Issue Report: Multiculturalism vs. assimilation

Is multiculturalism a better social model than assimilation?

Multiculturalism (Wikipedia) The term multiculturalism generally refers to a de facto state of both cultural and ethnic diversity within the demographics of a particular social space. Some countries have official, or de jure, multiculturalism policies aimed at preserving the cultures or cultural identities — usually those of immigrant groups — within a unified society. In this context, multiculturalism advocates a society that extends equitable status to distinct cultural and religious groups, no one culture predominating. Multiculturalism generally allows for the extension of legal recognition to specific minority groups (Black, White, Hispanic, Christian, Muslim…) and even special legal protections for the members of these groups.
Assimilation (Wikipedia) Cultural assimilation (often called merely assimilation) is a process of consistent integration whereby members of an ethno-cultural group (such as immigrants, or minority groups) are “absorbed” into an established, generally larger community. This presumes a loss of many characteristics of the absorbed group. All of this is legally re-enforced, within the assimilation model, by laws that forbid any formal governmental recognition being given to groups of different kinds . Legally, all citizens are simply recognized as citizens, as opposed to “French Algerians” for example.

The two approaches are quite different. The contrasts between them are often given comparative analysis in France (assimilation) and Britain (multiculturalism). The world continually refers back to these two case studies in order to weigh the pros and cons of these two social models. With both countries holding tight to these different models, and with other countries diverging in their choice between them, the debate continues to be hotly contested and highly important to how societies deal with diversity in an attempt to construct the best, healthiest, safest, most dynamic, and most productive nation and world.

In North America, the United States is more representative of the assimilationist approach, being popularly known as a melting pot, while Canada is more representative of the multicultural approach, being known as a multicultural mosaic. There is not necessarily a clear division between the assimilationist and multicultural approach, because, although nations officially align themselves with one system or another, in terms of real-world scenarios, elements of either approach exist within nations with either official policy. Assimilation may be either voluntary or forced, ranging in a wide variety of tactics, from simple social exposure to violent re-education. With assimilation, there may be a prevailing sense of collective cultural norms to adhere to, or assimilation may be achieved through education, social activities, and participation in mainstream culture. More extreme methods of assimilation may include questionable tactics [1] of cultural domination, imperialism/colonialism, slavery, forced conversions, financial motivation, and ridicule or shaming.

The multicultural approach attempts to create unity through difference, holding that although a nation’s subcultures are diverse, those subcultures share common values. In terms of legal policy, Canada was one of the first nations with an official multicultural act, and they are an officially bilingual nation, using both English and French. Please note, however, that even within Canada, there have been shameful acts of assimilation [2], so it would be incorrect to assume that any one nation’s official policy cancels out the existence of the other side of the debate within national policy.

This is because, despite the existence of official policies, within any one nation (with one or the other policy), there remains tensions between which approach is better, multiculturalism or assimilation.

Cultural standards: Does assimilation set a false moral-cultural standard?

It is impossible to pick a single moral-cultural standard in the assimilation model.

While there are some very basic, unifying principles and values that can and should be adopted universally, it is impossible for a government to select a single, broad-sweeping, moral-cultural standard. Indeed, many cultural values are subjective and relative, and should not be discriminated against in favor of what a government deems to be a superior, unifying model. Whose to judge right and wrong, in particular, regarding cultural matters? At a minimum, governments risk expanding their regulatory authority too far, past the area in which we can all agree on unifying principles and into the realm where there is no “right and wrong”, but only subjective cultural distinctions. Assimilation inherently carries these risks of inappropriate government interference.

Assimilation wrongly bans practices due to rare abuses

A major argument used for assimilation posits that it is wrong to allow practices such as veiling (typically in Muslim cultures) because it may be subject to abuse, in which women are involuntarily forced to wear the hijab. This does occur. But, there are also many instances in which women make an independent choice to wear the hijab as an “act of faith” or for other reasons. Should voluntary instances be forbidden along with involuntary instances? No. It is wrong to ban the wearing of the hijab in all instances, merely to prevent instances of abuse.

Multiculturalism may also utilize the term tolerance, but it could easily be suggested the appropriate term is more likely respect.

On the other hand, assimilation would reject the notion of respect for ones cultural or ethnic identity. Any coexistence is “tolerated” with the expectation of assimilation in to the mainstream. The problem with tolerance versus respect is more than symantics. Tolerance retains the social hierarchy and contends the lesser group will be accepted, but still recognized for their place in the hierarchy. Some quotations on this include:

Some cultures don't warrant protection under multiculturalism

Some cultures should not be accepted due to their beliefs. One can argue that cultures are not equal and thus do not earn equal rights in society. For example, barbaric cultures that believe that “honour killings” and female circumcision are justifiable should not be given the same rights as those cultures which are very similar to the laws of that nation. Sharia Law has many questionable and quite frankly prehistoric beliefs that we should not be eager to accept. The mixing of cultures ultimately picks up both the good and bad points and society would in fact be worse off with this culture. Thus social cohesion would be hindered.

The pretense that "it is just my culture" can justify almost anything

In an extremely politically correct time people feel that any comments against another cultures and their doctrines is immediately being racist. This is certainly not the case.

Assimilation does not mean abandoning cultural distinctions

Assimilation is often falsely characterized as the melting of cultural uniqueness into a single cultural identity. In fact, assimilation need not have anything to do with culture; that would be acculturation. A conservative approach to assimilation would see only a lack of legal and governmental distinctions between groups and might uphold a single national language, for example. It would attempt to foster a common set of economic standards and skills that would enable all citizens to take advantage of all the opportunities available to them. But, it need not force cultural changes upon anyone. While acculturation often does accompany assimilation, it is important not to confuse the two.

Why go to live in a country if you do not accept its principles?

The answer is you shouldn’t. If you are willing to take the resources of that country away from the natives and have an increased standard of living then you should also be willing to accept the culture. If not you should not “sponge” off of the state if you do not agree with it’s overarching principles.

Multiculturalism does entail the loss of culture; that of the host country:

While multiculturalism does attempt to protect the cultures of immigrants, by doing so, it diminishes the culture of the host country. Add a new culture into society and another culture loses out, finding less space to express and exercise itself. And, the cultures that lose out from the entry of new immigrant cultures may be historically-rooted and nationally-honored cultures. Therefore, multiculturalism has its cultural costs, just as assimilation has its costs. But, the distinction is that assimilation better protects a host country’s historical culture, while multiculturalism better protects new-entrant cultures. If historically-rooted cultures are seen as more important to protect, than the assimilation model may have greater cultural preservation value.

Rights: Which system better protects individual rights and counters discrimination?

Protecting group rights is often necessary in protecting individual rights.

Many minority groups are systemically disenfranchised, discriminated against, or simply disadvantaged. Recognizing them as groups is an important first step in recognizing these systemic problems, taking steps to compensate for them, and in leveling the playing feel so that all individuals have equal opportunity and equal rights. This need not have anything to do with culture. It can focus entirely on past abuses of groups, and encourage steps to be taken to ensure that these groups the the rights of the individuals within them are sufficiently protected.

Multiculturalism improves the public sense of free speech.

Assimilation, at its heart, upholds a set of moral, cultural, and national standards that are considered acceptable. Deviations from these standards are not fully tolerated and sometimes outright suppressed. While this can be justified in some circumstances, on constant issue is that it creates a feeling that unique expression is frowned upon. This can negatively affect people’s feelings of a right to free speech.

Multiculturalism is democratic

Democracy is built upon the notion that individuals may hold different beliefs and that they have the right to do so. In a democratic election, there is usually a more conservative group competing with a more liberal group; in the United States, this would be the Republicans versus the Democrats. Democracies are built upon individuals and groups believing different things, but coexisting. Similarly, a multicultural society acknowledges, respects, and even cherishes differences between groups. Realistically, societies are pluralistic. Because of its parallel with democracy, multiculturalism seems to be a more suitable and appropriate framework for a democratic society.

Concerns over women's rights cannot be blamed on multiculturalism

Multiculturalism does not simply allow women’s rights or human rights abuses to occur. Problems of inequality occur in many ethnic communities, including Muslims and Christians, and even Atheists. While this may be the obligation of wearing a veil in one religion, it may be the inability to become a priest in another religion, or even unequal pay in the workforce, a place where religion has not really a factor.

It is misleading to claim multiculturalism sacrifices individual right to group rights

Every society has a culture and often more than one culture; that is a nation always has subcultures. The issue is not group rights being sacrificed to individual rights, but assimilation often consists of one dominating group’s rights taking precedence over all other group rights. In American history, up until the 1960s, white American rights were more valuable than the rights of non-whites. In some areas of life, this still occurs. In America today, the rights of men are literally more valuable in some cases, than the rights of women, doing the exact same work. What multiculturalism does is safeguard the at times tyrannical dominance of one group over all others, forcing others to comply to their standards.

Recognition of indigenous, ethnic, and otherwise different (religious, linguistic) groups is necessary to combat the assimilationist hierarchy of cultures

Throughout the last few centuries, certain nations/cultures viewed themselves as superior to other cultures, including the indigenous people of just about every non-European country. Indigenous people were regarded as savages. This sense of having a better culture than others who are different is a part of assimilationist doctrine. Traditionally, the view has been that there are certain civilized nations and other uncivilized ones. Ruling military units attacked or committed acts of genocide on indigenous and ethnic populations. Assimilation has had a terrifying track record, a history built upon either erasing cultures, beliefs, and languages, or, at times, an entire people or segment of a population.

Bias towards the "civilized" west.

Traditionally, the west regarded itself as civilized, even going so far as to trace the origins of civilization to ancient Greece, when other ancient civilizations existed alongside or before the Greeks. This western-centric idea of civilization carries over into contemporary notions of western culture being civilized and thus better than the uncivilized brutes from non-western nations or the indigenous from western nations. Assimilation often signals an ungrounded fear of different ethnic and indigenous groups, with the desperate plea to make everyone the same and thus less threatening — regardless of how ungrounded and illogical this sense of threat is.

Multiculturalism sacrifices individual rights to group rights

Multiculturalism, in many instances, provides groups with, essentially, its own category of laws and rights, distinct from those applied to other individuals. This undermines the notion of universal individual rights, and is likely to lead to serious problems with legal consistency.

Multiculturalism and accommodation jeopardizes women's rights

This is of particularly, well-covered concern in regard to the Muslim community. Is it acceptable to tolerate a culture that demands that women wear the Hijab, a veil that conceils their faces because it presumes that they will tempt sexually unconstrainable men? No. Such a cultural practice violates the individual rights of women.

Assimilating cultures is unrelated to race and racism

Assimilating people into the culture and values of a nation has nothing to do with race. Moral and cultural standards need not have anything to do with race. So, to equate assimilation with racism is to make a false connection.

Multiculturalism does not help empower minority groups

Why would state recognition of indigenous groups and differences between them necessarily empower these different groups? Might it actually alienate them? Might it weaken them by bringing to the surface historical grievances and pain? Might it create tension and conflict that further weakens them? While it is certainly possible that multiculturalism can better enable a minority group to communicate with its government, it is unclear if it is worth it as compared with these other costs, and if it is then, ultimately, empowering for these groups.

Multiculturalism politicizes identity in ethnic and religious terms

The politicization of identity has many pitfalls. It risks broad groupings of individuals, and the extension of certain rights to some individuals that don’t deserve it. By giving unjustified legal favor to such individuals, multiculturalism threatens unjustifiably impeding on the rights of “ordinary citizens” that are now put at a disadvantage or whom are forced to help compensate in some way the individuals of the minority group.

National cohesion: Does multiculturalism better encourage social cohesion and unity?

Multiculturalism promotes tolerance and social cohesion.

The final objective of multiculturalism is to create a harmonious, strong, integrated, and cohesive society. This is really not different than the assimilation model, but it simply has a different view of how to get there. Social strength, multiculturalism posits, is based on tolerance and understanding between differing groups. From tolerance and understanding flow respect, compassion, and a desire to integrate with an interesting mosaic of unique groups. Tolerant engagement across groups creates a high level of social cohesion necessary to productive and succusfull nations.

Diversity from multiculturalism is socially important.

Diversity has many benefits. On the most general level, we learn from each other’s differences. Secondly, it enables us to form a broader view of the world, which is socially valuable from the standpoint that a broad world-view is generally important.

The unity of society that assimilation talks about can be found through multiculturalism.

If we respect someone elses culture then they will obviously accept ours. This is like the golden rule; treat others as you would like to be treated. Accepting their culture will mean acceptance of ours and generally unity is created through this appreciation. Many nations have arguably been multicultural since their foundation depending on how one defines multiculturalism. Someone will always be from a different area and thus of a different culture.

Multiculturalism and diversity are more interesting and stimulating.

Canadian children are sometimes taught, regarding Canada’s multicultural policies and state, “Canada is like a tossed salad – lots of colours, languages and foods make us really tasty”.[3] Indeed, a multicultural society is more interesting, as it causes us as humans to deal with different people, interpret these difference, understand them, and even appreciate and adopt elements that we like. It creates more opportunities for experiencing what is unfamiliar, and this is stimulating and beneficial to individual and social health.

Multiculturalism is like cohesive ethnic federalism

Peter D. Salins. "Assimilation, American Style". Reason Online. February 1997

“Ethnic federalism explicitly rejects the notion of a transcendent American identity, the old idea that out of ethnic diversity there would emerge a single, culturally unified people. Instead, the United States is to be viewed as a vast ethnic federation–Canada’s Anglo-French arrangement, raised to the nth power. Viewing ethnic Americans as members of a federation rather than a union, ethnic federalism, a.k.a. multiculturalism, asserts that ethnic Americans have the right to proportional representation in matters of power and privilege, the right to demand that their ‘native’ culture and putative ethnic ancestors be accorded recognition and respect, and the right to function in their ‘native’ language (even if it is not the language of their birth or they never learned to speak it), not just at home but in the public realm.”

Assimilation and cultural unity is impossible to achieve

It is impossible to get people to adopt a unifying cultural standard in assimilation. People will not easily shed their past cultural heritage. And, even if people were willing to do this, they are not likely to adopt a single unifying cultural, values model. Humans have an inherent desire to stand out with distinction. This will always limit any attempt to assimilate a people.

Some nations find identity and pride in multicultural policies

In Canada, for example, there is an appreciation for the distinctiveness that their multicultural policies bring to their national identity. Canadians bring attention to the fact that their policies stand in stark contrast to the assimilation policies of the United States. Such a sense of national distinctiveness can be good for national cohesion and health.

Multiculturalism calls for a "mosaic" rather than a "melting pot"

The metaphors used in this debate are important. The assimilation model is often referred to with the “melting pot” metaphor. The multiculturalism model is sometimes referred to with the “mosaic” metaphor. One should ask, do we really want to be “melting” each other’s unique cultural heritages into a consistent cultural stew? Is the American mass-culture homogeneity desirable? It seems that a “mosaic” of diverse cultural representations is more interesting, tasteful, and even beautiful.

Multiculturalism highlights differences and can increase hate crimes.

. If racial groups do not assimilate into an idea of central unity then the natives will have resentment against them. In particular, if the “discrete social differences” mentioned in the introduction become more apparent for instance in light of a terrorist attack then racial hate crimes become more frequent. This happens to such an extent that it becomes dangerous for the immigrant to be a part of the nation. Take as an example the 300% rise in racial hate crimes in London alone after the 7/7 bombings. The 7/7 bombings clearly showed a difference between Muslims who had not integrated (those who still wore typical dress) and the white Britons. Although it was only a minority who committed such appalling acts, the feeling of detachment and resentment toward this particular racial group made the social cohesion uneasy and awkward.

Multicultural states are typically unsuccessful.

Having to do with problems of social cohesion, conflict, and even violence, multicultural states are typically less successful than states that adopt an assimilation model. The historical evidence seems to support this conclusion, and adds empirical credence to the idea that multiculturalism is damaging to a state. As a national model for success, therefore, multiculturalism seems to fail the test. And, since the success of the international community and economy depends on successful states, multiculturalism can also be considered potentially damaging to the international system.

Multiculturalism can damage social capital and cohesion

Some empirical studies by such acclaimed scholars as Robert Putnam conclude that the historical record shows multiculturalism to have failed in producing successful, cohesive, long-lasting states. The primary problem is that it diminishes what is called “social capital”. That is, the groupings and divisions caused by multiculturalism separate groups from each other and reduce trust, diminishing such things as civic engagement and community involvement. A cycle of distrust disrupts community and societal cohesiveness and productivity. At least, these are the presumable explanations deduced from the empirical evidence that indicates that multicultural societies are less successful overall.

Assimilation promotes national unity

Surely the best form of social cohesion is unity. If a nation is divided amongst several different cultures with no clear feeling of patriotism then country is in essence socially fractured. Assimilating into society means that you both accept the society you are living in and agree with its laws and principles. This is far better in the long run for the country especially when the nation is at war. If the nation is divided between those who would rather the other side won, for instance, then morale will go down. Similarly this idea of unity will make people feel more at ease with other cultures and accepting of their values IF they have fully accepted the country of the host nation.

Multiculturalism encourages damaging claims to victimhood

Multiculturalism largely categorized groups along ethnic and religious terms. These groups often have common histories of suffering. And, there categorization often brings to the fore this common history of suffering, and fosters the opportunity to re-assess these sufferings and even opportunities for compensation. This creates an incentive for exaggerating past sufferings and grievances, which flares old wounds, resentments, and hatreds. This is unhealthy for a society and can lead to increased instances of violence between groups.

Multiculturalism can lead to class conflict

Among the various distinctions created in the multiculturalism model are class distinctions. Creating such clear distinctions creates an atmosphere of “us against them”, which is particularly virulent when applied to socio-economic status.

Security: Is multiculturalism better for the safety and security of a nation?

Multiculturalism can help separate conflicting groups.

In Britain, multiculturalism emerged as a means to manage conflicts between competing groups in the country. It was, in a sense, a way to separate groups that had long histories of fighting into their own neighborhoods. The effect of this ad hoc multiculturalism was a reduction in tension and instances of ethnic and religious violence. Assimilation, conversely, is frequently seen as producing spates of violence. One of the most notable examples is the 2005 riots in France, which many blame on France’s assimilation policies.

Multiculturalism's tolerance is a better principle than assimilation's exclusivity.

Discrimination against any culture produces racial hatred and a lack of respect and tolerance for those who discriminated. So, what is better for the safety of the people? Accepting all cultures and thus not angering those cultures who may act upon anger or simply refusing some cultures and setting oneself up as a target? It seems the former.

If some aspects of multiculturalism are bad, they can be changed.

Multiculturalism admits that it is a relatively new poltically coined phrase which allows politicians to seem fair and accepting of internationalism. Therefore less favourable aspects can be changed, for example the reluctance to act on fear of being labelled a racist, simply with government policy or precedents set. Just because one part of the philosophy is bad it does not mean that all the beneficial aspects should be jeopordized. All political theories contain a weakness and as far back as Herodotus, Thucydides and Polybius these were analysed in great deal as a result of human nature.

Multiculturalism highlights differences and can increase hate crimes.

If racial groups do not assimilate into an idea of central unity then the natives will have resentment against them. In particular, if the “discrete social differences” mentioned in the introduction become more apparent for instance in light of a terrorist attack then racial hate crimes become more frequent. This happens to such an extent that it becomes dangerous for the immigrant to be a part of the nation. Take as an example the 300% rise in racial hate crimes in London alone after the 7/7 bombings. The 7/7 bombings clearly showed a difference between Muslims who had not integrated (those who still wore typical dress) and the white Britons. Although it was only a minority who committed such appalling acts, the feeling of detachment and resentment toward this particular racial group made the social cohesion uneasy and awkward.

Multiculturalism can constrain police with a fear racism charges.

The 7/7 bombings of London was arguably the result of certain “cells” in society that, although obviously wrong, were not banned, due in part to a fear among police and leaders of being seen as intolerant and going against multiculturalism.

Sweden's multiculturalism has resulted in violence and instability

Sweden has adopted a multiculturalism model, and has simultaneously seen a rise in its Muslim population. It has also seen a marked level of violence between Muslims and native swedes, with many scholars attributing this to the clear distinctions that arise between these groups under the Multiculturalism model.

To access the second half of this Issue Report or Buy Issue Report

To access the second half of all Issue Reports or