Defining the Problem
There continues to be debate about the value of “Multiculturalism” and whether it has failed to live up to its nobel intentions pertaining to a multiethnic/multicultural society we live in today. Some politicians even pronounce the concept of Multiculturalism as already “Dead”. This is certainly a serious & complex topic but my contribution here is intended to be congested and hopefully shed some light on other ways we can look into this issue so we can then devise the proper solution. One key point I would like to make before going any further is that we need to resolve challenges in our Immigration/Integration policy as a matter of extreme urgency if we are serious about protecting our society from all forms of extremism whether political or religious. The election of Donald Trump in the US and recent success of ultra right parties in Europe should serve as a wake up call to all of us who are keen defend our Democracies/Values from fear mongering rhetoric that if not careful can develop internal conflicts that would be quite damaging on multiple levels.
First it helps to establish the technical definition of “Multiculturalism”;
Multiculturalism is the existence of multiple cultural traditions within a single country, usually considered in terms of the culture associated with an aboriginal ethnic group and foreigner ethnic groups. (from Wikipedia)
So at its core Multiculturalism is NOT an approach but rather an assessment of the diversity within a society. It follows then that we cannot pronounce failure of Multiculturalism or that its “Dead” simply because it is a social reality that we need to deal with. What we can say is that we have failed to address Multiculturalism in our society particularly as it relates to National Identity & Immigration/Integration policies.
My contention is that our approach towards developing an effective Immigration/Integration policy is one driven by our perception as a nation in balancing 2 competing values; National Identity & Multiculturalism. In one extreme you have ultra-right/racist & xenophobic ideology promoting nativism & protectionism and on the other you have perceptions that are idealistic and do not address legitimate concerns of big chunk of the population relating to the negative effects of Immigration/Integration policy had on the sense of National Identity which is key to any nation.
Suggestions on the Way Forward
- Current Migrant Population not to Blame for Failed Government Policy or (in action): We need to be clear from the outset that current population of citizens of migrant origins-however integrated they have become-cannot be held accountable for poor government Immigration/Integration policy (or lack there of). They are in a sense victims of these failures and more importantly are our partners in helping resolve past policy failures and develop better policy covering this issue are moving forward.
- Red Lines for National Identity: We also need to be clear that when it comes to National Identity there should be red lines that cannot be crossed. Tolerance levels may very from one nation to another (or changes may apply through time) but the overall proposition still holds. In my mind some key elements of national Identity include;
a) Knowing the Language: An obvious/key factor in integration. Failures of the past need to be fixed in an appropriate manner. Moving forward this becomes a prerequisite.
b) Dress code (whether driven by religion or culture). By the way, same applies to westerners living or visiting countries in the ME or beyond conservative or not (it’s called respect to local culture-not Racism). Details of these guidelines may be tricky to define and/or apply but certainly worth the effort.
3. Racist Policies Compound the Problem: We need to concede that racism & policies promoting it do NOT solve racial issues in our society but rather compound the problem, particularly because we’re not starting from scratch. So in that sense I am not worried for it become political trend-though we always need to cognisant of the existence of racism in our society and we need to stand up against these attitudes.
4. Eliminate all Forms of Racial/Cultural Segregation: These need to addressed whether it applies to housing development or more importantly in Education including the elimination of Faith Schools. Our Educational system/materials also need to emphasis the importance of Multiculturalism in our society and engage in national/international programs/exchanges that helps vitalise our commitment as outward looking society keen to build bridges not walls.
5. Better Vetting of Religious Leaders: This is key to establish their loyalty to the state and equally important their influence and vision in addressing race relations and faith support within their community. It is also important that these people represent raw models within their community both in terms of behaviour and presentation.
Since most of recent controversy surrounding religious attire involves things like the Islamic Hejab & Burqa, let me make a final brief/telling point here; This kind of attire has never been part of many regions in the ME until quite recently (1980 and beyond). If you do some research of the net or view some city videos for regions like North Africa post 1980 you will find this kind of attire was virtually non-existent-though obviously cultural attire always existed. These regions, including Egypt, had a vibrant multicultural heritage (Greek, Armenian)/multi-religious heritage (Muslim, Jewish & Christian) since the early 1900’s, so I would recommend looking this up; here is a sample link. Reasons for this trend has been mainly due to political failures rather than purely religious or cultural divide.
I repeat again the above are ideas in simplified of a complex issue-so a small part of a very big picture. What is needed is a concerted effort by western governments to finally “Resolve” this matter once and for all.