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– Twenty-First Century Crusades?
tension and backlash against Muslims in Europe
Multiculturalism fails in Europe as
public mood shifts hard right
by Harry Sterling
Multiculturalism has "utterly failed." That stark assessment was not
voiced by some disgruntled opponent of Canada's own efforts to promote
multiculturalism as an intrinsic ingredient in this country's
It was expressed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking a few days
ago at a youth wing meeting of her Christian Democratic Party.
In her customary matter-of-fact manner, Chancellor Merkel said Germany's
attempt to build a multicultural society had failed abysmally.
Her blunt remarks came on the heels of a think-tank's survey which
reported that 30 per cent of Germans felt their country was "overrun by
foreigners," who had come to Germany primarily for its social benefits
rather than with a desire to integrate into German society. (Thirteen
per cent also said they would welcome a "Fuhrer" to run the country.)
Chancellor Merkel's chagrin with Germany's multiculturalism efforts is
far from unique. Such feelings are increasingly commonplace within
Europe, especially in more industrialized countries like France,
Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands.
Interestingly, at the very time that anti-immigrant sentiments,
including anti-Muslim attitudes, have been escalating in many European
states, almost the opposite has been happening in Canada where some
insist a continued inflow of immigrants is essential for economic growth
and for offsetting the negative effect of an aging society which will be
putting severe strains on the country's social welfare system.
Those who favour increased immigration in Canada will say that one of
the key differences between the attitudes of most Europeans toward
immigrants and those in Canada is actually quite simple.
Whereas the more industrialized nations in Western Europe in the postwar
period welcomed foreign workers in the hundreds of thousands, they were
welcomed essentially because they received low wages, thus making
countries like Germany more competitive on global markets. And, as
Angela Merkel herself admitted, such workers were not expected to remain
in Germany. But they did. In fact, almost three million of Germany's
inhabitants today are Turks or of Turkish ancestry, many never having
integrated into German society.
Canadian governments, on the other hand, actually wanted immigrants to
come to this country to populate its sparsely inhabited vastness,
particularly in the Prairies. Potential immigrants from Ukraine and
elsewhere, including Icelanders, were offered relatively generous land
grants to settle in the Canadian West.
Cynics would say the explanation for the different approaches taken by
the Europeans and Canada toward immigrants was straightforward: The
Europeans didn't want them to stay. Canada did.
Because many European governments didn't initially regard foreign
workers and their families as potential citizens, they weren't overly
concerned about either their lack of integration into society or, in
some countries like Germany, the requirement to grant them citizenship.
In Canada the situation was quite different. Because Canada did not have
a rigid class system, quite common in Europe, foreigners arriving in
this country had far greater opportunities to advance themselves.
Although Canadians from traditional British and French backgrounds were
not immune from racial, ethnic or religious biases toward immigrants
from other lands -- onerous head taxes imposed on Chinese, boatloads of
Sikhs blocked from entering Canada, Jews denied access to various
occupations and social organizations -- new arrivals in Canada
nevertheless could prosper if determined to do so.
And they did, even entering politics. Countless members of Canada's
federal and provincial parliaments, plus municipal governments, are
landed immigrants or the offspring of recent immigrants.
In 2004 Yasmin Ratsani was elected as the first Sikh woman to the
federal parliament. Hong Kong-born Olivia Chow, wife of NDP leader Jack
Layton, was elected an MP in 2006's election. Current federal MP Ujjal
Dosanjh was the first Sikh premier of British Columbia. The present
Conservative MP responsible for the key position of Parliamentary
Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Deepak Obhrai, was born in
Tanzania. Together, they are just a sample of the hundreds of immigrants
who have successfully entered political life in their adopted country.
And Oct. 18, Calgary elected Professor Naheed Nenshi as mayor, the first
Muslim to head a major Canadian city in this nation's history.
While a majority of Canadians have no difficulty in recognizing the
positive contribution immigrants and their families have made to enrich
Canadian society, it's clear that during difficult economic times
questions are being raised regarding whether Canada's immigration
criteria should not be tightened to ensure that those approved as
immigrants have the education, skills and other attributes which will
see them integrate more successfully into Canadian society, becoming
productive and responsible members of their new country.
It's a goal which Germany's Chancellor Merkel shares for her own
Harry Sterling, a former diplomat, is an Ottawa-based commentator.