Multiculturalism

writes in the Herald:

So has “failed, absolutely failed”, according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It is dead, declared another German politician. Did I hear “I told you so” from the xenophobes who claimed all along that was doomed to failure?

The crowing may be a little premature. The trouble with multiculturalism is that it seems to mean different things to different people.

In many parts of Europe, it has failed. In some countries it has been a disaster. Yet in other countries it has worked well – the US is an excellent example of that. As is NZ.

For Merkel, “multikulti” is the idea that “we are living side by side, and are happy about it”. (Which implies, I think, that multicultural nirvana was meant to happen naturally.)

For others, multiculturalism is that ill-defined policy which holds that a single country can accommodate new and disparate cultures peacefully and equitably, even when certain aspects of those cultures clash fundamentally with its own cherished traditions and values.

The former seems an increasingly distant liberal fantasy, and the latter a recipe for resentment and discord.

I agree with Tapu Misa. I think a blending or integration of cultures is a good thing, but if the cultures fundamentally clash on core values, then you get the problem – resentment and discord.

Disenchantment with multiculturalism isn’t new. In 2006, the then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, told immigrants they should “conform … or don’t come here”.

Conform isn’t the word I would use. But there does have to be a general acceptance of the way of life of the country you move to. For example, if the sight of females in bikinis terribly upsets you, then don’t move to Bondi Beach – or Australia generally.

There is a key difference between integration and assimilation. The former is about adopting or not resisting the core values of a country. The latter implies to me abandoning your previous culture entirely.

Blair said that the July 2005 suicide bombings in London, carried out by British Muslims, had thrown the concept of a multicultural Britain into “sharp relief”. While multiculturalism should be celebrated, it had to be accompanied by a duty to share “essential values – belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all, respect for this country and its shared heritage”. “Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain Britain,” Blair said.

“So conform to it, or don’t come here. We don’t want the hate-mongers, whatever their race, religion or creed. The right to be different. The duty to integrate. That is what being British means.”

Tolerance is almost the most important aspect. And that includes tolerance of those who do not share your religious beliefs – and in fact even criticise them.

I was chatting at the rally yesterday to a Jewish friend (who gently scolded me for the joke I blogged a couple of days ago, before admitting it was very funny) and talked about Sarah Silverman. Silverman is a Jewish comedian, probably best known for her hilarious “I f**ked Matt Damon” video to her boyfriend. In her TV series she has offended almost all religions by not just having sex with God, but dumping him afterwards. A reporter asked her if she would ever play a part where she had sex with Mohammed. Her reply was no she would not, as she did not wish to be killed. A very sad reflection on the world we live in.

Anyone who wants to kill someone because they are disrespectful to your religion fails my tolerance test. In fact even wanting to change the law, so it is illegal to disrespect your religion, fails my tolerance test.

Where does that leave us? I’d like to think our version of the multicultural society is just as respectful of difference, and inclusive, without being overweeningly deferential.

What does being a New Zealander mean? We’re still working it out. But if a shared sense of identity and citizenship is a sign of multicultural health, then we can take heart.

NZ I think has managed the challenge pretty damn well. But this may have been by as much good luck as good management. I do think our system needs a “tolerance” test and also we need to make sure prospective immigrants are well informed on what are the “essential values” of New Zealanders, and that as aspiring NZers, they share them.

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