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Sergei Khenkin

Doctor of History, Professor, Comparative Political Studies Department of the MGIMO University, RIAC Expert

In Spain as in other European countries there are clear signs of crisis of multiculturalism. It manifests itself, on the one hand, in growing xenophobia and racism of local residents and, on the other - in the isolation of many immigrants who do not want to integrate into the Spanish society. However, there are a lot of Spaniards and Muslims who treat each other with kindness and respect and are prepared to live together on the basis of full equality. Given that, would it be correct to insist that multiculturalism as an ideology and political practice has exhausted itself?

In Spain as in other European countries there are clear signs of crisis of multiculturalism. It manifests itself, on the one hand, in growing xenophobia and racism of local residents and, on the other - in the isolation of many immigrants who do not want to integrate into the Spanish society. However, there are a lot of Spaniards and Muslims who treat each other with kindness and respect and are prepared to live together on the basis of full equality. Given that, would it be correct to insist that multiculturalism as an ideology and political practice has exhausted itself?

The Scale of Immigration

In the 1970-1980s the resettlement model in Spain changed: if for centuries it had been a country from which its inhabitants emigrated in large numbers, in those years it turned into a country of immigration. Since then more and more foreigners have been coming to Spain. As a result, from 2000 to 2010 the population of Spain has grown from 40.2 to 47.2 million people. During this time the number of foreigners legally residing in the country swelled from 0.9 to 5.7 million people (from 2.3 to 12.2% of the population). Spain has become one of the leading European countries by the level of immigration.

Spain needs immigrants. They mitigate tension on the labor market and weaken the effects of decline in the birth rate and population aging, which in the future are fraught with vacant jobs, drop in production and social stagnation. "Infusion" in the economy of millions of workers considerably alleviates the demographic problem. However, there arises a very serious problem of social and cultural integration of this huge mass of immigrants into the Spanish society and transformation of today’s Spain into a much more multi-ethnic and multi-confessional country.

The national and ethnic composition of immigrants is varied including natives of different continents. Here is the breakdown of the 2011 data for officially registered immigrants by the country of origin: the Romanians -- 901.4 thousand, the Moroccans -- 794.3 thousand, the Ecuadorians -- 375.5 thousand, the Colombians -- 226.9 thousand, the British -- 232 thousand followed by much lower figures for immigrants from Italy, Bulgaria, China, Peru and other countries.

"The Muslim Challenge"

The degree of integration of immigrants into the society depends on their ethnic and religious roots. Some integrate better than others. Barring all the problems existing in inter-ethnic relations, coexistence of Spaniards with Europeans-- their neighbors on the continent -- as well as with Christians and Catholics such as Spanish-speaking immigrants from Latin America does not cause much controversy. The situation is different with the Muslims who belong to a different culture and have their own customs and traditions. Spain is the only European country with part of its territory located in Africa. The territories bordering on Spain are Spanish enclaves port cities Ceuta and Melilla on the North African coast, the Canary Islands, several islands and archipelagos of the Mediterranean (with a total area of approximately 40 thousand sq. km.) which, at the same time, constitute the southern border of the European Union. Spain, therefore, represents the first line of European defense against the radical Islamists. However, the latter are a minority among the African immigrants.

The largest ethnic group of Africans in Spain is the Moroccans who are ahead by a wide margin in comparison with immigrants from other Muslim countries - Algerians, Senegalese, Pakistanis, Gambians, Nigerians, Mauritanians, Malians, Bangladeshis, etc. Many of them leave their homeland due to hard living conditions and limited opportunities for social advancement. Spain seems to them to be the country where their dream of a secure and stable future can come true. However, the dream often turns into frustration. Most Africans get menial jobs in Spain or those of unskilled laborers. They perform (sometimes illegally) hard, poorly paid work and often accept jobs rejected by Spaniards. The frustration of their hopes is caused by various reasons: lack of support from the host country and compatriots, the unfavorable situation on the labor market, rejection by the residents, no knowledge of Spanish language and customs of the country, lack of life and job experience, etc.

Problems faced by the Moroccans in Spain are not only socio-economic but also cultural and religious by nature. Muslims who adhere to the commandments of the Qur'an find themselves in a country that has made great advancements in secularization and where religion has become a private business of every citizen. Standards and secular lifestyle of Spanish people often cause both confusion and rejection of many adherents of Islam with its emphasis on the merging of the religion, the state and the society. Muslims whose basis of existence is a patrimonial family dominated by the father, do not understand the world in which there is gender equality and where women "secularized Spain," the "spiritual decline" of the consumer society, erosion of the family structure, lack of respect for their elders. The critical attitude to the realities of Spanish life is strengthened by the specificity of the outlook of some of the Muslims living there. They consider Spain to be "their land" on which their ancestors had lived seven centuries ago. And now they have "returned to their historic homeland" (Al-Andalus was the Arabic name of the Muslim part of the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th-15th centuries).

The critical attitude is especially common among men. Moroccan women are largely satisfied with the new place of residence as they often have more opportunities for contact with the Spanish social and cultural environment than Moroccan men. Working as domestic help, meeting children after school, attending parents' meetings, they learn “from inside” the realities of Western society. Particularly susceptible to Western values and way of life are young, educated, unmarried Muslim women whose credo is equal rights for women. Certainly, Moroccan men who move to Spain, too, cannot avoid being influenced by the new social and cultural environment. As an example, for a man accustomed to be the protector and guardian of the family, to accept the fact that his wife works outside the home is a serious psychological shock, the redefining of traditional notions of roles in the family.

However, though accepting some of the western values, Muslims generally continue to adhere to traditional norms of behavior. They are against fornication and abortion. Most Muslim women, including young girls continue to wear the hijab, which for them is a demonstration of belonging to Islam, a sort of a barrier separating them from "infidel women”. Influenced by two socio-cultural communities and existing, as it were, between them, the settlers live, consume, invest and make plans for the future in Spain. And yet they want to stay Moroccan and Muslim: watching with interest what is happening in their homeland, going home on holidays in summer, remitting part of their savings to relatives. For the children and grandchildren of immigrants cultural coexistence with the Spanish and the adaptation to the Spanish environment is easier than for their parents, yet in their families they follow the rules of Islam and speak their native language. The relations between the representatives of the first generation of Muslims, on the one hand, and the second and third -- on the other hand-- sometimes are characterized by conflicts.

Crisis of multiculturalism?

The problem of multiculturalism defined as equal and harmonious coexistence of different cultures, divides Spanish society. Most Spanish have a negative attitude toward immigrants, especially Arab Muslims. The main thing that alienates many Spanish from the natives of the Maghreb countries is the attitude toward Islam as a religion of aggression, identification of Muslims with extremists. The fact that a “trace of the Maghreb” was found during the investigation of the hideous terrorist attack in Madrid on March 11, 2004 has only strengthened the antipathy of the Spanish to immigrants from African countries.

Anti-immigrant sentiments have especially intensified during the global economic crisis which dealt a painful blow to the Spanish economy (by the number of unemployed -- 5.3 million people or 22.9% of the economically active population at the end of 2011 -- Spain ranks first in Western Europe). Immigrants are seen as competitors in the struggle for jobs. More and more people believe that the immigrants enjoy privileges in obtaining social services and benefits. In everyday conversations of the Spanish concerning immigrants have become commonplace such words as "invasion," "avalanche," phrases like "we are foreigners," "the time will come when there will be more foreigners than Spaniards." A large part of Spaniards identifies integration of Arab Muslims into the Spanish society with their assimilation. This position is clearly in contradiction with the theory and practice of multiculturalism.

However, the attitude of Spaniards to the Arab Muslims is not confined to the rejection of the latter. Opinion polls show that many local residents and certain civil society organizations have a very positive attitude towards immigration and multiculturalism and perceive diversity and cultural dialogue as "the wealth" of the increasingly globalizing world. In general, the number of supporters and opponents of tolerant coexistence of Spaniards and Arab Muslims does not differ greatly. According to the results of one of the surveys held in April 2011 the share of supporters of multiculturalism and supporters of assimilation of immigrants turned out to be equal at 44%.

It seems that the problem of immigration does not have an ultimate decision. On the one hand, in Spain, as in other European countries, there are clear symptoms of the intercultural dialogue crisis. They manifest themselves both in the growth of xenophobia and racism of local residents and in the attitude of many Muslims who keep to themselves. On the other hand, there are many Spaniards and Muslims treating each other kindly and with respect, ready to live together on the basis of full equality. The tradition of tolerance towards "others" is not a thing of the past.

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