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Jansen, Yolande. Secularism, Assimilation, and the Crisis of Multiculturalism.

JANSEN, Yolande. Secularism, Assimilation, and the Crisis of Multiculturalism. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2013. 339 pp.--The rise of right-wing nationalist parties in Europe is but the most visible manifestation of what Yolande Jansen rightly describes as a "crisis in multiculturalism." The project of this interdisciplinary book, which ranges across history, sociology, political and critical theory, and literary criticism, is to analyze the diverse components of the crisis: assimilation; integration; identity and memory; the opposition of secularism (or laicite) to religion; and the relation of citizen and private individual. The debate in France over the prohibition of the headscarf looms large throughout the book. Jansen sees it, and other current controversies about Islam in liberal societies in which Muslims are a minority, not solely in contemporary terms but as a product of clashing ideas about "belonging" that date to the French Revolution. The centerpiece of her book is a reading of Proust's In Search of Lost Time for its nuanced depiction of the position of Jewish citizens of France at a time of great stress, as the Dreyfus affair unfolded between 1894 and 1906. She persuasively argues that Proust's portraiture resonates with the condition of Muslims and other minorities in European and other liberal states today.

Although Jansen ends by articulating a defense of what she calls "critical multiculturalism," the great strength of her densely argued book is the critical lens she focuses on the theories of others. Multiculturalism as a priority of the state began, of course, as a critique of theories and doctrines of assimilation or integration that either denied status to the group membership of individuals ("difference blindness") or sought to reserve the public sphere as the space of equal citizens, relegating group affinities, especially religious belief, to a private ethical domain. In theory, what's public is public and what's private, private, so there is no conflict. Except that the state alone has the authority to decide what is public and to enforce its views. The religious freedom laicite promises thus assumes religious belief and practice that are willing to stay private. If not, conflict ensues, and the power of the state prevails. This "Republican" view in France is manifest in the headscarf ban.

Historically, assimilationism sought to be homogenizing. Minorities would give up elements of difference the majority rejected as inappropriate, in exchange for acceptance by the majority as full citizens. Yet as Proust shows in the case of Jewish French citizens, the majority does not really live up to its end of the bargain: the Jewishness of the Jews, though it may go undiscussed, is often on the minds of the non-Jewish majority, and in the case of those erroneously persuaded of the guilt of the Jewish military officer Alfred Dreyfus, Jewishness is a source of suspicion. Homogenization, as such twentieth-century scholars as Nathan Glazer noted, is not the result even when policies of assimilation or integration are comparatively successful. And the demands of assimilation (or integration) have often been coercive and illiberal.

The critique of assimilation or integration from the new right in European politics has at its core a belief that minorities, especially Muslims, will not assimilate. Jansen notes the "securitisation" of the question of belonging, the view that the minority poses a threat to the majority. This view trumps a contextual view, one that would note that Muslims, coming from many different countries and traditions, hold highly varied views on the requirements of religious observance. Jansen notes that fears of "unassimilability" have been widespread among majority culture with regard to newly arriving minorities, notwithstanding that "all serious sociological research," citing especially the work of Gerard Noiriel and Will Kymlicka, "demonstrates that no immigrant community has ever posed a real threat to any Western state."

Multiculturalism is an attempt to provide some legitimate public space for expressions of religion and other aspects of "difference." It begins with the intention of respect for others. But as Jansen among others notes, it can also lead to the "othering" of others. Through multiculturalism, a majority segregates a minority as different and codes individuals as members regardless of the degree of attachment of a particular individual to the classification to which he is assigned. Multiculturalism reifies difference. Moreover, multiculturalism just like "difference blindness" can entail presenting the formal, public equality of citizenship as a substitute for measures to address socioeconomic and other inequalities that can weigh as heavily or more heavily on people's lives and sense of belonging.

Taking into account some of the difficulties posed by assimilationism with a homogenizing tendency as well as by multiculturalism, such scholars as Rogers Brubaker and the tandem of Christian Joppka and Ewa Morawska have argued for what Jansen calls "a liberal sociology of assimilation." Jansen characterizes its central feature as the view that "assimilation does not imply pressure towards [unachievable] cultural homogenisation; it requires only adaptation to the most general principles or core values of liberal societies as citizens, and a liberal version of linguistic adaptation." But as Jansen notes, the coercive element remains: minorities "can legitimately be forced to accept the thin and procedural culture of liberalism" if not its "substantive culture."

This failure leads Jansen to her "proposal for multiculturalism as a critique of assimilation and assimilationist secularism." With the critical element in the foreground, Jansen believes multiculturalism can avoid its reifying tendency and be construed as implying "that all groups and claims in a specific context should be subject to public scrutiny, including the claims of 'us' and moreover, that all norms and values stand to be debatable, including the rules of the game itself." That majorities should be prepared to take seriously the claims of minorities, including religious claims, and even to be influenced by them seems sensible. But if scrutiny and debate are to be meaningful rather than pro forma, the possibility of changes to "the rules of the game" would seem to be on the table. And so it may be, but one suspects only insofar as such change falls within an encompassing liberalism. Permitting headscarves certainly meets this test. Other claims may not, and here it is hard to see how a critical multiculturalism would fundamentally differ in its potential for coercion from liberal assimilationism.

Jansen, drawing from Proust, is above all concerned with the "everyday, discursive, and experiential level" in analyzing broader theoretical perspectives. This is her most important contribution, not because it leads to a solution, but because it exposes a problem with liberalism to which liberalism has no solution--only workarounds.--Tod Lindberg, Hoover Institution, Stanford University
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Author:Lindberg, Tod
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2015
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