There is no problem with multiculturalism as such, it has existed since ancient times even though the term arose only recently. It is a necessary, and unavoidable fact of life.
Monica del Pilar Uribe Marin
Although its effects are different depending on the climate of the times, whether of rejection or assimilation, still its power to enrich the host culture is undeniable.
The problem with multiculturalism arises when it ceases to be a social process and becomes a political weapon.
This is especially favoured by politicians and governments – and we are speaking particularly about the United Kingdom here – which has made multiculturalism a controversial subject of debate.
I mean controversial for those who think that the many languages, customs, and traditions of the city do not enrich it when they mix.
It is controversial because it has been subtly mixed up with the idea of immigration – at least according to David Cameron and other politicians.
Confusing them is useful for creating the belief that immigration is the cause of the economic crisis, or if not the cause then an obstacle in the way of solving it. But the best strategy is to blame immigrants for the problems that exist in society.
It has been proved historically that importing a cheap, well-trained, workforce, has allowed capitalist economies to maintain themselves and grow. And as statistics show, immigrants have not taken jobs away from native residents.
Immigrants did not cause the economic crisis, they spend most of their time trying to survive, in some cases after being forced to flee their homelands as refugees. Their main concern is sending money home to feed their families and saving for their own return.
A different way of attacking immigrants is blaming them for terrorism and urban violence.
And when these arguments do not work there is another, which is to accuse them of refusing to integrate, creating ghettos and ‘denigrating our British society’. That in the end they want us to change instead of them.
This anti-multicultural discourse is easy to build. And easier to be accepted and believed because on the one hand the economic crisis and the fear of terrorism are present in everybody’s minds.
And on the other hand because this society –mainly in London – despite having a multicultural tradition, also has strong veins of racism and intolerance for other cultures.
Even among those who don’t accept this intolerant discourse, or who feel at home in a city with many cultures and, cuisines, Caribbean rhythms, Salsa and Flamenco; very few people speak against the enemies of multiculturalism. This anti-multiculturalism is simply a xenophobic discourse hidden behind a nice mask of nationalism promoting neo-liberal policies.
The enemies of multiculturalism are not only right-wing conservatives or religious fundamentalists but those who keep quiet, who remain passively indifferent, even among immigrants themselves.
The media also contribute to the problem, Media who feel no responsibility to report honestly on a topic like immigration. Media which do not inform readers about the manipulations of politicians or simply echo their arguments.
Media that never point out that Capitalism is multicultural when it is a question of opening new markets extracting natural resources, building mega-projects and importing cheap labour. Media which don’t talk about how multiculturalism ceases to be convenient when it is about accepting and respecting other cultures, of opening doors to immigrants instead of stigmatizing and deporting them.
The Prisma believes in multiculturalism, in open borders for people and goods, we believe in diversity because it is something necessary.
Multiculturalism has not failed. There are things that need changing but multiculturalism as a social process has not failed.
It requires an effort in western culture to admit that its foundations are not the only ones that deserve respect. But people from other cultures also need to make the effort to understand that all cultures have their religions, their world-views and their histories.
Anti-immigrant propaganda – which is also anti-multiculturalist and racist – propagates thanks to the government and some sections of the media, who create false perceptions: that multiculturalism has failed, that it’s dangerous and that it causes violence.
What is needed is not just interaction, but dialogue. A dialogue in government, and between the communities that arrive and those that host them. And especially, because of fundamentalism, a dialogue between religious communities.
Human rights do not belong only to one culture, but to all, and they must be defended and promoted in all, even though their laws are different.
In a country which accepts democracy, multiculturalism must be listened to. People themselves must participate and decide, but on the basis of correct information and understanding.
True multiculturalism inspires and enriches, it learns from others, fuses together and transforms. Each person must be free to celebrate their own culture, their religion, but from within the society they have arrived in, respecting that also and learning from it.
Maybe the problem is that we only tolerate diversity. But instead of tolerating, we must accept those from other cultures.
NOTE: (Debate on “Multiculturalism in the UK – Has it got a Future?” organized by The Prisma on May 9 2013 in the House Of Commons)