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Pluralism in Europe: Not to Be Taken for Granted - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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In the decade I spent as a faculty member at the Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations at the University of Warwick, I explored the story of pluralism in Europe. It has, historically, been less than positive. Centuries ago, the continent was engaged in religious warfare between different adherents to the mantle of Christianity. In the 20th century, the Holocaust victimized Jews, gypsies, and other groups. Less than 20 years ago, the genocide against Bosnian Muslims occurred — also on European soil.

Europeans have come to understand that pluralism is hard won and precious to retain. Multiculturalism, as a political program, began to take root across the continent in the 1990s, and, for a time, seemed the default position of many governments. In the aftermath of 9/11, however, this began to unravel. After the Madrid bombings in 2004 and the London bombings in 2005, multiculturalism took a battering. By the time of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 this year, leaders such as David Cameron of the U.K., Angela Merkel of Germany, and Nicolas Sarkozy of France, gave clear signals that they thought multiculturalism was no longer the solution — it was the problem. Europeans are unlikely to forget the incident earlier this year when Anders Breivik went on a rampage against citizens of his own country. His stated motivations after the attack focused on multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism has, in recent years, been about Muslim populations of Europe rather than about a wider question of pluralism, whether in terms of ethnic minorities or immigrants. But the core concern of multiculturalism was to engender a political approach where diversity within society was catered to, rather than stamped out or worse. A closer look at Europe since the attacks of 2004 and 2005 provides us with fascinating data with which to identify trends and patterns — ones that may give cause for concern as Europe moves toward a future where diversity is not going anywhere.

Gallup has been polling on the question of immigration in Europe for many years. One of the key questions is, “Is the city or area where you live a good place or not a good place to live for immigrants from other countries?” The answers are intriguing. Over the past five years, the numbers of those likely to respond, “No, it’s not a good place,” has risen, or has stayed at around the same level. Those levels are not particularly encouraging. In France, for example, approximately 21% of people are likely to say their country is not a good place for immigrants. This is in spite of France’s declared civic republicanism, where, theoretically, any human being from around the world should be able to become French if they subscribe to certain values. The numbers are similar in Germany and Belgium — and the numbers are substantially higher in other parts of Europe. In Italy and Poland, the numbers are 31%, and in Romania it is 35%. Fifty-one percent of Greeks are likely to say that Greece is not a good place for immigrants — a figure that has risen by roughly 20 percentage points over the past five years.

For ethnic minorities, as opposed to immigrants, the situation calls for concern as well, particularly if the year-over-year trends continue. In Italy, for example, the number of people who say their country is not a good place for racial/ethnic minorities, has risen steadily — this year, 27% of Italians say so, whereas five years ago, that number was 19%. In Poland, the number is now 34%, while in 2006 it was 27%. Currently, 31% of Hungarians say their country is not a good place for ethnic minorities — up from 20% in 2006. In Greece, 54% say their country is not a good place for ethnic minorities — up from the already-high 33% in 2006.

It bears noting that these numbers are not based on interviews with only immigrants and ethnic minorities in these countries. Rather, these surveys covered European populations in general. Many countries in Europe show signs that they are becoming more and more intolerant of immigrants and ethnic minorities, according to the data analyzed above.

It would be difficult to find a European who did not acknowledge the importance of the lessons gleaned from the Holocaust; that radically anti-pluralistic attitudes should not be allowed to take root in Europe. Yet, the Bosnian genocide took place on Europe’s doorstep only a few decades after World War II.

At present, the levels of respect for diversity do not show signs of improving. The movements and groups that share Breivik’s theories about Europe, if not his tactics about changing it, are not few. European societies should take heed — their struggles for the protection of pluralism were hard won by their forebears, and must be protected.

Dr. H. A. Hellyer

Dr. H. A. Hellyer

Dr. H. A. Hellyer is a policy and academic specialist on security, minority–majority relations, and religion in the West and the Muslim world.

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