Det postmoderne Europa er ikke forberedt på grupper som krever rettigheter som gruppe. Noen av kravene går så langt at det forrykker grensene mellom religon og stat, og truer borgernes frihet i det offentlige rom, skriver Fancis Fukuyama i Prospect magazine.

Liberalism cannot ultimately be based on group rights, because not all groups uphold liberal values. The civilisation of the European Enlightenment, of which contemporary liberal democracy is the heir, cannot be culturally neutral, since liberal societies have their own values regarding the equal worth and dignity of individuals. Cultures that do not accept these premises do not deserve equal protection in a liberal democracy. Members of immigrant communities and their offspring deserve to be treated equally as individuals, not as members of cultural communities. There is no reason for a Muslim girl to be treated differently under the law from a Christian or Jewish one, whatever the feelings of her relatives.

Multiculturalism, as it was originally conceived in Canada, the US and Europe, was in some sense a «game at the end of history.» That is, cultural diversity was seen as a kind of ornament to liberal pluralism that would provide ethnic food, colourful dress and traces of distinctive historical traditions to societies often seen as numbingly conformist and homogeneous. Cultural diversity was something to be practised largely in the private sphere, where it would not lead to any serious violations of individual rights or otherwise challenge the essentially liberal social order. Where it did intrude into the public sphere, as in the case of language policy in Quebec, the deviation from liberal principle was seen by the dominant community more as an irritant than as a fundamental threat to liberal democracy itself.

By contrast, some contemporary Muslim communities are making demands for group rights that simply cannot be squared with liberal principles of individual equality. These demands include special exemptions from the family law that applies to everyone else in the society, the right to exclude non-Muslims from certain types of public events, or the right to challenge free speech in the name of religious offence (as with the Danish cartoons incident). In some more extreme cases, Muslim communities have even expressed ambitions to challenge the secular character of the political order as a whole. These types of group rights clearly intrude on the rights of other individuals in the society and push cultural autonomy well beyond the private sphere.

Asking Muslims to give up group rights is much more difficult in Europe than in the US, however, because many European countries have corporatist traditions that continue to respect communal rights and fail decisively to separate church and state. The existence of state-funded Christian and Jewish schools in many European countries makes it hard to argue in principle against state-supported religious education for Muslims. In Germany, the state collects taxes on behalf of the Protestant and Catholic churches and distributes revenues to church-related schools. (This was a legacy of Bismarck’s Kulturkampf against the Catholic church.) Even France, with its strong republican tradition, has not been consistent on this issue. After the French revolution’s anti-clerical campaign, Napoleon restored the role of religion in education and used a corporatist approach to manage church-state relations. The state’s relationship with France’s Jewish community, for example, is managed by the Ministre des Cultes through the Consistoire Israélite, which served as the model for Nicolas Sarkozy’s recent efforts to create an authoritative Muslim interlocutor to speak for (and to control) the French Muslim community. Even the 1905 law enshrining the principle of laïcité had exceptions, as in Alsace, where the state still supports church-related schools.

These islands of corporatism where European states continue to officially recognise communal rights were not controversial prior to the arrival of large Muslim communities. Most European societies had become thoroughly secular, so these religious holdovers seemed quite harmless. But they set important precedents for the Muslim communities, and they are obstacles to the maintenance of a wall of separation between religion and state. If Europe is to establish the liberal principle of a pluralism based on individuals rather than groups, then it must address these corporatist institutions inherited from the past.

The other prong of the solution to the problem of Muslim integration concerns the expectations and behaviour of the majority communities in Europe. National identity continues to be understood and experienced in ways that sometimes make it a barrier for newcomers who do not share the ethnicity and religious background of the native-born. National identity has always been socially constructed; it revolves around history, symbols, heroes and the stories that a community tells about itself. This sense of attachment to a place and a history should not be rubbed out, but it should be made as open as possible to new citizens. In some countries, notably Germany, 20th-century history has made it awkward to discuss national identity, but this is a dialogue that needs to be reopened in the light of Europe’s new diversity—for if existing citizens do not sufficiently value their national citizenship, then European countries can scarcely expect newcomers to value it either.

And that dialogue is being reopened. A few years ago, Germany’s Christian Democrats gingerly floated the idea of Leitkultur—the notion that German citizenship entails certain obligations to observe standards of tolerance and equal respect. The term Leitkultur—which can be translated as a «guiding» or «reference culture»—was invented in 1998 by Bassam Tibi, a German academic of Syrian origin, precisely as a non-ethnic, universalist conception of citizenship that would open up national identity to non-ethnic Germans. Despite these origins, the idea was immediately denounced by the left as racist and a throwback to Germany’s unhappy past, and the Christian Democrats quickly distanced themselves from it. But in the past few years, even Germany has had a much more robust public debate about national identity and mass immigration. During last year’s successful soccer World Cup, the widespread expression of moderate national feeling became completely normal, and was even welcomed by Germany’s neighbours.

Despite its very different starting point, America may have something to teach Europeans here as they attempt to construct post-ethnic forms of national citizenship and belonging. American life is full of quasi-religious ceremonies and rituals meant to celebrate the country’s democratic political institutions: flag-raising ceremonies, the naturalisation oath, Thanksgiving and the 4th of July. Europeans, by contrast, have largely deritualised their political lives. Europeans tend to be cynical or dismissive of American displays of patriotism. But such ceremonies are important in the assimilation of new immigrants.

And Europe does have its own precedents for creating national identities that are less based on ethnicity or religion. The most celebrated case is French republicanism, which in its classic form refused to recognise separate communal identities and used state power to homogenise French society. With the growth of terrorism and urban unrest, an intense discussion has been under way in France about why this form of integration has failed. Part of the reason may be that the French themselves gave up the old concept of citizenship in favour of a version of multiculturalism. The headscarf ban of 2004 was the reassertion of an older concept of republicanism.

Britain has recently been borrowing from both American and French traditions as it seeks to raise the visibility of national citizenship. The Labour government has introduced citizenship ceremonies for new citizens as well as compulsory citizenship and language tests. It has also started citizenship classes in schools for all young citizens. Britain has experienced a sharp rise in immigration in recent years, much of it from the new member states of the EU such as Poland, and—in imitation of the US—the government sees immigration as a key part of its relative economic dynamism. Immigrants are welcome so long as they work rather than draw welfare and, thanks to US-style flexible labour markets, there are plenty of low-skill jobs to take. But in much of the rest of Europe, a combination of inflexible work rules and generous benefits means that immigrants come in search not of work but of welfare. Many Europeans claim that the less generous welfare state in the US robs the poor of dignity. But the opposite is true: dignity comes through work and the contributions one makes through one’s labour to the larger society. In several Muslim communities in Europe, as much as half the population subsists on welfare, directly contributing to the sense of alienation and hopelessness.

So the European experience is not homogeneous. But in most countries, the debate about identity and migration is opening up—albeit driven in part by terror attacks and the rise of the populist right.

The dilemma of immigration and identity ultimately converges with the larger problem of the valuelessness of postmodernity. The rise of relativism has made it harder for postmodern people to assert positive values and therefore the kinds of shared beliefs that they demand of migrants as a condition for citizenship. Postmodern elites, particularly those in Europe, feel that they have evolved beyond identities defined by religion and nation and have arrived at a superior place. But aside from their celebration of endless diversity and tolerance, postmodern people find it difficult to agree on the substance of the good life to which they aspire in common.

Immigration forces upon us in a particularly acute way discussion of the question «Who are we?», posed by Samuel Huntington. If postmodern societies are to move towards a more serious discussion of identity, they will need to uncover those positive virtues that define what it means to be a member of the wider society. If they do not, they may be overwhelmed by people who are more sure about who they are.

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identity and migration