Foreign Policy Blogs

Could the Arab Spring improve multiculturalism's vital signs?

A judge ruled today that the trial of controversial Dutch minister Geert Wilders trail can resume in two weeks. Wilders has compared the Koran to Hitler’s Mein Kampf. “I’ve had enough of Islam in the Netherlands – ban that fascist book,” he said. In fact he was wrung up on both comments individually; the judge has ruled the book comparison can go forward, but dismissed those calling the Koran fascist. Either way, Wilders’ sentiments are close cousins to statements made in the past year or so by each of Europe’s three principal prime ministers to the effect that multiculturalism in Europe is “dead.”

But the Arab Spring erupting across the Middle East now begs the question: Can multiculturalism — or at least a minimum level of positive integration — be revived?

The subtext of anti-Muslim rhetoric mostly comes in two flavors: that their presence creates a permanent, uneducated underclass that drains state resources — otherwise known as the German and French complaints; and that Muslims of all economic strata are being radicalized by predatory imams – also known as the British complaint.

It’s possible the effect will be minimal. The countries experiencing the greatest upheaval aren’t necessarily the ones producing the immigrants driving this debate. The democratic movement could still spread into Iran, but would almost certainly stop at the Pakistani border. That country is living through its own special — and lethal — brand of chaos that makes the Libyan conflict seem tame.

So the democratic movement will likely have little bearing on Britain’s Muslims, more than half of whom are Pakistani. The same goes for Germany, whose need for Turkish immigrants has never been greater as it faces a labor shortage.

But the effect could also be monumental. On Wednesday, Liberation argued Tunisia should be invited to join the EU. “Three-quarters of its trade is with Europe, and it shares with European countries many historical roots, cultural traditions, norms and people,” it wrote.

That is not likely to happen soon — Turkey will be allowed in before any African nation. But if the democratic wave slows immigration to a more manageable rate, and center-right-dominated European governments continue to swing back to the left (as they are in Germany and seem poised to do in France and Italy), the problems of integration might temper a debate that anyway cannot be ignored.