Getting practical about multiculturalism

The term multiculturalism is rolling of more and more tongues nowadays and the discussions are also heating up as the topic gets uttered more and more often it seems. Multiculturalism basically refers to an environment where a variety of ethnic cultures are accepted and promoted ‘to happen’ or ‘take place’ within a confined space. In practice it comes down to people from different backgrounds, which hold different views of the world, functioning together as one community. In Europe, especially, this word is being spoken more often and more passionately recently. It is basically the response of various people groups which are now living at the centre of a major cultural shift. This shift is becoming more visible and its effects are becoming more tangible.

The reality of globalisation is that cultural thinking of outside groups will begin to contend for market share in the minds and the ways of the people in inside groups. Many countries which have been doing things in a particular manner for many years are now challenged to change the way they operate and local governments will have to facilitate this change and can’t simply deny that it is happening. This is not an easy thing since people are creatures of habit who also have a great deal of pride attached to their various ways. These ways are often the core of these people’s being and they even define themselves by their practices – conflict is pretty much unavoidable one would say. We are currently living in a very definitive time in history. Opinions on how long it will take for this cultural shift to take full effect and even whether the effect will be major at all differ greatly. Two major groups represented in this cultural dance-off are ‘Old Europe’, the home team, and then members of traditionally Muslim nations, which make up the away team. There are of course other, non-Muslim, parties involved as well but they are more dispersed and generally more difficult to define. The realisation is now starting to set into the minds of the ‘Old Europeans’ that if there is not acted soon, they might lose many of the privileges which was part and parcel of their traditional cultures: they might lose that which is the one great human privilege, namely freedom.

An article confirming this, written by a South African lecturer who is currently living and teaching in Sweden, recently appeared in my local newspaper. Being an outsider who’s living among both the ‘affected’ and the ‘affecters’, she shares how more and more of her colleagues are doing research on human migration. She discusses globalisation: how it opens up borders and eases movement across them on the one hand, while on the other it makes local citizens cling even tighter to their national identity and what they believe they have because of it.

In many countries where national identity appears to be under threat, whether it be Australia, Great Britain, Sweden or the United States of America, the main issue seems to be the fact that the locals feel the newcomers are unwilling to adapt to their ways and are even adamant, in some cases, to force their own ways unto the law of the land.

The big question is whether multiculturalism is a livable reality at all? Should we expect cultures which are extremely diverse and even conflicting in its core beliefs and values to function together as one single culture?

An Aussie journalist recently mentioned that ‘we can write the obituaries: multiculturalism in Europe is dead’, in response to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent statement that multiculturalism ‘utterly failed’. His sentiments are echoed by one of the readers commenting on the article who feels that “there is a world of difference between Multiculturalist and Multi-ethnic societies. Multi-ethnic societies have worked in the past and will continue to do so if allowed. Multiculturalism however is a flawed concept and will never work, but continue to cause problems for all. It is a fallacy that all cultures are of the same value – or share the same values, clearly they do not. I think it significant that Multiculturalism only has been “taken up” in Western countries and nowhere else!. The sooner we scrap Multiculturalism in Oz the better.”

Some would argue that we must look for touch points in the various cultures and highlight those as our shared values and traditions while tolerating each other’s differences. It sounds simple but in reality the major worldviews involved do not share a common goal and vision for where they are heading as a society which makes it very difficult to live as if they are one. That is what the above commentator meant when he suggested we distinguish between multiculturist and multi-ethnic societies. Multi-culturist societies function with the idea that although we all think differently we can actually work together as if we follow a shared vision while the multi-ethnic societies function with the idea that we differ greatly in our ways of thinking and with that in mind we will have to compromise along the way and agree to disagree at times.We have here a clash of two major worldviews: not Judeo-Christian vs Islam, but rather those who accept that agreement on certain things will never be reached versus those who, for some reason which I struggle to understand, are firm believers that people holding two complete different worldviews can at the same time agree on the very things those worldviews differ on.

I believe governments have complicated things by trying to cater for all belief systems and hoping that they could solve things by their incorrect interpretation and forced implementation of ‘tolerance’. Another mistake often made is to define belief systems according to classic religious groupings while it shouldn’t necessarily be done that way. On certain topics some Muslims, Christians, Jews and Atheists might stand in agreement against others from those same classically defined religious groupings while at other times an issue would for obvious reasons be supported by Muslims only, for instance. The role of the government should be to remain practical and facilitate the positive growth of society. The purpose of laws and policies should be to benefit society as a whole and not to cater for every single individual’s needs. When any two groups have different views on an issue, government should be more concerned about doing what is practical than aim to not infringe on someone’s beliefs or rights. While government is not a religious organisation they should also not be ashamed of acting in line with any particular religion if their tradition happens to be more practical regarding a specific issue.

We must also remember that government is not a ‘thing’ but it consists of people with their own ideas about things and they will certainly act with a bias toward their personal beliefs which means we should not hesitate to question their ways or think of ourselves as intolerant if we want to force our own ways on others, given that we follow those ways seeing that we believe them to be true and thus in practice beneficial to all. The reality is also that while one group is not enforcing or campaigning for their views, another one is – governments can sort of act secular in a way but people can’t.



About Servaas Hofmeyr

For life through Truth.
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