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Defending multiculturalism

By Alice Aslan - posted Thursday, 10 November 2011


It has become very trendy to denounce multiculturalism in Europe. The political leaders of three major European countries have one by one denounced multiculturalism as a failure.

Last year the German chancellor Angela Merkel announced the multicultural approach, which let different cultures exist side by side, had failed and said German society should compel immigrants to integrate fully.

Early this year British Prime Minister David Cameron said the state multiculturalism failed since it encouraged separatism and extremism in society, allowing people to have different cultures and lead separate lives. He told UK needed stronger national unity and identity, and "a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism" in order to stop people turning to extremism.

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Unsurprisingly, French President Nicolas Sarkozy followed suit; joined Cameron and Merkel in condemning multiculturalism as a failure in France.

Conservative European leaders usually claim that multiculturalism doesn't work since Muslim minorities in their countries can't integrate. In such an environment, anti-multiculturalism and Islamophobia fuel the actions and campaigns of far-right groups and movements.

For instance, in July this year far-right terrorist Anders Breivik, who blamed the Norwegian Labour Party for multiculturalism and Muslim immigration, killed almost 70 teenage members of the party. Islamophobic English Defense League, a far-right racist movement has been campaigning and organizing rallies across UK against the so-called Islamic threat.

In response to these hostile political comments against multiculturalism; Islamophobia and institutional racism in Europe and in all other western countries, social justice activists in the UK recently launched a campaign to defend multiculturalism.

Hassan Mahamdallie, editor of the book "Defending Multiculturalism: A Guide For The Movement", says multiculturalism became a contested and controversial concept among the left in the UK when it first appeared during the anti-racist movements in the 1980s. But it was still welcome since it acknowledged cultural diversity, a challenge to the superiority and monopoly of British culture and institutionally racist state.

Today the anti-racist left in the UK unites to defend multiculturalism in response to the "voices over the past decade declaring that multiculturalism has 'gone too far', has 'failed', that it represents an unacceptable 'relativism' that undermines 'Western values' and so on".

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In Australia, John Howard government had a long battle against multiculturalism and cultural diversity; and eventually removed the name 'Multiculturalism' from the Department of Immigration. Howard still believes that differences can be divisive and Australians should emphasize "the common characteristics of the Australian identity" and their "unifying points" rather than differences.

Since the last national policy on multiculturalism expired in 2006 under the Howard government, last year the Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia launched a campaign to reclaim multiculturalism. Over 100 key organisations and individuals across Australia signed "Reclaim Multiculturalism" statement that called for the current Labor government to reinstate multiculturalism as a national policy.

In February this year the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen launched the new multicultural policy 'People of Australia' to show the government's commitment to a multicultural Australia. The Department also set up the new Australian Multicultural Council to advise the government on multicultural affairs. The government will also establish a National Anti-Racism Partnership to provide an anti-racism strategy to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

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About the Author

Alice Aslan is a Turkish-Australian anthropologist, writer and activist based in Sydney. She is passionate about the arts, ideas and justice. She is the author of "Islamophobia in Australia". She can be contacted at alice.aslan@gmail.com

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