Recently the British Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech in which he said that multiculturalism isn't working. French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany's Angela Merkel said much the same thing. A good deal has already been written about Cameron's remarks, which I mostly agree with. But the Arab revolt of 2011 suggests the whole subject needs to be revisited more broadly.
First, to correct a common confusion: multiculturalism means much more than the mutual toleration of different races living in one country. Caribbean natives started coming to Britain in large numbers after World War II; Indians and Pakistanis likewise. I'm not saying there were no problems with that influx, but it was manageable. The newcomers knew they were expected to adopt, or at least adapt to, British culture. One problem was (and remains) that ever increasing welfare payments tended to solidify these newcomers into an isolated and resented underclass.
State multiculturalism is more serious -- an actual (although undeclared) assault on the traditional values of a nation. This policy is now seen as a "failure," Cameron said, because some young men, following a "perverse and warped interpretation of Islam," are willing to "blow themselves up and kill their fellow citizens."
The problem at the core of the failure is that newcomers "find it hard to identify with Britain" because "we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity." More from Cameron:
Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives.… We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values.
Racism from whites is condemned, for example. But when "equally unacceptable views or practices" come from non-whites, "we've been too cautious, frankly even fearful, to stand up to them."
The same impulse, although less advanced, is evident in the U.S. The great imperative is to pretend that Islam is like Judaism or Christianity: it's one more monotheistic religion. Nothing wrong with that, surely? Maybe, maybe not. But the reality is that Islam is treated differently. For one thing it is feared, and feared for good reasons. And that means respected. It is deferred to at every turn. Christianity is either ignored (where it is enfeebled) or denigrated (where it is not).
There could be no more dramatic confirmation of the fear of Islam than the recent Defense Department report on the murders at Fort Hood, Texas. In 2009, Major Nidal Hasan, a U.S. Army psychiatrist, screamed "Allahu Akbar!" as he opened fire at the military base, killing 12 soldiers and wounding 32 others.