Has multiculturalism failed?

Last Saturday, at the Munich Security Conference, the British Prime Minister David Cameron said that state multiculturalism has failed. The failure of multiculturalism is a trend topic in Europe nowadays. Last year the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said that the multicultural project of society has utterly failed. She said that the idea of people from different cultures living happily side-by-side did not work. I was in Germany when Merkel gave her speech condemning multiculturalism and I noticed that her speech was not a big surprise for many Germans. When I asked why people were not surprised I was told that she was somehow influenced by a person called Thilo Sarrazim, who is much more radical than her. Mr. Sarrazim’s wrote a popular book called Deutschland schafft sich ab. In the book he argues that Muslim immigrants in Germany are socially, culturally and intellectually inferior to everyone else.


What lies behind conservative statements against multiculturalism is pure discrimination. This discrimination can be direct, like the arguments that Mr. Sarrazim listed in his book, or indirect. Mr. Sarrazim is direct, for instance, when he affirmed that: “no immigrant group other than Muslims is so strongly connected with claims on the welfare state and crime”. In Finland the discourse is indirect but it has a similar effect. The Finnish Broadcasting Company reported, for example, that foreigners account for 9% of the crimes and  in 2009 foreigners accounted for about 2.9 percent of Finland’s population. With these facts any reader can infer that foreigners are more dangerous than nationals in Finland.


The Council of Europe recognized the problem of discrimination in Europe and in 2005 adopted Protocol 12 to the European Convention of Human Rights. Protocol 12 adds an autonomous right against discrimination. Article 1 of the Protocol 12 states that: “The enjoyment of any right set forth by law shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status”. The protocol was signed by many countries but few ratified it. Only time will tell if the Protocol will effectively promote a more equal society, however, what we can see now is that most countries are resilient to ratify the Protocol.


What is even more terrifying in this scenario of discrimination is that even some academics and scholars endorse the idea that multiculturalism is dead. I recently read a book from Amos Guiora, Professor of Law at the University of Utah, where he says that radical Muslims are the cause of all recent terrorist attacks in England. He rejects the idea of multiculturalism indirectly and goes further on proposing that governments should curtail the right to freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly as an action of anticipatory self-defence against religious extremists. According to Mr. Guiora, one of the biggest problems for European countries dealing with multiculturalism is that those countries need to respect the extensive list of rights protected by the European Convention of Human Rights. I believe that this is a proof that the hysteria has found its place in academia.


Fortunately, not everyone agrees with Merkel and David Cameron. Some people fight the tide because they know that is the only way to genuinely protect human rights. One example of statements pro multiculturalism is the one given by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, when he said: “multiculturalism could not possibly have failed.  Some politicians said it should be abandoned, but multiculturalism is not just a reality, but a natural outcome of a human rights approach to building society.  If societies were built on freedoms, they would naturally become pluralistic, and multiculturalism was an appreciation of that fact”.


Leaders of States should stop searching for scapegoats and actually solve problems like immigration and terrorism without violating human rights. There is no easy solution for overcoming problems in a plural society and politicians know it. However, they also know that with a discriminatory labelling speech they can get more support from the masses. The fact is that multiculturalism is a reality, not a project. States cannot abolish it now, they need to deal with it and respect human rights while coping with this situation.

2 Responses to “Has multiculturalism failed?”
  1. Jorge says:

    Hi guys. Your article is very well written. I think this is a very interesting discussion and one that as you mention in your article does not offer an easy fix.

    I became an immigrant when I came to Finland, and it has been a great way to get a feeling of how difficult it actually is to integrate into a new and different country. Coming from a very social and communal society to a very cold and individualistic Finland was very difficult. Nonetheless, as one comes to another´s country one must learn to appreciate the good things that this place offers in contrast to one´s own country. Otherwise I would not even be here.

    I am of the opinion that ideas should be challenged always, and when it comes to multiculturalism I will not (although I have very strong culture) propose that that its good just because its politically incorrect to say the opposite. We the immigrants have to face the facts that if we are here we need to be respectful and learn to appreciate the culture that has opened the doors for us. At the same time, the locals have to understand that we don’t want to loose our culture to be accepted. In this last aspect, Finland has still so much to learn. In my experience the more you behave like a Finn, the more you are accepted, and even though I really enjoy this country and its people, I will not become a Finn just to be socially accepted.

    For my part, I do not plan to contribute for the increase of crime or welfare abuse in this country.

    • Thiago Alves says:

      Hi Jorge,

      Thank you for your comment..I agree with you when you say that a multicultural society depends both on nationals and immigrants. I also became an immigrant when I came to Finland so I completely understand your point of view. Since I have been in Finland I can provide a more personal reply to your comment.

      Finland is a great country. I believed it deals very well with the Swedish speaking minority and Finns that lived abroad are usually open to foreigners. But I have suffered discrimination in Finland and I think other minorities suffer even more. The problems that take place here are the same in Western Europe in general. I used the example of media in Finland because I have been exposed to that. Finnish media tend to be subtle in supporting discriminatory ideas. One example is the graphic made by a newspaper from Helsinki about crimes committed by foreigners: http://www.hs.fi/kuva/1135233947201.

      Unfortunately, Finland is going in the same direction as Switzerland and it seems that soon we will have a party like the Swiss Peoples Party (SVP) in power. I believe, however, that the SVP is one step ahead and their posters express their discriminatory message clearly (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/switzerland/4513281/Switzerland-to-vote-on-opening-borders-amid-racially-charged-campaign.html).


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