Texte sur les arts et la contestation, dont une version différente a été publiée par L’agenda interculturel en février 2012.

Let me start with a few observations:

First for several years a tension-opposition in public (political, mediatic, academic, civic) discourse in Europe between on the one hand an apology for ethnocultural diversity celebrating intercultural dialogue and on the other hand an anti-multicultural, post-multicultural or neo-assimilationist offensive. Not new, long before Paul scheffer’s essay (Schlesinger, Alund and Scheirup in Sweden. The common point between those two kinds of discourse is that they problematise cultures and cultural and ethnic identities.

Second, we note a similar tension between two contradictory trends at the level of social practices and of the impact of public policies in inner cities and immigrant neighbourhoods. On the one hand the pull toward segregation, exclusion, discrimination and ethno-national withdrawal is undeniable, though it may vary from country to country and from city to city. On the other hand, the pull toward residential integration, co-inclusion, meeting the others, métissage is just as undeniable, though it may seem on the wane compared with the last decade in the 20th century.

Third, we note a tendency to more or less explicitly focus debates on the position of Islam in European societies, and to stress the dangers and threats that Islam and Muslims are supposed to represent more than its positive contribution.

Fourth, diversity of diversity, superdiversity is progressing: migration

Fourth, the economic crisis is hitting hard throughout Europe and far beyond. Between the extreme haves and the extreme have-nots, a large part of the population feels insecure.

Fifth, rise of new populist-nationalist movements very different from the traditional extreme-right wing parties of the past: welfare chauvinism and moral liberalism BUT construction and excluding the “other”, the poor or the biggot


How can we deal with its de facto multicultural, multireligious, multiethnic growing character of our societies while simultaneously reasserting our democratic exigencies and dealing with growing social and economic inequality and exclusion? The concern at the beginning of the third millennium is not to choose between the construction of a multicultural European society and the construction of a culturally homogenous society. Rather, each society, finds itself being challenged to tailor a sort of multicultural project adapted to its population and to its history in order to reconcile observable cultural and identity-based diversity, on one hand, with the necessary social, economic and political cohesion, on the other hand. In other words, how can we combine the search for a more united and integrated society while at the same time valorising the various facets of its diversity and fostering more social and economic equality? This is the challenge of a multicultural citizenship.

In other words, It is crucial to try to invent new policy tools in order to combine ethnic and cultural diversity, social and political cohesion and equal opportunities in a very diverse Europe. Promoting already existing harmonious intercultural relations and encouraging the development of such social relations at the grassroots level is probably a key to try and solve this difficult equation.

Multiculturalism and Interculturalism: definitions and conceptual issues

Multiculturalism as understood by Martiniello (1997) has 5 dimensions that are not all be relevant for this paper:

3.1. Multiculturalism as a descriptive category used to picture the cultural, ethnic, racial and religious diversity of society. This meaning refers to the first paragraph of this document. The more there are different cultural, ethnic, racial and religious groups in society, the more it would be said to be multicultural. In other words, multiculturalism simply refers here to the observed heterogeneity of any given society.

3.2. Multiculturalism is understood as a set of social practices and modes of consumption celebrating the cultural diversity in fields such as food, music, the arts, fashion, philosophy and goods related to spirituality. This dimension is sometimes called “light” or “soft” multiculturalism since it remains quite superficial and does not question the basic assumptions about the organization of the society. Eating “ethnic food”, listening to “world music”, buying Islamic art, wearing oriental dresses can at times be quite fashionable, for young, educated, well off urban people but it does not necessarily lead to a deep discussion about the incorporation of cultural diversity in the social structure and institutions.

Furthermore, these social practices and modes of consumptions do not necessarily lead to continuous and sustained social interactions or relations with members of minority ethnic and cultural groups.

3.3. Multiculturalism refers to public policies at different levels (European national, regional, local, sub-local) aimed at taking into account the ethnic, cultural, racial and religious diversity. These policies may follow different aims: recognizing, tolerating or promoting cultural, ethnic and religious diversity. As will be shown further, these policies can be designed and implemented in various areas (education, politics, cultural institutions, employment, etc.).

3.4. Multiculturalism refers to the political mobilization processes of cultural, ethnic and religious groups around identity, cultural, religious or ethnic claims. In the nineties, the expression “identity politics” lead to lots of theoretical and political discourses. Nowadays, in the post-multiculturalist mood that followed September 11, claims made by minority groups are increasingly seen with suspicion especially when they come from Muslims. Claims related to the wearing of a Islamic headscarf in the publish sphere, to the building of Mosques, to providing halal food in schools, hospitals or prisons, to getting Islamic religious holidays, etc. often raised at least discussion at worse conflict in many European countries and cities.

3.5. Finally, multiculturalism refers to the normative, philosophical and theoretical debates about the inclusion of deep diversity in the institutions of the society. In other words, multiculturalism refers to the various attempts to conceptualize a new model of democratic society based on the recognition of cultural, ethnic and religious diversity to replace the dominant nation-state model, which was largely based on cultural and ethnic homogeneity. We won’t enter these discussions about “heavy” or “deep” multiculturalism here.

Opponents to multiculturalism often reduce it to the first dimension described above and they imply that it refers to a society in which different ethnic, religious and cultural groups co-exist without interactions between them. This is a very simplistic view. Multiculturalism as understood here in the second, third and fourth dimension does not exclude, and often even promotes relations, interactions of various kinds, and dialogue between members of the various ethnic, cultural and religious groups composing the multicultural city. In other words, interculturalism is a form of democratic multiculturalism even though it is correct that some forms of multiculturalist ideology based on extreme cultural relativism have no problem with a racially, ethnically, religiously fragmented and separate society.

In my view, promoting harmonious intercultural and inter-religious relations is part of any democratic multicultural project. Whether one prefers to call such a project interculturalism or multiculturalism is only in part a matter of rhetoric. The advantage of multiculturalism is that it allows interactions, exchange, and dialogue between the various groups but also spaces for the development of intra ethnic, cultural and religious community life. In other words, whereas interculturalism stresses inter group relations, democratic multiculturalism combines inter-group relations with intra group communal life.


Learning from past and current problems in attempting to promote harmonious intercultural relations

At least 4 major problems can emerge in the various attempts to promote intercultural and inter-religious relations at the city level.

4.1. The essentialization and homogenization of cultures, religions and groups

Social and political actors engaged in promoting harmonious intercultural and inter-religious relations on both sides often see cultures and religious as characterized by a determined set of distinctive and specific features and substantial components that would be strictly fixed in time and space. Members of ethno-cultural and religious groups are conceived as the exclusive holders these specific and distinctive cultural and religious traits. Homogeneity within these groups defined in terms of cultural and religious substance is the rule and the boundaries between the various groups are consequently seen as clear cut and resilient. Further, the world is seen as composed of a ser of distinct and separate ethno-cultural and religious groups each characterized by their homogenous and distinctive culture and religion.

This conception has been successfully challenged by modern anthropology. It has shown that heterogeneity within ethnic, cultural and religious groups is often the rule. There are struggles within each group to impose the right understanding of culture and identity. It has also demonstrated with Fredrik Barth (1969) that ethno-cultural groups are not defined by a cultural substance but by a process of boundary creation and maintenance. But individuals who do not accept the confinement in one group often cross these borders. There is always fluidity between the various ethno-cultural and religious groups. The borders are never totally hermetic.

4.2. The folkorization of minority ethno-cultural and religious groups

The substantialist approach to culture and religion often lead to the folklorization of the minority ethno-cultural and religious groups in intercultural project. For example, intercultural parties organize to promote the good relations between the various groups in a local setting have invariably used the same devices for the past 25 years. When it is decided to “communicate through food”, Italians would be asked to cook pizza or pasta, Arabs would prepare couscous, Turks would bring the kebab and Indians the curry. Possibly they would also wear traditional clothing and play “their” traditional music.

That type of approach reinforces the idea of distinctive groups living next to one another in the city and the mutual stereotypes existing within any group. It does not reflect the processes of cultural change and “métissage” happening within ethno-cultural minorities in the place of immigration.

4.3. Occulting the links between culture, social justice and socio-economic inequalities.

By focussing and problematizing culture and religion, we often tend to forget that processes of ethno-cultural identity formation and assertion and the processes of socio-economic exclusion and exploitation are deeply connected. Those who are excluded from the labour market or exploited at the bottom end of it are often also those whose identity and culture are not considered as legitimate or even feared in European cities. Ethnic, racial and religious discrimination and socio-economic discrimination often coincide as shown by the example of migrants coming from Muslim countries. Therefore, the recognition and promotion of ethnic identities and cultures and the struggle against socio-economic exclusion and exploitation should go hand in hand. In other words, the politics of recognition, anti-discrimination and anti-racism are connected though analytically different. It does not make sense to separate issues related to intercultural relations and issues related to social justice. In other words, promoting harmonious intercultural and inter-religious relations without granting all the citizens form the different ethno-cultural and religious groups a full socio-economic citizenship and an equal access to the labour market, education, health and housing could be counterproductive. One could claim that more social and economic equality brings the development or more open ethno-cultural identities while more social and economic inequality and exclusion favours the development of more closed and exclusive ethno-cultural identities that serves to compensate for the frustration. Even more simply stated, the social and economic “balkanisation” is certainly more threatening for European cities then the lack of intercultural and inter-religious relations.

4.4. The perverse effects of focussing on Islam

In post-migratory and post-multiculturalist Europe, media and political discourse tend to focus on the position of Islam and Muslim populations when discussing intercultural relations and dialogue. Obviously, this is in part a consequence of the terrorist attacks in New York, Madrid, and London and of the global political situation. This is also a reflection of the seductive power of the huntingtonian thesis of the clash of civilisation, which is however in inverse proportion to its scientific validity.

Clearly, Islam is now the second religion in many European cities. Immigrants and descendants of immigrants who claim to be Muslims form a large part of immigrant origin populations, not to mention the increasing number of converts. They strive to exist in the public and political sphere by making claims sometimes linked to their faith. It would therefore not make sense not to address the issues related to Islam in any discussion about the promotion of harmonious intercultural and inter-religious relations.

But focussing quasi-exclusively on Islam and Muslims in that context can have a number of perverse and negative effects or to put it differently, unintended consequences on intercultural relations. Firstly, it supposes the endorsement of the unproven idea that there would be something specific to Islam and more problematic with Muslims than with other religions and ethno-cultural minorities present in European cities. Secondly, it can be perceived by many Muslims who have adopted a defensive posture as another prove of the stigmatization and Islamophobia they experience. Therefore, instead of encouraging an opening on their part, a focus on them could provoke a retreat within the community. Thirdly, focussing on Islam could end up neglecting the other facets of the identity of Muslims in European cities. Their socio-economic background or any other variable than their belonging to the Islamic religion could also explain their experience and their difficulties. Fourthly, many other religious groups or cults represented in European cities and successful among immigrant groups challenge the separation of state and church and they can often take advantage of the focus on Islam to develop their own political-religious agenda. In that respect, the discourse on integration of some evangelist preachers, for example in African minorities needs to be understood in order to promote better intercultural and inter-religious relations. Finally, the focus on Islam and Muslims can sometimes give the false idea that they are privileged in public policies as compared to other groups in society.

In consequence, there are many reasons to adopt a broad perspective on intercultural and inter-religious relations even when dealing with specific and concrete policy issues.


Some concrete policy issues affecting intercultural relations in European cities

Should the cities intervene in intercultural relations with a view of promoting local integration? This is a disputed issue in the European Union. On the one hand, in a more free-market approach some advocate the retreat of the state and the non-intervention of the EU in those areas. In their view, those issues should be left to the work of time, to the market or to self-organisation of minorities who claim recognition. On the other hand, others, in a more interventionist approach, argue for an active presence of the public sector in intercultural relations matters especially at the local level though various policy interventions.

Furthermore, once the principle of a public intervention is accepted, another sensitive question arises: what type of public policies should be developed in order to promote harmonious intercultural and inter-religious relations at the local level and in which domain of human activity? Policies vary according to their location in the legal hierarchy, their degree of formality, their duration, their funding and other variables. In this paragraph, the focus is put on questions linked to local policies and initiatives affecting intercultural relations at the city or neighbourhood level.

One general principle could be that financing should always be reserved for groups that respect the core democratic values (human rights, non-discrimination, gender equality, respect for the physical and psychological integrity of the human person, respect for cultural diversity and identities). There is no reason why a democracy should subsidise groups that want to destroy democracy even though it is the case in some countries where for example extreme-right parties have access to public money. On the same line, groups that oppress their members and do not respect their individual freedoms should not be subsidised either.

5.1 The symbolic Recognition of Diversity

Recognizing symbolically the multifaceted diversity of the city as a positive feature is a step in the direction of harmonious intercultural relations or more precisely it lays the foundations on which specific policy initiative can develop. What do cities do in that respect? Do they engage in anti-racism? Do they advertise their multiculturality in their public relations; do they officially define themselves as cities of immigration, etc?

5.2. Linguistic policies

Intercultural relation implies intercultural communication, which is strictly connected to language. What do cities do in order to facilitate the communication between residents who don’t speak the local dominant language and the local institutions?

5.3 Financial support to immigrant associations

Do cities provide financial support to immigrant associations engaged in actions aimed at encouraging a better knowledge of cultural diversity in a given society and also at bridging the gap between cultural groups?

5. 4. The local accommodation of religious needs and demands

This is related to a set of very hot issues in the present global political context. Different sorts of needs and demands are sometimes conveyed by faith group leaders at the local level such as specific prayers in cemeteries, specific food in public schools and working place cantinas, specific prayers rooms at work, building of mosques, churches or temples in urban neighbourhoods, etc. To what extend do cities respond to such demands? What policy initiatives are developed?

5.5. Intercultural programmes or initiatives in local publicly financed schools.

In the education system depending on the local governments are there programmes or initiatives to encourage intercultural and inter-religious relations? What do they consist in?

5.6. Political Participation and Representation of minority groups

The issues of political participation and representation of minority groups in local councils are also of central importance in any multicultural democracy. What do city do to foster the elections of ethno-cultural and religious minorities politicians in the local councils? What Forms of consultations are discussed in order to promote the local political participation of all residents and of immigrant origin citizens in particular including representatives of faith groups? In that respect, the Council of Europe Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level of February 5 1992 is certainly a document that could be ratified by at least the member states of the EU Union and of the Council of Europe. More generally, promoting various kinds of arenas for dialogue and discussion between citizens and residents is an interesting way to consolidate the local democracy.

5.7. Local arts and cultural policy

Arts and culture are potentially important tools to stimulate intercultural relations and communication. Are there policy initiatives to encourage and support ‘multicultural’ and ‘intercultural’ artistic projects at the local level? In which artistic domains? How does it work?

5.8. Local cultural conflict resolution mechanisms

In case of occurrence of intercultural conflicts at the local level, are there ad hoc mechanisms of conflict resolution and restoration of the dialogue between the conflicting parts? Are they organized? Are cultural and religious minority groups’ representatives part of those mechanisms?

5.9 The information of the local population

It is well know that the local population is often opposed to ethnic and religious claims (e.g. construction of a new worship place) when it is not correctly informed or when it is not informed at all. What do cities do to inform the population not only about minority claims but also of the official policy option selected or envisaged?

5.10. The issue of residential concentration

Encouraging harmonious intercultural relations and dialogue supposes that people form different groups and faiths have the opportunity to meet. Residential concentration could be an obstacle to intercultural encounters. What do cities do in order to promote intercultural and inter-religious residential “mixity”?

5.11. Reaching out towards culturally secluded persons

Very often, women and the elderly have a larger propensity to be secluded from the larger society and to be confined to intra community social relations. This can be an obstacle for intercultural relations. What do cities do to give the opportunity to those people to get out of their social and cultural isolation? How far do cities think they can go?

The 11 policy issues presented do not obviously cover the infinity of relevant issues linked to intercultural and inter-religious relations. But they do seem very important if the aim is to promote a local cohesive multicultural citizenship in European cities.




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