State liberalism has failed

(c) The Prime Minister's Office

Henry Fowler is a recent politics graduate

David Cameron’s announcement this February claiming that “state multiculturalism has failed” has had ramifications not just in Britain but also throughout Europe. These comments have been combined with similar declarations from both President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel over the demise of multiculturalism. However, these political leaders’ comments have sadly become the authorisation of a wider current of intolerance sweeping Europe and her neighbours.

This current of intolerance has mainly focused on the ‘threat’ of Islam. The reaction of Western European governments has been to directly reject the physical remnants of this faith within its borders. This is most neatly characterised through France’s recent legislation banning both the burqa and the niqab in public places, and Switzerland’s referendum result banning minarets.

However, the analysis and opinion around this latest round of xenophobia and scapegoating have created different questions than the previous displays of intolerance to other religious and cultural practices. These questions centre on how liberal are the apparent liberal democracies of Europe, and Cameron’s words accentuated the need for a ‘muscular liberalism’. What does this entail?

Liberalism has an inherent contradiction within its world view, this is that liberalism and liberal democracy claims to have within its foundations, a tolerance and freedom, not emphasised by other ideologies such as nationalism and socialism. What is clear is that this latest isolation and scapegoating of Islam has unearthed the contradictions within the apparent liberal democracies of this continent. That is, liberalism remains only tolerant until it meets intolerance.

The latest cache of legislation and propaganda against Islam in the West has advocated intolerance, be this of Mosques or traditional Muslim dress. This is an attitude of intolerance. If tolerance is the defining pillar of liberalism, by maintaining this attitude, are we no longer liberal? If we are no longer liberal, were we ever a liberal society? What is apparent is that contrary to the claim of Cameron and his cronies it is not ‘state multiculturalism’ that has failed, it is ‘state liberalism’.

What is all too clear is that the role of the left, and its European partners, is to continue to engage in this debate and take the initiative in protecting all groups who find themselves the subject of intolerance. Currently this group is Islam, historically it has been other groups. The role of the left is to enter the debate around national identity, not to emphasise the nation-state, but to emphasise the need for internationalism.

Furthermore, remaining silent within this debate as national identity continues to be a issue for progressives. What needs to be stressed is one of the reasons for this growth in Islamophobia is a reflection of the economic downturn and austerity measures of European governments, and secondly the recent acceptance of right-wing populist sentiment by all the mainstream political parties in the United Kingdom.

In summary, what seems prevalent is that the rise and endurance of Islamophobia throughout Europe will not vanish by its own means. What is needed is an organised fight back with coherent solutions, which people can understand and relate to. The failure of the established social democratic parties in Western Europe, as well as others in the Labour movement, to offer any input to this debate has left a vacuum, which has been filled by nationalist organisations such as the British National Party and the English Defence League.

The authorisation of intolerance by Europe’s leaders shows that state liberalism is dead. This leaves the left with an opportunity to articulate the need for internationalism in liberalism’s wake. Furthermore, what is clear is that without the development of a European fight back against this intolerance of Islam, the weight of Europe’s dark history is on all of our shoulders.

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