Multiculturalism and it’s core concepts have had a fair share of bad press in recent months.
Yet as a resident of Northern Ireland spending the last three years in Cardiff as a student has been an eye-opening experience due to the variety of nationalities and cultures present in the city. In fact this is one of the very reasons why I have come to like it so much. In Northern Ireland the impact of a long-term non-integration and segregation between different communities, despite the overwhelming progress since the peace process was implemented, is very difficult to fully heal. We can see this in recent events like the unrest over the withdrawal of the British flag which temporarily heightened these omnipresent tensions and the existing threat from the Dissident IRA, however small. Looking at the historical context of this issue, Northern Ireland was created as a result of a political situation. This historical situation was created by both the policies and tactics of the British government and opposing Irish nationalist forces during the late 19th and early 20th century. Indeed today we see in Syria the consequences of outside forces on exacerbating sectarian violence in that country and the surrounding region.
On a recent volunteering project within Shelley Gardens and the immediate area, in Cardiff, I was given the chance to engage with members of a local community where a degree of tension seems to exist between older and newer, mainly Roma residents from Europe. This is linked to a redevelopment in the area which it appears existing residents were not consulted on. It is now the central part of the tension here due to how the new residents use and congregate around it.
What struck me from the research I was involved in during this experience and was interesting to find out is the range of countries these individuals come from. This included Iraq, Greece, Sudan and the Czech Republic. The written words of a child originally from Sudan which include “The president kill people” is quite affecting in its simplicity but quite horrific connotation’s. In this context it strikes me that we should surely be prouder of our nation that people consider this country as a safe heaven to escape the very real danger of their former lives.
How it is implemented within existing communities at a local level is therefore critical. Engaging with the residents of this area it seemed they talked in a more grounded sense than the policies of local or national government who, though perhaps understandably, find it difficult from their position above to realize the intricate inter-relational nature of the community on the ground. They explained to me that it in their view that a central problem lies with attempting to house too many people at once in already segregated areas where a slower and more considered integration of new members within the area would be more effective at establishing better inter-community relationships.
As a consequence of our multicultural policies and its related bureaucracy this may in fact limit the ability of multiculturalism to grow organically and a healthy rate. These views are supported by an Institute of Race Relations report by Jenny Browne which states “multiculturalism lost its anti-racist roots from the 1970’s and remit and became institutionalised. It ceased to be an outcome of the struggle for equality emanating from below,and became, instead, policy imposed from above. And as the anti-racist component ebbed, multiculturalism degenerated into a competitive culturalism or ethnicism which set different groups against one another”. The riots that exploded in the early 1980’s due to minorities demanding a more equal stake in British society at a time when many faced marginalization due to poverty and other factors resulted in this change in wider policy. Certainly this argument certainly seems to support the views I heard on the street.
Another member of the community, however, commented on the positive impact of these different cultures, remarking that it was like having the world on your doorstep. Yet in the form of a managed and organised diversity we are inadvertently compromising a positive opportunity for individuals like the Sudanese child I mentioned earlier while potentially encouraging distinct groups with the community. It is important that we respect the differing rights of various ethnicities but such a such respect mustn’t discourage communities from mixing.
An interesting case of a more apparent successful case of multiculturalism is that of Australia. In his book Don’t Go Back To Where You Came Dr Tim Soutphommasane explains this arguable progress has occurred because “Australia has had a nation-building approach to multiculturalism. What that means is that immigrants are expected to make a transition to become citizens over time, and that you can be Australian in more ways than one”
In contrast to many other countries a report by the country’s Migration concluded that Australia has also promoted permanent settlement and access to citizenship as a central plank of an integrative multiculturalism approach, therefore aiming to celebrate and value the benefits of cultural diversity for all Australians and encouraging shared responsibility. Within this there have been also elements including English language tuition, settlement services, and an explicit policy of equal access to government services
The Multicultural Development Association, included in the report, further states that in Australia “multiculturalism is a source of strength, opportunity and unity. It has never been about cementing divisions between people but rather galvanising the whole community to work together to promote the fundamental principles and values of our shared Australian society and our inclusive citizenship: respect for the rule of law, democracy, freedom, justice, unity, equality, opportunity, gender equity, the right to participate and tolerance”
Arguably what this and the broader evidence indicates is that we need in this country is a bit more trust on all sides within society.