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UCC Express - Multiculturalism

Recent events have ignited debates around the success, or lack thereof, of multiculturalism as it is currently constructed in Europe. What tends to happen when media debates take place around this question, is that polarising and contrasting opinion form the ‘so called’ two bases of wider pubic opinion. This creates a huge problem for the open conversation that needs to take place around this issue, in that those who express concerns for the success of multiculturalism are greeted with anger, and branded racists and fascists, and those who express support for multiculturalism are pejoratively branded as lefty liberals; hardly constructive bases from which to attempt open, adult-led dialogue.

I must be honest, I have reservations about the success of multiculturalism in its current format. It’s not that I don’t want other races and cultures in Ireland, quite the opposite in fact. The sole reason for these reservations stem from the identification of the issues it has created for our near neighbours, just across the Irish Sea. One of the cornerstones upon which a truly successful, multicultural society must be based is well structured, well thought-out integration, integration that is promoted and embraced, integration that makes all cultures identify Ireland, England or their particular country of residence, as part of them, their full, or at the very least, part nationality. This is where multiculturalism has failed in contemporary western society, in my opinion. 

Creating societies where citizens identify more with their religion than their nationality is a recipe for disaster. It is only a matter of time, in my opinion, before this recipe starts producing extremely unpalatable societal issues; a look at some of the barbaric events that have taken place in Europe recently provide us with an appetiser of things to come, if we continue to ignore the need for change. An ideology where citizens of a given country value foreign lands and their own faith more than their country of birth and/or residence is a toxic one. It gives rise to a contingent of youth who not only lack patriotism for their nation of birth and/or residence, but actively hate it. The rise of Islamic State and the subsequent manipulation of young European Muslims to fight for their ‘cause’ proves just how lethal the situation has got. 

But whose fault is this? Do western societies not welcome immigrants and embrace other cultures enough? Do we push vast swathes of youth to the point of disenfranchisement with their own nationality because of a lack of acceptance, as they see it? Or, do minority cultures use their religions and cultural identities to isolate themselves and actively set themselves apart from the rest of the society? In my opinion, it is a mix of all these scenarios. Racism definitely exists in Ireland, but racism is not something that is solely used by the majority. 

But how do we counteract this? First of all, Irish society needs to accept that multiculturalism is here to stay. Humans will always follow opportunities and yearn for a better life for themselves. The Irish race have been experts at seeking opportunities in foreign lands for well over a century now, so it should come as no surprise that other cultures and races do the same. Secondly, we need to start educating all our children about the damaging effects of intolerance, and instil an open and accepting attitude in all our youth. As a society we must offer better support to minorities and immigrants so that they are assisted in integrating, however, this must be met with a reciprocal desire on the part of the migrant or cultural minority to fully integrate also. Respect for culture is a two way street and with rights, come responsibilities. 

Of course, with the introduction of these new cultures comes new challenges. Open dialogue, untarnished by cheap stereotypes and dramatic tags has to be embraced, so all our citizens have a voice. There is no better example of the type of quagmire that these clashes of cultures can create than by looking to France, and it’s banning of the Burka. I must be honest, I have huge issues with the Burka. This is not because I dislike those who wear it, it’s because I think it’s an abhorrent garment with roots embedded in misogyny and fear of the ‘temptation’ of women. Yes it is a symbol of cultural identity, there's no getting away from that, however when you have to cover up your women’s faces to express your cultural identity, that’s a pretty damning indictment of that identity in my opinion, not to mention a slap in the face of feminism. 

Just two weeks ago, on International Women's Day, groups of Afghan men walked in protest through the streets of Afghanistan, dressed in the Burka, in order to highlight just how repressive a garment it actually is; a reminder of Taliban occupation, they said. Yet in Ireland, and the west at large, we refuse to acknowledge the repression that is so clear to those in the Middle East, all because of an over-willingness to accept any type of cultural garment or 'norm' in a bid to be politically correct, and not to offend. Well I am sorry, but I do not want to be part of a society that contributes to ‘the concealment of women’ because of fear of being branded culturally insensitive. But apart from my personal and moral issues with it, I think France was right to ban it for very practical reasons and here’s why…. 

Yes, all citizens should have the right to express themselves through dress, whether religious or not. I have no right to dictate to anyone else what they can and can’t wear, however, all citizens have a responsibility, from a security perspective, that that dress doesn't impinge the right’s of other citizens. I must remove my motorcycle helmet when entering any place of business. I respect this as I understand the logic behind it. Are we now to exempt cultural minorities dress code from this very understandable security measure? Does their right take precedent over their responsibility? Equality is a two way street, and so while respect for people’s cultural identity is not optional, the prerequisite should be that this freedom of cultural and religious expression does not impinge on the rights and safety of others. The Burka is a garment which belongs behind closed doors and in centuries gone by, and not in a culture which values women and sees them as equal citizens, or at very least aspires to. 

There’s no getting away from the complexity of the challenge that faces us. Multiculturalism can enrich all our lives and provide us with the beauty of diversity, however, this diversity and enrichment is not a natural byproduct of liberalised immigration and widespread acceptance of every single cultural norm, so it needs to stop being construed as such. Recent events in other western societies should show us that at the very least Irish society needs to have an honest and frank discussion about the increase in ethnic and cultural diversity, and how best to ensure all our citizens are respected, catered and resourced for. Multiculturalism is here to stay, let’s not ignore the need for well thought-out integration, and sleepwalk into a societal crisis.


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