Sarkozy joins growing chorus of Western European leaders who have said multiculturalism has failed

In a recent interview, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said multiculturalism has failed in his country:

“My answer is clearly yes, it is a failure,” he said in a television interview when asked about the policy which advocates that host societies welcome and foster distinct cultural and religious immigrant groups.

“Of course we must all respect differences, but we do not want… a society where communities coexist side by side.

“If you come to France, you accept to melt into a single community, which is the national community, and if you do not want to accept that, you cannot be welcome in France,” the right-wing president said.

“The French national community cannot accept a change in its lifestyle, equality between men and women… freedom for little girls to go to school,” he said.

“We have been too concerned about the identity of the person who was arriving and not enough about the identity of the country that was receiving him,” Sarkozy said in the TFI channel show.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Australia’s ex-prime minister John Howard and Spanish ex-premier Jose Maria Aznar have also recently said multicultural policies have not successfully integrated immigrants.

Based on what Sarkozy said in this interview, it sounds like he either has a different definition of multiculturalism or a different end goal. A contrast to multiculturalism would be assimilation where newcomers to a country (or any group) should quickly or eventually adopt the customs and values of the country they have entered. Sarkozy is suggesting that because some immigrants have not done this, multiculturalism has failed. But Sarkozy seems to be explaining how assimilation has failed. The Oxford English Dictionary defines multiculturalism thusly: “the policy or process whereby the distinctive identities of the cultural groups within such a society are maintained or supported.” In this sense, a long-running policy of multiculturalism ends up changing the larger culture to some degree. It sounds like Sarkozy (and some of these other leaders) are not as interested in this. Can French or English or German culture change and incorporate elements of cultures from immigrants living within their borders?

These comments from various leaders seem to have been motivated in part by growing Muslim populations in these nations.

It is also interesting to note that there is not a whole lot of public discussion about this in the United States. Some of this may be more below the surface, particularly when issues like immigration arise (though this has been overwhelmed by economic concerns). Can you imagine an American political leader of any party making a statement like these Western European leaders have?

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