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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Christophe Bertossi « On assiste à une crise aiguë du monoculturalisme »

by Interview by Ixchel Delaporte

Christophe Bertossi "We’re Facing A Severe Crisis of Monoculturalism"

Translated Thursday 10 March 2011, by Harvetta and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Christophe Bertossi is a researcher at the Institut Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI). He manages the "Migrations, Identity, Citizenship" program.

Huma: In his televised broadcast, Sarkozy spoke about the failure of multiculturalism, referring to England and Germany. Can we say it has failed?

Christophe Bertossi: First, for any multiculturalism crisis to exist in France would first require multiculturalism but there is no multiculturalism in the French reality. In discourse, ideas, even in practice, "integration" is the reality, with all of its inherent contradictions.

Huma: So, what does multiculturalism mean?

Christophe Bertossi: The term is ambiguous. Does it refer to a philosophical project, to the logic of public policies or to even the most trivial meaning, the sociocultural diversity of European societies, which are immigrant societies? Obviously, if we use the latter definition, it makes no sense. But, we’re playing on the ambiguities. To talk about multiculturalism the way Nicolas Sarkozy talks about it is not neutral. It is borrowed from the ongoing debates elsewhere in Europe, in countries like Great Britain or the Netherlands. Since 2000-2010, the British or Dutch public debates about the so-called failure of multiculturalism have been practically hysterical.

Huma: How is this issue managed in those two countries?

Christophe Bertossi: The idea that these countries adopted multiculturalism is hotly debated. Researchers and politicians in the Netherlands or Great Britain have trouble reaching agreement that multiculturalism has been the integration model. To the extent that the objective is not well-defined, it is more politically malleable and subject to greater manipulation.

Huma: What is the model from those countries that France often cites as an example?

Christophe Bertossi: In the Netherlands, there has been an important debate since 2000 about the "multicultural tragedy", based on a text by Paul Scheffer, a university professor from the social democratic tradition. The debate is related to the idea that multiculturalism has been the model for receiving and integrating immigrants for a very long time. This model is blamed for fragmenting Dutch society. Except that if we take a closer look, we find no trace of multiculturalism over the last thirty years. In the seventies, there were no specific public policies with respect to post-colonial immigrants because they were temporary labor. When they came to stay, the minorities policy was chosen (which more closely resembles a multicultural policy).

Huma: What is in this minorities policy?

Christophe Bertossi: It starts from the premise that in order to integrate immigrants socioeconomically, it is necessary to respect their culture and religion of origin. But this policy hasn’t lasted for ten years! It started in the eighties and has been reexamined by the State since 1987-89. The stakes became politicized very quickly. A figure such as Fritz Bolkestein, leader of the right-wing liberal party placed a bet on the Islam issue. That was ten years before September 11, 2001. By the way, the right doesn’t have a monopoly on this debate about whether or not Islam can be integrated into Dutch society.

Huma: How can one say that multiculturalism has failed without having really tried...

Christophe Bertossi: To create the myth of failure may prove very useful in an electoral campaign. For a long time, class conflict has structured liberal democracy and the welfare State through the classic left-right opposition. The idea that multiculturalism has failed moves this conflict toward opposition between the right and the extreme right. The social challenge is replaced by the idea of an identity conflict, by extremism against immigration, multiculturalism and Islam. Elections are won on this ground — notions of identity, borders, sovereignty, which are however completely out of sync with the realities of Europe and globalization.

Huma: Finally, are we using old recipes?

Christophe Bertossi: Yes. Old recipes which can work, especially since there is a real loss of direction made worse by unemployment, very painful resentment of populations that expected to rise up socially and are stuck in the elevator. People see that education no longer offers any promises for the future and the welfare State can no longer support them or give them security. This pain and feeling of collective risk are illustrated by the image of the immigrant coming to "steal the work," the image of the polygamous, barbaric, homophobic Muslim who imperils "our" values and "our" identity. This is an easy fertile ground for creating the framework for political competition. The proclamation that multiculturalism has failed makes people who have never seen a mosque or a woman wearing a veil think the threat is real. Our societies are always creating issues that can be manipulated, but this time, the real place of the social challenges is covered up. This is how this symbolic, invented reality is becoming very real for millions of citizens. The invented reality repeated by the media creates a scenario that is more real than the reality that the politicians instead should be fighting against: in certain areas of France, the unemployment rate for young people from fifteen to twenty-four is three to four times higher than the national average. Why? One of the important debates on the left should be about how to reinvent the stakes of class conflict after the end of the Cold War. Instead, we are transposing into a cultural context all those challenges of a society presently in total transformation. This is the alibi of people who no longer have any ability to regulate the labor market or institutions such as schools, who finally say: "Citizens, be afraid, let’s close our borders." In reality, in this vicious circle, the "multiculturalism crisis" is a crisis of monoculturalism.

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