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Why Europe is turning away from multiculturalism

Britain joined Germany and France in questioning Europe's approach to multiculturalism, saying that it no longer works for other cultures to live 'apart ... from the mainstream.'

By Staff writer / March 4, 2011

On the same day British Prime Minister David Cameron criticized multiculturalism, Britain’s anti-Islamic English Defense League held its biggest rally in which protesters in Luton, England, chanted ‘Muslim bombers off our streets.’

John Stillwell/AP

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London

British leader David Cameron, in the midst of epic budget cuts, is backing a radical shift in his country's famously open model of social integration. At a security conference in Munich Feb. 5, he closed ranks with French and German leaders, saying the "doctrine of multiculturalism" has failed in a Britain that encourages "different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream."

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As in France and Germany, Mr. Cameron's declaration seems aimed at one group – Muslims. More precisely, it taps a growing public concern in Europe about those from Islamic backgrounds who are increasingly numerous and becoming a permanent part of Europe's social fabric. In Britain and across the Continent, that unease is fueling right-wing parties but also influencing mainstream electorates worried that Europe is losing its traditional identity.

In Munich, Cameron distinguished Islam from extremism. To the international audience there, including US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, he said Muslim clerics must adhere to a list of principles that constitute British identity – gender equality, democracy, and pluralism – to participate in state affairs.

Most controversially, he said many Muslim groups that act as intermediaries with the larger society are insufficiently straightforward and take public money while pushing concepts of worldwide sharia (Islamic law) and jihad that radicalize youths.

A setback to better relations?

In Britain, Muslims complain Cam­eron is singling out their faith. Some experts worry his approach may reverse modest but significant gains in improved relations since the national shock in 2005 when Muslims who were born in Britain bombed the London transit system. Cameron's new tack, they say, could give comfort to jihadi recruiters.

"This mixes multiculturalism and integration with the wider issue of terrorism and extremism in a way that tarnishes Muslims and blames the entire community," says Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, one of Britain's largest Muslim organizations.

"In the trenches, among those Muslims who deal directly with the street, Cameron's message undermines their credibility and damages the trust needed for them to help, to sit with kids in mosques and homes," says Jonathan Githens-Mazer, director of the European Muslim Research Center at the University of Exeter. "It looks like a double standard. It is very difficult to see what Cameron thought he would achieve with that speech."

Is multiculturalism 'dead'?

Last summer French leader Nicolas Sarkozy said multiculturalism was dead as the French cracked down on immigrants, Gypsies, and crime. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said shortly after that "multi-kulti" had failed amid a national debate sparked by a racially loaded bestseller written by German bank official Thilo Sarrazin that criticized Arabs.

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