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Multiculturalism's answer to terrorism

  • 18 May 2012

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