A perspective on multiculturalism
By Rooshanie Ejaz, HRS
(Islamabad): It is clear from debates and instances which have occurred in recent years that multiculturalism (a word which has become quite loaded) stands for very different values depending upon the individual analysing it. Therefore there is no point really in debating what the term means; rather it will be pertinent to take a closer look at what it means to certain people in order conclude upon its current affect on societies that have embraced it as a value.
For the liberal elite of Europe (or those of the western world in general) multiculturalism is a word that induces visions of flourishing ethnically diverse communities, interacting seamlessly with each other whilst keeping their individual cultural practices intact. It seems that to them it also means the perfect balance between western development and non-western traditions. If one does a search on Google’s image bank of the term, immediately pictures of interracial harmony pop up – like a United Colours of Benetton advertisement. Someone like the Canadian former Supreme Court judge, Frank Lacobucci values the term, stating:
Canada’s different cultures join together to form a mosaic, with each unique part contributing to a unified whole. Accordingly, unity in Canada does not mean uniformity. Instead, Canadians are united in their recognition of the importance of diversity to the growth and development of the nation. The goal of multiculturalism is to build both personal and collective confidence among members of all ethnic groups and to promote their participation in society.
On the other hand, some people consider the world in itself to be a borne of multiculturalism and thence revoke any debate on the cons of the value. Peter Guillam states in the guardian:
“The idea that there is a distinct set of British values is a myth. All cultures are multi-cultures – this debate is being used as a proxy”.
Clearly, there is an opinion out there that there are no individual cultures and hence multiculturalism is the inevitable route human development will take.
Derived from the same stream of opinions is the idea that multiculturalism is advantageous to western society because it allows western citizens to learn about more about immigrants living amongst them. Multiculturalism also has another definition, mostly adopted by far leftists, one that states that it is the practice of preserving the cultures of immigrant minorities living amongst them in their entirety. And regardless of how non-western the value (for example niqab), it be preserved in order to maintain diversity.
I myself must pull back into a more bird’s eye view of the value of multiculturalism and when I do I notice that the word itself doesn’t have a definition anymore. It has simply become a favourite tool for various champions of radicalism that are unwilling to understand that its disadvantages need to be debated in order to protect the harmony between various indigenous and immigrant populations in the first place.
To the radical Muslims and extremists living in the western world it is a blissfully double edged sword. It takes care of preserving archaic values that have been shunned by western democracies through long-term struggles and fights for freedom, by “protecting” cultural values of minorities. At the same time it allows them to plaster a giant neon sign of racist on anyone that dares to bring up the cons of adopting multiculturalism as a value.
To the elite liberal it is an escape route. They obviously call upon anthropology as a means to explain that multiculturalism is an inevitable reality for societies post globalization. Yet it seems folly to expand the scale of current issues to such an extent. One cannot argue based on the philosophical interpretation of a term. We must look at the real and current ramifications of ideals, even if the thoughts behind them are well-founded. For example, one can argue that France’s banning of facial coverings goes against European ideals of freedom of religious expression. But since the practice that is being curbed through such a ban is one that hinders female emancipation on a wide scale; the Burqa, it makes the actual ramifications of the ban positive.
The point is current issues of integration failure, pressure on the welfare state and the demonizing of western values by individuals in immigrant communities in order to stay intact within untouched bubbles are the facts of today. Applying anthropological time scales to the needs of a democratic society is only going to hinder development and integration. Citizens in the western world elect leaders through whom they want to see real time changes within their governing tenure. Finally, due to the fortune of modern day technology available to most people in the western world, information about other cultures is easily accessible allowing anyone who so wishes to learn about them.
Similarly, the word multiculturalism has become so politically charged that it is causing hindrance to western government’s efforts to protect individuals from minority communities living as citizens in the western world. For example, when anyone points out that it is the occurrence of FGM is a real threat against girls with Norwegian citizenship, not many government officials were willing to implement all the laws necessary in order to curb the heinous practice because it is a ‘cultural’ matter. Granted it is the parents’ right to give their child a culturally viable upbringing, but is it not the state’s responsibility to protect that child also?
All cultures are not the same. Some blend more easily together then others and that is a fact. There is no need to discriminate, but there is also no need to pretend that archaic practices that individuals still take part in some immigrant communities from the west are quirky and colourful little harmless habits. It is a necessity to discuss and point out the issues created by allowing such practices to flourish in the western world, without the debate being slapped with the label of racism.
In conclusion it seems that multiculturalism’s benefits are only arbitrary, depending only upon the context it is being taken in. A report by the Migrant Immigration Policy Index (MIPEX) ranks Denmark very poorly due to its policies regarding immigration and the ease of integration that migrants have there, whereas it places Sweden on top of the index stating that her policies are the most conducive to ease of integration.
On the other hand a report by Denmark’s National Organization of Shelters for Battered Women and Their Children (LOKK) states that ever since immigration policies have been reviewed (the same ones criticized by the MIPEX) the number of youths who approach the Danish authorities with real fears of violence against their persons from immigrant communities has quadrupled. Whereas the state of Sweden’s many dysfunctional immigrant communities is well know. Needless to say, the change in policies has empowered the immigrant communities in Denmark, not discriminated against them.