The End of Tolerance; Farewell, Multiculturalism. A Cartoon Backlash Is Pushing Europe to Insist upon Its Values

Newsweek International, March 6, 2006 | Go to article overview

The End of Tolerance; Farewell, Multiculturalism. A Cartoon Backlash Is Pushing Europe to Insist upon Its Values


Byline: Stefan Theil (With Emily Flynn Vencat and Stryker Mcguire in London and Ginny Power in Paris)

The world has long looked upon the Dutch as the very model of a modern, multicultural society. Open and liberal, the tiny seagoing nation that invented the globalized economy in the 1600s prided itself on a history of taking in all comers, be they Indonesian or Turkish, African or Chinese.

How different things look today. Dutch borders have been virtually shut. New immigration is down to a trickle. The great cosmopolitan port city of Rotterdam just published a code of conduct requiring Dutch be spoken in public. Parliament recently legislated a countrywide ban on wearing the burqa in public. And listen to a prominent Dutch establishment figure describe the new Dutch Way with immigrants. "We demand a new social contract," says Jan Wolter Wabeke, High Court Judge in The Hague. "We no longer accept that people don't learn our language, we require that they send their daughters to school, and we demand they stop bringing in young brides from the desert and locking them up in third-floor apartments."

What's going on here? Weren't the Dutch supposed to be the nicest people on earth, the most tolerant nation in Europe, a melting pot for minorities and immigrants since the Renaissance? No longer, and in this the Dutch are once again at the forefront of changes in Europe. This time, the Dutch model for Europe is one of multiculturalism besieged, if not plain defunct.

This helps explain Europe's unusually robust reaction to the cartoon crisis, which continued last week with riots in Nigeria and Pakistan that have left over 100 dead. There were apologies, to be sure, for causing offense after a small Danish paper published a dozen cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. But on one point European leaders were united and bluntly clear: they would not tolerate any limits on European newspapers' rights to publish. "Freedom of speech is not up for negotiation," declared Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, summing up a consensus that has only grown stronger as the cries of outrage from the Muslim world grow louder.

Welcome to the end of tolerance, or at least to the nonnegotiable limits to what Europeans will tolerate. Whether it's the Netherlands' rediscovery of Dutch communal values, or the universal affirmations of free speech (to mock religion, or anything else), Europe is everywhere on the defensive. After decades of relatively unfettered immigration and cultural laissez faire when it came to accepting people of differing values and social mores, there are signs that a potentially ugly backlash is setting in. Even before Jyllands Posten published the cartoons last fall, Denmark's Minister of Cultural Affairs Brian Mikkelsen said, "We have gone to war against the multicultural ideology that says that everything is equally valid." These days, he speaks for most Europeans. Danes, and Dutch, and a few other countries might be well on their way to creating multiethnic societies. But make no mistake: they're no longer willing to tolerate a European melting pot--a broadly multicultural society--where different cultures live by widely different norms.

What that portends for Europe is emerging in fits and starts. The common ground is a realization that past models of integration have failed. In Germany, which for decades refused to admit it had immigrants (in theory, they were "guest workers" who would one day go home), the newly appointed Federal Integration Commissioner Maria Bohmer now says that this see-no-evil attitude was "wishful thinking," to be replaced by what she calls "offensive integration." Part of that is a new seriousness about improving schools and opportunities for education, an arena where Germany more than any other country has failed its immigrant population. But Interior Minister Wolfgang Schuble has also called on the country to adopt the more muscular Dutch Way. …

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