The famous actress was sitting on the couch reviewing the morning newspapers along with the host of the morning news program and another person. The review soon came around to a discussion of Prime Minister David Cameron's attack on multiculturalism. The actress commented that this attacked the very core of British culture! Really? Growing up in England in the 1950s and '60s, I never even heard the word "multiculturalism." Its usage began in Canada during the premiership of Pierre Trudeau in the '70s and '80s and has since spread to other Western nations. It is hardly the historic core of British values!
A number of world leaders have in recent months come out against multiculturalism. Not only Britain's prime minister Cameron, but also Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel, Australia's former prime minister John Howard, Spain's former premier Jose Maria Aznar and France's president Nicolas Sarkozy have expressed concerns about integrating immigrants through multiculturalist policies (Agence France-Presse, Feb. 10, 2011).
Multiculturalism is the advocacy in Western nations of embracing all the new cultures that have moved into Western countries in recent decades. It is not the policy in most countries around the world, where preserving national identity is valued more highly.
What was the context of the British prime minister's remarks, and why did they get so much attention?
Attempting to overcome nationalism
It should first be noted that he gave his Feb. 5, 2011, speech in Munich, Germany, in the presence of the German chancellor. No speech given there has received so much media attention since Neville Chamberlain's visit to Hitler to try to achieve "peace in our time." That was more than 70 years ago, and Europe is now a very different place. Just as Chamberlain's speech was of great historic significance, so Cameron's may also turn out to be a turning point in British and European history.
In 1938, Europe was made up of many nations, each one with its own separate cultural and ethnic identity. A major problem for Europe involved overlaps—minority ethnic groups living within a different majority ethnic nation. This included Germans in both Czechoslovakia and Poland, providing Hitler with an excuse to invade these countries and plunge Europe into war. And the Holocaust perpetrated against the Jews, a long-established minority in many countries, was the most disturbing example of ethnic cleansing in history.
After two world wars devastated Europe, there was a widespread desire to minimize ethnic conflict—and this has, at length, led to the European Union. The desire to form "an ever closer union" of European nations is a direct consequence of Europe's nationalistic conflicts. The EU is intended to surmount all of this—to unite the various European countries in a supranational federal system.
Yet the European ethnic landscape has become even more diverse. As a result of the massive loss of life in World War II, European countries—their populations sorely diminished—needed labor, and immigrants were welcomed. Most of these came from colonies the European nations had ruled. And as the colonies gained independence, they in many cases experienced national economic decline while their populations nevertheless rose dramatically due to improved medical care. The result has been a surplus of people, many of whom have moved to Europe.
It was naively expected that somehow the immigrants would all become Englishmen, Frenchmen or Germans, integrating successfully in these respective nations. But the reality is that many have desired to preserve their cultural identity, which has led to considerable friction and a great deal of fear.
Americans like to think that assimilation has been more successful in the United States—a supposed "melting pot." But interestingly, on the same breakfast television program in the United Kingdom, a British man of African descent who had lived in the United States said exactly the opposite—that assimilation has worked better in Britain than in America.
As recent news reports of homegrown terror cells in the United States show, no country can boast of success when it comes to assimilation. It may have worked a century ago when most immigrants came from Europe, but it has not been so successful in Western countries since doors opened to immigration from developing nations.
The failure of assimilation led to the promotion of multiculturalism. The objective was that ethnicities would dwell among one another while remaining culturally distinct through maintaining their various traditions, customs and ways of thinking. This concept has been promoted in mass media right across the cultural spectrum—from Sesame Street to MTV! Yet it's led not to societal union but to fragmentation.
"Multiculturalism has failed"
Douglas Murray, director of the Center for Social Cohesion in London, wrote this of Cameron's speech in an article published in The Wall Street Journal: "‘Multiculturalism has failed,' said British Prime Minister David Cameron last weekend in Munich. If anybody thought they had read these words before, it is because they have. Many times. Last October German Chancellor Angela Merkel (sitting onstage with Mr. Cameron when he gave his speech on Saturday) said the same. Finally Europe's mainstream party leaders seem to be realizing what others have long noticed: Multiculturalism has been the most pernicious and divisive policy pursued by Western governments since World War II" ("Cameron's Multicultural Wake-Up Call," Feb. 9, 2011).
The same Wall Street Journal issue also editorialized in support of what Cameron said: "David Cameron gave a bracing speech about multiculturalism on Saturday, notable as much for the venue as his argument. The annual Munich Security Conference typically devotes itself to foreign policy and defense. By denouncing multiculturalism at the conference, Mr. Cameron put the subject at the center of the West's security agenda. Past time, too. The U.S., Canada and the EU are waking up to the realization that terrorism isn't simply a phenomenon that arrives from abroad . . . While undemocratic regimes may explain extremism in Egypt, they don't explain why there are ‘so many extremists in free and open societies' like the U.K." ("David Cameron's Warning," Feb. 9, 2011).
An opinion piece about the speech by American syndicated columnist Cal Thomas was published in the Lansing State Journal under the headline and drophead: "Assimilation a must for immigrants: U.S. should learn lesson from flawed British plan" (Feb. 11, 2011). The article, titled "Told You So" at Townhall.com, begins with this observation: "One of liberalism's many problems is that once an idea or program is proved wrong and unworkable, liberals rarely acknowledge their mistake and examine the root cause of their error so they don't repeat it. Take multiculturalism . . . please!"
Besides reporting on Cameron declaring state multiculturalism a failure, Thomas further wrote: "For good measure, Cameron said Britain must also get tougher on Islamic extremists. A genuinely liberal country, he said, ‘believes in certain values and actively promotes them . . . Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law, equal rights, regardless of race, sex or sexuality."
Thomas' most astute observation was in contradiction to the speech. He wrote: "Cameron said in Britain different cultures have been encouraged to live separate lives: ‘We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.' Here I would take issue with an otherwise excellent speech. It isn't that Britain has failed to provide such a society. Rather, many of those coming to Britain (and increasingly France, Germany and the U.S.) don't want to become a part of those cultures, which they regard as corrupt and anti-God."
The jumbling together of ethnic and religious groups has been a largely post–World War II phenomenon in Western countries. This is in spite of the evidence that such mixing without cultural assimilation is problematic in many parts of the world.
Take the historic conflict between Muslims and Hindus in India that led to partition in 1947; or the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has been the cause of frequent wars in the Middle East; or the frequent tribal conflicts in Africa; or the unceasing ethnic conflicts in the Balkans, which triggered the First World War, contributed to the Second and exploded again in the 1990s. Given these, one might ask why the West thought that somehow the end result of mingling different ethnic and religious groups would turn out to be different!
Some biblical perspective
There's an interesting verse in the New Testament of your Bible that stands in direct contradiction to the multicultural idea. While "God shows no partiality" (Acts 10:34), we read in the same book that "He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings" (Acts 17:26).
It is also interesting to note that Jesus Christ, when asked, "What will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3), warned that "nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom" (verse 7). A kingdom is a political entity. But the word "nation" here is translated from the Greek word ethnos, from which we get the words ethnic and ethnicity. In other words, Jesus was saying that immediately prior to His coming to establish God's Kingdom on this earth, there would be a time of great ethnic conflict—the inevitable result of mingling diverse people groups together.
David Cameron's warning, along with the earlier warning from Angela Merkel, shows a growing concern about the inevitability of conflict in Western countries—conflict that will endanger the very unity and stability of Western nations.
Thankfully, true harmony between peoples is possible through the One who gave His life for us all. Rather than maintaining our old ways, we need to develop Jesus Christ's ways of thinking and living.
Ephesians 2:14-17 said this of Christ in relation to the division between Jews and gentiles: "For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity… so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near."
When all people finally understand God's truth and humble themselves through Christ, they can at last come together as one in genuine and lasting peace and harmony. WNP