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p. 683. Has multiculturalism created ghettos and ‘parallel lives’?locked

  • Ali Rattansi


The racial riots of 2001 and after that afflicted northern areas in Britain were extremely damaging for multiculturalism in Britain and the rest of Europe. The government reports into the disturbances were crucial in setting the stage for a sustained critique of multiculturalism. These civil disturbances have been cited as evidence of the failure of multiculturalism, however a close reading of the reports that followed indicates otherwise. In fact the role of myths created by popular media and the Far Right is significant in shaping what the white population in Britain thinks about ethnic minorities. The 2001 Reports in fact argued that there had not been enough multiculturalism.

Riots, reports, and terrorism: 2001 and after

The summer and autumn of 2001 were to prove fateful and, some might argue, fatal for multiculturalism in Britain and the rest of Europe. May, June, and July of 2001 saw ferocious civil disturbances in the northern English ‘mill towns’ (so called because they had previously had thriving textile mills) of Burnley, Oldham, and Bradford. Street battles raged between British Asian youth, mostly Muslim and of South Asian origin, white youth – many belonging to the Far-Right British National Party – and police. Firebombs damaged several buildings. In Oldham these included the somewhat ironically named ‘Live and Let Live’ pub as well as the home of the Asian deputy mayor.

The British government immediately commissioned a series of official investigations into the disorders and set up its own Home Office committee to liaise with the inquiries, collate the findings, and serve as an advisory body. Bradford had already set up its own inquiry under Sir Herman Ouseley before the disorders, having experienced disturbances in 1995. The Ouseley Report was published first, in the summer of 2001, which in my view meant that its terms of inquiry and conclusions probably had an undue influence on the framework of the other inquiries and on the central government approach to the whole set of issues p. 69thrown up by the disorders. As Ousely pointed out in his foreword to the Bradford Report, his ‘Race Review’ team was given the brief to enquire into why ‘community fragmentation along social, cultural, ethnic and religious lines’ was occurring in Bradford. In other words, ‘the problem’ had already been identified before any serious investigations had actually started: ‘community fragmentation’, used interchangeably with ‘community fracturing’. And ‘self-segregation’ was also identified before the investigation as a key causal factor. The Race Review team was also asked to give advice on tackling racial discrimination and promoting equal opportunities. The inquiries into Oldham and Burnley, together with an independent review under Ted Cantle, could not but bear in mind the Bradford terms of reference and conclusions. The Bradford and all the other inquiries were also working in the shadow of the McPherson Report on the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence in South London which had found deep-seated institutional racism amongst the police and had produced a set of wide-ranging recommendations for tackling racism and related issues.

However, the investigating teams were also well aware that they faced a complex set of circumstances. Overall, despite inevitable differences of emphasis, several common themes emerged in their attempts to highlight essential background factors and the more immediate triggers to the disturbances. As we shall see, many of these issues were subsequently sidelined as the central government began to formulate a strategy to prevent future disturbances.

The reports into the disturbances were crucial in setting the stage for a sustained critique of multiculturalism once the backlash against it started. Therefore, it is important to examine them in more detail, and to see the evolution of government policies and public thinking as they digested, interpreted, and re-worked the findings and recommendations of the reports into an assault on multiculturalism.

p. 70All the reports pointed to the devastating impact of deindustrialization on employment levels and economic opportunities, with Asian levels of unemployment and poverty being particularly high, partly because the local authorities had few systematic policies for employing ethnic minorities. The loss of textile manufacturing partly contributed to the fact that all of the wards (districts) that were affected by the civil disturbances were among the 20% most deprived in the country, and some areas of Oldham and Burnley ranked amongst the poorest 1%. De-industrialization had led to shared deprivation amongst whites and Asians. The minority Asian communities had also faced sustained interpersonal racism from local whites, institutional racism from the governing urban councils which had discriminated against and segregated Asians in particular areas and types of housing (Oldham Council’s housing policies had been condemned as racist by a Commission for Racial Equality investigation in the 1990s), and harassment from the Far-Right National Front. Local estate agents had often contributed to ‘white flight’ by panicking whites into moving out of areas as Asians started to buy houses there, stoking fears of falling house prices. Neighbourhoods and schools were thus becoming all-white or all-Asian.

The demise of local Racial Equality Councils meant that residents had nowhere to turn to for advice on discrimination, and there was no ongoing attempt at improving community relations. According to the reports, there was ‘self-segregation’ on the part of both communities, leading to a deep cultural divide between the Asians and the whites, with little interaction between them. In turn, this had led to ignorance and exaggerated fears about each other. Particularly, there were also continual, damaging myths about either Asians or whites – usually the former – getting an unfair share of local government resources. These myths were often the result of a competitive bidding process in which communities were pitted against each other, with inevitable resentments.

p. 71The bidding process was area-based, reinforcing spatial divisions between communities that had developed due to settlement patterns stemming from earlier processes of migration into areas where employment and housing were available to incoming ethnic minorities, before the development of conceptions of multiculturalism. The reports point out that the situation was made worse by the local media which tended to give unfair prominence to funds allocated to Asian areas while downplaying those provided for majority white areas, selective reporting that gave ammunition to the National Front in building up further resentment and hostility amongst white residents. The police were mistrusted as unfair, especially by Asians, but also whites who felt that Asians were allowed to get away with misdemeanours because Race Relations legislation shackled the police. The reports suggested that the police, often in collusion with local media, often exacerbated tensions by highlighting attacks by Asians on whites while underplaying violence and routine harassment against Asians (for example, the throwing of rubbish into Asian backyards which was widespread).

According to the reports, the actual disturbances, taking place against this background, were provoked by a range of local incidents such as violence against an Asian taxi driver, rumours of imminent incursions or actual marches by the National Front in Asian areas, alleged turf wars amongst rival white and Asian gangs involved in dealing drugs, and so forth. Inevitably, the participants in the disorders were young men from the Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and white communities, although the obvious role of forms of masculinity in fomenting violence went completely unremarked in the reports.

While the reports were thus obviously aware of the multi-causality surrounding the events and advised more research and investigation, they identified the main underlying issue as being the fracturing of local communities with the result that Asians and whites were now leading what the Cantle Report called ‘parallel p. 72

4. Young British Asians protesting on the streets

lives’, with little intercommunal dialogue and much intercommunal hostility which had been left to fester by lack of adequate local leadership from the councils and community leaders.

Inadequate levels of competence in English, especially amongst new brides and the older generation, were remarked upon as barriers, but young Asian women were also praised in the Oldham and Bradford Reports for leading projects that involved intercommunal interaction and sharing of experiences.

‘Multiculturalism’ did not cause segregation and riots: it’s official

The civil disturbances of summer 2001 have always been cited as evidence that multiculturalism in Britain had failed, a judgement reinforced by the involvement of British South Asian Muslims in terrorist bombings in London in July 2005.

p. 73Contrary to the impression that is now embedded in the public imagination and government policies that the official reports into the 2001 disorders concurred with this judgement, quite the opposite is the case. A close reading of the reports suggests that the case subsequently mounted against multiculturalism has to be reappraised.

Multiculturalism in fact gets hardly any mention in the Reports on Oldham and Burnley. One direct use of the term is in the Burnley Report where the absence of ‘multicultural activities’ is lamented. What is really striking about the reports is their regret at the almost complete absence of multiculturalism and their call for more of it. This is especially in education, but also in local authority practices, media reporting, employment practices, and leisure facilities.

The Bradford Race Review team explicitly criticized the National Curriculum, which had been created by the pre-1997 Conservative administrations as a deliberate strategy to sideline multiculturalist initiatives in schools, for failing to teach about ‘different cultures and faiths among our diverse multi-cultural communities’. The team cited evidence from their discussions that young people considered this a particular deficiency in their education.

The Oldham Report wanted much greater effort to be put into a ‘celebration of the town’s diversity’ and the way in which ‘different groups of immigrants have enriched and contributed to the socio-economic life of Oldham’. It also argued that ‘respect’ needed to be instilled into Oldham’s residents ‘for others’ traditions and viewpoints’, combined with ‘greater education in cultural awareness’, and ‘a willingness to listen to the other person’s point of view’. These are urgent demands for more multiculturalism, involving a valuing of cultural diversity, a recognition of the contribution of immigrants, and developing empathy between different ethnic communities.

p. 74Given the key role played by the diagnosis of cities composed of fractured communities, it is not surprising that all the reports recommend more mixing, to rectify embedded patterns of residential and educational segregation. But multiculturalism is not blamed for the creation of segregation and fractured communities.

The idea of ‘self’-segregation by each community, Asian and white, is also a strong motif. The reports also emphasized that there were people in all the communities who were keen on more intercommunal interaction and mixing. There is, of course, independent evidence, especially from journalistic accounts like that of Kenan Malik, that faith-based funding, demanded by community groups, did further entrench divisions that already existed on the ground in Bradford, Birmingham, and other cities. But more systematic research by Farrar and by Solomos and Back also reveals a more complex picture of processes of political negotiation and mobilization than can be captured by any simplistic blaming of ‘multiculturalism’ for communal divisions.

Moreover, a reading of the findings of the reports reveals that racism amongst the white population, combined with discrimination in housing allocation by the councils, racism amongst employers, the activities of estate agents, and selective anti-Asian local media reporting played a much larger role in creating segregation than Asian resistance to integration and cultural preference for living within the narrow confines of their own neighbourhoods. And much of the desire to interact and mix came from the Asians rather than the whites.

The Oldham panel was ‘shocked’ by the racism it found amongst the whites and recommended ‘the need to tackle racism and racist attitudes…as a matter of the utmost urgency’. And on resistance to mixing: ‘Attempts at mixing Asian and white families in Council properties have been largely unsuccessful, because of racist victimization of incoming Asian families’ (my emphasis). p. 75The Bradford Report also emphasizes that the inner-city white population did not appear to accept that Muslims had any place in the city and had distanced itself from ‘the Bradford identity’. The report also expressed significant concerns over racial discrimination in employment.

‘Sleepwalking into segregation’: does Britain have ghettos and are they produced by multiculturalism?

None of the reports into the 2001 disturbances blame multiculturalism for the events or the underlying social factors that had led to divisions and hostility between communities. And they certainly do not use the term ‘ghetto’ to describe the ethnic ‘clustering’ they were told about by residents of the cities. Equally striking is the admission in the reports that as yet there were no measures of the degree of segregation that existed in the ‘mill towns’. Therefore they called for more systematic and rigorous research to establish to what extent the segregation between the communities was a real phenomenon.

That the fear of ethnic ‘ghettos’ gripped the nation, especially as a cause of dangerous alienation amongst young Muslims, is something partly owed to Trevor Phillips, then chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, in a well-publicized speech and other remarks in the wake of the July 2005 bombings in London perpetrated by several young Asian men. Britain, he warned, was in danger of ‘sleepwalking’ its way into segregation and ‘some districts are on their way to becoming fully fledged ghettos – black holes into which no-one goes without fear and trepidation’. And he linked this specifically to the dangers of home-grown Islamic terrorism: ‘The aftermath of 7/7 forces us to assess where we are…We are becoming strangers to each other.’ He talked of ‘marooned communities’ whose members would increasingly regard ‘the codes of behaviour, loyalty and respect that the rest of us take for granted as outdated’. This was his p. 76ominous conclusion: ‘We know what follows then: crime, no-go areas and chronic cultural conflict.’ And multiculturalism, he said, had to accept a large share of the blame, for

in recent years we have focused far too much on the ‘multi’ and not enough on common culture. We’ve emphasized what divides us…We have allowed tolerance of diversity to harden into effective isolation of communities, in which some people think special separate values ought to apply.

Multiculturalism, segregation, violence, and terrorism were already becoming linked in the public imagination as the Right-wing media especially had started this chain of association and gained extra ammunition from Phillips’s comments. In The Daily Telegraph, Mark Steyn had already presaged Phillips’s conclusion by claiming that ‘The real suicide bomb is “multiculturalism” ’ (19 July 2005).

However, the 2001 Reports had already inspired serious investigation by urban geographers, demographers, and sociologists at British universities: for example, Deborah Phillips at Leeds, Ceri Peach at Oxford, Ludi Simpson and Nissa Finney at Manchester, and others, most of whom had also been researching these issues well before the disorders.

Almost all the key assertions in the 2001 Reports about ‘segregation’, repeated in other government reports and policy documents, and thus the supposed evidence underlying the subsequent attacks on multiculturalism, have turned out to be myths according to a systematic synthesis by Finney and Simpson. Here are just some of their relevant conclusions derived from their own and other research evidence:

There are no ghettos in Britain and the population movements are producing more diversity in local areas not less. Britain is not ‘sleepwalking into segregation’. Bradford, about which the first of p. 77the fears of segregation was expressed, is typical of the rest of the country where South Asian, Caribbean, and other migrants have settled. Even in the most Asian areas, more than 25% of residents are white.

While there has been growth of the minority population in minority-dominated wards, this is from natural growth rather than new immigration.

Minority residents are moving out of the wards where they predominated, into other parts of the UK: more minority residents are moving out than moving in. The arrival of Eastern European and African migrants is making areas more diverse as Asian dominance is declining.

Considered in a longer time frame, ‘white flight’ is also a myth. White residents have been moving into minority concentrations in Leicester, Bradford, Lambeth, Wolverhampton, Manchester, and elsewhere, while ethnic minority residents have been moving out. Moreover, in general, all groups over time are moving out of depressed industrial cities to jobs or better housing elsewhere.

The highest ethnic concentration is for whites, which is not surprising given that six out of every seven residents in Britain is white. The average white person lives in a ward with 90% white people in it; in contrast, the average Pakistani in Britain lives in a ward containing 17% Pakistanis.

The proportion of Muslims charged with terrorism offences is not higher in areas where there are many Muslims compared to areas that have few. So the notion that radicalized Muslims are isolated and tend to live and study with other Muslims is not true.

While many schools have significant ethnic minority populations, most of these schools are, of course, predominantly white simply because whites make up the majority of the population. There is no evidence that school choice is increasing segregation. While there has been an increase in ethnic segregation in some areas, this is accounted for by an increase in the ethnic minority population. There has been a greater increase in segregation by income than by ethnicity.

p. 78 Moreover, research shows that ethnic minority parents express a preference for their children to enrol in ethnically mixed schools. And Asian young women are particularly keen that their children should grow up in mixed areas; to try and ensure this, they tend to buy houses in the suburbs.

The available evidence contradicts the widely held view that the friendship groups of young people are increasingly restricted to single ethnic groups. In particular, there is increased mixing of friendship groups amongst British-born ethnic minorities.

One of the fastest-growing ethnic minorities is the ‘Mixed’ group, showing a particular tendency amongst British citizens of different ethnicities to intermarry. Strikingly, Asian Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus are marrying out of their own groups as often as are white Christians.

As the 2001 reports suggested, and this is confirmed by opinion polls, in general it is whites who are less likely to want to actually engage, mix, and ‘integrate’ with ethnic minorities than the other way around. Thus the call for greater emphasis on celebrating diversity.

A key Finney and Simpson conclusion is that ‘An assimilationist agenda placing responsibility for integration exclusively on the shoulders of minorities is clearly not a viable option’, although this is exactly the thrust of most recent government initiatives (of which more later).

The evidence appears to challenge the idea of growing ethnic segregation in British cities. Blaming multiculturalism for something that has not actually been occurring obviously makes no sense at all.

However, some aspects of Finney and Simpson’s findings have been challenged by Carling and also by Phillips. The former points out that we should not completely discount the notion of self-segregation amongst the Pakistani-origin South Asian communities of Bradford, motivated by a desire to retain links and take advantage of the opportunities for mosque attendance, p. 79shopping, kin networks, and so forth, and to some degree this process will continue. And also that ‘white flight’ is a real process, albeit mixed with middle-class aspiration as well as a desire to get away from ‘immigrants’. Deborah Phillips has shown that there is middle-class Asian flight, with larger numbers moving out to the suburbs; also, Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims often move to different areas, creating separate suburban enclaves, although there is no evidence that multiculturalism has anything to do with these processes of differentiation.

Thus separation between South Asians and whites is a continuing issue whether ghettos technically exist or not. We have little information on the quality of the relationships between the communities. Even when they live in close proximity, we do not know what degree of interaction, neighbourliness, and ‘conviviality’ – a term that has gained some currency recently – exists and to what degree grudging co-existence is the norm, ready to turn into confrontation under real or imagined provocation.

On a more positive note, Carling points to many initiatives that are currently active in Bradford which bring the different communities together in a constructive manner, some of which I shall discuss in the next chapter.

Simpson and Finney’s favoured policies consist of addressing questions of housing and employment opportunities amongst all communities, on the assumption that alleviating material deprivation is above all what matters.

In so far as this is the case, Simpson and Finney could be accused of being surprisingly naive. The relationship between material deprivation and racism is a complex one; there is no one-to-one correlation between the two, and Carling also points out that in Bradford many of the voters for the openly racist BNP come from affluent areas.

p. 80While many of Simpson and Finney’s arguments have considerable force, they appear to underestimate the degree to which policies are needed to tackle issues relating to ethnic relations as ethnic relations rather than simply as matters of inequality and material deprivation. It is all too easy to dismiss such considerations as ‘merely cultural’, but they will not go away solely by improving life chances in all communities, extremely desirable though that is.

Whatever the number of caveats entered, the 2001 reports and evidence before and since suggest that we now confront a situation in Britain in which on average the white population in particular has little understanding of the beliefs and lifestyles of ethnic minorities, is easily susceptible to myths propagated in popular media and by the Far Right, and actually remains more unwilling to mix and engage with ethnic minorities. There are likely to be myths about the white population in circulation amongst ethnic minorities, but living in British society, going through a British education, engaging with British popular culture, and developing hybrid, complex, syncretic, multiple, hyphenated identities means, as we shall see, that there is far less likelihood of a simplistic, ignorant rejection of all things ‘white British’. White British identities are also being transformed, especially amongst the young, and this undoubtedly means that any new initiatives in ‘multiculturalism’ in the broadest sense will have to take account of forms of cultural diversity that are significantly different from the 1990s.

And as we will see in the next chapter, social class segregation, gated communities, and the stalling of social mobility are important factors affecting the cohesion of local communities.

Before confronting the difficult questions surrounding the future of multiculturalism, though, we need to pay attention to what has been happening to multiculturalism in mainland Europe.

Multiculturalism in comparative perspective: lessons from France and the Netherlands

By the late 1990s, some in France, principally amongst the intellectuals, had begun to ask for a rethinking of the country’s dominant assimilationist model of ‘integrating’ immigrants, one which actually refused all recognition of cultural claims and thus did not accept the existence of ‘ethnic minorities’. Alan Touraine was one amongst a small but growing number who argued that the French needed to borrow some elements from British and North American multiculturalism.

But Britain’s 2001 disorders soon appeared to make such demands look misguided, to say the least. They were widely seen in France as evidence that ‘Anglo-Saxon’ multiculturalism was a dismal failure and that France’s integrationism was a far superior mode of incorporating non-European immigrants. 9/11 and Britain’s 7/7 (2005) were further nails in the coffin of multiculturalist demands in France, as even the British began to panic about lack of ‘social cohesion’ and started furiously backpedalling on previous commitments to cultural pluralism.

French complacency, however, was soon punctured by the events of the autumn of 2005 as the suburbs, or banlieues, of Paris and well over 250 other towns, or communes, experienced serious rioting by mostly immigrant-origin youth. And nor was this the first time. Between 1981 and 2003, French towns had witnessed smaller or larger disorders of this kind on over a dozen occasions. Resentment against police harassment or confrontations with the police were usually the triggers and led to nights of car-burning and attacks on official buildings, which in 2005 included schools, sports halls, and municipal buildings, giving an indication of the hostility felt towards official French institutions. These were France’s worst disorders since the famous events of May 1968.

p. 82Those who had smugly blamed multiculturalism for disorders in British cities found themselves confronting a serious dilemma. France, as we have seen, did not officially have ‘ethnic minorities’ and had never officially adopted multicultural policies. Public debates hardly ever explicitly talked about race or ethnic relations or racism. French public discourse simply referred to ‘urban problems’. Yet the main participants in the disorders were clearly very aggrieved French-born youth of North African and sub-Saharan African origin, just as Britain’s disturbances had largely involved ethnic minority youth (with provocation from and fights with Far-Right white youth).

While the French state had always eschewed collecting statistics based on ethnicity, and there was no official monitoring of discrimination against non-European-origin immigrants and their offspring, sociologists and others, alerted especially by a series of disturbances throughout the 1990s, had been steadily conducting research into just such issues. In the aftermath of autumn 2005 – and further disturbances in 2007 and 2009 – much more of the relevant information is now in the public domain.

Nicolas Sarkozy, while Interior Minister in 2005, had dismissed the youth from the suburban housing estates as scum (racaille) and saw the disruptions simply as criminal behaviour. In stark contrast, even the French domestic intelligence service blamed the disorders on social inequality and exclusion.

Since the 1980s, the de-industrialization that affected all the Western European towns, including Britain’s ‘mill towns’, had also taken a heavy toll in France’s industrial centres, with immigrants and their children bearing a heavy burden of unemployment and deteriorating housing conditions and urban facilities in the outer suburbs. Unemployment rates amongst youth of North African origin had begun to rise alarmingly. As Alec Hargreaves has pointed out, a pioneering survey in the early 1990s p. 83(Geographical Mobility and Social Incorporation – MGIS) had already discovered that the rate of unemployment amongst second-generation ethnic Algerians aged between 20 and 29 was a staggering 42% for men and 40% for women. And throughout the 1990s, unemployment in what were called the Zones Urbaines Sensibles (ZUS), where ethnic minorities are over-represented, rose even higher. In 2004, in a study to test employment discrimination, University of Paris researchers sent out résumés from fictitious job applicants to more than 200 French employers. A résumé with a classic French name received more than five time as many positive responses as one with a North African name, although both listed identical qualifications. As Hargreaves puts it:

For well over a decade, youth unemployment among visible minorities had been so high that many young people of Maghrebi [North African], sub-Saharan African and Caribbean origin had come to despair of ever finding regular employment.

Combined with anger at discrimination, their frustration had boiled over on a number of occasions, but most spectacularly in the autumn of 2005.

The non-European immigrant-origin youth were not questioning the French integration or assimilationist Republican model of citizenship. All the interviews with them conducted by sociologists and cited by Duprez, Hargreaves, Muchielli, and others confirmed that what they were demanding was a fulfilment of the promises of equal treatment promised in the French idea of citizenship but which they were being denied by blatant discrimination in the labour market and provocative police harassment. The youth involved were not militant multiculturalists or Islamicist jihadists angered by non-recognition of their cultural identities. Indeed, research on these French young people has consistently confirmed that they identify themselves as French, first and foremost, with little allegiance to the countries p. 84from which their parents and grandparents had migrated (only a small proportion of those of North African origin actually speak Arabic, although public and everyday discourse refers to them as ‘Arabs’ and refuses to acknowledge their Frenchness). And they were certainly not mindless criminals bent on senseless destruction. Many were the graduates who suffer twice the level of unemployment as those with typically French European names, revealed in the Paris study.

The Sarkozy jibe of ‘scum’ and his threat to ‘cleanse the estates with pressure washers’ were thus particularly insulting and provocative. Equally misguided has been the French state’s policy response, which has been to toughen the already oppressive policing – abandoning the experiments in community policing (police de proximité) pioneered earlier – and the introduction of even tighter immigration rules, which had already begun in the 1980s and 1990s, partly as a response to the gains of the virulently anti-immigrant Front National.

In a move that has echoes elsewhere in Europe, President Sarkozy has introduced new ‘integration’ laws, including a ‘Welcome and Integration Contract’ for immigrants which demands that they uphold the ‘laws and values of France’ and attend language and civic courses. Given the level of cultural integration already achieved by those in the banlieues, these new regulations, much like the similar ones in the UK, seem to be particularly inappropriate.

However, the French have also begun to make tentative moves in a more multiculturalist direction, although the term remains taboo in French public discourse. Demands by sociologists and other researchers in the 1990s for official statistics on ethnic minorities and forms of ethnic monitoring to track discrimination against ‘visible minorities’ were given added impetus by the 1998 report of the Haut Conseil à l’Intégration (HCI), which actually recommended the setting up of a state-funded agency p. 85along the lines of the British Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) that could investigate cases of racial discrimination. The EU directive of 2000 demanding of all member states that they set up independent anti-discriminatory bodies has led to the establishment of the Haute autorité de lutte contre les discriminations et pour l'égalité (HALDE), but which has powers and resources that are considerably less than the (now defunct) CRE.

Hargreaves’ judgement on recent French initiatives, though, is damning. For all the new public discourses on ‘diversity’ and ‘equal opportunity’ that have now replaced the discredited talk of ‘integration’, he says:

At every step in the incremental changes seen since 1997, the anti-discrimination initiatives taken by governments of both left and the centre-right have been half baked and some would say half-hearted.

The fact that the department of national statistics has in November 2010 officially published figures showing higher unemployment rates for French citizens with parents from the Maghreb, and its admission that discrimination appears to have played a major role in the disadvantage suffered by those of immigrant origin, is potentially an important development whose impact on future policies is as yet unclear.

Nevertheless, it is significant that the French have had to move away from simplistic notions of integration to the recognition of diversity and equal opportunity as important public objectives. The Ministry of Immigration and National Identity was abolished in November 2010 after only a short life. ‘Multiculturalism-lite’, perhaps, but a definite shift away from the previously militant opposition to ‘Anglo-Saxon’ social models in relation to ethnic minorities and their place in French social institutions.

p. 86Neither the 2001 ‘mill town’ disturbances nor the hesitant but definite French moves towards the recognition of ‘cultural diversity’, ‘equal opportunities’, and even ethnic monitoring suggest that it is multiculturalism that is to blame for social disintegration. And the extent of social disintegration has been grossly exaggerated in both countries. The truth appears to be that some aspects of multiculturalism may provide a more appropriate response than simple calls for more ‘integration’.

However, the Dutch retreat from multiculturalism suggests that there might still be a case for multiculturalism to answer as a harbinger of social disintegration.

As we have seen in the first chapter, Dutch multiculturalism, although never referred to as such, emerged as ‘Minorities Policy’ in the 1980s, following nearly two decades in which a combination of the Dutch pillarization model and the expectation that non-European immigrants especially were only ‘guest workers’ destined to return ‘home’ after a relatively short period produced a system that almost encouraged a cultural ghettoization in which the immigrants had their own-language newspapers, radio and television broadcasts, and the teaching of mother tongues in schools.

Although in some ways the move from guest worker to multicultural policies is easier than a shift from assimilation priorities because a culturally pluralist infrastructure is already in place, nevertheless it is also arguable that the peculiarity of the Dutch case also hampered multiculturalism. That is, in so far as multiculturalism involves a celebration of diversity, a greater or lesser change in a nation’s historical sense of itself informed by a general orientation towards integration and a commitment to equal opportunities via anti-discrimination, the Dutch approach where the immigrant minorities had been strongly encouraged to identify with their homeland – which would not happen in an assimilationist or conventional multiculturalist model – entrenches p. 87within the minority and the majority a strong sense that the minorities do not belong and should not attempt to belong.

This positive encouragement of non-belonging obviously also meant that too little groundwork had been done in developing anti-discriminatory cultures and policies amongst public and private employers, in social services, in education, and in leisure facilities.

It was only in 1994 that UK-style anti-discrimination legislation was introduced, with the Law on Equal Treatment. By then, a significant 1989 Report from the Scientific Council for Government had raised the alarm about very high levels of unemployment and low levels of educational achievement amongst minorities of non-European immigrant origin: Turkish- and Moroccan-origin minorities had an unemployment rate of 30% compared with 6% amongst workers of Dutch origin. As in the rest of Western Europe, the low-skilled jobs for which the immigrant workers had been recruited were fast disappearing.

The official ‘Minorities Policy’, the Dutch version of multiculturalism, gave way to an explicit ‘Integration Policy’. By 1997, Dutch language and civic integration courses became mandatory for newcomers, an initiative that was to be widely borrowed by other European states. The move was prompted by a new debate about a possible clash between liberal Dutch values and what were thought to be non-liberal, repressive Islamic values. Curiously, the debates were provoked not by events in the Netherlands, but the Rushdie affair in Britain and the headscarf controversy in France. Research carried out by Paul Sniderman and Louk Hagendoorn in 1997, although only published in 2007, seemed to confirm widespread anxiety about Islamic values amongst the Dutch, although the study was deeply flawed: the way the questionnaires were designed encouraged respondents to think in polarized terms, pitting ‘Muslim’ and ‘Islamic’ values against ‘Western European’ values in a crude, homogenizing p. 88manner. The 1990s debates soon died down because of the absence of a specific Dutch resonance at the time, although arguably the seeds had been sown for a full-scale assault on the failure of Dutch multiculturalism. In the 1990s, despite the end of the guest-worker regime, the fact that so many people of Turkish and Moroccan origin continued to have a strong identification with their countries of origin was regarded as evidence of the success of the Dutch model of encouraging cultural preservation.

But the immigrant-origin minorities were also changing. Research by sociologists such as Han Entzinger and others carried out in Rotterdam, published in 2000, revealed that youth of Moroccan and Turkish origin were developing their own Westernized versions of Islam. They strongly supported principles such as individual freedom and equality. And as Entzinger has pointed out, he and his co-researchers discovered that ‘as their educational level goes up, their ideas became more liberal and differences with Dutch young people of the same educational background virtually disappear’.

But a different narrative had begun to circulate amongst sections of the Dutch political and intellectual elite. This was one of the emergence of a Dutch underclass of immigrant-minority origin, alienated from Dutch society and culture and unwilling to integrate. It revived the earlier fear of a ‘civilizational’ conflict between the Dutch and their non-European minorities of Muslim origin. The events of 9/11 led to a huge leap in anti-immigration sentiment, fed by the Dutch media and expertly exploited by Pim Fortuyn, whose anti-immigrant party had considerable success in the 2002 parliamentary elections and entered a coalition government.

A new anti-immigrant discourse took shape and gained influence. Although Fortuyn’s assassination by an animal rights activist eventually led to a decline in his party’s fortunes, his fears of a widespread anti-democratic, and especially homophobic and p. 89women-subordinating, culture became firmly established in new Dutch policies towards immigrants and their descendants. The assassination of the film-maker Theo van Gogh by a 26-year-old of Moroccan origin after the broadcast of Submission, which he had helped to make with the Dutch MP of Somali origin Ayaan Hirshi Ali, and which featured verses of the Qur’an projected upon a naked, veiled woman to highlight the view that the Qur’an promotes violence against women, only seemed to confirm fears about Muslims and Islam as a threat to liberal Dutch culture.

Acquiring Dutch citizenship, as I have pointed out in the first chapter, has become increasingly costly and difficult. The ‘integration’ courses now have to be paid for, a test has to be taken within five years of settlement in the Netherlands, and fines are imposed for failing the test. Proposals have been made for ‘oldcomers’ who are already settled to take courses and tests, with fines as penalties for failure. As in other European countries, which have often taken their cue from the Dutch, immigrants now have to demonstrate commitment to ‘Dutch values and norms’.

What, then, are the lessons of multiculturalism as instituted in the Netherlands? In the Netherlands, Britain, and elsewhere in Western Europe, the answer has seemed to be obvious: not only has Dutch multiculturalism been a failure, but multiculturalism in general has been shown to be obviously flawed. The Dutch retreat from multiculturalism is in fact seen as especially significant, given that the Netherlands had been viewed as a place that had been perhaps the most enthusiastic in its conception and implementation of multicultural policies.

But while there is some merit in this interpretation, it is important to have a rather more nuanced view. Let us begin with Entzinger’s wry judgement on the Dutch case: as he puts it, we have ‘the paradox that migrants who initially had been encouraged to p. 90preserve their own identity were now blamed for insufficiently identifying with Dutch culture’. Entzinger’s point is important, for the more multicultural ‘Minorities Policy’ of the 1980s and 1990s had come after a long period of pillarization in which minorities had been deliberately kept at arm’s length from Dutch culture and had been publicly subsidized and positively encouraged not to regard the Netherlands as ‘home’. Belated attempts at a genuinely multicultural form of integration, including therefore a national celebration of cultural diversity, had to cut against the grain of a long-established national view of immigrant minorities as having no long-term place in Dutch society and culture.

Moreover, the late adoption of serious anti-discriminatory policies meant that the socio-economic marginalization of non-European immigrants and their offspring had also become strongly entrenched and was difficult to turn around. It is perverse to blame multiculturalism for the emergence of an immigrant-origin ‘underclass’ when the equal opportunities, let alone anti-racist, part of the multicultural settlement had come so late.

The life history of Mohammed B., the murderer of Theo van Gogh, became something of a test case in Dutch debates about multiculturalism. For many, he embodied the failure of Dutch multiculturalism: a high-school dropout who came to embrace radical Islam. But Mohammed B.’s story turns out to be more complex and ambiguous. Born in the Netherlands, he had done well at secondary school, had studied accountancy and social work, and was an active volunteer social worker in a youth work programme in his part of Amsterdam. As Anna Korteweg has pointed out, after studying Mohammed’s life in some detail, Mohammed’s work entailed encouraging other Moroccan-origin youth to continue their education despite the fact that he had not himself finished his post-secondary school studies.

p. 91And the idea that Mohammed B. is a dramatic example of the failure of multiculturalism is countered by the Dutch sociologist Ewald Engelen. Mohammed B. was a volunteer worker. In effect, he was unemployed and received social security payments. For Engelen, Mohammed B.’s fate is a typical example of a flawed and incomplete multiculturalism, a strategy which gave group cultural rights ‘but in the absence of an effective anti-discrimination policy in the sphere of labour market insertion’. Indeed, his conclusion is that

the case of Mohammed B. does not so much demonstrate that Dutch multiculturalism had gone too far…but rather that there was not enough multiculturalism in the Netherlands. The lesson could just as well be that the combination of enforced assimilation, as is the course the Dutch have taken since the rise and fall of Pim Fortuyn in 2002, and malign neglect in the socio-economic sphere are a sure recipe for Islamic radicalization. (emphasis in original)

Indeed, the lesson from both France and the Netherlands is that no simple narrative of the wholesale failure of ‘multiculturalism’ can be sustained. The French have been moving slowly but more or less steadily towards a version of it, especially at a local level. And there are enough students of the Dutch case who argue that there has been a public over-reaction into militant forms of assimilation when a more successful strategy would be a recalibration of the peculiar Dutch model of pillarizaton into which the nation’s multiculturalism was shoe-horned.

But there are other more general conclusions one might draw. For one thing, the hasty rhetoric of retreat from multiculturalism in the UK and elsewhere in Western Europe arguably suffers from the same flaw that has been identified for the Netherlands by Engelen. The Reports into the 2001 English disturbances after all argued in effect that there had not been enough multiculturalism. And detailed accounts of other cities, p. 92Birmingham for example, researched by Solomos and Back, show how in the 1990s there had actually been a retreat from equal opportunity policies and thus a failure to tackle urban racial disadvantage.

Re-reading riot(ous) acts: official interpretations of the events of 2001 (UK) and 2005 (France) and the backlash against multiculturalism

It is clear from all accounts of the ‘mill town’ disturbances of 2001 in England and the 2005 events in the French banlieues that the ethnic minority youth involved were not asking for group cultural rights or the preservation of ‘traditions’ from their parents’ homelands. They were actually demanding full inclusion in the British and French nation states as citizens with equal opportunities and rights to participate in and contribute to the nation.

In the case of the ‘mill town’ events, incursions by the Far-Right British National Party posed real threats to the safety and integrity of the South Asian communities. The detailed study by Paul Bagguley and Yasmin Hussein into the disturbances in Bradford graphically reveal the degree to which the youth of Pakistani origin felt genuinely and legitimately threatened by BNP marches and damage to their properties and persons.

But as Bagguley and Hussein also point out, the 2001 reports were ambivalently framed. They could therefore be read in such a way that the blame for the disturbances could be laid squarely on certain characteristics of the ethnic minorities themselves. That is, elements of the reports pathologized the South Asian communities and allowed the government to argue that the main changes had to happen within these communities, and in the multicultural policies that had supposedly allowed them for too long to segregate themselves and develop dysfunctional social p. 93habits without adequate supervision and pressure from local and central authorities.

In particular, the reports tended to simply list a variety of causal factors without being able to give weighting, for example, to de-industrialization, unemployment, and racial discrimination in housing and employment, as opposed to a desire to live amongst themselves, in creating segregation, and for which in any case no measure was provided. This meant that in its official response to the events and the reports, the government was able to cherry-pick supposed causes of the ‘riots’ and to frame policy options on the basis of its own preferred agenda.

And this is how the 2001 events became part of a drive to abandon multiculturalism, to engender ‘integration’ and ‘community cohesion’ instead, and to marginalize issues of socio-economic deprivation and racism from the Far-Right and in local policies in blighting the lives of the minorities.

In France, the Netherlands, and elsewhere, the ideas of integration and common values to unite minorities and the majorities have also come to form the centrepiece of new citizenship policies. However, in France, as I have noted in Chapter 1, President Sarkozy has now abolished the widely criticized ministry for immigration and national identity. But ‘integration’ remains a dominant theme in the new alternatives to multiculturalism, and it is time now to assess their appropriateness to the issues facing multiethnic European nation states in the present.