After the Norwegian Massacres, is Multiculturalism in Trouble?

Are Behring Breivik's ideologies reflective of a broader trend?

Posted Jul 29, 2011

By guest blogger Alex O'Connor

Anders Behring Breivik confessed to detonating a bomb in downtown Oslo, Norway last Friday. He also confessed, that 19 miles away and 2 hours later, he gunned down and killed participants of a Norwegian Labour Party youth camp. The death count is not yet official, but it appears Breivik killed at least 68 people. I don't wish to say much about Breivik. I'm sure plenty of other psychologists want to - and plenty of pundits already have - publicly analyzed Breivik and his actions.

I want to focus on the media's coverage of Breivik's ideologies and the extent his ideas are reflective of a broader audience.

Breivik is clearly anti-multiculturalist.  His 1,500-page manifesto (which I did little more than glance at) and his video blog (which I watched and read) illustrate his conviction and revulsion that liberal, pro-immigration policies throughout Europe are allowing a "demographic jihad" that will lead to a European Muslim majority in the next several decades.

He specifically calls for an "armed resistance against the cultural Marxist/multiculturalist regimes of Western Europe." He goes on to describe multiculturalism as an "anti-European hate ideology" which is the result of political correctness propagated as an overreaction to Hitler, the Holocaust, and World War II. He advises European nations push culturally conservative policies modeling South Korea and Japan, two of the most ethnically homogenous "First World" nations. Breivik hates multiculturalism and is willing to kill to show it.

But who else hates multiculturalism? Is Breivik just a crazed madman, so far on the fringe of society that he shares no popular cultural viewpoints? Or is he a manifestation of a changing cultural view amongst ethnic Europeans who also are beginning to question the merits of multiculturalism?

Well, our media would have you believe it's both.

Crazed madman? OK. But is Breivik an illustration of a broader anti-multicultural sentiment? This is a tougher question. Work by Makyel Verkuytan (2005) shows that plenty of Europeans hold unfavorable views toward multicultural ideologies - and are more likely to hold less positive views if they strongly identify with and belong to a nation's majority group. Breivik is the extreme model of that ethnocentric, anti-multiculturalist.

Since the tragedy and its aftermath in Norway, I've seen several media outlets suggest Breivik's actions are part of the growing mainstream, anti-multiculturalist sentiment in Europe and the US.  A New York Times editorial suggested Breivik was influenced by this rising sentiment. The editorial maintained the influence is not just from the public, but espoused by European political leaders - UK Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Last year, Merkel made headlines for stating that multiculturalism within Germany "has failed, utterly failed." Cameron made a similar comment earlier this year, suggesting that "state multiculturalism" is a failure.

source: Wikimedia commons (picture by J. McInstosh)

Lost in the current rehash of their earlier statements is some context. Cameron (and to a lesser extent Merkel) seemed to be calling for an alteration in their multicultural policy, not abandoning it. Instead, they are calling for a policy similar to what psychologist Victoria Plaut (2002) has called "mutual accommodation," which in theory is a blend of both multiculturalism and common identity (Cameron and Merkel intimated a common national identity).

The point here is, quoting that multiculturalism has failed leaves out the critical qualification that it could work with more integration of immigrants into broader society. Saying European multiculturalism should be abandoned is much different that saying it needs another component to thrive, either through better integration of immigrants into the rest of society (as Cameron suggested), or stressing a common national identity among all citizens.

But let us realize that these forms of acculturation and assimilation occur organically amongst people immersed in a new culture. Hence the substance of Cameron's argument, that multiculturalism can't work if it leads to segregation. "We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they [immigrants/Muslims feel they ] want to belong...We have even tolerated segregated communities...Instead of encouraging people to live apart, we need a clear sense of shared national identity, open to everyone." 

You can follow this blog through Twitter of Facebook.

Copyright 2011 by Alex O'Connor; all rights reserved.