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Multiculturalism's answer to terrorism


The policy of multiculturalism is under severe strain in Western countries. The Rudd/Gillard Labor government has re-embraced the idea — but only in a lukewarm way — after John Howard and the previous Coalition government dropped the term from official documents and correspondence.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron went much further when, in the early months of 2011, they announced that multiculturalism had failed in their countries.

This was followed some months later, in July last year, by the bombing and shootings perpetrated by Anders Breivik in Norway that left 77 people dead, and hundreds more injured. Testimony in Breivik's trial, now under way in Oslo, has revealed the attacks were largely motivated by his abhorrence of multiculturalism in Norway.

The interviewee featured here is one of the leading proponents of Australian multiculturalism. Desmond Cahill sees the policy as an effective means of promoting community tolerance and harmony, and lessening the likelihood of terrorist acts like that of Breivik.

He spoke to Eureka Street TV at the National Social Cohesion Conference held at the University of Western Sydney at the end of last year where he delivered the keynote address entitled 'From 9/11 to Breivik: Responding nationally and internationally to the challenge of diversity and social cohesion'.

He argues for multiculturalism, but says it is poorly understood in the community, and there needs to be much more education about it. And he contends it needs to be tempered by a global view, and, for Australia, much more of a realisation of our place in Asia.

After theological studies to the Masters level at the Urban University in Rome, Desmond Cahill returned to Australia where he studied psychology and education at the University of Melbourne and Monash University. His doctorate was a study of family environment and the bilingual skills of Italo-Australian children.

He is now Professor of Intercultural Studies at RMIT University in Melbourne, and for more than 30 years has researched and taught in the fields of immigrant, cross-cultural and international studies. He has been an influential consultant to a number of government departments, carrying out policy and program evaluation in the areas of multicultural education and ethnic youth.

Since the tragic events of 9/11, Cahill has been a leading interfaith activist. He chairs the Australian chapter of Religions for Peace International, one of the world's largest interfaith organisations. In 2006 he spearheaded Melbourne's bid to host the Parliament of the World's Religions which took place there in December 2009.

In 2010 he was honoured in the Queen's Birthday list with the Order of Australia medal for 'services to intercultural education and to the interfaith movement'. He is a prolific writer having penned scores of research papers, articles, essays and book chapters dealing with religion, globalisation, migration and multiculturalism. 

Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant who worked for 23 years in the Religion and Ethics Unit of ABC TV. He has a Master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity. 

Topic tags: Peter Kirkwood, Des Cahill, Angela Merkel, David Cameron, Anders Breivik



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Existing comments

What I know is people have deliberately avoided discussing religion, particularly concerning terrorism. As you know some people are extremists for some reasons. They are influenced by extremist views and can be influential on others. If it's possible to block all information that promote extremist views, sacrificing the (bad) practice of freedom of information, then it's possible to practice multiculturalism that includes religion. Some people always become confrontational and emotional whenever they meet someone with different views they didn't expect, and worse if they have to lose in a debate. And it's the problem. They want to say their religion is right but others are wrong. Another problem is some people have to be politically right and cannot confront the real things directly.

AZURE | 18 May 2012  

Saying multiculturalism has failed in Germany and Britain is like say a marriage has failed. It is not the institution that fails, it is the people involved. This is not to say it is their fault. To succeed in difficult situations, preparation in needed. In world War II, in North Africa the Allies has many set-backs. General Montgomery achieved success by not committing his troops until they had been prepared for the tasks assigned to them. Australians need to be educated to understand the needs of the migrants and realise the benefits of assimilation. The migrants need to be prepared for the adaptions they need in order to fit into the new conditions they will face. The money and effort required will be worth it.

Robert Liddy | 18 May 2012  

Sadly, for anyone wanting to discuss the phenomenon, even the word "multiculturalism" engenders different reactions in different people. Are we talking about a tolerant and pluralistic society? One which accepts that people, ethnically and religiously, can be different, but still live in mutual harmony under an overarching tolerance? Is it, in our current Australian context, as much about Islam and Christianity coexisting peacefully together, as anything else? Is that "cultural" Islam and Christianity or "religious" Islam and Christianity? Who defines them? Do I as an "ethnic" and "religious" person (however defined) have to follow my perceived "leaders"? Do they, with the other "ethnic" and "religious" leaders ?) define "multiculturalism" and decide how I "inter culturally" relate? Will I be ostracised from "my" ethnic or religious community if I don't conform? Will I still be as much a member of Australian society if I do not define myself ethno-religiously? I think we have a long way to go. Many questions. No firm nor fixed answer. Our society is a melting pot. An experiment in progress. We all need to be involved in its continued evolution. Anders Breivik and the extremist Muslims in Europe are two sides to the one coin. We need to plan to avoid this sort of stark and dangerous polarisation happening. This is not a task just for politicians; ethnic or religious leaders or "experts" alone.

Edward F | 18 May 2012