Multiculturalism was once a term of tolerance, an acceptance of difference in an increasingly cosmopolitan and urbanised western world. Today it has become just a convenient label which politicians can use to assault immigration. Now Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has seized on it to read the funeral rites over an open society. "Multikulti," she declared at the weekend, "has utterly failed." It was wishful thinking, she argued, to believe that Germans and foreigners "could live happily side by side.... We kidded ourselves for a while that they wouldn't stay, but that's not the reality."
Indeed it isn't. Having invited immigrants in by the millions to fill a labour gap in an expanding market - just as Britain did after the Second World War - the governments and society that welcomed their arrival now think that they should conveniently disappear, taking their wives, their children, their benefit needs and their political antagonisms with them.
There's no need to search far for explanations for Mrs Merkel's extraordinary, and in some ways uncharacteristic, leap into the low ground of racist politics. Ever since the Bundesbank official Thilo Sarrazin launched his best-selling-book last August (and was forced to resign from the bank for his pains) blaming immigration for social decline in Germany, the country has been in a fever of debate about the issue. Only last weekend, the Bavarian Governor, Horst Seehofer, declared his determination to preserve German "Leitkultur" as the "dominant German culture". The country was in danger, he declared, of becoming the, "world's welfare office".
With her fast-falling poll rating and fraying party loyalty, it was little wonder that the German Chancellor finally seized this opportunity to up her voter-approval figures and try and breathe new life into her dying party. Little wonder but hardly admirable. Dispense with all the finer analysis of political advantage, forget the excuse that mainstream politicians must express the bubbling concerns of their constituents, and recognise what is happening here.
The attack on "multiculturalism" is just a mask for expressing prejudices that would have been regarded as unacceptable and unrepeatable a decade ago - that the "guestworkers" were basically welfare scroungers, that they didn't and wouldn't subscribe to the culture of their hosts, that they were less educated and less educable than the majority "whites," that they somehow resented and challenged social values based on culture, language and the Christian religion.
Mrs Merkel is not alone in these views, although she brings to the debate some of the peculiar provincialism and ethnic exclusiveness of those brought up in eastern Germany. All across Western Europe there is a gathering chorus of concern on the migrant issue.
Worries about jobs have become mixed with fear of Islamic terrorism and now the talk of cuts everywhere. As societies have turned inwards so they have also turned against the outsiders. …