French President Nicolas Sarkozy is the latest to join a chorus of
Western leaders who have censured multi-culturism as a 'failure'.
Despite upholding 'freedom' as a founding principle of the modern French
nation, the French President in a televised interview, has maintained
that," I do not want a society where communities co-exist side by side.
France will not welcome people who do not melt in to a single community.
We have been too busy with the identity of those who arrived and not
enough with the identity of the country that accepted them". These
comments brought the French President in line with German Chancellor
Angela Merkel, the UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Former Australian
Prime Ministers John Howard and Kevin Rudd and the former Spanish Prime
Minister Jose Maznaz who have previously expressed their reservations on
Sarkozy's statement is widely considered as a sign of exasperation
over French Government's recent attempts to stamp French nationalism
over its five million strong Muslim population. Official reports show
that Muslims account for approximately eight percent of France's
population making France the European country with the largest Muslim
population. However the Muslims in France still have no representatives
in the French Parliament.
The problems experienced by the French President is not something new
even though the European leaders have only realized now the difficulties
involved in nation building when the nation comprises people with
diverse inclinations in beliefs and values. This is the dilemma of many
a nation that inherited multi-cultural nations as a result of, either
colonial racial mixing policies, import of slaves labour, or import of
indentured labour, for European commercial expeditions. The difference
however is when a small and vulnerable country like Sri Lanka makes
attempts to integrate minorities into the mainstream it is considered
either 'hagemonistic' or 'majoritarianism' whereas now when the European
leaders realize this the hard way, 'melting in the minorities' becomes a
prerequisite for cohesive and pragmatic nation building.
During medieval times people lived mainly as tribes or monolithic
nations and hence they had one language and one religion within their
community obviating clash of values and customs. They fought with other
nations and tribes but yet at the end the strong prevailed over the weak
either through elimination or assimilation. Thus the monolithic nature
of the nation was maintained. In the recent European history Bismark
made Germany into nation by assimilating and diluting minorities.
However, the 15th and 16th Centuries, which the European nations term
as 'age of discovery' changed all that. The European expeditions brought
slave labour from Africa, subjugated much of Asia and colonized sparsely
populated countries like America and Australia, driving the indigenous
people into extinction. Even in the countries they subjugated, different
communities were intermixed to suit the commercial enterprises of the
master with little regard for the different beliefs and values of the
This jumbling up of different nationalities/communities with
centuries of subjugation however bestowed a legacy of conquest on the
At the point of independence almost all these subject nations had
privileged minorities who would be cultural and linguistic aliens in an
Hence most of them were readily absorbed by the European colonialists
creating rainbows in skin colours, cultures and faiths within their own
But these differences, up till recently were looked at with a sense
of pride by these European nations as conquering inheritance of their
proud past. But now with gradual change of national and religious
fortunes the one's proud exhibits of the European leaders seemed to be
increasingly turning in to liabilities.
Political scientist Walker Corner has conducted a survey on the
homogeneous nature of various nationalities that inhabit this world.
His survey has revealed that of the 198 nations in this world there
are only 12 nations that could claim to be 100 percent homogeneous.
Of the balance another 26 nations could claim to be 90 percent
This makes only 20 percent of the nations in this world to be
homogeneous or nearly homogenous. Then there is another 20 percent of
nations where the majority makes up between 75-89 percent of the
In another 23 percent of nations the majority makes up between 50-75
percent of the population. This leaves a balance of 37 percent nations
where the majority is less than 50 percent of the national population.
This makes multi-culturalism a reality and assimilation for nation
building a necessity.
When a country is economically powerful and internationally stable
the minorities may not think of pushing for their own identities and
values as they have little hopes of realizing such aspirations.
On the other hand when a nation is weak and internationally
vulnerable the minorities may not have much regard for the centre and
thus they may even flaunt a bagful of grievances hoping to work
themselves in to stronger position than their numbers suggest.
There are also informal groupings of people on religious and ethnic
grounds that often transcend national boundaries.
With modern communication and travel these polarizations could always
pose serious threats to national integration.
As an example Tamils are not just a hapless minority in Sri Lanka but
a section that shares a common linguistic and cultural base with a
community that inhabit 67 other countries.
The Muslims too are not an isolated group of people but section that
share a common belief with people in 42 other countries.
Therefore such polarizations at international level creates national
instability and it becomes worse when powerful nations pass strictures
on smaller nations against their attempts to assimilate their minorities
calling those as 'hagemonistic' or 'anti human rights'.
Thus then, is it any wonder that Sri Lanka had such serious problems
in its post independent nation building during the past 63 years?