- - Sunday, January 10, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Ageneration ago the Europeans, who had bled themselves white in war after war, usually in the service of chauvinistic nationalism, decided they could save the day with a new concept called multiculturalism. The concept was vague but expansive, which celebrated ethnic and other cultural differences and sprinkling them with holy water. “Multi-culti” became fashionable.

Soon Europe’s native minorities were joined by vast new numbers of arrivals from places far from Europe, many from former colonial appendages. By cultivating their differences, rather inviting them to join a melting pot that had worked so well for so long in North America, tolerance and “cultural enrichment” became the norm.

But there’s a growing realization that maybe “multi-culti” hasn’t worked so well, after all. Prominent Europeans are turning their backs on the idea. Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany have called the scheme, however well meant, into serious question.

The reasons are clear enough. The idea that new arrivals would inherit a mixture of the old and the new turned out to be non-achievable. Instead, multiculturalism created ghettoes, often impoverished ones. The institutionalized subsidies to the new arrivals created dependence on government handouts rather than self-reliance through integration in the workplace. This in turn produced resentment among the native population — wholly predictable but a revelation to the government wise men — leading to the formation of nationalistic political parties threatening the moderate center.

This has led to occasional violence, such as the attack in 2011 by a far-right Norwegian terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 69 persons at a youth camp of the Norwegian island of Utoya the day after he killed 8 with a car bomb in Oslo. He was sentenced to an indeterminate term in prison, likely to be for life.

The face of European multiculturalism is different country by country. In Britain, ethnic communities were encouraged to take part in the nation’s politics. Germany provided jobs and security but refused citizenship to the large Turkish immigration, alienating the second generation and encouraging some to join radical political movements. France thought it was integrating the new arrivals, as it had earlier Italian and East European immigrants, but in fact sent North African Muslims to separate communities at the edge of the large cities.

The waves of immigrants were transforming European society, much of it in unintended ways, and attempts to channel the various cultural streams were either inappropriate, ineffective, or both. The numbers were staggering. By 2013 Germany, which has taken in more immigrants than any country in the world except for the United States, counted 13 percent of its population as foreign born. Even relatively remote Sweden counted 12 percent foreign-born, and its lavish welfare state became a magnet for migrants, causing a breakdown under a tsunami of migrants from Syria and the Middle East.

The old institutions of churches and trade unions, which once could help absorb new migrants, have become weaker and can no longer do much to help. The British government warned in 1953 (when everything was “politically incorrect”) that a “large colored community as a noticeable feature of our social life would weaken … the concept of England or Britain to which people of British stock throughout the Commonwealth are attached.”

The growing Muslim numbers in Europe include some immigrants with ties, however nebulous, to radical Islamic terrorism. Events have forced a Muslim identity on the migrants to Europe that was not there in earlier years. It’s clear now that European leaders must devise new solutions to new problems. It’s something that Americans, with a long history of relatively easy assimilation, must watch closely.

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