The European Dilemma: Assimilation or disintegration?

Πέμπτη, 21 Οκτωβρίου 2010 20:23
By dismissing “multikulti” as a “total failure”, the German chancellor has given further impetus to the public debate – raging some time now, not only in Germany, but throughout the European Union – on how to deal with a growing number of immigrants of frequently radically different cultural background and, in particular, with the hard core Moslems. And because of her advocacy of assimilation as the only alternative to this failed multiculturalism – which it obviously is, short of the impractical solution of expulsing these people and shutting down hermetically the frontiersMrs. Merkel has become the target of strident accusations of “nationalism”; with some of her critics going so far as to conjure up the specter of a resurgent hegemonic Germany. It is against this background that should be considered the invidious comparisons currently being made between the supposed European insensitivity and an imaginary multicultural American model – despite the fact that the term “melting-pot” was invented as a description of the American experience, and that the United States is a brilliant example of forging “e pluribus unum” – of creating a fiercely patriotic nation, founded on common language, institutions, values and national narrative, from a variety of ethnic and racial strains and religious beliefs.
Admittedly, this eminently successful American nation building project is, for some time now, under attack in the U.S. itself from “mosaic” and “salad bowl” theories and the like – as the late Professor Samuel P. Huntington insightfully warned five years ago in his best seller “Who are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity”. These alarming developments on the other side of the Atlantic are, however, but an added reason for Europeans to be particularly wary of calls for a cultural laxity that threatens Europe’s nations with social and political decline and, eventually, disintegration.

Respect for immigrants’ rights is, of course, a clear obligation of host countries. No serious person would disagree with that. What is controversial – and of critical importance – is the nature of these rights. Or, to put it in more concrete terms: do the newcomers have the right to challenge and eventually to replace the foundations of the society that extends to them its hospitality? Or are they, on the contrary, obliged to accept and internalize the values, the linguistic and legal order, the basic code of social behavior – the “way of life” – and the national traditions of that society, if they wish to remain within its fold?
In theory, at least, the answer to this dilemma is evident: If the ancient nations on the European continent are to survive as bearers of a unique and dynamic cultural heritage, their only valid option is to assimilate the immigrants; and, indeed, to restrict future immigration through a selective, semi-open-door policy, that, while meeting to the extent possible the economic and demographic requirements of the host countries and satisfying the dictates of human compassion, effectively protects the cultural identities of the European nations. For, as the Bible says (Mathew 16:26): “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

It is perhaps superfluous to add that the preceding remarks are by no means meant as a justification of petty provincial nationalism; as abetment, that is, of the trivial ethnic quarrels that, for example, risk rending apart a country such as Belgium – for a long time emblematic of the creative coexistence of kindred ethnic communities. They should rather be read as a very modest call for the preservation of the collective European heritage. In the hope, among others, that this shared cultural capital may, in due course, contribute to the emergence of a truly united European Union, able to pull its full, beneficial weight on the international scene.
It is true that, according to conventional wisdom, the time for such an ambitious enterprise has come and gone – with the current state of affairs in the EU tending to substantiate this pessimistic prognosis. Yet history is replete with surprising reversals of geopolitical fortunes; and pending her final verdict, the least European societies can do is not to self-destruct.

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