islamic faith, first being the establishment of the Cordoba Caliphate in Spain, and the second being the enclosure of the European lands, extending to Vienna, into the Ottoman Empire. Nonetheless, in both cases, Europe had displayed intolerance towards the Muslims in the wake of dissolution of both empires. Religious persecution of Muslims in Spain and the Balkans, and annihilation of the Islamic culture demonstrates a historical tradition of Western attitude towards Islam.

Today, the situation is different. For the first time in history, Islam is not an alien religion in Europe, but one followed by certain part of Europe’s population. Since migrants from Turkey, Northern Africa, and people of former colonies in the Near and Middle East were the followers of Islam, Europe had to face yet another encounter with Islam in modernity. Presently, Europe faces a prospect of being Muslim in the future. Labor migrants are not arriving to Europe through invasion but rather by penetrating the society. In this case, Europe appears incapable of confronting the new wave of Islam with previous methods.

According to researchers, owing to flow of immigrants to Europe and high birth rate within this community, 20 % of Europe’s population will be Muslim by 2050. Some argue that Western and Islamic cultures cannot coexist. Today, such incomparable notions as democracy or Sharia laws, Islam or freedom are suggested as counter dilemmas for the society in modern Europe. In reality however, Islamic values is the choice made by a certain segment of the European population. Without tolerance, and with Islam unable to occupy its rightful place in the system of Western values, this would cause a problem for the future of Europe itself.

Muslims’ adherence to their religion, popularization of Islam as such, positive demographic growth dynamics of the Muslim population is regarded as the most troubling aspect for the West. Ultimately, Islam is seen as a phobia in the West. Fear of minority dominating the majority challenges the Western–style multiculturalism.

Research conducted by Eurobarometer in 2012 revealed that 39 % of respondents in Europe believed religious segregation was widely spread.  66 % of those surveyed in France, 60 % in Belgium, 58 % in Switzerland, 51 % in the Netherlands and 51 % in the United Kingdom, believed that was the case.

Thus, historical events demonstrate that religious tolerance and multiculturalism values of the West are based on the concept of imposing their values upon others. As such, European countries, characterized as migrant nations, aim solely to assimilate immigrants representing different cultures and faiths to the European society; meaning that multiculturalism may only be accepted as a dominance of Western values and a lackluster component of a common mosaic. In modern era, this threatens the very future of multiculturalism for Europe that represents various cultures and nationalities.

Indeed, in reality, the future of Western-style multiculturalism will largely depend on the dialogue between Christianity and Islam, and coexistence of religious and secular values. This is the only panacea. It is only in a tolerant society that multiculturalism may thrive by mutually complementing the cultures and bolstering the system of values embracing different peoples.

Arastu HABIBBEYLI

PhD in Economics 

Kaynak: Newtimes.az

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