Illiberal Means to Liberal Ends? Immigrant Integration Policies in Europe

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Illiberal Means to Liberal Ends? Immigrant Integration Policies in Europe

Phil Triadafilopoulos1

Beginning well before the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., Madrid and London and accelerating as a result of these and other events (including the murder of Dutch artist Theo Van Gogh and the Danish “cartoon controversy”), several European governments have pronounced multiculturalism a “failure” and opted for more aggressive means of integrating immigrants into their societies (Fekete 2006; Joppke 2004, 2006; Tebble 2006). The policy instruments selected to pursue this end have included mandatory integration courses, aimed at facilitating language acquisition and inculcating values, and citizenship tests similarly formulated with an eye to determining whether individuals have internalized prevailing norms (Schönwälder, Söhn and Michalowski; Odmalm this volume; Rothstein 2006). The Netherlands has gone so far as to demand that would-be immigrants to pass an integration test before setting foot in the country, effectively making integration a condition for admission rather than of legal residency and citizenship as has long been the norm (Theil 2006). Several European countries have also introduced legislation constraining individuals’ ability to wear certain religious attire, such as the burqa and hijab, in the name of upholding women’s rights and minimizing the presence of religion in the public sphere (Beck-Gernsheim 2004; Freeman 2004; Scott 2006; Weil 2004). Moves have also been made to restrict arranged marriages and prohibit other minority religious practices (Phillips and Dustin 2004; Razack 2004).

These initiatives have been accompanied by a sharply antagonistic discourse designating putatively clear and inviolable boundaries of liberal-democratic conduct (Bawer; Miller; Steyn; Lachmann; Theil 2006; Ye’or 2005). Although academics, journalists and aspirant public intellectuals have taken the lead in crafting this discourse, it is also featured in the statements and programs of mainstream political parties and politicians. The message advanced through these statements is relatively straightforward: immigrants who willingly opt for inclusion are to be accepted, on the condition that they successfully demonstrate that they have internalized prevailing “values” (Blair 2006; Braithwaite 2006). Conversely, immigrants judged to have rejected liberal-democratic norms, through their deeds and/or speech, are to be excluded through the revocation of their rights to legal residency and, in extreme cases, their detention, denaturalization, and deportation (Macklin forthcoming).2

This turn to an aggressive “civic integrationism” has reached beyond Europe. In ---- 2007, the town of Hérouxville in northern Quebec passed a “statement of principles” for would be immigrants, informing newcomers that its residents “listen to music…drink alcoholic beverages … dance and decorate a tree with balls and some lights at the end of every year.” The authors of the statement also took the opportunity to warn immigrants that “the killing of women [through] public beatings or burning them alive” went against the town’s “standards” (Leonard 2007; Municipalité Hérouxville 2007). The Hérouxville charter sparked on ongoing debate in Quebec over the degree to which the province should reasonably accommodate immigrant minorities.3 In October 2007, the opposition Parti Québécois entered headlong into the debate, introducing a bill in the National Assembly that would require that immigrants pass an integration test in order to petition the government. In defending the bill, the party’s leader, Pauline Marois, claimed that ----.

The turn to civic integrationism across a range of liberal-democratic countries encourages us to reconsider longstanding assumptions in the field of immigration and citizenship studies. For the purposes of this paper, the most relevant of these assumptions is that concerning the role of the “liberal state” in shaping immigration and integration policies. The notion that liberal-democratic states encourage relatively open immigration policies and “civic” citizenship regimes has become axiomatic in the literature on immigration and citizenship politics and policy-making (DeLaet; Freeman; Joppke; Hollifield). According to James Hollifield, “a principal factor that has sustained international migration…is the accretion of rights for foreigners in the liberal democracies [through] the rise of ‘rights-based liberalism’” (Hollifield 2000: 148; Hollifield 1992). In a similar vein, Gary Freeman (1995) claims that an implicit normative proscription against populism has prevented mainstream politicians and parties from explicitly raising racial and immigration issues in liberal-democratic countries. When combined with the dynamics of client politics, this “constrained discourse” has resulted in immigration policies that “tend to be more liberal than public opinion.” Joseph Carens argues that liberal norms not only constrain liberal-democratic states in principal but increasingly also in practice (----). The introduction of hard-line “civic integrationist” policies across a range of liberal-democratic states would appear to contradict these arguments. We are left to wonder why liberal-democratic states have opted to introduce what might reasonably be deemed illiberal policies in the sphere of immigrant integration policy.

I explore this question in three steps. I begin by situating the turn to aggressive integrationism temporally, noting the influence of key events and processes. I then survey other scholars’ efforts to describe and explain the trend. Despite differences in their arguments, all agree that the new integrationism has been driven by political coalitions that include self-described liberals and progressives. Building on this work, I suggest that aggressive integrationism is reflective of a distinctly “Schmittian” liberalism, which aims at clarifying the core values of liberal societies and using coercive state power to protect them from illiberal and putatively dangerous groups. As such it is not simply a new brand of old-style xenophobia, but rather a self-consciously liberal response to the challenges of cultural pluralization that seeks to distinguish itself from its primary competitor, liberal multiculturalism. Schmittian liberals reject multiculturalism because it counsels accommodation, compromise and negotiation with groups whose beliefs and practices are at odds liberal ways of life. In contrast to liberal multiculturalists, Schmittian liberals see the task of immigrant integration as part of a broader campaign to preserve “Western civilization” from illiberal threats, particularly those based on “fundamentalist Islam.” Their framing of the problem in existentialist terms allows advocates of aggressive integrationism to justify policies that might otherwise be seen to contravene liberal principles of toleration and equality. As such, Schmittian liberalism complicates our understanding of liberal states’ approaches to immigration and immigrant integration policies.

I conclude by considering the validity of Schmittian liberal positions, arguing that liberal sounding arguments on behalf of illiberal means cannot be used as cover for policies whose intention is exclusion. We are warranted in looking at both the nature of the message and messenger in considering the validity of such claims. The normative justifiability of weakly defended messages from actors with well known anti-immigrant credentials must be greeted with suspicion. Conversely, measures advanced on behalf of genuinely held liberal principles, such as the protection of gender equality or freedom of speech should not be reduced to evocations of racism. At the very least, opponents of such policies must recognize that they are sometimes put forward on behalf of justifiably liberal ends by actors with impeccable progressive credentials.

I suggest that opposition to such policies might be better served by shifting from normative to pragmatic critique. Regardless of the intentions of its advocates, the turn to a more aggressive liberalism is likely to exacerbate the very problems it seeks to solve; Schmittian liberals’ insistence on clarity, decisiveness and action, as against negotiation, patience and compromise is likely to deepen rifts between groups, intensifying ill will and cutting off possibilities for dialogue. The premium Schmittian liberalism places on societal homogeneity – even if it is genuinely based on liberal values as opposed to race or ethnicity – makes it a poor instrument for encouraging integration. While it may result in superficial compliance driven by fear of negative consequences, it is not likely to achieve the deep changes in psyche it so desperately craves. Seen in this light, Schmittian liberalism is a poor substitute for liberal multiculturalism, if the aim of immigrant integration policy is to sustain stable liberal-democratic communities.

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