Libya and Japan aside, I still find the fall-out over Søren Pind’s declaration that assimilation should be the goal of Danish immigration policy interesting. One point is that Pind in all likelihood is saying out loud what many agree is the effective goal of integration policies – a point also made (descriptively) by Andreas Johansson Heinö in his paper written for the Timbro Foundation. (Executive summary: “Integration” is based on the principle that immigrants should adapt to the norms and values of their new country and effectively this is assimilation)
Integration policies are often (but not exclusively) discussed in a multiculturalism – integration/assimilation dichotomy but in reality things may be a bit more complicated. There are normative issues at stake (do we prefer a homogeneous or a heterogeneous society) as well as empirical (how viable is a homogeneous and a heterogeneous society, respectively), but I suspect that those entering the debate also have differing views on whether cultures should be evaluated according to – to use Max Weber’s concepts – traditional or rational criteria. Then we have the question if cultural identities should be decided on an individual or collective level and finally the issue of inclusive and exclusive solidarity. (Instead of inclusive and exclusive solidarity we might also talk about universalism or particularism)
Assimilationists probably chose an easy path: Behind the idea of assimilation is the idea that a homogeneous society is not only a normative ideal but also the only viable alternative. If we look at the Danish debate, the support for assimilation appears to be linked with a traditionalist defence and a collectivist view of identity and there is a strong sense of exclusive solidarity. “Danishness” is something limited.
But just to confuse things, the French have an assimilationist ideal as well and also see a homogeneous society as the normative goal. The problem is that French assimilationism is based in a rationalist discourse and there is a strong hint of inclusive solidarity. The norms are seen as universal and you become French not because of your history but by embracing the ideals of the Revolution, laïcité and so on. Finally, French assimilationism also rests on individualism.
What we might tentatively conclude is that Danish assimilationism is conservative in nature while French assimilationism is liberal in nature.
But what about multiculturalism? There are some problems here as well. In the real world, multiculturalists tend to use double standards: Their own culture is legitimised on a rationalist basis but alternative cultures on a traditionalist basis. This may be because multiculturalists focus on the exotic sides of alternative cultures (what has been termed “halal-hippies” in the Danish debate) while overlooking the oppressive sides of those cultures or failing to see that the exotic to some extent may be based in oppression.
Multiculturalism only really makes sense if it is based in a collectivist view of society – by definition someone must belong to a defined group (Danish, German, Turkish, Pakistani, Somali, etc) in society – but it also has to face the question if and how the exclusive solidarities within communities can be linked with a general inclusive solidarity. If multiculturalists cannot provide such an answer, they face the charge of accepting parallel societies.
Again: To confuse matters further, Denmark and Sweden follow different policies when it comes to recognising (some) minorities. In Sweden the definition of who belongs to the group of Sami people is fairly strict and individuals cannot easily choose to be Swedish or Sami (actually, you can always choose to be a Swede but being accepted as Sami is very hard). In Denmark – and Germany – the delimitation of the German and Danish minorities is rather porous. Effectively, the choice of identity is an individual one even if the minority groups hold special rights with regard to political representation and education. (Just as a clarification: Both the German and the Sami minorities are defined by traditionalist criteria, the recognition of recent immigrant communities is a more tricky matter).
As they say: It’s complicated, volumes have been written about the issue, and I personally find it hard to find a position on the subject of integration policies.
PS: Videnskab.dk in Danish has this discussion between immigration researchers.