THE BLOG
29/07/2011 09:29 BST | Updated 25/09/2011 06:12 BST

Multiculturalism Is an Ideology, Multicultural Europe Is a Reality

Multiculturalism, for all its faults was the first serious ideological exercise at this coexistence after initial disastrous attempts at assimilation. But multiculturalism is only an ideology and like all ideologies has its limitations. The alternative is not to go back into assimilationist policies. This will merely be a modern version of fortress Europe.

The Norwegian massacre has thrown up the issue of multiculturalism again to the fore. The focus shifts to Islam, ethnic and black minorities. Multiculturalism is analysed ad nausea. But the important question that is not being asked is whether there is an issue within European civilisation in coming to terms with its multicultural reality.

Multiculturalism is merely an ideology. It is, and in some cases was, an attempt to cope with the wave of multiple cultures and races that have descended upon fortress Europe since it started practising human rights and equality in twentieth century.

For well over millennia, Europe kept other cultures out of its lands or, as the Jewish and Roma histories tell us, hurdled into ghettoes and margins of society. The coexistence of distinctly different cultural societies as equal is a fairly new phenomenon in European history with understandable resistance from some sections such as the EDL.

Governments around Europe commend themselves at the progress they have made on integration but lament at reactionary forces lurking in the wider commmunity. Yet governments themselves need to review their capitulation. Under pressure some have turned the multicultural debate on ethnic communities, criticising them for non conformist practices. They prefer a uniform culture.

Take France which had its Taliban moment during and soon after the 1789 revolution with the reign of terror and Napoleonic campaigns when it went around decimating its own regional cultural communities and languages. Today, faced by its own generated human rights principles, France adopts subtler methods such as laiciti legislation. With a PR stroke it calls it enlightenment.

The French are the only people I know in the world whose sense of nationhood is threatened at the mere sight of a Sikh student with a turban in school. They used the full coercive power of the state to force 8 year old Sikh children to take off their turbans under some medieval ideology of one holy national culture. In France, secularism has replaced Christianity as the true 'revelation'. The Taliban do ideological uniformity in more crude ways. The principle is the same. You might as well sit sophisticated French philosophers and Taliban ideologues on the same table. It is only the form of coercion that is different.

The UK has concentrated on language. What if the Spanish Government were also to require all English émigrés to speak Spanish or for that matter if British settlers in Thailnd were required to be fluent in Thai to gel on with the masses. The law on linguistic proficiency for immigrants is being challenged.

Nevertheless the liberal European state is trying, albeit held back by the wider culture. Contrast the European experience with India. The Indian state system is a very poor example of multicultural governance. Almost all communal riots in India are staged by politicians conniving to harness communal votes under an ill thought out constitution and democratic system that leaves them with little option.

Yet the people of India have shown resilience to such communal and anti-cultural politics. It is a testament to the thousands of years of multicultural civilisation in India that the President can be a Muslim and the Prime Minister a Sikh in eighty percent Hindu majority country.

What works in India is not the State or its secular political philosophy (which is a catastrophic mess anyway) but the long evolution of Indian civilisation and its people coexisting with distinctly different cultures in one territory. When politics intervenes with periodic violence, civilisation restores sanity after a while.

That's where Europe also needs to concentrate. Instead of finger wagging at ethnic communities and blaming multiculturalism, there needs to be a deeper dialogue on how European civilisation can come to terms with the multicultural reality that has now become a permanent part of Europe as it is in many parts of the world.

Multiculturalism, for all its faults was the first serious ideological exercise at this coexistence after initial disastrous attempts at assimilation. But multiculturalism is only an ideology and like all ideologies has its limitations. The alternative is not to go back into assimilationist policies. This will merely be a modern version of fortress Europe.

The way forward is to widen the dialogue of coexistence and to work as much with the majority community as the minority communities. History shows that all migratory communities shed some of their extreme aspects to make their lives easier in their new adopted lands. But transformation also occurs in the long established majority community. There is considerable change in the average European's attitude to multicultural world now. But there is still resistance from some sections.

A multicultural world is not a new phenomenon. Perhaps Europe can learn a bit from the Indian civilisation, not the Indian state, on what works there. Britain has been a leader in multicultural Europe, but it could be Norway now that will show the next phase. Contrary to many other countries in Europe which went into knee jerk mode after such events and knocked down multiculturalism, Norway's calm and fortitude in the crises gives hope for a thoughtful way forward. Multicultural Europe is a reality needing new ideas. .