- Suppress multiculturalism through removal, ethnic cleansing, or denial. Examples include pre-1995 Bosnia, the Darfur region of the Sudan, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Such suppression is typically a tactic of authoritarian regimes but may also be a choice made by separatist movements themselves, as in the Kurdish independence movement or the back-to-Africa movements of the early-twentieth-century United States.
- Deny multiculturalism. Such a denial characterized the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when assimilation and a melting pot were the shared assumptions. Japan to this day largely ignores its ethnic minorities and their problems. France and the Netherlands are similarly seen as denying the fundamental differences represented by their Muslim minorities under an illusion that time will transform them into simply being French or Dutch.
- Marginalize or create a separate space for minority cultures. This has been the policy toward Native Americans in Canada and the United States, Aboriginals in Australia, and the Sami in Norway and Finland. Marginalized groups are often excluded from the nation’s political discourse and/or forcefully assimilated, as in the case of China’s policy toward Tibetans.
- Admit the existence of multiculturalism but create an overarching, pan-cultural identity. This was the policy of the Soviet Union. It was also the policy of Nigeria in 1970s, where the intractable differences among 250 different tribes were papered over by the cosmopolitan image of the “New Nigerian.” More recently, New Nigerian has given way to a tenuous balance among the competing ethnic and religious interests.
- Celebrate multiculturalism as part of their national identity. This has become the United States’ policy, though imperfectly and not without struggle, of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Many expect it to become European policy as well, though it is meeting strong resistance in Europe.
One thing a nation cannot do with multiculturalism is ignore it. The Netherlands offers a cautionary example here. For decades the Dutch welcomed immigrants but paid little attention to their cultural worlds, assuming that the Netherlands’ easygoing, tolerant, rational way of life would absorb the newcomers and shape their values along European lines. For some immigrants it worked that way, but others were appalled by what they regarded as the licentiousness and godlessness of Dutch life. When Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born feminist critical of Islam’s treatment of women, and Theo van Gogh, an avant-garde filmmaker, made a provocative film relating the abuse of women to the Qur’an, a radical Islamist named Mohammed Bouyeri responded in November 2004 by stabbing van Gogh to death (Buruma 2006). Bouyeri, born in Amsterdam and holding both Moroccan and Dutch passports, might seem an exemplar of the cosmopolitan, global citizen, but instead he epitomizes those fundamentalists who reject modernity in favor of a narrow and intolerant worldview. He pinned a note to van Gogh’s body excoriating the West, Jews, feminists, and secularized Muslims. Immigrant leaders and Dutch officials, while decrying the murder itself, became increasingly engaged in wrestling with the complexities of a multicultural society. A statue, erected in 2007 at the site of the murder, that honors free speech is one symbolic response. More significant is the widespread recognition that while different cultures need not produce perpetual conflict, their co-presence has real consequences—witness the struggle over the “Ground Zero mosque” in New York—that cannot be dismissed in some complacent fantasy of the Enlightenment.