Downscaling multiculturalism in Australia
In his defense of Canadian multiculturalism, Will Kymlicka (1998: 16) admitted that the latter was ‘under attack today, more than ever’, for the reasons that such programmes are under attack everywhere, especially a lingering perception that they feed ‘separatism’ and the ‘ghettoization’ of minorities. More in passing, he suggested that things were better in Australia, because here the government was allegedly keener at showing the ‘limits’ of multiculturalism. Are things better in Australia?
A closer look suggests that they are not. To the degree that Australian multiculturalism had originally aimed at ‘cultural maintenance’ and institutionalizing ethnic differences, it met with the same strong public disapproval that such programmes meet everywhere.7 In response, repeated reformulations have stressed that Australian multiculturalism was no property of ethnic minorities, especially of the activists that purported to speak for them, but an identity option for all Australians. This was not even a forced or new interpretation, because the notion of multiculturalism was born in the very moment that Australia's old identity as ‘white’ and ‘British’ had fallen into disrepute, in the early 1970s. This national-identity dimension of multiculturalism has nothing in common with the minority-focused ‘politics of recognition’ of Taylor, Kymlicka, or Iris Marion Young.
A robust sense that multiculturalism was a matter for ‘all Australians’ had already been present in Australian multiculturalism's first codification in 1978, in the so-called Galbally Report, which otherwise became known for its focus on special migrant services and programmes: ‘(T)he development of a multicultural society will benefit all Australians’ (Galbally 1978: 10). The nation-building function of multiculturalism was then further visible in a document entitled Multiculturalism for All Australians: Our Developing Nationhood, which was issued by the Australian Council on Population and Ethnic Affairs (ACPEA) in 1982. In an astonishing feat of euphemism, even White Australia was refashioned here as ‘our multicultural past’: ‘Community concern prompted official action . . . to seek to avoid inter-group conflict by excluding migrant groups that might be the focus of . . . conflict’ (ACPEA 1982: 8). This was a rather friendly way of referring to Asian exclusion in the context of the White Australia policy. And if today there were ‘clashes’ between ‘core culture’ and minority cultures, ‘the Council would envisage the rejection of the offending element of the inconsistent culture’ (ACPEA 1982: 30). Given this robust sense of a ‘primary loyalty to Australia’ (ACPEA 1982: 25) in multiculturalism's earliest formulations, it is puzzling that more recent formulations would all start on the premise that multiculturalism was still waiting to be liberated form the stranglehold of ethnic groups and to be turned into something for ‘all’ Australians (Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) 1989; National Multicultural Advisory Council (NMAC) 1999).
In the sense of providing an identity option for an Anglo-Saxon settler society without an own founding myth, Australian multiculturalism has never been officially rejected – as in Canada, the dimension of national self-definition has helped immunize multiculturalism from its challengers. However, under this national umbrella, which is separate from the problem of minority accommodation,8 multiculturalism has still received subtly different interpretations. And one can observe that even as a national identity option for all Australians, multiculturalism has been scaled back over the years.9 For the protagonists of multiculturalism on the left, the nation was identical to multiculturalism: ‘(W)e must be multicultural to be national’ (Castles et al. 1988: 5). Or as the old champion of Australian multiculturalism, Al Grassby, phrased it negatively, ‘Take away multicultural Australia and you have nothing left’ (in Betts 1999: 322). This equation of ‘multicultural’ with ‘national’ had two problems. First, Australia's predominantly British heritage disappeared in it, even though this was precisely the intent of the south-east European ethnics furthering the notion that ‘all persons living in Australia are “ethnic” ’ (ACPEA 1982: 2). But more importantly, within this equation of multicultural with national one could not formulate that this multiculturalism was in Australia and not elsewhere – the added value of ‘Australia’ disappeared. In response to these two problems, a slightly different version of multiculturalism emerged outside the political left and the ethnic activist circles, according to which Australia was certainly ‘multicultural’, but other things too. It was this weaker version that won the day.
The downscaling of multiculturalism was kicked off by the government-commissioned Fitzgerald Report of 1988, which also laid the switches for Australia's current emphasis on recruiting highly-skilled immigrants (especially from White Australia's old bête noire, Asia). The report thus foreshadowed the current situation in Europe, in which a salient opening to new immigration is likewise framed by a distancing from the multicultural elite rhetoric of old. The bottom-line of the report was that public support for immigration depended on separating the latter from ‘multiculturalism’, which was widely rejected for its association with ethnic activism. Authored by an Asia-experienced career diplomat, Stephen Fitzgerald, someone who was described by two sympathetic observers as an ‘ethnic Australian’ (Birrell and Betts 1988: 266), the Fitzgerald Report reduced ‘multicultural’ to one of several adjectives of Australia, like ‘democratic’, all of which were peripheral to its identity
Just as Australia is a democracy but has its own identity, so also is it multicultural, but nonetheless identifiably Australian. It is the Australian identity that matters most in Australia. (Fitzgerald 1988: 10)
What then constituted the ‘identifiably Australian’ beyond these generic adjectives that no immigration of whatever origins was allowed to put in question? The answer may reflect the Irish (and thus latently anti-British) background of the report's author
A society which is open, easy going and relaxed, dedicated more to the enjoyment of what life can offer than to fiercely competitive pursuit of what may be necessary to improve it. (Fitzgerald 1988: 5)
This downscaling responded to the logical necessity that an Australian core had to be defined separately from multiculturalism – otherwise Australia could not be distinguished, for instance, from Canada, where a similar multicultural self-description took hold almost simultaneously. Without a separate Australian core, all talk of a ‘primary loyalty to Australia’ that had permeated Australian multiculturalism statements since the early 1980s had to remain hollow.
The National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia of 1989, the key government statement on multiculturalism for the rest of the millennium, chose a slightly different way to explicate what Australia was in addition to multiculturalism: a society of British heritage. ‘Our British heritage is extremely important to us. It helps to define us as Australian . . . It is a large part of what makes Australia attractive to immigrants and visitors . . .’ (OMA 1989: 50). This added value was again necessary for the possibility of ‘limits’ to multiculturalism, which the National Agenda defined – on its front page – as the obligation of an ‘overriding and unifying commitment to Australia’. Issued shortly after the Fitzgerald Report, and an obvious attempt to placate the ethnic critics who had wanted a stronger affirmation of multiculturalism, the National Agenda still promoted the same weakened version of a multiculturalism that did not exhaust what it means to be Australian.
The National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia also added a new dimension that was seen as crucial in making multiculturalism policy acceptable to ‘all’ Australians, yet that in effect further weakened its value as a national-identity option: its ‘economic efficiency’. Initially, this meant to better integrate non-English-speaking newcomers into the workforce, for the sake of a more efficient use of ‘human resources’. However, economic efficiency became quickly reinterpreted and upgraded as the notion that a diverse workforce and its diversity-sensitive management could be an asset in a globalizing economy, and even be sellable abroad as ‘world best practice for the management of workplace diversity’ (Australian Government 1999: 25). This is encapsulated in the concept of ‘productive diversity’, which the Office of Multicultural Affairs has busily propagated since 1992. Two protagonists defined ‘productive diversity’ as ‘stressing the positive market value of diversity rather than attempting to define and right wrongs, and dealing with diversity as a central management issue rather than as a kind of remedial action to incorporate marginalized groups’ (Cope and Kalantzis 2001: 818). This utilitarian version of multiculturalism, in which all previous references to either minority integration or national identity option are cut, is also the one that the current centre-right coalition government of John Howard, who had earlier made himself a name as a fierce critic of multiculturalism, has warmed up to (see NMAC 1999).
Beyond multiculturalism in Europe
In the few European societies that have waged official multiculturalism policies the retreat from them has even been more pronounced. In contrast to Canada or Australia, where multiculturalism is entrenched as an identity option for society as a whole (and – what could not be discussed here – is additionally linked up with the accommodation of national minorities and indigenous groups), European multiculturalisms have always been for immigrants only. Accordingly, European multiculturalisms are less nationally rooted than their trans-oceanic precursors, and there is less nostalgia here about policies and labels that are now widely perceived as having run their course. Consider recent developments in two previous standard-bearers of European multiculturalism, the Netherlands and Britain.
Already in the mid-1990s, that is, before the meteoric rise of populist Pim Fortuyn and liberal publicist Paul Scheffer's widely noted article on the Dutch ‘multicultural drama’, a left-liberal government had abandoned the previous ‘ethnic minorities’ policy’, and turned instead to a policy of civic integration (see Entzinger 2003; also Vermeulen and Penninx 2000: 20–2).10 This move was motivated by several problems with the old minorities’ policy. First, the vastly expanded number of source countries, as well as an internal diversification of migrant groups, made it difficult to maintain a policy that was based on singling out a limited number of clearly demarcated ‘ethnic minorities’ for special treatment. Secondly, the whole approach of ‘emancipating’ these designated minorities as ‘groups’ within their own parallel institutions had detrimental effects, fuelling their segregation and separation from mainstream society. Most importantly, the ethnic minorities’ policy was incapable of remedying the most pressing problem among immigrants and their offspring, unemployment and economic marginalization. Under the shadow of official multiculturalism, an ‘ethnic underclass’ had been allowed to emerge, consisting of ‘people who do not feel attached to Dutch culture and society and who are unwilling and unable to integrate’ (Entzinger quoting and paraphrasing Paul Scheffer, 2003: 78). The new ‘integration’ policy, which came to replace the ‘ethnic minorities’ policy’, focuses on the previously neglected socioeconomic dimension of immigrant integration, taking immigrants as ‘individuals’ who had to be funneled into mainstream society rather than to be kept separate as ‘groups’ in parallel institutions.
A novelty within the Dutch ‘integration’ policy is to expect more of migrants in the process of integration. That immigrant integration has to be a ‘two-way street’ has been a mantra for many years, but previously it had really meant that mostly the receiving society had to change while ‘no questions’ were asked of the immigrants.11 Now the connotation is the reverse. Consider this statement by the Dutch Minister for Urban and Integration Policy, Roger van Boxtel
Members of ethnic minorities can be expected to do their utmost in order to acquire an independent position in our country as soon as possible. This requires them to opt for this society and to take responsibility for making use of the many facilities that our country offers to its new compatriots. Mastering the Dutch language is a crucial aspect of this. (Quoted in Entzinger 2003: 74)
The most visible expression of the new propensity to ‘ask questions’ is the 1998 Law on Civic Integration for Newcomers, which obliges non-European newcomers to take 600 hours of language and civics lessons.
The obligatory nature of the Dutch civic integration programme surely raises eyebrows from a liberal perspective, and it has been a bone of contention in the European countries whose governments (left or right) quickly sought to institute similar programmes (including all Scandinavian countries [except Sweden], Belgium, Austria, and Germany). However, in an interesting parallel with contemporary ‘workfare’ programmes, the flip-side to obligation is the provision of resources, in this case language training programmes whose positive function for immigrant integration is incontrovertible.12 The question of the compatibility of obligatory integration with liberal principles critically hinges on how soft or hard the penalties for non-compliance are – are they only monetary, or is legal residence itself made contingent on passing these courses? In the Dutch case at least the penalties are decidedly on the ‘soft’ side; but it is by no means certain that it will stay this way as the civic integration policy proliferates across Europe.
The turn from multiculturalism to civic integration reflects a seismic shift not just in the Netherlands, but in other European societies as well, ‘from the neglect to the affirmation of one's own culture’.13 This theme has certainly been aggravated by the rise of right-wing populism across Europe. However, its impact should not be exaggerated. As noted, the Dutch turn to civic integration had occurred before Pim Fortuyn's sudden appearance in national politics, and it was masterminded by impeccable liberals.14 Moreover, the Fortuyn phenomenon shows that the distemper with multiculturalism is more complex than the tired label ‘right-wing populism’ suggests. Rather, in this particular case it is a liberal distemper. As I shall further elaborate in the final section, the majority ‘culture’ that is affirmed here is not a nationally parochial one, but a Western culture in which gays or women proudly take their place. Only when provoked by a prominent Dutch-Moroccan Imam's statement that homosexuality was a ‘disease’, did Fortuyn retaliate that Islam was a ‘backward culture’. And when asked whether he ever ‘speaks’ to ‘backward’ Muslims, the iconic response was: ‘Have I spoken to Muslims? I even go to bed with them’.15 This was ‘populism’ of a peculiar kind. It was not permeated by nostalgia for the monoculture of old (gays were repressed by this too); instead, it asked for civic adjustments on the part of immigrants, which had been dodged under the reign of official multiculturalism.
A similar move from multiculturalism to civic integration has recently occurred in Britain. Britain of course differs from the Netherlands, in that its brand of official multiculturalism had always been more laissez-faire and de-centred, firmly instituted in some branches of the state (especially at local level) but repudiated or at least ignored by others (such as the central government under Thatcher). As in the Netherlands, it would be misleading to claim that right-wing populism has been responsible for a similar retreat of multiculturalism in Britain, because this country has always been marked by the very absence of a politically significant extreme right.
Before it suddenly came under fire, the British multicultural orthodoxy was affirmed as late as 2000, in a report by the Runnymede Trust, The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, chaired and masterminded by Britain's ‘race relations’ eminence, Bhikhu Parekh. ‘Britishness’, goes the single-most quoted line of the report, ‘has systematic, largely unspoken, racial connotations’ (Runnymede Trust 2000: 38).16 Accordingly, there was a need to move toward a ‘multicultural post-nation’, in which Britain would be a ‘community of communities’. Because of the racial disfiguring of Britishness, the ‘liberal’ model of integrating a diverse society was flawed. In this model there was a ‘single political culture in the public sphere’ and diversity was relegated to the ‘private lives of individuals and communities’. Instead, one had to move toward a ‘plural’ model, in which the ‘recognition of cultural diversity’ happened in the public sphere (Runnymede Trust 2000: 48ff). One wonders: when Robin Cook, Britain's Foreign Minister under the first Blair government, declared that ‘chicken tikka masala’ now rivaled ‘fish and chips’ as the Britons’ favourite dish, wasn’t this a sign that the ‘plural’ model had already arrived? The public–private dualism, as negatively invoked by the multiculturalists (especially Galeotti 2002), has always been a bit of a straw-man; the ‘liberal’ reality of deracinated ‘citizens’ never was because it is always fleshly agents with interests and identities that people the public sphere, and Parekh after all sits now as Lord in Britain's Upper House, a place foreclosed to most but very ‘public’ nevertheless. As if sensing that a reassertion of orthodox multiculturalism had the smell of yester-year, Parekh quickly withdrew a bit, pleading for a ‘synthesis’ of the ‘liberal’ and ‘plural’ models, according to which ‘Britain is both a community of citizens and a community of communities’ (Runnymede Trust 2000: 47).
This reassertion of orthodox multiculturalism proved rather short-lived. Britain's most serious race riots in two decades, which occurred in the spring and early summer of 2001 in various north-English cities, threw an altogether different light on Britain's multicultural reality. A government commissioned investigation into the origins of the riots, chaired by a seasoned urban councillor, Ted Cantle, and a group of politicians, social workers, and local government experts with strong ‘minority’ credentials, observed
Whilst the physical segregation of housing estates and inner city areas came as no surprise, the team was particularly struck by the depth of polarisation of our towns and cities . . . Separate educational arrangements, community and voluntary bodies, employment, places of worship, language, social and cultural networks, means that many communities operate on the basis of a series of parallel lives. These lives often do not seem to touch at any point, let alone overlap and promote any meaningful interchanges. (Cantle Report 2001: 9)
Moreover, the investigation deplored ‘the lack of an honest and robust debate, as people “tiptoe around” the sensitive issues of race, religion and culture’ (Cantle Report 2001: 9). Finally, rather than representing and pursuing the interests of their ‘communities’, local minority councillors were depicted as owing their selection ‘more to familial and other inappropriate connections’, and as being mired in ‘politics from back home’ and ‘sweetheart deals’ (Cantle Report 2001: 23). The ‘multi-ethnic Britain’ described in this report was certainly one of ‘communities’, yet one without a meta-’community’ in the singular to tie them all together.
Interestingly, twenty years earlier, after the Brixton riots of 1981, a Tory government had prescribed more ‘positive action’ and multiculturalism as a way out of failing minority integration (see Joppke 1999: 231f). In 2001, a Labour government found that it was time to move ‘beyond multiculturalism’.17 In its recommendations, the Cantle Report struck an entirely new chord: there had to be a ‘greater sense of citizenship’ (2001: 10), ‘common elements of “nationhood” ’ had to be agreed upon (2001: 19), the ‘use of the English language’ had to be strengthened in the minority communities, and overall ‘the non-white community (had) to develop a greater acceptance of, and engagement with, the principal national institutions’. At the same time, the report stressed that this was not a flight into the pre-multicultural past: ‘(W)e are never going to turn the clock back to what was perceived to be a dominant or monoculturalist view of nationality’ (2001: 18).
Britain's move ‘beyond multiculturalism’ is rigorously pursued by Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett, who in his first years in office has broken virtually all the taboos that had sealed Britain's etiquette-conscious race relations scene from the ‘honest and robust debate’ asked for in the Cantle Report. ‘We have norms of acceptability and those who come into our home – for that is what it is – should accept those norms’, he said on the eve of publishing the Cantle Report.18 Certain minority practices, on which, so far, no one had dared to comment, have now become subjected to public scrutiny as never before. The notorious example is that of arranged marriage, which, to an alarming degree, seems to be forced marriage. It is widespread practice in Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities for parents to import marriage partners for their sons or daughters from back home – in part, one must assume, because a British visa yields a significant dowry. This practice is doubly problematic, as especially young women are often forced into such unions (see Home Office 2000), and as the offspring of such unions are exposed to at least one parent who is completely unfamiliar with English language and society, assuring the continuously renewed marginalization and segregation of minorities across immigrant generations. The number of such arranged marriages has more than doubled between 1996 and 2000, reaching 18,000 in 2000.
Here was a real ‘multicultural’ problem where ‘recognition’ was less the solution than part of the problem itself, because it clashed with the liberal notion that marriage was ‘a choice by right’. Never mincing his words, Home Secretary Blunkett went to the heart of the matter: ‘We also believe that there is a discussion to be had within those communities that continue the practice of arranged marriages as to whether more of these could be undertaken within the settled community here.’19 To which a minority activist predictably responded,
(t)elling established British communities whom they should or should not marry is quite abhorrent. This would send exactly the wrong signal to these predominantly Asian communities that they are not part of the British norm.20
This response itself invokes a liberal norm: that the state should not intervene in an individual's marriage choice. In fact, arranged marriage presents the liberal state with the dilemma that it cannot do much about its own principles being violated if it wants to honour its tenet of not intervening in the private sphere.
With its new stress on civic integration, however, the liberal state is becoming more assertive about its liberal principles, and shows itself less willing to see them violated under the cloak of ‘multicultural’ toleration. If liberalism has always been marked by a tension between the countervailing imperatives of ‘diversity’ and ‘autonomy’ (see Galston 1995), one can interpret the new assertiveness as a shift of emphasis from diversity to autonomy, in whose optic liberalism itself appears as a distinct way of life that clashes with other, non-liberal ways of life. The reasons for the new assertiveness of the liberal state in Britain and beyond are complex. One reason, which predominated before the most recent concern about terrorism and security, is preparation for envisaged new large-scale immigration. Public consent for this is sought through the scaling-back of multiculturalism, both as social fact and political programme.
The connection between planned new immigration and reduced multiculturalism is perhaps the most striking feature of the British government's recent White Paper, Secure Borders, Safe Haven (Home Office 2002). Laying out a new agenda for managing immigration and integrating immigrants, this document resembles in interesting ways the Australian Fitzgerald Report of 1988, in which an economically motivated opening up for new immigration was likewise accompanied by a significant reduction of multicultural rhetoric. The message is clear: if the public is to tolerate new immigration, it has to be assured of its ‘sense of belonging and identity’.21 Moreover, the newcomers also have to ‘develop a sense of belonging, an identity and shared mutual understanding, which can be passed from one generation to another’ (Home Office 2002: 27). To assure this, the White Paper opens with a chapter on ‘citizenship and nationality’, which lays out the new civic integration agenda. While bowing, as is a general mark throughout the move ‘beyond multiculturalism’, to the tenet that ‘our society is multi-cultural, and (is) shaped by its diverse peoples’ (Home Office 2002: 29), this is an attempt to upgrade British citizenship, which has traditionally been a rather thin concept devoid of ‘identity’ implications. Concrete measures include the introduction of an oath to be sworn at American-style naturalization ceremonies, the toughening of the English language requirement when acquiring citizenship, and the introduction of mandatory ‘citizenship and democracy’ education at English schools. Underscoring the close connection between the opening-up for new immigration and the down-scaling of multiculturalism, Home Secretary Blunkett declared at the first public citizenship ceremony, held in late February 2004, that this ‘will be the answer to those who fear difference, who fear the diversity which comes with migration of people coming across the world to live in our community’.22
The turn to civic integration is perhaps most visible in Britain and The Netherlands, the two societies in Europe (if one excludes Sweden) that had so far been most committed to official multiculturalism. But more than that, it is a Europe-wide phenomenon. Everywhere there is the same tendency to take ‘multiculturalism’ as the description of a diverse society rather than as prescription for state policy. Instead, state policy now takes more a centrist, ‘civic’ direction. However, one might object, isn’t this simply the rebirth of nationalism, or even of ‘racism’ (as suggested by Back et al. 2002)? The turn to civic integration is indeed driven by the attempt to commit and bind newcomers to the particular society that is receiving them, notionally making them familiar with the ‘British’ or ‘Dutch’ values and ways of doing things. But, if one looks closer, these particularisms are just different names for the universal creed of liberty and equality that marks all liberal societies – there is nothing particularly ‘British’ or ‘Dutch’ about the principles that immigrants are to be committed to and socialized into. When forced to spell out what the ‘fundamental tenets’ of British citizenship were, the recent White Paper could only say: ‘(T)hat we respect human rights and freedoms, uphold democratic values, observe laws faithfully and fulfill our duties and obligations’ (Home Office 2002: 34). Similarly, in the ‘common elements of “nationhood” ’ invoked in the Cantle Report there was nothing specifically British: ‘(A) more visible support for anti-discrimination measures, support for women's rights, a universal acceptance of the English language . . . and respect for both religious differences and secular views’ (Cantle Report 2001: 19). Instead of being ‘British’, this was the universal, nationally anonymous creed of the liberal state.
In Germany, the conservative opposition party, Christian-Democratic Union (CDU), made the same experience when launching its ill-fated call for a ‘German Leitkultur’ (dominant culture) that was to be respected by newcomers. The German constellation is admittedly different, because here there never was an official multiculturalism as in Britain or the Netherlands. However, some government agencies, especially the Federal Commissioner for Foreigner Affairs, have long espoused the notion that Germany was a ‘multicultural society’ that had to be mirrored in the state's policies. Interestingly, before it became positively revalued by the conservative opposition, a variant of the notion of Leitkultur had first been launched in negative form by the Commissioner for Foreigner Affairs, in terms of the claim that there was no ‘German monolithic culture’ (deutsche Einheitskultur) that migrants could be expected to adopt.23 The positive revaluation of this notion by the CDU constitutes an exact parallel to the civic integration campaigns in the Netherlands and Britain. Nevertheless, the concept had to be withdrawn because in Germany any reference to ‘national’ symbols and rhetoric is lastingly tainted by illiberal connotations. This is despite the fact that, when asked to spell out what the German Leitkultur was, its proponents could only come up with things that could have been constitutive of a British or Dutch Leitkultur as well: the norms of the constitution, the ‘European idea’, equality of women, and German language. The only national particularism in this is language, but then ‘the state necessarily engages in linguistic choices’ (Zolberg and Long 1999: 21).