Multicultural Europe: Europe’s Past and Present

by Jackie Howell

What does it mean to be European? Can we easily define characteristics traits to create a European national identity in a contemporary world? Could we ever? How do memory and culture shape Europe today? These questions reflect the themes in this week’s readings, posing a need for serious reflection on how Europe treats migrants and minorities. Immigrants from non-white countries have faced racist and xenophobic attitudes in Europe, but it is certainly not a new phenomenon.  Race and religion and the act of “othering” are tools that the far-right (and the left) employ to mobilize supporters against a common threat. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are tools for populists and progressives to manipulate, isolate, and scapegoat. As Europe continues to experience demographic change, how will the far-right and progressives adapt to a new Europe?

With the influx of migrants coming to Europe, the makeup of urban centres and Europe in general has changed. Admittedly, if you asked any member of my small-town community to describe the “typical” European identity, 9/10 would respond with an image of a white, thin Christian individual. However, this stereotype does not accurately reflect the changing landscape of Europe today. As migrants and refugees settle in Europe, political parties have continued to demonize and isolate these groups to further separate Europeans from “Others.” The far-right has spread their anti-immigration agenda by portraying immigrants as dangerous outsiders that should return to their original country. France’s Renaud Camus even called the influx of migrants an “invasion,” which is reminiscent of North America deeming the influx of Chinese immigrants in the 1800s as an “Asian invasion.” Europe and the West have historically excluded non-white or non-Christian migrants. It is not surprising that EU member states refuse to accept incoming refugees from Syria and Africa, nor is it a surprise that the left deems Islam as oppressive to women. It has been the norm for the West to treat those that are different as “wrong” or not as “modernized.”  

The weaponization of religion is a tactic that both the left and the right employ in their discourse. Europe has continuously created a dichotomous society of us-versus-them by “othering” the outcast in question. From using the Jews as scapegoats to creating an Islamic threat, Europe has continuously produced a narrative of binaries that reinforces Europe’s white superiority complex. Hungary’s Orbán further reinforces this narrative by weaponizing Christianity to demonize minorities and outsiders. The weaponization of religion and the threat of “Others” in Europe are tools reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s anti-Semitic policies. Dan Stone (2018) highlights the historical roots of Europe’s mistreatment and neglect of minorities, and he draws the pointed conclusion that the death of nationalism in Europe was declared prematurely. Is Europe doomed to repeat its past mistakes, or can Europe learn to adapt to a multicultural identity?


Coman, J. (2019, December 29). The pastor versus the populist: Hungary’s new faith faultline. The Guardian,

El-Tayeb, F. (2012). ‘Gays who cannot properly be gay’: Queer Muslims in the neoliberal European city. European Journal of Womens Studies, 19(1), 79-95. DOI: 10.1177/1350506811426388

Onishi, N. (2019, September 20). The man behind a toxic slogan promoting white supremacy. The New York Times,

Stone, D. (2018). On neighbours and those knocking at the door: Holocaust memory and Europe’s refugee crisis. Patterns of Prejudice, 52(2-3), 231-243. DOI:10.1080/0031322X.2018.1433038

One Reply to “Multicultural Europe: Europe’s Past and Present”

  1. Jackie,

    I find your analysis of how this “othering” within Europe having historical roots, such as with the the supposed “Asian invasion” of the 1800s, interesting. I feel as if this week’s readings beg the question over right-wing groups truly understand the history of Europe as a whole, which in of itself is wildly diverse, with various religions, languages, nationalities, and beliefs in every individual country. As for your final question, it is a difficult one to try to answer. I think the results will very much depend on the outcomes of elections across Europe and which political parties are in power, along with the long-term status of the Middle East and Africa. If countries such as Syria and Yemen continue to experience events (often backed and perpetrated by western countries) that result in large amounts of displaced refugees, then I don’t see this political issue going away any time soon.

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