Professor John Milbank. JWH at Wikipedia Luxembourg

Goodbye, Londonistan

It seemed that in the UK the experiment had paid off. Reality, though, forced the Prime Minister to admit defeat; the model most theorized about in viewing integration is failing. What is next?
Fabrizio Rossi

He sees a way out, in which both Christians and subsidiarity play a fundamental role. One can understand how far we are from integration just by looking at the census form that the British population will find in their mailboxes at the end of March. It comprises four pages of questions that the British government had to translate into 57 languages–from Filipino Tagalog to Nigerian Igbo. According to John Milbank, this is just one of the many warning signs of the failure of multiculturalism that, he explains, "promised the co-existence of different cultures, but only encouraged separation." Milbank, class of 1952, teaches religion, politics, and ethics at Nottingham University. He has lectured on the topic of multiculturalism several times, including for seminars organized by the Subsidiarity Foundation in 2006, as well as at the Rimini Meeting in 2008.

Today, the issues connected to the encounter/clash between cultures are hotter than ever, and the problems they raise are far from theoretical. Even David Cameron, the Prime Minister of a country that for a long time bought into the utopian idea according to which Indians, Chinese, Arabians, blacks, and whites could co-exist in a mixed-identity society, has entered the fray. During the conference on security that was held in Munich, Cameron stated, "That model failed. Europe needs a wake-up call: it's time for a change of policy." Other European leaders, like Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, stand beside him on the need for this epochal change of direction. Making the situation even more urgent is the simple fact that reality is presenting the aftermath of the model: places where integration was promised have seen the birth of ghettos (751 in France alone) where not even the police dare go, and there have sprung up institutions like the Sharia courts, namely, local courts that apply Islamic law to divorce, inheritance cases, and monetary disputes. Because of this scenario, some started talking of "Londonistan" in a city that is no stranger to Islamic terrorism; some of the attacks (as in 2005) have involved third-generation immigrants who, with regular English passports and citizenship, seemed to be perfectly integrated.

Professor Milbank, why is this doctrine to be rejected?
I think technically multiculturalism means a kind of relativism and, therefore, it's wrong. Can we have a society in which there are absolutely no shared values? Any society or politics requires some shared sense of the common good.

David Cameron said that "we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity" as testified by those countries that wanted to eliminate every reference to Christianity in the European Union document on religious freedom…
We have to fight for our identity. For example, I think that primarily what Cameron is concerned about is the situation whereby the policy has been to support Muslim groups that favor a non-violent Islamism in the hope that this will prevent people from being attached to violent Islamism. He was announcing a change of policy, saying this hasn't worked, that it just encourages all forms of Islamism, including violent Islamism. So the British government is no longer going to support or give money to Islamic groups that foster any kind of extremism, including the Muslim Council of Great Britain.

What problems has multiculturalism brought forth?
I would say that in Britain there is a certain problem of "ghetto-ization" in cities, with different groups living in different areas, and not crossing into other areas. And the risk is that some areas could become self-policed by minority groups. This pattern might promise the coexistence of different cultures, but instead it encouraged divisions.

The press is speaking of an intolerance against Christian symbols: from a nurse that can't pray for a patience to an employee that must take off the crucifix so as not to offend those of different beliefs.
I think these things will probably pass out of fashion. In Britain, Muslim girls are allowed to wear headscarves–not veils–in schools, and Christian girls are allowed to wear crosses, so it's really not as problematic as the French situation.

How can we face the situation?
Subsidiarity and all of Catholic social teaching can help us, because these encourage the principle of free association and the importance of civil society rather than bureaucratic structures, or the competitive market. I think that people are waking up to that. And there are many like the London Citizens organizing groups to work together toward the common good. I think that subsidiarity is favorable to the flourishing of a true religious pluralism. The other day, I met Tariq Modood, the Muslim intellectual, and I discovered that people of other faiths often are very happy with the situation in which Anglicanism in England is the established religion, because it provides a certain shelter for them as religious people. They prefer that to a completely secular situation.

At the Rimini Meeting, you said that what is going on is a challenge for Christians. What did you mean?
In some ways, one has to see that this is a three-way challenge: there is inherited Christian Europe, there is the new modern kind of atheistic liberalism, and then there are immigrant incomers, many of whom are themselves religious. As Christians, to some extent we agree with the Enlightenment legacy, because it emerged from Christianity, and continues some of its values in weaker form, while even validly intensifying other values which are authentically Christian. But, at the same time, we may well agree with people of other faiths who are against several aspects of enlightened liberalism which are incompatible with Christianity. So it's very important for Christians in Europe to realize that their situation is triangular in this respect.
In a recent speech, Benedict XVI affirmed that "we are living a permanent encounter" just like "the ancient Church, of the first generations of Christians when they were a tiny minority..."

I think that this is true, in the sense that we are now back in a situation in which we constantly have to make arguments. We have to persuade by both example and reasoning. I also think that although Christians are in the minority in Europe, they are already becoming a very effective minority because there is a death of ideologies and a consequent lack of secular ideas at present. We are in a situation where, although we can't be sure, it's possible that a new Christendom is already shaping. We're in such a vacuum that I think that religion is increasingly returning as the only possible source of value.

An example?
Let's think about the danger of a growing criminality; increasingly we will live in a world where criminals rule. I think that's a real serious danger. It's already happening in Russia and in Mexico. And I do think that only religious groups are able to overcome that.

In what sense?
Christianity is universal in the sense that we're allowed to have our particular identities, but we're united under Christ. It is notably true of the Christian outlook, and especially the Catholic Christian outlook, that it integrates a lot of differences with a sense of unity. And what is supremely important there is that Christianity realizes that the individual person transcends, is of absolute value; she or he is not just an isolated atom. Therefore, we have to approach the other always as a person. More specifically, the other never is totally other; we share our common natural human experience of life, and birth, and death; of day and night and the seasons… Nobody is really alien to us.