National Identity and the Legitimation of Integration Processes in Politics and Society

Summary of the Working group 2 of the conference "Integration and Identity in the Global Society – an Invitation to Dialogue", held in Berlin (Germany), May 30 – 31, 2011

Mass migration is not a specific feature of our time. Yet, the process of globalization does lend migration processes new shape. Quite distinct from previous migratory waves, 2 new patterns emerged in the migratory movements of the second half of the 20th Century:

  • firstly, a significant percentage of these migrants have been Muslim;
  • secondly, they stopped striving to blend into their new surroundings. Whereas Europe had previously known only one integration model – assimilation (understanding that assimilation and integration are two distinct concepts), multiculturalism emerged as an alternate model.

What does the policy of “multiculturalism” really entail?

  • At its core, multiculturalism is the “political ideology (doctrine) and resulting social practice of organizing and supporting the national space in which political and social dialogue occurs. This is a model of social regulation, widely-accepted in Western democracies, based on recognition of the rights of individuals and groups to support for their own individual identities and to tolerance in the public arena.”
  • In a more instrumental (and narrower) sense, multiculturalism is a policy envisioning the integration of representatives from culturally- (civilizationally-) “different” communities into Western social life.
  • Key principles of multiculturalism include the recognition of cultural equivalence, recognition of the great significance of cultural (religious/ethnic) identity (and thus the accordance of identity-protection rights), as well as the positive acceptance of social diversity.

Today, multiculturalism is at the very top of Europe’s political agenda. This time, however, in a negative sense. One after another, European leaders are publicly signalling the failure of multiculturalism in their respective countries.

All of which raises the question – what is the long-term outlook for multiculturalism? In order to create a forecast for the phenomenon’s outlook, it must first be understood that multiculturalism’s historical roots lie in the convergence of two main streams – the arrival of migrants from the former colonies to their respective mother countries, and the arrival of migrants in the course of labor migration. Recognition of the inevitability of the influx of migrants from the former colonies and the European need for increased labor resources prompted formation of the concept of multiculturalism.

Clearly, multiculturalism is always a compromise. In order to assess the depth of the problem, it must be understood that due to economic considerations, Europe cannot simply abandon immigration altogether. Moreover, this will largely be immigration with a “foreign face”. This means that “foreign culture” immigration will remain and become exacerbated.

Europe has no effective alternatives to multiculturalism. A critical factor for the survival of multiculturalism will be its conceptual flexibility.

The question of how best to relate individualism and group identity is a complex issue of public-administration policy, and it would seem that dialogue is an important policy tool. The state is capable of serving as the moderator of such a dialogue.