One by one, the leaders of Europe's three biggest immigration destinations have stepped up to solemnly repudiate a policy that has long ceased to exist. In recent months, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have let it be known that multiculturalism shall no longer be the continent's doctrine of immigrant integration.
"The multicultural approach, saying that we simply live side by side and be happy about one another, utterly failed," declared Merkel in a speech in October 2010.
"Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream. We've failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong," said Cameron on February 2011.
"Multiculturalism is a failure. The truth is that in our democracies, we cared too much about the identity of the migrant and not sufficiently about the identity of the country that welcomed him," Nicolas Sarkozy announced on French TV later that month.
These unusually convergent statements would seem to signal a dramatic turning point in Europe's relations with its Muslim populations, who are the target of these putative reforms. The speeches were designed to convey the image of political leaders fully in control of their national destiny, boldly charting a new course for their societies. The reality, however, is far less grandiose. Merkel, Cameron, and Sarkozy are playing a catch-up game with the right wing of their constituency by savaging a straw man -- multiculturalism -- and offering precious few concrete proposals behind their new proposed course of action.
They are also ignoring and jeopardizing years of hard work by their own interior ministries to refine and streamline a new generation of demanding yet fair policies toward local Muslim organizations. In the process, these national leaders are feeding the very fire they hope their speeches will contain: a growing far-right populism based on the rejection of Islam.