The End of Tolerance

The world has long looked upon the Dutch as the very model of a modern, multicultural society. Open and liberal, the tiny seagoing nation that invented the globalized economy in the 1600s prided itself on a history of taking in all comers, be they Indonesian or Turkish, African or Chinese.

How different things look today. Dutch borders have been virtually shut. New immigration is down to a trickle. The great cosmopolitan port city of Rotterdam just published a code of conduct requiring Dutch be spoken in public. Parliament recently legislated a countrywide ban on wearing the burqa in public. And listen to a prominent Dutch establishment figure describe the new Dutch Way with immigrants. "We demand a new social contract," says Jan Wolter Wabeke, High Court Judge in The Hague. "We no longer accept that people don't learn our language, we require that they send their daughters to school, and we demand they stop bringing in young brides from the desert and locking them up in third-floor apartments."

What's going on here? Weren't the Dutch supposed to be the nicest people on earth, the most tolerant nation in Europe, a melting pot for minorities and immigrants since the Renaissance? No longer, and in this the Dutch are once again at the forefront of changes in Europe. This time, the Dutch model for Europe is one of multiculturalism besieged, if not plain defunct.

This helps explain Europe's unusually robust reaction to the cartoon crisis, which continued last week with riots in Nigeria and Pakistan that have left over 100 dead. There were apologies, to be sure, for causing offense after a small Danish paper published a dozen cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. But on one point European leaders were united and bluntly clear: they would not tolerate any limits on European newspapers' rights to publish. "Freedom of speech is not up for negotiation," declared Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, summing up a consensus that has only grown stronger as the cries of outrage from the Muslim world grow louder.

Welcome to the end of tolerance, or at least to the nonnegotiable limits to what Europeans will tolerate. Whether it's the Netherlands' rediscovery of Dutch communal values, or the universal affirmations of free speech (to mock religion, or anything else), Europe is everywhere on the defensive. After decades of relatively unfettered immigration and cultural laissez faire when it came to accepting people of differing values and social mores, there are signs that a potentially ugly backlash is setting in. Even before Jyllands Posten published the cartoons last fall, Denmark's Minister of Cultural Affairs Brian Mikkelsen said, "We have gone to war against the multicultural ideology that says that everything is equally valid." These days, he speaks for most Europeans. Danes, and Dutch, and a few other countries might be well on their way to creating multiethnic societies. But make no mistake: they're no longer willing to tolerate a European melting pot--a broadly multicultural society--where different cultures live by widely different norms.

What that portends for Europe is emerging in fits and starts. The common ground is a realization that past models of integration have failed. In Germany, which for decades refused to admit it had immigrants (in theory, they were "guest workers" who would one day go home), the newly appointed Federal Integration Commissioner Maria Bohmer now says that this see-no-evil attitude was "wishful thinking," to be replaced by what she calls "offensive integration." Part of that is a new seriousness about improving schools and opportunities for education, an arena where Germany more than any other country has failed its immigrant population. But Interior Minister Wolfgang Schuble has also called on the country to adopt the more muscular Dutch Way.

Ditto for Schuble's counterpart in France, Nicolas Sarkozy. "The French way of integration no longer works," he said, meaning France's long-held pretense that its strict public secularism could erase differences and make newcomers "French." Thus Sarkozy unveiled a new immigration law earlier this month, a virtual copy of the Dutch regulations. Sarkozy plans to introduce highly selective immigration, testing for the "assimilability" of those it admits. A new "contract of welcome and integration" stipulates learning French and looking for a job in return for 10-year residence permits and discrimination protections. Immigrants failing to respect basic Western values face deportation. "In the case of a woman kept hostage in her home without learning French, the whole family will be obliged to leave," Sarkozy said, referring to a practice among Europe's most conservative Muslims of importing teenage brides.

In particular, Europeans are concerned about Islamists hostile to Western values and the very idea of integration itself. Often, these elements drown out the voices of the moderate majority of Muslims. Dutch Integration Minister Rita Verdonk, one of several top politicians under death threats from Islamists, plans courses for imams to train in citizenship and Western values. She demonstrated what that might mean in front of press cameras in January, telling an imam who refused to shake her hand because of "religious rules" that he had better learn Western customs. "Next year I expect to speak to you in Dutch," she said through an interpreter.

Will such measures advance the ultimate goal of building a "Euro Islam" more compatible with Europe's values? Unlikely, perhaps, as long as only 5 percent of the imams in Europe's 6,000 mosques are educated in Europe. After decades of neglect, Germany and France have finally set up a small number of Islamic departments at public universities to turn out locally acculturated preachers. In Britain, the Home Office's brand-new Advisory Council on Mosques and Imams plans an accreditation program for Muslim clerics, similar to the systems in place at Christian churches. When Angela Merkel becomes the first German chancellor to hold a summit with Muslim leaders in April, setting up a Germany-wide council of Muslims to partner with the government on integration and religious issues will be high on the agenda.

But if Europeans aim to build multiethnic societies that play by their rules, they'll also have to get their heads around the fact that this new world will be multireligious , too--a fact that poses awkward challenges. Over much of Europe, for example, established Christian churches enjoy special state privileges and subsidies. Most mosques, by contrast, are hidden in converted shops or tenement apartments. In Copenhagen, a 15-year plan --to build a national mosque has become mired in red tape and local opposition. A German state recently passed a law banning a hijab in schools--but not yarmulkes or nun's habits. A minister in Baden-Wurttemberg last month resigned over an offensive remark about the local bishop. It's hard to imagine this happening had the aggrieved party been an imam.

Until such double standards can be abolished and a new equality established, Europe's new toughness will feel like forced integration. "It's a form of creating a second-class citizenship," says Tariq Modood, director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship in Bristol. "All the burden of change is placed on the immigrant." And if that's not to be the case, then Europeans will almost certainly have to accord Muslim faiths the same status accorded Christianity--including, perhaps, a media that voluntarily refrains from publishing needlessly offensive images of the Prophet, not under duress from abroad but out of greater respect for local religious sensibilities.

It's also clear that if Europeans want their immigrants to behave like Europeans, then they must be willing to accept them as Europeans, too. That's where many societies that long thought of themselves as culturally homogenous have problems. "Being German can no longer be defined on ethnic lines," says Bernd Knopf at the Integration Commissioner's office. It's an open question whether Germans, Dutch, or Danes will ever truly accept a multiethnic, multireligious "Germanness," "Dutchness" or "Danishness." But given the immigrant and demographic trajectories of Europe's future, there is little choice but to try.