Freedom & Diversity: A Liberal Pentagram for Living Together

Immigrant Nations

by Paul Scheffer, translated from the Dutch by Liz Waters
Polity, 390 pp., $84.95; $29.95 (paper)


According to US Census Bureau projections, non-Hispanic whites will be outnumbered by other ethnic groups in the United States in about 2042. As a chorus chanted at a Chicago cabaret: “In 2042, there’ll be more of us than of you.” If Turkey joins the European Union, then by 2030 one in every five residents of the EU could be Muslim. This diversity is most visible in cities such as London, Amsterdam, Toronto, and New York. Some 37 percent of New Yorkers are foreign-born; in Toronto, the figure is close to 50 percent. Three hundred languages are spoken in London. One in four newborns in Britain have at least one parent who was born overseas.*

Malala Yousufzai, a Pakistani schoolgirl from the Swat Valley who was shot by the Taliban in early October for advocating education for girls. She is now receiving medical care in Birmingham, England.

These are not just “immigrants.” Increasingly, they are people “with a migration background,” as the German government classifies them, or “postmigrants,” in Robert S. Leiken’s snappier phraseology. It has long been observed that the problems of conflicted identity, or cultural schizophrenia, can be most acute in the second or third generation. Cheap air travel, the Internet, satellite TV, and mobile phones bring the two homelands closer than they were for Irish or Italian migrants to the US a hundred years ago. Even more than Italian-Americans in the early twentieth century, today’s Turkish-Germans, Pakistani-Brits, Mexican-Americans, Cambodian-Canadians, and Chinese-Australians feel that they belong to two worlds.

These new Europeans, Canadians, Americans, or Australians cannot be characterized simply by one group identifier, be it culture, ethnicity, nationality (“the Turks”), religion (“the Muslims”), or a specially invented collective marker such as “Hispanic” or “Afro-Caribbean.” In Birmingham, England, for example, a city that is expected to have a nonwhite majority by 2024, the postmigrants are not just Hindu, Sikh, or Muslim, but also Punjabi or Mirpuri (from Mirpur in Azad Kashmir), Labour, Conservative, or Liberal Democrat voters, supporters of this or that soccer club, and, by no means least, Brummies—residents of the great city of Birmingham, with its distinctive accent and local patriotism. Around a million people in Britain now identify themselves as of “mixed” ethnicity. In many countries, more and more people are, as President Barack Obama once famously put it, “mutts like me.”

The multiculturalist literature, with its tendency to pigeonhole people by culture, often fails to acknowledge the sheer diversity of this increasingly mixed-up world. More than ever, that must include the diversity to be found inside a single human skin, mind, and heart.


“Multiculturalism” has become a term of wholly uncertain meaning. Does it refer to a social reality? A set of policies? A normative theory? An ideology? Last year, I served on a Council of Europe working group with members from eight other European countries. We found…

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