The following essay was written by the Norwegian author and historian of religions Hanne Nabintu Herland. It is based on excerpts from her recent bestseller, “Respect”.
Multiculturalism’s failure in Europe
by Hanne Nabintu Herland
Over the past decade the opponents of multiculturalism have multiplied. Leading politicians such as Angela Merkel, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy have all condemned this Leftist strategy of integration that equates the ideals of other cultures with European traditional values. The idea is that Europeans should not uphold their own cultural roots, but instead listen humbly to new immigrant residents and accept their traditional norms and customs in the name of diversity.
But multiculturalism has in essence turned out quite differently than the utopian dreamers of the naïve Leftwing socialists hoped for when they first started out. Today many decline to engage in necessary discussion concerning the need to uphold traditional European values in a time of upheaval, for fear of offending non-Western immigrants and being labeled intolerant and racist.
This implies a tragic misunderstanding of what tolerance really means.
To be tolerant means to respect other cultures when visiting their countries, just as immigrants from foreign cultures are to respect European values and ways of life when they move to Europe. To be tolerant is to respect the traditions, values and social norms of the country in which you are staying.
One of the main problems with multiculturalism is that it does not respect the differences and boundaries between nations and cultures. For instance, for a number of years there have been demands to tone down the Christmas celebration and exclude it from school arrangements, justified by Leftist claims that the holiday’s emphasis on the birth of Jesus Christ and the celebration of Santa Claus will offend non-Western immigrants. Yet many Muslims object to these types of multicultural attempts, as they say that they of course have nothing against celebrating the birth of Jesus, or in Arabic “Isa”. After all, he is a prophet in Islam.
Similarly, in Norway there are efforts to criticize the traditional use of the Norwegian flag on Independence Day, the 17th of May, to avoid conflicts with non-Western newcomers. Hardcore multiculturalists want each person to use the flag of his country of origin, rather than the Norwegian flag, which symbolizes national unity.
When pride in one’s own traditional values is continuously suppressed and spurned, the result may be that Europeans feel discriminated against in their own culture. This becomes a “racism against whites” which in turn creates a growing environment of displeasure with “non-Western foreigners”. In turn, resentment fuelled among ethnic groups may grow malicious. The Swedish city of Malmö is an excellent example of how bad things can get when a sloppy careless multiculturalism is implemented and society doesn’t demand respect for Swedish law. In Malmö foreigners are moving back to their countries of origin like Iraq or Iran, because things are much better in those countries than in Sweden.
The mistake of multiculturalism and its contempt for traditional European values is that it fails to recognize the need for a strong common ground of cultural unity.
Yet there are many misconceptions about what it means to be against multiculturalism. Some believe that it involves a general antagonism towards immigration; that the goal is a society with no foreigners whatsoever, a kind of monoculture where only the original ethnic population is desired. This is, however, not the case.
To oppose multiculturalism means to respect the sovereignty of other countries and their right to define the cultural ideals they wish to emphasize within their boundaries, and at the same time, to claim this very right in Europe within the context of European culture. Europeans should define the values and laws that apply in Europe and immigrants from other cultures should respect these. Just as Europeans should not dictate norms in other countries and have no right to intervene in other countries’ internal affairs, non-Westerners should not have rights to define fundamental values in Europe.
For instance, to respect the right of other cultures to practice polygamy in their own countries does not necessarily mean that you must accept the same cultural practice when in Europe. Here European values and marriage laws apply. Those who are not inclined to conform to European laws are of course free to return to their countries of origin and practice their religious, marital or cultural preferences there.
We who are against the injustice of multiculturalism aspire to a globalized world with a greater degree of international respect based on each country’s right to determine its own values. The plea is for a Europe where foreigners and all Europeans receive equal treatment and actively participate in the development of a society based on the values of the traditional European heritage.
Opponents of multiculturalism have a positive view towards law-abiding working immigrants, who are welcome, but criminals with no constructive contribution to make to society should be punished and expelled from communities. If you show no respect for the country you move to, you lose the right to stay there.
We want a multi-ethnic society that evaluates individuals on an equal basis in light of their competencies and willingness to work rather than ethnicity. But multiculturalism is heavily tinted with an underlying socialistic racism which implies that people with dark skins who do not originate in Europe should be “pitied”. These people must be helped, provided with welfare benefits and excused if they commit crimes. This socialistic racism is denigrating, and today permeates governments and social structures in a number of European countries, amongst them Norway. Instead of showing immigrants respect by offering them work, we shuffle the non-Western into an underclass of welfare-dependent victims. The tragedy of multiculturalism is that it has created a class-oriented and ethnically segregated environment which places so-called “non-Western foreigners” at the bottom of the social ladder.
Multiculturalism has slowly robbed ordinary Europeans of pride in their own culture and awareness of the importance of its values. It was the European cultural environment that years ago fostered citizens of the Enlightenment with a high regard for honesty, punctuality, duty, integrity and solidarity. Emphasis on moral elements such as self-discipline, education, humility and good manners formed the basis for a society that respected individual differences. Capitalism joined with the Protestant ethic produced a culture that emphasized hard work, savings, honesty and the belief that earnings should not merely be spent, but re-invested. When Europeans relinquish these cultural ideals, the upshot is today’s moral decline, with financial crises, mediocrity and cultural decay.
Europeans must reinforce a belief in these norms, ideas and guidelines that form the basis of traditional Western thinking. We must continue to build on common historical values to which everyone, regardless of ethnic origin, should respect when living in Europe. This will produce a stronger, more peaceful and stable Europe for the times ahead.