Not Either/Or

French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently declared that multiculturalism has failed. When asked during a television interview about the policy advocating that societies welcome and foster distinct cultural and religious groups, he answered that the existing policy had been a failure. He isn’t the first to say this, other leaders or ex-leaders have said the same thing. Sarkozy clarified his position, “If you come to France, you accept to melt into a single community, which is the national community, and if you do not want to accept that, you cannot be welcomed in France.” How groups integrate and assimilate—or not—within societies which are not their own, has been the subject of academic study even longer than it has been that of political debate. In the last few years, however, the politicization of the issues has obscured the issues by tending to make them into either/or propositions or by oversimplifying their inherent complexities. In France, the U.S. or in any other country, the issue may not be whether or not multiculturalism has failed or succeeded, but how it has been implemented, applied, realized, put into action, understood, defined, mitigated or touted.