July 30, 2011
By Michael Curtis
The brutal murders in and around Oslo on July 22, 2011 by Anders Behring Breivik, the self-declared commander for the Knights Templar of Europe, are to be rightfully condemned, and due punishment must be accorded for his horrible crime. But his massacre of 76 innocent people and his 1,500-page polemical diatribe -- his European Declaration of Independence, with its obsession with multiculturalism and the threat caused by the Islamic presence in Europe -- must not be allowed to prevent a genuine, rational discussion of a complex contemporary problem.
Western countries are perplexed by the problem of the current immigration of large numbers of individuals coming from different cultures, and the tension caused by their reluctance to assimilate and integrate into the larger society. To debate the issues of immigration and the likelihood of groups becoming participants in the larger society is not racist behavior, but rather a necessary consequence of real problems.
Aware of the potential positive value of immigrants, governments along with other agencies have subscribed to a set of policies and values that has become known as multiculturalism. They seek to diminish the difficulties the newcomers face: lack of respect, verbal abuse, and discrimination in general (and especially in housing and employment).
However desirable some of the efforts have been, both for immigrants and for their new society, it is evident that Western policies of multiculturalism have drawbacks as well as benefits. Those policies encounter a number of intellectual and political problems. They aim at accommodating different religious, cultural, and ethnic traditions within a society, but societies require a common culture. The great 14th-century Arab historian, Ibn Khaldun, was aware of this when he wrote that civilization arose only when there was solidarity. Today, this idea of solidarity, and commitment to the common culture and to the basic structures and values of democratic countries, is being challenged by identity politics and by advocacy of diversity.