Now and again you see complaints about multiculturalism and articles that claim: “Multiculturalism has failed”. But this doesn’t really make sense because multiculturalism can’t fail, it’s unavoidable. Every country in the world is (and almost always was) multicultural and a monocultural society is practically impossible. Every part of our society contains influences from other cultures.
Usually the debate around multiculturalism focuses on immigrants as if they were the main source of multiculturalism. Some complain that immigrants bring their culture with them, refuse to assimilate and threaten the native culture. But even if every immigrant was thrown out of the country and it was populated only with natives, every country would still be multicultural.
The clearest example of this is with food. If you look at the restaurants and cuisine of any town, what do you see? The cuisine of Italy, America, India, China, France, Thailand etc. This is multiculturalism. Here are cultures from all over the world mixed together. So, when some say multiculturism has failed, I don’t understand. How can anyone argue that a wide range of cuisine to choose from has made the country worse off? How can this “fail”? Is there any country that only sells food traditional to its culture without any outside influences?
If no one ever bought food from another culture, you could claim that multiculturalism has failed, but who would want that? There’s hardly any restaurants in Ireland that sell traditional Irish food but that’s not because of the destructive influence of immigrants, rather it’s because Irish people don’t want to eat it in a restaurant (why pay for something you eat every day at home). I’m not sure what traditional Irish food even is, meals like stew or a fry were not based on any cuisine decisions, but were just combinations of whatever food was available. This is why people like multiculturism despite the complaints of nationalists, it’s more interesting. Imagine how dull it would be if every restaurant only did traditional Irish meals?
This is what I mean when I say it’s impossible for multiculturalism to fail, because it’s unavoidable. It’s impossible for there to be a country without restaurants from other cultures. The only way this could happen would be if there was some sort of authoritarian law banning them, but even then, chefs would still try to fuse cuisine styles so there would have to be a totalitarian dictatorship to completely enforce the law.
Another example is sport. It used to be the case that the traditional Irish sports of Hurling and Gaelic Football dominated. In fact, there was a deliberate attempt to promote native sports and reject multiculturalism. The GAA was strongly linked with nationalism and the movement to promote Gaelic culture, in fact members of the GAA (the sporting association for traditional Irish games) were banned from playing or even watching “foreign” sports until 1971. It wasn’t until 2001 that members of the British police or army were allowed join and to this day foreign sports are forbidden from being played on GAA pitches (which are often the only pitches villages have). Yet it was impossible to block out foreign influences and even at its height, the GAA was never able to fully block out English games like soccer and rugby. In recent years there has been huge growth in popularity of sports from other cultures and I don’t see how this could be stopped of “fail”.
Or look at music. When I lived in France, I often heard songs in a language other than French, but this wasn’t Arabic or the language of anther immigrant group, but rather English. If you want to argue that traditional French culture is in danger and under attack, don’t blame immigrants because the larger danger is from American media. American music is listened to everywhere in the world and that is unavoidable. Even if you built a wall against immigrants, that would not block the entry of music from other cultures. This is unstoppable and inevitable and doubt if even laws would be effective, because people would listen secretly with the internet or hidden radios (like during Communist time). In France there is a quota that requires 35% of all songs played on the radio must be in French, but legislators are well aware that mandating 100% is impossible and the quota was recently reduced from 40%.
As with music, American movies and television are watched all over the world. But not only in America, when you visit the cinema, you see films from a huge range of cultures. Could you imagine if Irish cinemas only showed films about Irish culture. The audience would get bored very quickly. Literature is even more multicultural. Again, how can this “fail”? How could it be possible for people to watch films and read books from only one culture? Even in large countries this would be tedious. Could you imagine if Americans only watched films about Americans set in America? Even the Da Vinci Code wouldn’t be permissible because that series involves visiting other countries and studying their culture. What about the various regional cultures within America, how could they be removed so that people wouldn’t be exposed to the harmful effects of multiculturalism? There are various cultures in America based on region, ethnicity, religion and even age.
Even if you went to remote parts of the world where outsiders rarely visit, you will probably still find people who listen to pop music, watch Hollywood blockbusters, eat fast food and drink Coca Cola. This is the face of globalisation and multiculturalism, trying to block it is as futile as trying to block the tide with sand. If you want to mourn the loss of local culture, the culprit is more likely to be an American executive than an immigrant street sweeper.
I know that we can’t block multiculturalism and create a monoculture society because we already tried to. The history of Ireland in the 20th century is proof that multiculturalism is unavoidable. After independence in 1922, the state tried to create an Irish society free from dangerous, foreign influences. The state heavily subsidised Irish industry, culture and language, and ran campaigns to encourage people to buy Irish. Politicians and the Catholic Church often warned against the dangers of foreign culture and they even censured films and books which were considered contrary to our culture and morality. It was as if they tried to create a wall around Ireland to protect against other cultures. They dreamed of an Ireland which had only Irish culture.
The attempt completely failed. Regardless of the criticism by the elderly, young people still listened to foreign music and read foreign books. Protectionism also failed economically and enormous numbers of people emigrated due to lack of work. But they also left because a land with only one culture is a dull, tedious and monotonous world. During this time, there was little inspiration or creativity, either politically, economically or culturally. Even Irish people who added to our culture were banned because the censors didn’t want a living culture but rather a frozen and unchanging museum piece. Almost every famous Irish writer during this period was censured and unreadable in Ireland.
multiculturalism is not a new feature because cultures have been in influencing and intermixing each other for centuries and millennia. What we call “French culture” is a melange of many cultures which are always constantly changing and evolving. Even Ireland, which was relatively isolated compared to other countries, has long had foreign influences. Even traditional Gaelic culture was brought by Celtic migrants from abroad after which it mixed with the culture of Vikings, English, Normans, Scottish, French and now American. Even the religion is Roman Catholic. So, when people complain that immigrants will change our culture, I don’t understand because that has always been happening.
Even American culture isn’t really one culture, America is multiculturalism in action. The nation was founded by immigrants from a wide range of cultures who somehow managed to merge together in some sort of cultural stew (even if like all stews some parts are bigger than others). Hollywood may be American but it draws on inspiration from all over the world, to say nothing of the international diversity of those who work there. American music has influences from all over the world and its strength lies in its ability to absorb and assimilate so many styles and influences.
Even my existence is due to multiculturalism because my mother is Irish and my father is American, so I have two passports. But I never felt any culture clash between the two. Irish people listen to the same music, wear the same clothes, watch the same films and television programmes, speak the same language, pray to the same God, eat the same food etc. So when people say our culture is in danger from foreigners, I don’t understand. America influences our culture much more than Eastern Europeans or Muslims.
Imagine if we removed all signs of multiculturalism from a country, say England. People would only speak English, watch English TV (about England), listen to English music (without American influence), wear traditional English clothes, eat only English food, read newspapers that only had news about England and only read books from English writers about England. What a miserable, boring and miserable life that would be!