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Examining Political Discourse in the Wake of Social Unrest

  • 08 Pages
  • Published On: 25-10-2023
Introduction

Ethnic-related violence has turned on an endless societal debate over diversity, which has evolved into a significant political discourse. For instance, the killing of George Floyd and the consequent ‘re-emergence’ of Black Lives Matter Movement depicted the role of politics as an influence to the debate about diversity (Bloemraad, 2011). But the Black Lives Matter is not the only occurrence that has sparked political debate on diversity. Back in 2010, the inhuman murders by a Norwegian extremist (Anders Behring Breivik), fueled by his hatred for Islam and his fierce hostility against multiculturalism sparked more the debate over anti-immigrant sentiment and extremist politics; not only in Northern Europe but also in the UK and USA (Hart, 2020). Nevertheless, some scholars (e.g. Ceobanu et al, 2010) have argued that policies and political ideologies have significant contribution to the debate on diversity. Furthermore, the promotion of diversity and pluralism may, to some extent, conflict with immigration integration and social cohesion of multiethnic communities (Kesler & Bloemraad, 2010).

The claim that diversity and multiculturalism undermine sociocultural values and social cohesion a has largely been inspired by far-right political groups across Europe, including Norway’s Congress-Party, The People’s Party in Denmark, The True Finns Party, the Democrat Party in Sweden and the Netherland’s Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party (Kurth & Glasbergen, 2017). Moreover, there has been a great concern over multiculturalism by the political mainstream. For instance, a few years ago Angela Merkel, the German Councilor, stated that the multicultural approach had largely failed in Germany (Kirmayer, 2019). Similarly, it is not long ago when Nicolas Sarkozy, former French president, claimed that multiculturalism had failed. Similar remarks have been made by prominent political figures in the UK, including David Cameron, who once noted that the country’s policy on diversity had failed in promoting multiculturalism and encouraged radicalization and segregation of Muslims (Thomassen, 2017).

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In the UK, politicians' efforts to promote diversity as a significant national pillar is a thing of the past. Dyson (2020) observes that diversity used to be a sign of a multicultural society, a phenomenon that was highly celebrated. However, over time, the political class’ vested interest has driven the country into a situation whereby the society is ruled an elite of politicians unwilling to address the issue of inequality. Consequently, their desire to acquire and retain power has negatively impacted the dream of a meritocratic and diversely progressing society (Besco & Tolley, 2019).

The recent cases of terrorist attacks in the UK by British citizens (Dam, 2018) is a clear indication that the idea of diversity and multiculturalism is in a declining trend. Furthermore, the recent Brexit referendum gave a clear signal that most of the British Citizens no longer desired multiculturalism (Hadzic, 2020). Yet, according to Tremblay (2018), diversity is an important aspect of representative democracy. More, unfortunately, The UK has experienced low levels of voter participation and poor involvement of minority groups (e.g. minority ethnic communities, women, the youth, people with disabilities, and the black communities) in various political processes – a significant number of people feeling demotivated to exercise their democratic rights of voting.

These pieces of evidence highlight the fact that debate over diversity and multiculturalism has been going on for a while and is likely to continue – at least going by the evidence of recent anti-racism campaigns in the United States. Therefore, according to Friedman (2018), any empirical evidence that bears out the purported divisive effects of multiculturalism justifies the political calls to reduce immigration or to initiate selective ways of admitting immigrants, as well as the political urge to create more aggressive immigration policies.

Multicultural theorists argue that admitting and accommodating minority groups and their cultures contributes to a feeling of engagement and attachment in the larger polity (Bourassa, 2019). However, critics to this argument claim that an excessive emphasis on diversity weakens cohesion, promotes differences and acts as a barrier to multicultural political projects such as social benefits and redistribution (Kirmayer, 2019). According to Tremblay (2018), others also argue that promoting diversity contributes to minorities’ ‘parallel lives’ among segregated communities. They also argue that promoting diversity acts as a barrier to the learning of majority language, weakens the social ties and acts as a barrier to economic integration.

However, there is a paucity of empirical evidence supporting these claims. Furthermore, there is mixed evidence on the socioeconomic consequences of diversity promotion. Some researchers argue that the promotion of ethnic closure (resulting from multicultural policies) acts as a barrier to immigrants’ prosperity in the broader labor market, leading to higher rates of unemployment and increased dependence on welfare (Thomassen, 2017). Conversely, others argue that the immigrants’ retention of culture and ethnic capital contributes to the educational success of immigrant children (Kirmayer, 2019). However, it is difficult to tell which of these arguments is true because there is inadequate empirical evidence associating multiculturalism to educational achievement or employment. Ideally, economic integration is more likely to be influenced by welfare state structures, educational institutions and labor policies compared to policies on multiculturalism.

But Multiculturalism has greater consequences for immigrants’ political and civic outcomes. Immigrants living in countries with a good political will for multiculturalism accompanied by good diversity policies are more likely to non-violently engage in political activities targeting the country residents compared to their homeland. According to Tremblay (2018), they are also more likely to trust the government and less likely to experience ethnic discrimination, and more likely to acquire citizenship. For instance, in Canada, reports by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, 2010) indicates that by 2010, at least 89% of the working-age immigrants who had been living and working in Canada for at least 10 years attained citizenship, which is a larger percentage compared to immigrants in countries that do not promote multiculturalism and diversity. This was a remarkable percentage compared to that of Denmark, France, and Germany that recorded only 57%, 47% and 37% of immigrants (respectively) that had acquired citizenship (Bloemraad, 2011). These figures indicate that countries with better multiculturalism and diversity policies have greater integration – at least to the extent that acquisition of citizenship indicates a level of civic integration and further incorporation.

Shifting the focus to the majority groups, it is important to evaluate whether the political will, diversity and multicultural will have contributed to any sense of political cohesion between them and the immigrant groups. In this context, Tremblay (2018) argues that despite immigrants experiencing an increased sense of inclusion and attachment due to multiculturalism, the negative perceptions and anti-immigrant rhetoric fueled by right-wing parties and other groups of politicians in various European countries indicate that not all people embrace diversity. It is therefore unsurprising to find evidence of more people having negative attitudes towards immigrants in Europe, especially Western Europe (Kirmayer, 2019).

The different meanings of diversity and multiculturalism are important when evaluating how the minority and majority respond to diversity as well as the government’s approach to diversity. According to Tremblay (2018), some of the anti-immigrant tendencies among residents emanate from the perceived poor public policy and institutions’ response and accommodation of diversity. However, much of the opposition raises concerns over the increasing demographic pluralism caused by immigration in Europe (Kurth & Glasbergen, 2017). Therefore, in some European countries with few immigration policies have politicians who are opposed to multiculturalism.

Questions have also been raised on whether multicultural and diversity policies contribute to any potential negative reactions among majority groups towards increasing immigration. However, there is a dearth of empirical evidence evaluating these questions. Nonetheless, a study focusing on 19 western nations revealed that in societies with better diversity, multicultural and immigration policies have better abilities to reverse or mitigating trust issues associated with demographic change (Kurth & Glasbergen, 2017). Contrastingly, according to Tremblay (2018), the same residents might have developed more exclusionary ideologies of national identities in the past 5 years.

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These pieces of empirical evidence have various challenging implications for government institutions, policymakers and politicians who must find a balance between majority interests and minority interests. The majority population might display limited or decreasing support for policies for diversity and social inclusion, and the same attitude might be displayed by some politicians. Yet, existing empirical evidence reveals that policies of diversity and multiculturalism promote immigrants’ social and political integration while increasing a sense of civic inclusion among them. Furthermore, in the meantime, the majority communities may also benefit from accommodating minorities through political will and better multicultural policies. A non-relenting political will and good multicultural policies will promote better political cohesion and civic inclusion, preventing or reducing the negative consequences for both majority and minority residences. However, considering the current debate and political turmoil in some countries, the expansion and maintenance of multiculturalism mays remain to be a challenge.

References

Besco, R., & Tolley, E. (2019). Does everyone cheer? The politics of immigration and multiculturalism in Canada. Federalism and the Welfare State in a Multicultural World, 198, 291.

Bloemraad, I. (2011). We the People” in an Age of Migration: Multiculturalism and Immigrants’ Political Integration in Comparative Perspective. In Citizenship, Borders and Human Needs, ed. Rogers Smith. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Bloemraad, I. 2011. The Debate Over Multiculturalism: Philosophy, Politics, and Policy. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Bourassa, G. (2019). Neoliberal multiculturalism and productive inclusion: beyond the politics of fulfillment in education. Journal of Education Policy, 1-26.

Ceobanu, Alin M. and Xavier Escandell. (2010). Comparative Analyses of Public Attitudes Toward Immigrants and Immigration Using Multinational Survey Data: A Review of Theories and Research. Annual Review of Sociology 36: 309-328.

Dam, I. (2018). Love and politics: Rethinking biculturalism and multiculturalism in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Mana tangatarua: Mixed heritages, ethnic identity and biculturalism in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Dyson, M. (2020). Contesting Racial Amnesia:: From Identity Politics Toward Post-Multiculturalism. In Higher Education Under Fire (pp. 336-352). Routledge.

Friedman, P. K. (2018). The hegemony of the local: Taiwanese multiculturalism and Indigenous identity politics. boundary 2: an international journal of literature and culture, 45(3), 79-105.

Hadžić, F. (2020). Multiculturalism challenges, and the culture of fear in the Balkans regarding former Yugoslavia.

Hart, G. (2020). When Bi-nationalism Meets Multiculturalism: Ethnic Politics and Minority Languages in Northern Ireland. Journal of Nationalism, Memory & Language Politics, 14(1), 28-45.

Kesler, C., & Bloemraad, I. (2010). Does Immigration Erode Social Capital? The Conditional Effects of Immigration-Generated Diversity on Trust, Membership, and Participation across 19 Countries, 1981-2000. Canadian Journal of Political Science 43(2): 319-347.

Kirmayer, L. J. (2019). The politics of diversity: Pluralism, multiculturalism and mental health.

Kurth, L., & Glasbergen, P. (2017). Dealing with tensions of multiculturalism: The politics of ritual slaughter in the Netherlands. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 20(4), 413-432.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2010.) Naturalisation: A Passport for the Better Integration of Immigrants? Report of conference proceedings. OECD Publications.

Thomassen, L. (2017). British multiculturalism and the politics of representation. Edinburgh University Press.

Tremblay, A. (2018). Diversity in Decline?: The Rise of the Political Right and the Fate of Multiculturalism. Springer.


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