Tag Archives: Multiculturalism

To Laugh Or Not To Laugh At Cultural Stereotypes?

Stereotypes also signal the presence of different ethnicities around us and in a sense play a part in preserving aspects of ethnic cultures.




[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he media coverage of the San Francisco Asiana airline crash earlier this year put the spotlight once again on the proliferation of cultural stereotypes in society today. One announcer on a US television station read out racist sounding, fake pilot names of the Korean-owned flight on-air. The headline “Fright 214” accompanied a US newspaper story covering the tragedy, a headline dubbed as mocking the common Asian accent. Some chimed in on social media with racially-tinged jokes to lighten the incident, but others have said all these sentiments were inappropriate as the tragedy involved fatalities. This begs the question: should we keep laughing at cultural stereotypes?

Psychological factors explain why we laugh at stereotypes. When we laugh at cultural stereotypes, it means we are entertained by the traits of certain groups. It also usually means we do not find certain stereotypes offensive. There are also people who laugh at stereotypical representations of their own race. Do we actually learn anything from laughing at stereotypes?

Perhaps we can answer this question by asking ourselves what we often interpret from noticing stereotypical portrayals that tickle our funny bones. It is not surprising for some of us unfamiliar with Asian cultures to narrow-mindedly equate “Asianness” with “Chineseness”: a good number of stereotypical portrayals of Asians perpetuate the silly generalization that all Asians are Chinese. As mentioned, US media published fake Asiana pilot names including “Sum Ting Wong” and “Ho Lee Fuk” and the headline “Flight 214” – names that sound distinctly Chinese and a headline closely mimicking the way some Chinese sound when speaking English. Similarly, Maggi Australia’s crowd-sourced YouTube campaign promoting its Fusian “Asian” Noodles range features lots of kung fu. These repetitive Chinese-esque stereotypes arguably overshadow the presence of other Asian ethnicities around us. It does not help that Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan are still prominent, popular Asian icons and household names today.

More obviously, Asian stereotypes constantly impart the idea Asians do not speak English well. In reality, Asians in the West tend to speak the language quite fluently. In other words, “Asian” is often used as an umbrella term, an umbrella term callously implying all Asians speak with one accent and are “one race” when in fact there are various Asian groups speaking with different tonalities. The mention of Korea’s “(strict) hierarchical corporate culture” within the Asiana media coverage was unfortunately twisted to suggest this caused the tragedy. As such, to those unfamiliar with Asian customs, stereotypes give off the impression Asian values are undesirable in certain contexts.

On the flip-side, cultural stereotypes arguably do have their relevance. Studying how stereotypes are evidently part and parcel of everyday life can assist us in understanding the significance of customs and why some embrace longstanding cultural norms. For instance, some of us re-learn our mother tongue so as to reconnect with our ethnic roots, fulfilling the common perception Asians, Indians, etc. speak their own language. However, some Asian Australians choose to re-learn their mother tongue not to discover the significance of their Asian heritage, but purely to communicate with the older generation.

Stereotypes also signal the presence of different ethnicities around us and in a sense play a part in preserving aspects of ethnic cultures. Tired scenes of a Chinese person jumping around doing kung fu or speaking in broken English or fluent Mandarin tend to appeal to many (think the popular Rush Hour franchise). Kung fu and Mandarin have been salient parts of Chinese/Asian culture for the longest time and many often recognize this, drawn to looking intently at Asian culture when they see/hear kung fu/Chinese, and so encouraged to take an interest in other races, ultimately instigating the virtues of multiculturalism for just a moment.

So should we laugh or not laugh at cultural stereotypes? Not all of us are ignorant and do know that exaggerated stereotypes are simply generalizations. Maybe we should not laugh at stereotypes as there is bound to be someone who will get offended. But there is no law against laughing at stereotypes. So if we do laugh at stereotypes, maybe we should be mindful that not everyone might laugh along. Or maybe we should not laugh at all.


Photo Credit: El Mundo, Economía y Negocios

Sport, Diversity And Youth In Australia

In order to foster a local multicultural sporting environment, Australia needs to do more than just provide opportunities for young people of CALD backgrounds to participate in sport.




[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n Australia, multicultural sporting initiatives have provided opportunities for Australian and migrant youth from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds to participate in local sport. At grassroots level, Melbourne’s non-profit organisation Centre for Multicultural Youth’s boyspace project trains newly arrived males aged 12–25 from Afghanistan in playing soccer, and some of these budding soccer players have won medals in competitions around the state. The Australian Football League (AFL) has given its first Sudanese-born player regular opportunities to play in its professional league. Through the Multicultural Youth Sports Partnership Program, the Australian Government consistently provides grants to organisations to help youth from emerging CALD communities partake in sport.

But do such pretty pictures of aspiring young CALD athletes on-field imply Australia is fully committed to fostering a welcoming, inclusive sporting arena for them? Not exactly.

Incidents in Australia where youths racially vilified athletes on-field point to the idea that not enough is being done to educate this demographic about appropriate moral conduct as a sport player or spectator. In May 2013, a 13-year-old girl racially abused Indigenous AFL player Adam Goodes as he played a pivotal role in one of his team’s games. In similar incidents this year, an under-15 Somalian footballer and 17-year-old Burundi-born soccer player reportedly had racist taunts hurled at them by fellow players while playing in the junior AFL league and grassroots soccer State League game respectively. Such naïve youths in Australia are rather ignorant of respectful codes of conduct for sport. If there actually are programs educating youths on acceptable spectator and player behaviour within school curriculum, they are not wholly getting through to youths.

It is interesting to note that there is a lack of diverse faces representing Australian sport on the international stage at a time when there are increasing opportunities for CALD Australian youths to participate in sport. Often on the media front, Anglo-Centric faces are the faces seen representing Australia at worldwide sporting events.

For example, press photos unveiling Australia’s 2012 London Olympics uniforms featured mainly Caucasian Australian athletes wearing the green-and-gold attire. Anglo-Saxon Australian players frequently dominate Australia’s World Cup and international cricket teams too. In other words, ever since Indigenous Australian Cathy Freeman’s time in the media spotlight as the nation’s coveted Olympic gold medalist sprinter, there are rarely, if almost none, African, Asian, Middle-Eastern, minority faces portrayed in the public eye promoting Australia sporting teams on the global stage. There are in fact multicultural young athletes competing at this level in recent years – Australia’s 2012 London Olympics badminton and table tennis teams boasted under-25 athletes of Asian descent representing the country.

Prominent multicultural athletes have the capacity to serve as role models for aspiring young CALD Australian athletes, encouraging the latter to excel in sport. Moreover, global sporting events are undoubtedly extremely popular and watched by millions of Australians, Australian youth from all backgrounds nonetheless and so it would not hurt to have diverse faces representing Australian sport.

In order to foster a local multicultural sporting environment, Australia needs to do more than just provide opportunities for young people of CALD backgrounds to participate in sport. Emotions run high during sport matches whether we are players or spectators and this is a good reason why naïve youth can get caught up playing/watching sport, exemplifying unnecessary racialised rowdy behaviour on-and-off field.

Holding sporting competitions involving players and spectators from different cultural groups within school curriculum programs could diminish discriminatory attitudes among CALD youth – Australian youth in general – within Australian sport. Classes explaining player and spectator etiquette could help too. As for increasing the representation of CALD young athletes in the public eye, it really is up to Australian media – and sport team selectors – to recognise that these athletes make valuable contributions to the local sporting sphere and in turn share their sporting achievements and stories. Ultimately, sport has the capacity to enhance a cohesive multicultural Australian society. This will inevitably hold true if we all hold utmost respect for and enthusiastically cheer on each and every athlete regardless of their race.


Photo Credit: Sport Without Borders

Engaging Australians With Asian Languages: Tweaking the Curriculum

The presence of Asian language programs Down Under in the future looks promising and by tweaking the local Asian languages curriculum, Australians may very well be motivated to learn Asian languages and speak Asian languages outside the classroom, solidifying bilingualism in Australia.




[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n today’s Asian Century, the ability to speak an Asian language is an advantage for Australians. Asia is increasingly becoming a vital economic, social and cultural partner in the Asia-Pacific region and with such a skill, communicating with neighbouring Asian countries becomes easier.

Australia already has initiatives in place to motivate locals to pick up Asian languages. Over the last few years, The Asia Education Foundation’s (AEF) BRIDGE project established partnerships with schools in China and Indonesia, putting forward opportunities for local students and teachers to engage with their peers who are native Asian language speakers. Between 2008 and 2012, the Australian Government’s National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program provided over $60 million in funding to increase the number of qualified Asian language teachers in Australian classrooms.

But this is arguably not enough. The number of Australians studying Asian languages is declining. Students enrolled in Indonesian language studies dropped 37 percent nationally from 2001 to 2010. Today, fewer high school students who do not speak Chinese at home are learning the language than four years ago.

According to the AEF, “there is no one single solution to building demand for Asian languages”. Rather, tailored and more innovative approaches could encourage Asian language study in Australia.

Providing Australian students with additional tools outside the classroom to acquaint themselves with Asian languages could be the way to go. Instead of utilizing the National Broadband Network to engage Australian classrooms with schools in Asia to support Asian language promotion, schools can offer accredited, personalised language learning e-resources. Given access to such online educational materials at home, students could potentially find it easier to grasp tricky Asian “alphabet” and writing systems at their own leisure outside limited class hours.

There are abundant opportunities for local Asian language students to travel abroad and interact with native Asian language speakers, adding an element of adventure towards studying these languages.

However, there needs to be fun, interactive Asian language curriculum in Australian classrooms to spur local students to study Asian languages. It is good to see Caufield Primary School leading the way – students perform classic stories such as The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan in Japanese alongside two hours of Japanese classes each week. This will undoubtedly assist students in gaining confidence pronouncing the complex tones of Asian languages down pat.

Also, such spontaneous language learning classes will serve to make Asian language study consistently appealing and enjoyable for those who do not get opportunities to go abroad.

Given the recent spate of racial attacks towards Asians in Australia, perhaps some Australians hold racial sentiments and prejudices towards this minority group living here. Perhaps this is why some Australians are not interested in studying Asian languages.

Asian customs starkly differ from Western ideals. Clearing up stereotypical misconceptions about Asians through education will not only encourage both Australian students and teachers to see Asian culture as part and parcel of today’s globalised era but also potentially pique their interests in studying or teaching Asian languages as well.

After all, Asian culture is strongly entwined with languages. According to Professor Zong-Qi Cai at the University of Illinois, many Chinese idioms and the beauty of Chinese language are tied with pre-modern tradition.

As part of the AEF’s BRIDGE project in 2012, Australian teachers spent time in China, interacting with language teachers here and learning first-hand about Chinese history and culture. This is definitely a start to engaging Australian teachers with Asian languages. Incorporating on-going Asian cultural activities that provide insight into Asian customs and developments in Asian countries within local language curriculum can offer intriguing cultural dimensions to Asian language study and instill self-assurance in both teachers and students to interact respectfully with their peers in Asia.

Recently in May, the Australian Government pledged $84.6 million towards enhancing students’ access to studying Asian languages. The presence of Asian language programs Down Under in the future looks promising and by tweaking the local Asian languages curriculum, Australians may very well be motivated to learn Asian languages and speak Asian languages outside the classroom, solidifying bilingualism in Australia.


Photo Credit: Central Reference

Religion, Society and the Woolwich Murder

The continued belief in religion is a symbol of the failure of multiculturalism; immigrants, and their subsequent families, are feeling like outsiders in the country they have chosen to call home and subsequently turn to things they know to be familiar in their own culture.




[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n Wednesday 22nd May, the brutal murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich shocked Britain. To state the obvious, the murder was unjustifiable and downright sickening. Nobody would make any attempt to contend that point, and nor would anyone, of sane mind, begin to attempt to justify the actions of the killers. Undoubtedly, the death of anyone is a humbling event and the tragedy in loss of life cannot be questioned. Yet, over the course of just 24 hours I’ve heard a host of opinions on the matter – none of which, in my eyes, come even close to exactly what the worst thing about this whole thing is.

I don’t have any plans to entertain the opinion of racists, or those who stereotype and discriminate in the most uneducated way. For the most part, I think Britain is in agreement that the killers do not represent any faction of Islam – the notable exception being the so-called English Defence League (whose overwhelming membership can be summed up by a delightful video). An opinion that I have found to be extremely common is one that emphasises the harmful role of religion. In this respect, I fully agree; religion has unparalleled power in the lives of ‘believers’. It must be stressed that this is the case in all religions: Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and indeed Islam. By virtue of the sheer profundity of their beliefs religious followers have the capacity to be further indoctrinated – and so extremism is born.

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. (Karl Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Introduction, p. 1, 1843)

If you had to make a list of quotes that had been overused, misquoted, and taken well out of context, Karl Marx’s reference to religion would be high up there. Few understand that Marx’s critique of religion is not actually that – it is a critique of society. People are quick, and perhaps with reasonable justification, to criticise the role played by religion for a variety of reasons: a) religious extremism fuels the majority of terrorism, b) religion advocates a number of prejudices and outdated laws, and c) religion highlights the incompatible blend of cultures. Religion does all these things, but what if religion is the symptom rather than the disease?

Why is it that, in a country as educated as Britain, that people choose to ignore scientific evidence and subject themselves to the subordination of a deity or scriptures? In the less economically developed world religion acts as an outlet of hope, born out of intrinsic necessity in such insufferable conditions. Thus, the only discernible conclusion to make is that the fulfilment gained from social bonds and interactions is inadequate; people turn to religion as a result of a broken society. In all respects it is true that the madmen who acted so horrifically in Woolwich were not acting out on the behest of social shortcomings, but their initial turn to religion was probably because of this.

The continued belief in religion is a symbol of the failure of multiculturalism; immigrants, and their subsequent families, are feeling like outsiders in the country they have chosen to call home and subsequently turn to things they know to be familiar in their own culture. It is a damning indictment of British society and social policy, that religion takes precedence over a British national identity. Never has it been more evident, than from the thick British accent of a terrorist, that certain communities are becoming isolated and alienated from the rest of British society. Obviously, this is not a justification for terrorism – I can only place that as a consequence of immoral, unscrupulous thinking, if not outright insanity. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for people believing in what they want to believe, it just shouldn’t come at the expense of national pride – British togetherness. It is a sad fact that, because of our broken society, notions of national belonging and identity play second fiddle to religious beliefs.

Religion did not cause the events of Woolwich. However, if religion had not existed – if the killers had been secular, it would have been hard to imagine the barbaric murder of a soldier taking place, as it happened.


Photo Credit: Mig_R

The Troubling Lack of Asian Faces in Australian Media (Part 2)

Part two of a two part series examining the lack of diversity in Australian media. Part one can be found here.


Australia Nationalism Flag Multiculturalism


It wouldn’t be fair to state that there are no recurring, positive portrayals of Asians in Australian mainstream media today. Reality cooking competition television program Masterchef Australia often features a diverse cast (albeit most of them are of Anglo-Saxon descent), incorporating contestants of Asian background in many of its seasons. Chinese-Australian Poh Ling Yeow appeared in almost all episodes of the first season and finished runner-up. She was also extremely outspoken about her hybrid methods of Asian cooking on the program, defying the stereotype that individuals of Asian descent are timid and submissive. Similarly, Adam Liaw was a prominent Chinese-Australian contestant on the program and won the second season.

Half-Japanese Australian Yumi Stynes is one of the very few of Asian background who has emphatically made their mark across several Australian mainstream media outlets. Stynes has notably been a VJ for Channel V Australia, co-hosted a national breakfast television program and presented a number of national radio shows. Hence, there are definitely Asian media personalities amidst the sea of Caucasian faces in Australian mainstream media.

However, the sheer presence of Asians in Australian media does not necessarily encourage Anglo-Saxon and non-Asian audiences to understand and appreciate Asian cultures and values so as to learn to get along with them. As per Masterchef Australia and the McDonalds Australia Day campaign, many Asians are often depicted briefly and cast alongside a large number of Caucasians on Australian television programs, radio shows or advertisements. In a sense, this perpetuates the notion that Australia is a “diverse white nation with white ideologies”. That is, the representation of Asians in the media is strategically constructed and seemingly functions as a deliberate means to briefly, just briefly, showcase Australia’s multicultural side.

The importance of Asian faces in Australian media

The representation of intimate, individual Asian-Australian perspectives that are every part of Australian society is considerably lacking in the media. “Asian” is a broad term. An “Asian person” can be someone who is of Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, Hmong etc. descent. Each “Asian ethnicity” is different and this is something that Australian mainstream media does not seem to recognise enough.

It is important to have Asian faces in Australian media for a number of reasons. Firstly, the presence of confident, eloquent Asian-Australian personalities or characters in the media can function as role models for many young Asian-Australians growing up in Australia – this group will then have individuals of their own race to look up to and attain the sense that Asians rightfully belong in Australian society. Secondly, it allows Asian perspectives and voices to be articulated to the wider public, stimulating in-depth discussion about multiculturalism and encouraging one another to understand different cultures within Australia. Also, Asian faces in the media will indeed provide a clearer and more accurate depiction of Australia as a diverse nation.

The Conversation has mentioned that the process of overcoming the lack of diversity and equality in terms of representation in Australian media needs to be “driven by both broadcaster and artist/producer”. That is, both broadcasters and the Asian community – or any ethnic group for that matter – need to actively take the initiative and perhaps collaborate together to enhance diversity within the media. However, respect for one another and all parties regardless of race naturally needs to be fostered first before anyone can work together.

But given that there are ostensibly racist sentiments towards Asians in Australia, when this will happen along with more Asian faces in the media here remains to be seen.


The Troubling Lack of Asian Faces in Australian Media

Part one of a two part series examining the lack of diversity in Australian media.


Australia Nationalism Flag Multiculturalism


Recently, McDonalds Australia released a series of television ads as part of its Australia Day campaign. Two of these ads are near identical with almost the same narration and cast. One of them features an Asian guy while the other does not and this has subtly put the spotlight once again on the lack of Asian faces in Australian media.

It does seem odd that McDonalds Australia has taken the trouble to produce two television ads that are similar in every aspect except for a few seconds near the beginning and end in celebration of Australia Day. One of the ads features an Asian guy called “Stevo” eating McDonalds and his Asian parents for roughly five seconds. The other advertisement is entirely the same, except in place of “Stevo”, two Caucasians called “Gordo ‘n’ Sonny” are shown instead. This has led to an article that suggests poor “Stevo” was not deemed “Aussie” enough for the television ad(s) that attempts to showcase the quintessential Australian(s). Or perhaps he was not “Aussie” enough to appeal to a certain (Anglo) audience one of the ads was supposedly targeting.

At the very least, such an incident subliminally reminds us once again of the fact that there are few Asian-Australians in Australia media today. Judging from the two almost identical McDonalds ads where in one of them Asian “Stevo” was featured ever so briefly, it gives rise to the inkling that it is rather troublesome to place an Asian face or voice within Australian mainstream media. Where do they fit?

In line with the phenomenon of the lack of Asian faces in Australian media, independent news analysis website The Conversation points out that although the White Australian Policy ended in 1975 and there was the establishment of the Australian Film, Television and Radio School in 1973 and SBS in 1978/9 with governmental mandate of providing voice to a growing multicultural society, Asian-Australian “stories and faces stay on SBS”. In addition, studies have proposed that Asians are often discriminated in local mainstream media, especially within media coverage of Asian immigration and “boat people”.

No doubt it is perplexing that Asian faces and voices are uncommon on Australian television and commercial radio. The 2011 Census reveals roughly 2.4 million or 12% of the population comprise Australians of Asian heritage, which is more than a tenth of the nation’s residents. As such, Australians of Asian descent constitute a considerable proportion of the population and so it would only be fitting to see and hear regular Asian personas and opinions in the media, showcasing the true diversity of Australia.

Reasons behind the lack of Asians in Australian media

One can speculate the reasons behind the lack of and more often than not negative representations of Asians in Australian mainstream media. Racism towards Asians Down Under is seemingly one of them.

In 2011, an Energy Watch ad was pulled from television screens for racially and negatively stereotyping Indians as “doorknockers”. The ad shows an Indian salesman with a strong Indian accent convincing a Caucasian Australian couple to switch to his electricity company, offering them a lucrative discount on their bills. A blonde Caucasian “heroine” then steps in to warn the couple that they should shop around first before making a decision and blows a whistle in the Indian man’s face.

The fact that this Energy Watch ad, embedded with racist ideals, was callously approved and initially given the green light to be broadcasted to the Australian public by media authorities is no doubt demeaning towards Indians. Such a decision gives rise to the idea that xenophobic behaviour towards Asians, in particular Indians, exists among some Australians. In addition, this incident occurred in a decade today where many local jobs are increasingly outsourced overseas to developing Asian countries such as India and China. Cheap, shoddy labour is commonly associated with mass manufacturing in developing regions, so perhaps this sentiment stimulated the creation of such an ad depicting an Indian person offering “dodgy” deals/services.

In 2011, the inclusion of an Indian family in long-running drama Neighbours which is known to have a predominantly white cast sparked racist comments from some viewers on the program’s official website. Some said it was “un-Australian” to include this Asian family regularly in the program. As such, xenophobic attitudes towards Asian groups are evident within the community and some do prefer to see and hear Anglo-Saxon faces and voices in the media. Thus, there is the likelihood that Australian mainstream media constantly favours featuring Anglo Saxons over minority groups in order to appease the “white media palate” of the majority of the population (media audiences) who are Caucasian.


What Noughties Labour Left Behind

Ed Miliband sometimes sounds like he’s running against Tony Blair for the leadership rather than against David Cameron for the premiership; Miliband’s speeches should emphasise the persistent values at the heart of his party and the principles on which it was founded.


gordon brown


One of the key defences used by both Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg is that obstacles such as the deficit have been left behind by the Labour Party and must be ‘cleaned up’ by the Government. Cameron used his first House of Commons speech as Prime Minister to emphasise this argument, and it has remained a frequent response to criticism from the opposition during Prime Minister’s Questions. However repetitive this argument might be, the coalition’s desire to emphasise the inherited failings of its predecessor is politically understandable. What is more curious is Labour leader Ed Miliband’s apparent enthusiasm for doing the same thing.

Upon assuming the role, a new party leader might be expected to give a speech or two in which, by criticising old policies or established members of the party, they attempt to create a sense of renewal and innovation. But Miliband has repeatedly introduced Labour’s record – and, in his view, its failings – into the discourse on numerous issues over the course of his leadership. There have been frequent admissions by the Labour leader regarding the mistakes he believes were made by his party’s government. According to Miliband, Labour was wrong on issues such as the economy, immigration and Iraq. Leaving aside what one may thinking about Labour’s previous approaches to these and any other issues, it seems reasonable to wonder why Miliband is so keen, insistent even, on reminding everybody about his party’s failures, real or perceived.

It has been suggested that Miliband’s recent remarks to the Fabian Society, which took a similarly apologetic approach, are part of an ‘attempt to distance himself from elements of the last government’s record considered toxic by many strategists.’ While it is important for Miliband to be honest and self-critical about his party’s shortcomings, there is something self-defeating about his constant referral back to New Labour’s record if his aim is to disassociate himself from it. These kinds of apologies can be useful in the first year or so of opposition as a way to rebrand, but after three years out of power, Labour needs to focus on establishing its new approach and produced a clear pitch to the electorate about its policies. Labour’s Policy Review should eventually shed more light on the tangible elements of the party’s approach, but Miliband should nevertheless emphasise the future rather than dwell on the past in the meantime.

Of course, Labour has already made policy suggestions on various issues, but these often focus on ‘learning lessons’ and accepting hard truths about Labour’s past efforts. For example, on immigration, Miliband told the Fabian Society that during the premierships of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown ‘high levels of migration were having huge effects on the lives of people in Britain – and too often those in power seemed not to accept this. The fact that they didn’t explains partly why people turned against us in the last general election.’ And on the economy: ‘One Nation Labour has learnt the lessons of the financial crisis. It begins from the truth that New Labour did not do enough to bring about structural change in our economy to make it work for the many, not just the few. It did not do enough to change the rules of the game that were holding our economy back.’ In these remarks, Miliband is trying to demonstrate the heightened self-awareness and self-improvement of ‘One Nation Labour’ in contrast to the old and often mistaken ‘New Labour’. Yet this ploy, along with the attempt to play down Labour’s record by giving it extra attention in speeches, treats the electorate with little respect. Voters remember New Labour, favourably or not, and they will not be convinced that there are no similarities at all between the brands ‘New’ and ‘One Nation’ any more than they will forget the successes and limitations of Blair and Brown.

Perhaps most disappointing, however, is that Miliband and his strategists seem to have assumed that the argument over New Labour’s record was lost along with the 2010 election. Indeed, Miliband’s tone contains none of the positivity exhibited by his predecessor in the last days of the 2010 campaign, during which antipathy towards the party was exceedingly high. Despite Labour’s damaged image at the end of thirteen years in power, Gordon Brown retained a sense of pride in his party’s accomplishments in this speech, without any of the obligatory qualifiers and ‘howevers’ that seem to accompany the current leader’s reminiscing monologues. Both the content and the delivery of Brown’s speech demonstrate that celebrating New Labour’s record is politically credible and potentially convincing. Even if Miliband feels morally or politically obliged to remind everybody of how poor he believes Labour’s performance has been in the past, he should also feel more confident about celebrating such political events as the minimum wage, the renovation of thousands of schools or the cancellation of developing world debt.

Ed Miliband sometimes sounds like he’s running against Tony Blair for the leadership rather than against David Cameron for the premiership. To correct this, Miliband’s speeches should emphasise the persistent values at the heart of his party and the principles on which it was founded. Crucially, he should not be afraid ask David Cameron what the coalition is doing to maintain and build on the progress in healthcare and education left behind by the Labour government.


Photo credit: Policy Network

The Peculiar Influence Of The Church of England

Given the influence of the Church of England and the claims it makes on issues such as the law and equal marriage, its new Archbishop has a responsibility to provide a transparent account of his views so that they can be properly scrutinised.


Big Ben and Westminster Abbey


While it is often said that the United States is politically and socially religious to a considerable extent, it is worth remembering that it is constitutionally secular. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment protects the right of every religious group to practice their faith privately, while ensuring that no one group receives advantageous treatment over others via funding or expressions of support from the state. It has also allowed for the establishment of non-religious executive, legislative and judicial branches of the US government, each free from the prejudices inherent in theocratic systems. This luxury, however, is not afforded to British citizens, who are instead expected to accept that the clergy of the Church of England, the dominant sect, will sit in the legislative house adjacent to that of the country’s elected representatives. Moreover, the monarch rather than the Prime Minister is the ultimate head of state and of the state religion, and while this intimate relationship between our democratic and royal institutions is often viewed as little more than a benign tradition, it remains a potential risk to political representation and social equality.

One of the by-products of this fusion of church and state has been the prominence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose commentary on social and political issues is often given a generous amount of coverage in the media. Dr Rowan Williams, who is now stepping down from the post, has frequently commented on issues ranging from economic justice to western foreign policy. However, while Dr Williams is entitled to express his views on these and any other issues, his responsibilities as a political as well as a religious figure mean that his opinions deserve the same critical scrutiny afforded to other political leaders.

Dr Williams’ suggestion in 2008 that elements of Islamic law should be accommodated in the UK provides a useful example of why this scrutiny is so important. While ultimately inconsequential, these comments nonetheless reflect claims about the nature and development of the judicial system. They also reflects a need among advocates of church and state cooperation to accommodate numerous religious groups, in a similar sense to the proposed inclusion of multiple faith representatives in the House of Lords. On the surface, such suggestions may seem to appeal to representation and fairness, but in reality they reinforce the exclusion of minor faiths and unbelievers while empowering major religious traditions undeservedly. Avoiding this discrimination is one of the main advantages of the US political system, which, instead of trying to cater for numerous faiths, separates all religion equally from the state. Far from constituting oppression of religious freedom, this method succeeds in preventing it. Crucially, Dr Williams’ comments on Islamic law suggest that the Archbishop of Canterbury is not only a participant in political discourse but can also seek to influence and develop it in ways that other religious and non-religious individuals cannot.

This unique influence can also be seen in religious resistance to equal marriage. On its website, the Church of England describes ‘the enduring place of the established church in providing marriages that have full state recognition,’ and has also claimed that marriage equality could threaten religious establishment in the UK. Moreover, Dr Williams’ replacement Justin Welby has maintained his opposition to equal marriage while simultaneously offering a vague commitment to re-examining his views ‘prayerfully and carefully’. In light of this, it is clear that while religion in the UK may resemble a ceremonial oddity, the views of leading figures on the validity of marriage could have a direct impact on the civil rights of individuals in society. These individuals, as well as advocates of an equal and fair legal system, deserve better than ambiguous spiritual statements of reflection and prayer from the leadership of the Church.

The political prominence of this leadership is indicative of a constitutional framework that places one religious doctrine above all others and insists on fusing it with the operations of the state. This structure is more than a mere historical peculiarity, and exists in opposition to the ideals of a modern and inclusive democracy. Given the potentially tangible influence of the Church of England, and the bold claims it makes on issues such as the law and equal marriage, Justin Welby has a responsibility, not only to religious believers but to every citizen, to provide a clear and transparent account of his views so that they may be properly scrutinised.


Photo Credit: Better Than Bacon

Racism In Australian Media

Journalists in Australia need to report news in a fair and objective manner since their behaviours and beliefs influence public opinion. Media inciting violence and inaccurate portrayals of certain groups encourages xenophobic behaviours and reinforces stereotypes that are already established leading to intercommunal conflict.



Living in a multicultural society, the media plays a pivotal role in race relations and helps shape the way we view different cultures. Although we celebrate diversity, migrant communities and asylum seekers still fall victim to vicious racial vilification and discrimination in mainstream media.

Cronulla Riots and Radio 2GB

The notorious 2005 Cronulla Riots in Sydney is one of Australia’s worst ethnic tensions and this incident was an example of the media taking part in inciting violence. On December 4, two Cronulla beach life savers were attacked by a group of Lebanese men. In response, locals circulated text messages to organise a mass gathering on Cronulla Beach to reclaim their beaches and to fight for Australian pride. Around 5000 Australians, most of them of Anglo and Celtic descent, arrived. The crowd turned into a violent mob, riots occurred a week after the attacks and people of Middle-Eastern descent (or ‘Middle-Eastern’ appearance) were targeted.

Between 5-9 December, one week before the riots, Sydney Talkback Radio 2GB host Alan Jones took part in slurring people of Middle-Eastern descent. While presenting his Breakfast with Alan Jones program, many callers rang Jones to vent their revulsion towards Middle-Easterners while Jones was encouraging them.  One caller said “Get these blokes a bit of rifle butt in the face and they’ll, they’ll back off, they’re cowards!” Jones then replied; “Well if it gets to that we might have to do that, you follow what I’m saying?”

Jones also said “What kind of grubs? Well, I’ll tell you what kind of grubs this lot were. This lot were Middle-Eastern grubs. And you’re not allowed to say it but I’m saying it…” For more information on more of Jones’ comments, please click here.

In 2007, ACMA (Australian Communications Media Authority) launched an investigation into Jones’ broadcasts and produced an Investigative Report that found Jones’ comments “likely to encourage violence or brutality and to vilify people of Lebanese and Middle-Eastern backgrounds on the basis of ethnicity”. Thus the station and Jones were guilty of breaching their industry’s Code of Practice in encouraging hostility towards people of Middle-Eastern background.

Andrew Bolt’s Article on “Fair Skinned Indigenous Australians”

Andrew Bolt is a well-known columnist for the Australian newspaper The Herald Sun and he is infamous for his obnoxious commentaries. In 2009, Bolt published an article claiming that “fair skinned Indigenous Australians” exploit their Indigenous heritage for their personal, professional and financial gain. He wrote ”white Aborigines” were ”people who, out of their multi-stranded but largely European genealogy, decide to identify with the thinnest of all those strands, and the one that’s contributed least to their looks”. Before this, Bolt had published similar references such as “it’s so hip to be black” and “white fellas in the black”. Bolt, Herald Sun and Herald Sun’s publisher, Weekly Times, were sued by nine high profiled Indigenous Australians who testified they were offended and hurt by the comments. Subsequently, The Herald Sun and Bolt were accused of breaching racial vilification laws and in 2011, Bolt was found guilty of breaching Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The Footy Show

Even entertainment television programs have had breached racial vilification laws before.  In 2009, Sam Newman the host of the popular AFL (Australian Football League) television program  The Footy Show  called a Malaysian man a “monkey” and “not long out of the forest”. ACMA launched an investigation and in 2010, Channel Nine was found guilty of breaching Section 1.8.6 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2004 and Channel Nine was put on a $200,000 bond.  Despite this penalty, Newman remained defiant, stating that he wouldn’t change.

Asylum Seekers Coverage

Asylum seekers are also victims of unprofessional journalism. In 2010, a boat carrying asylum seekers had sunk at Christmas Island and Radio 2GB hosted a quiz for callers to guess the number of deaths.  A caller guessed 12 and the presenter Chris Smith zestfully exclaimed “12 is spot on!” and he rewarded the caller a book, movie pass and a DVD.

Earlier this year, men’s magazine Zoo issued a search for ‘Australia’s Hottest Asylum-Seeker’. The advertisement read ‘Are you a refugee not even the Immigration Minister could refuse? Then we want to see you!’ and “We’re looking for Oz’s hottest asylum seeker, so if you’ve swapped persecution for sexiness, we want to shoot you (with a camera – relax!)”. This triggered a public outcry; an online petition was started and gathered a total of 6,807 signatures calling for Zoo Magazine to apologise. As a result, Zoo Magazine published an apology.

CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) groups are often vulnerable to racist and negative portrayals in the media because many of them lack the capacity and resource to fight in legal battles against large media outlets. Limited CALD people in mainstream media, whether as journalists, editors, media personalities or board members of large media outlets also contribute to lack of representation and opportunities for CALD members to have a stronger public voice in society.

Journalists such as Andrew Bolt, who had been taken to court with a defamation case before the litigation case with the “fair-skinned Indigenous Australia” blog post, is still able to work as a journalist.  Secondly, although Sam Newman was found guilty of breaching racial vilification laws, he remains unrepentant and still continues to host The Footy Show. Their ability to continue to work in media shows that media laws and authorities in Australia need to be revised and reconsider to ensure that the rights of minority communities are protected.

It is important that we have journalists and media personalities to report and present in a fair and objective manner. If media personalities and journalists have committed severe defamation against certain communities, media authorities should command more power to revoke their journalism licenses or working in the media.  Many people look up to them as role models, and their behaviours and beliefs influence many people.  The media’s portrayal of migrant and Indigenous communities plays a key role in influencing our understanding of different cultural, linguistic and religious groups. A media which incites violence and inaccurate portrayals of certain groups encourages xenophobic behaviours and reinforces stereotypes that are already established, which will cause more rifts between different communities. One article on a newspaper or a broadcast on radio and television can make a significant difference in the image of people.

As racism happens in Australian media, there are bigger questions we need to reflect. Is racism deep-rooted in our society? Do we really accept people who come from different cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds? And based on how asylum seekers are portrayed and degraded, is there an underlying fear of newcomers?


Photo Credit: Newton grafitti

Australia’s Multiculturalism: Integrated or Racist?

Multiculturalism in Australia has flourished over the years and brought many positive contributions to its society. But the road to achieving an appreciation of multiculturalism is still a challenge.


Australia Nationalism Flag Multiculturalism


According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 26 per cent of the Australian population was born overseas and 20 per cent of Australians have at least one parent born overseas (please note these statistics are based on the number of people who provided this information). We have 400 or more languages spoken at home and over 100 religions are practised by Australians (these statistics were supplied to me by the ABS).  The top ten countries of birth for the overseas born population are the United Kingdom, New Zealand, China (not including Hong Kong and Taiwan), India, Italy, Vietnam, Philippines, South Africa, Malaysia and Germany.


Early migrants originated mostly from England and Ireland and other European countries such as Germany. During the Gold Rush era in the 1850s, many migrants from around the world came seeking fortunes. The Chinese were among the first non-European migrants to arrive in Australia. Some Chinese migrants settled in Australia and formed societies, becoming a new community in Australia.  In 1901, the states of Australia voted to form the Federation of Australia. At that time, Australia was surging with nationalism, the Australian government aimed to preserve an Anglo-centric society and culture and thus the Federal Parliament passed the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 or known as the “White Australia Policy”. The act sought to “place certain restrictions on immigration and… for the removal… of prohibited immigrants”.  White Australia Policy officially ended in 1976 under the Goth Whitlam Government.

A large wave of migration surged after the Second World War when Europeans from countries such as Italy, Greece, Poland, Germany, Turkey, and the Netherlands migrated to Australia to start a new life. In 1949, many Chinese fled China when the Communist government took power.

Migratory shift turned to Asia in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Many Vietnamese left Vietnam after the war, while a large wave of Cambodians escaped Pol Pot’s murderous Khmer Rouge regime. When East Timor declared independence in 1975, Indonesian troops invaded East Timor and captured the capital city Dili. This prompted many East Timorese to flee. Migration from the Balkans rose during the Yugoslav Wars and Chinese migration surged again after the Tiananmen Square Incident and post 1997 when Hong Kong was transferred back to China. Other migrants came from The Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka.

Recently, Australia has been receiving a new wave of migrants from areas such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Burma and countries from the Horn of Africa. These are our new and emerging communities, most of them escaped from war, famine and persecution.

Multiculturalism Today

Multiculturalism has made many significant changes in Australian society.  It has contributed to the local and national economy by contributing heavily to the restaurant and tourism industries, involvement in politics and government, and by sharing their culture, traditions and food with the Australian population. Many members from multicultural communities participate in community work and take leadership roles, promoting multiculturalism and facilitating cross-cultural understanding between their community and the wider community. Moreover, Australia has many community and not-for-profit organisations dedicated to supporting migrant communities.

Multiculturalism is strongly encouraged in Australia.  Each year, Canberra hosts the National Multicultural Festival. A national day called Harmony Day  celebrates Australian diversity, and an annual activity called Refugee Week  celebrates and recognises the positive impact refugees have made to Australian society. The government has developed initiatives such as the Australian Multicultural Council to encourage multicultural community members to participate in government policy consultation.

Despite these initiatives, multiculturalism is not always welcomed. A recent report completed by the University of Western Sydney surveyed 12,512 people from around Australia and revealed that almost half of them have negative views towards Muslims. This negativity was also directed at Asians (23.8%), Indigenous Australians (27.9%), Africans (27%) and Jewish people (23.3%) (results from the article can be read here,  and details of the survey through here). Racial tensions have led to instances of violence, such as the attacks on Indian international students and the infamous 2005 Cronulla Riots. Approximately 5000 Australians, mostly of Anglo and Celtic background, gathered to fight for Australian pride and “reclaim their beaches” after two Middle Eastern youths assaulted a Cronulla life guard. People with a Middle-Eastern background or appearance were also targeted.

Multiculturalism has made Australian society more vibrant, unique and has enabled us to learn and appreciate different cultures, languages, and beliefs, while becoming friends with people from different backgrounds. However, we are still a long way from achieving social harmony because there are still cultural barriers and discrimination that exist between mainstream Australian society and multicultural communities. Misunderstanding and ignorance are still prevalent in our society because we do not attempt to learn and understand different cultures in an open-minded and objective manner.


Photo Credit: Johnny Jet

Multiculturalism In Modern Discourse

The theory of multiculturalism, societal multiculturalism and state multiculturalism: what is the difference?




The Multiculturalism of Theory

Multiculturalism is a concept that, much like terrorism, has consistently been rendered undefinable. Its underlying facets emerged from a speech by former Home Secretary Roy Jenkins in 1966, who described it as “equal opportunity, accompanied by cultural diversity, in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance”.[1] Unlike assimilation, where the existence of minority cultures is viewed as a barrier to a harmonious society, multiculturalism views cultural difference to be positive – it explicitly recognises and values cultural diversity – whilst maintaining the need for a dynamic, fluid national identity.[2] It argues for the recognition that different individuals and communities will have different requirements, and as such if integration policy is to be truly equal it must take account of these different needs. In short, equality must be “applied in a discriminating but not discriminatory manner”.[3]

As such we can understand multiculturalism, the theory, as a combination of three key constituents: a) two-way integration involving both groups and individuals; b) policies of equality being applied in a discriminating but not a discriminatory way, and; c) seeking to create a dynamic national identity.[4]

Societal Multiculturalism

One topic worthy of clarification is the assertion that multiculturalism has never been an official state policy;[5] the claim that multiculturalism is but “a simple description of the character of our society”.[6] The Parekh Report labels the transformation of Britain into a multicultural society as multicultural ‘drift’ – meaning multiculturalism ‘just happened’ as opposed to it being a “concerted decision”.[7] To be sure, the multicultural, multi-ethnic characteristics of modern Britain are the result of immigration and globalisation throughout the last century. It did, to an extent, ‘just happen’ (though it was never intended to catalyse a long-term multi-ethnic, multicultural society).[8] Using ‘multiculturalism’ as a descriptor of British society today, however, is a separate concept to both multiculturalism as a theory, and as a description of multicultural policies (‘state multiculturalism’). For example, take the variety of cuisine available in London – it would not be far off to suggest that you can source food from every part of the world. This would lend itself to describing the city as truly multicultural. In other words, it possesses elements of many cultures. This would not change even if the government were to introduce an assimilationist integration policy; even if multiculturalism were rejected as an integration policy, we could still describe much of the United Kingdom as multicultural.

State Multiculturalism

Consider the following passage from Amartya Sen’s Identity and Violence:

If a young girl in a conservative immigrant family wants to go out on a date with an English boy, that would certainly be a multicultural initiative. In contrast, the attempts by her guardians to stop her from doing this… is hardly a multicultural move, since it seeks to keep the cultures sequestered. And yet it is the parents’ prohibition, which contributes to plural multiculturalism, that seems to get most of the vocal and loud defence from alleged multiculturalists… as if the distinct cultures must somehow remain in secluded boxes.[9]

What Sen labels ‘plural multiculturalism’ can be likened to those British multicultural policies – ‘state multiculturalism’ – that are viewed by critics as consolidating cultural divisions and separate identities. The differentiation between ‘state multiculturalism’ and the theory of multiculturalism, however, is key. To make that distinction we must firstly recognise that the UK has implemented policies that follow the dogma of multiculturalism. For examples we can look to the increasing support of faith schools, or to the funding of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). But, secondly, we must also note the extent to which multiculturalism has been employed as an integration policy: it has not been implemented ‘properly’. We can take the example of the MCB again to demonstrate this. By choosing to place emphasis on the Muslim identity of British Muslims through an organisation which suffers from Lilliputian-like recognition by the Muslim community, the government failed to recognise the differing needs of the individuals within that group (may I refer the reader back to the definition of the theory for clarity on this matter). It sought to deal with all Muslims as one rather than acknowledging the different variants of Islam (Sunni, Shia etc.), or the different ethnicities encompassed in the British Muslim contingent, or the many other identities that British Muslims have.[10] Resultantly, whilst the funding of the MCB was something of a multicultural policy, it was not multicultural enough. Therefore it would be incorrect to assert that multiculturalism – the theory – has completely reared its head, and therefore we must make the distinction between the theory and the practice.

The debate over multiculturalism is very rarely an affront to a multi-ethnic society bringing together cultures from around the world. Its critics would argue it is over the inegalitarian nature of the theory and, in practice, its pointed partitioning of society. The point to be made is that there are multiple understandings of the word ‘multiculturalism’. It can be a description of society, it is the name of a theory, and it can be the name applied to policies used in furtherance of that theory, to whatever extent. Discourse should distinguish between these three interpretations of the word in order to avoid miscommunication.

[toggle title=”Citations & Bibliography”]

[1] Manning (2011)

[2] Mason (2000), p. 69; Modood (2011), p. 63

[3] CMEB (2000), p. ix

[4] Based on definitions provided by Modood (2011), p. 66 & CMEB(2000), p. ix

[5] Galloway (2012); Mahamdallie (2011), p.21

[6] Livingtone (2011), p. 29

[7] CMEB (2000), p. 14

[8] Leiken (2012), p. 97

[9] Sen (2006), p. 157

[10] A good parallel being Kissinger’s purported desire for a single phone number for Europe.


CMEB (2000), The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain: The Parekh Report (London: Profile Books)

Galloway, G. (2012), ‘The Dis-united Kingdom’, The Cafe, Al-Jazeera, [online] Available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/thecafe/2012/07/2012731151515992176.html

Leiken, S. (2012), Europe’s Angry Muslims: The Revolt of the Second Generation (New York: Oxford University Press)

Livingstone, K. (2011), ‘In praise of multicultural London’, in Mahamdallie, H., ed., Defending Multiculturalism: A Guide for the Movement (London: Bookmarks Publications), pp. 26-37

Mahamdallie, H. (2011), ‘Introduction: Defending Multiculturalism’, in Mahamdallie, H., ed., Defending Multiculturalism: A Guide for the Movement (London: Bookmarks Publications), pp. 15-25

Manning, A. (2011), The evidence shows that multiculturalism in the UK has succeeded in fostering a sense of belonging among minorities, but it has paid too little attention to how to sustain support among parts of the white population, [online] Available at: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/2011/04/14/multiculturalism-immigration-support-white-population/

Mason, D. (2000), Race and Ethnicity in Modern Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Modood, T. (2011), ‘Multiculturalism and integration: struggling with confusions’, in Mahamdallie, H., ed., Defending Multiculturalism: A Guide for the Movement (London: Bookmarks Publications), pp. 61-76

Sen, A. (2006), Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (London: Penguin)


Is Multiculturalism Dying?

Christian moderacy does not exist in Muslim communities, whose own moderacy is seen as extreme to their Christian neighbours. Europe is multicultural, but it is intolerant of extremes, and to the moderate Christian and atheist, Islam seems extreme.


christianity islam


This piece forms part of our series on multiculturalism.


“Multiculturalism is dead”. That was the position of the most powerful person in Europe, Angela Merkel, two years ago. It marked a major shift in policy, one which was swiftly echoed by the UK’s David Cameron, as the Multiculturalism of the centre-left governments of the noughties was being left by the wayside.

But why? What happened? What has been the legacy of multiculturalism’s heyday?

European tolerance is something which has blossomed since the Second World War in a backlash to the brutal colonialism and eugenics programs practiced across the continent. Western European legal systems have increasingly protected the rights of all, with minorities and individuals gaining increasing protection from persecution by the law. Tolerance is the great victory of the modern Europe, and continues to see strides from year to year. Don’t believe the conspiracy theorists pointing accusing theories at the New World Order swiftly taking control of your government, your minds and your freedom, your freedom has never been so secured.

Part of this has happened over the last two decades, the same time as the rise of multiculturalism as the dominant rhetoric in European liberal democracies. Toleration certainly did well for the movement, reaching its zenith in the absolute priority of showing tolerance to all cultures in every nation, the reduction of hatred and offence. Toleration was a victory which gave rights to the oppressed and launched a war on prejudice and discrimination.

But this tolerance should not be all-encompassing, and with good reason. Tolerance lead to the western regime which watched in denial as the Nazis rose in Germany. Tolerance let the Chinese march into Tibet. Tolerance was in the small whimpers of condemnation as the Tutsis were slaughtered in Rwanda, Saddam Hussein butchered the Kurds and as homosexuals are hung in Saudi Arabia.

Toleration should only go as far as to tolerate those who tolerate others. Not to those who cannot tolerate others themselves. The extreme left and right of Europe have been marginalised to the point of extinction for half a century, the recent economic crises only partially awakening the old beasts which perverted democracy so thoroughly in the early twentieth century. The BNP and National Front of France have never been allowed to grow out of control before being pushed back by the centre-right. The rise of the extremist parties of Greece was shut down by the all-or-nothing authority wielded by the EU holding bail-out cheques. Intolerance in politics has been put to the sword by western and northern Europe, and memories of the past are not about to let them rise once again.

But politics is not alone in being a realm where extremes are seen with suspicion and even intolerance by the centre and majority of northern and western Europe. Religion too has fallen here, as with all other ideologies. Europe is by far the most secular region in the world, states where religion is rarely promoted and even more rarely oppressed. The majority of European states are constitutionally secular and the rest have limited religion’s influence severely. This secularism is backed by the rise of the non-religious. Well over half of European citizens rate religion as “unimportant” to their lives (Gallup poll, 2007–2008). Indeed the death of religion’s influence, dating far back to the European enlightenment, has progressed so slowly but so absolutely that almost no one has noticed its passing. Christian fundamentalism and politics has been left to the US, so absolutely that many Christian-Right parties of Europe have been forced to re-brand.

It is this intolerance towards extremism in any ideology which has lead to an intolerance of Islam, not the last vestiges of the evils of Europe’s past. Europe is a continent where the thought of law dictated by Leviticus seems ridiculous to the point of insane and the concept of a state doctrine of creationism being taught over evolution is plainly incomprehensible. Despite the continued sway of the pope, Christianity has become the tea-and-biscuits of the Church of England, not the fire-and-brimstone of the Vatican.

Enter Islam and the Muslims who follow its creed. Their women wear head-scarves as their holy men dictate, their homelands hang homosexuals and stone women who are raped. Their members appear in the news not for their donations to the Red Crescent but for riots in Paris and Copenhagen and protests at the burials of soldiers returned from war. They set fire to buildings for the drawing of jovial cartoons and demand courts that can judge based on law by the Koran. Dozens die across Europe in honour killings by Muslim families who feel their honour has been tarnished.

For Muslims, many of these things are seen as a bad representation of their faith, and that is true, it only shows the most extreme fringes. But Muslims must think of the anger they felt at the Danish cartoons, at their outrage when France banned the Burka. How many Muslims believe that Sharia law is a vital part of their society, and has a place even in their communities within western countries? Do Christians of France cry in outrage at the banning of crosses worn by public officials, were there riots in response to “life of Brian”? Does the British “Christian Party” hold enough sway to even face mention in national papers?

To the European, these beliefs of so many Muslims are not moderate, they are shocking. It has been decades since any court ruled based on a biblical passage, a century since women began their march to be seen in every way the same as men. Cartoons are drawn on a daily basis poking fun at Jesus Christ and his father and even the most serious of Christian preachers have learned to chuckle.

Islam is, by nature, not any worse or better than Christianity. However in Europe, Muslims regard their faith with much more passion and seriousness than do their Christian counterparts, what of them are left. The battle for gay marriage may be the last one that the Christians of Europe will ever fight, as churches lay empty. By contrast Islamic Mosques are filled day by day by Muslims who hold every word of their holy books close to their chests. These Mosques, however infrequently, produce extremists and even suicide bombers.

Islam is not hated and rejected because of some forgotten legacy of European colonialism, one which the nations of Europe have long had to release as their slide from superpower status progressed, it is rejected because of a culture of tolerance in Europe which has grown hostile to intolerance. The extremes of ideology, the fundamentalism of the right and left wings of politics, or the literalism of Christianity or Islam, have become completely at odds to this culture.

There exists a disjoin between Muslims and the states they have entered in Europe. Christian moderacy does not exist in Muslim communities, whose own moderacy is seen as extreme to their Christian neighbours. Europe is multicultural, but it is intolerant of extremes, and to the moderate Christian and atheist, Islam seems extreme.

Security & Multicultural Integration In The UK: A Conflation Of Agendas

The UK’s approach to multiculturalism has contributed to homegrown Islamist terrorism in the UK. Do you agree?
{Department of War Studies, King’s College London}


Mohammed Siddique Khan


This essay forms part of our series on multiculturalism.


There is a terrorist threat in the United Kingdom (UK) that comes not just from foreign nationals, but also from its own citizens.[1]  In an attempt to understand and counter this threat there has been a conflation of the integration and counterterrorism agendas, this has resulted in multiculturalism being identified as the barrier to both.[2]  The assertion that multiculturalism has contributed to homegrown terrorism in the UK is incomplete and simplifies the complex process of radicalisation and how that might translate into violent action.  Multiculturalism may create an environment that is favorable to the development of risk factors associated with radicalisation, namely a crisis in identity leading to the adoption of extremist ideology; but this does not fully consider relevant social drivers.  Also, it cannot be empirically shown that holding radical views will necessarily lead to committing or supporting acts of terrorism.

Multiculturalism means that ethnic minority groups require unique treatment and support from the state in order to fully exercise their citizenship.[3]  In the case of the UK, the policies which shaped multiculturalism came out of the 1960s when there was a realisation that many immigrants who had initially come to Britain for work did not plan on returning to their countries of origin.[4]  These policies were further developed in the wake of the 1981 riots, focusing on the needs of specific ethnic groups and moving towards a more racially equitable society.[5]  In recent years there has been significant criticism of multiculturalism in the UK, some have argued that it has decreased cross cultural dialogue and that it has driven communities to live separate lives from one another.[6]  These recent criticisms have also taken the form of security concerns, as articulated by Prime Minister David Cameron, who has argued that a lack of national identity in the UK has opened the door to extremism for young Muslims.[7]

The revised Prevent Strategy, the UK’s community based approach to stopping extremism, is critical of multiculturalism, placing an emphasis on integration, democratic participation, and greater dialogue between communities as essential in fighting extremism.[8]  This assessment makes a significant assumption that the key to fighting terrorism is a strong, common identity.  There is evidence to suggest that an identity crisis can serve as a cognitive opening for individuals to embrace extremist ideology. Many young Muslims in Europe, who are second or third generation, may feel alienated from their parents traditional values but also do not feel welcome in Western societies because of perceived discrimination and socioeconomic disadvantage. [9]  The move towards extremism by young British Muslims is a rejection not only of perceived British or Western culture and values, but a rejection of previously held community values represented by their parents and traditional religious institutions.[10]  The concept of the ummah, or global Muslim community, promoted by Islamists, offers an alternative identity to both the world of their parents and Western society.[11]  The key point, missed by critics of multiculturalism, is that the global ummah is a foreign concept and external force to the communities comprised of ethnic minorities, which multiculturalism supports.  While there are mosques in the UK that have been connected with terrorism,[12] there are also examples of minority ethnic communities showing resilience against extremist views and violence, showing the capacity for self-policing.  The 7/7 bombers were expelled from mosques,[13] and reformed Islamist, Ed Husain, reflects on similar experiences when he was trying to propagate extremist views as a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, in the ethnically Bangladeshi, East London Mosque.[14]  Extreme elements that may exist within a mosque often times have little to do with the officially hierarchy, they are outside elements who are operating under the radar of mosque administration.[15]  It would seem then that the problem is not with the existence of distinct ethnic communities under multiculturalism, but with the capacity of leadership within those communities to confront extremist elements.

Linking multiculturalism to terrorism also looks to ideology as being an important factor contributing to moves towards violent extremism.  Critics of multiculturalism argue that even non-violent extremism can create an atmosphere that supports terrorism and can popularise ideas that terrorists use.[16]  However, to be radical is to reject the status quo of society; this does not always mean violence.[17]  It would be incorrect to think of the radicalisation process as a neat, linear progression from an identity crisis, leading to the adoption of extremist ideology, leading directly to participation in acts of terrorism. In fact, a major debate is whether groups that promote non-violent radical ideas are one stop on a conveyor belt towards terrorism or whether they serve as a firewall or safety-valve, preventing moves towards violence.[18]  Associating homegrown terrorism with multiculturalism misses this critical link, the connection between radicalisation and terrorism.  In comparing these two distinct groups, non-violent radicals and terrorist, there is evidence that both aspire to some of the same ideological points, the concept of kuffar (non-believers), the goals of a Caliphate and Sharia law, exposure to and promotion of similar texts and thinkers, and a belief that violent jihad can be justified.[19]  Ideological differences in these groups are related to context in which religious points are understood.[20]  Perceived discrimination, which could create a cognitive opening for extremist views to take hold,[21] could be a factor in a divided, multicultural society.  However, non-violent radicals and terrorists also experience the same levels of perceived discrimination.[22]  Even if multiculturalism creates an environment which supports the adoption of extremist ideology it still cannot be shown that ideology will necessarily translate into action.

A focus simply on identity and ideology also ignores the social factors that have been shown to play a role in for individuals pursuing terrorism.  The 7/7 bombers were all seemingly well integrated members of British society.  Mohammed Sidique Kahn, the group’s leader, grew up in a religiously lenient household and married a non-Muslim woman.[23]  All of the group’s members experienced alienation and an identity crisis; however their move towards violence did not occur until after they came together.[24]  Groups are helpful in ensuring prospective terrorists that their choice is the correct one.[25]  Supporting acts of terrorism carries significant risk; before someone takes part in such action social relationships are very important.[26]  Social networks present the opportunity for ideas to be translated into action.[27]  Many radicalised individuals watch extremist videos depicting graphic and violent content, but the difference between terrorists is that they often watch those videos in groups ‘creating a culture of violence.’[28]  Other social factors such as personal experiences, friendship, and group dynamics also play a role in influencing an individual to pursue acts of terrorism.[29]  Older men, who speak Arabic and may claim to have links to the global jihad, may be influential over younger, second or third generation Muslims, who have limited knowledge of Islam.[30]  Factors, including an emotional pull, thrill seeking, status and an internal code of honour, and peer pressure might be responsible for the non-violent to violent link.[31]  Furthermore, even if an individual is socialised to commit acts of violence, there is no guarantee that violence means terrorism.[32]

Multiculturalism is a controversial policy in the center of public debate.  Policy makers should have rigorous discussions about what is best for the UK moving forward concerning issues of integration and social cohesion.  There may be many valuable reasons for the pursuit of a stronger British national identity and the reform or elimination of multiculturalism as policy; however what must be avoided is a conflation of the two distinct agendas of integration and counterterrorism.  It cannot be empirically shown that there is a link between multiculturalism and homegrown terrorism.  There are many factors that may contribute to radicalisation, some influenced by multiculturalism; identity and ideology, and some not: social factors.  Even if some factors can be shown to influence radicalisation, radicalisation does not mean violence, and violence does not mean terrorism.

[toggle title=”Citations & Bibliography”]

[1]            HM Government (2011), p. 1

[2]            Meer & Modood (2009), p. 481

[3]            Ibid., p. 479

[4]            Brighton (2007), pp. 5-6

[5]            Thomas (2009), p. 285

[6]            Cantel (2001), p. 9

[7]            ‘State multiculturalism has failed, says David Cameron’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12371994, 9 March 2012

[8]            HM Government (2011), p. 27

[9]            Helmus (2009), p. 81

[10]            Neumann & Rogers (2007), p. 16

[11]            Daalgard-Nielsen (2010), p. 800

[12]            ‘Profile: Abu Hamza’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11701269, 16 March 2012

[13]            Kirby (2007), p. 418

[14]            Husain (2007), p. 115

[15]            HM Government (2006), p. 31

[16]            ‘New Prevent strategy launched’, http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/media-centre/news/prevent-strategy, 16 March 2012

[17]            Bartlett & Miller (2012), p. 2

[18]            Vidino (2010), p. 7

[19]            Bartlett & Miller (2012), pp. 10-12

[20]            Ibid., p. 10.

[21]            Wiktorowicz (no date), pp. 7-8

[22]            Bartlett & Miller (2012), p. 8

[23]            Kirby (2007), p. 417

[24]            Ibid., p. 423

[25]            Helmus (2009), p. 96

[26]            Wiktorowicz (no date), p. 5

[27]            della Porta & Diani (2006), p. 119

[28]            Bartlett & Miller (2012), p. 14.

[29]            European Commission’s Expert Group on Violent Radicalisation (2008), p. 9

[30]            Sageman (2008), p. 79

[31]            Bartlett & Miller (2012), p. 13

[32]            European Commission’s Expert Group on Violent Radicalisation (2008), p. 5



Bartlett, Jamie & Miller, Carl (2012), ‘The Edge of Violence: Towards Telling the Difference Between Violent and Non-Violent Radicalization’, Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 24, No. 1, pp. 1-21

Brighton, Shane (2007), ‘British Muslims, multiculturalism and UK foreign policy: “integration” and “cohesion” in and beyond the state’, International Affairs, Vol. 83, No. 1, pp. 1-17

Cantel, Ted (2001), Community Cohesion: A Report of the Independent Review Team, (London: Home Office), http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/communities/pdf/independentreviewteam.pdf, 9 March 2012

Daalgard-Nielsen, Anja (2010), ‘Violent Radicalisation in Europe: What We Know and What We Do Not Know’, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Vol. 33, No. 9, pp. 797-814

della Porta, Donatella & Diani, Mario (2006), Social Movements: An Introduction, 2nd ed., (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing)

European Commission’s Expert Group on Violent Radicalisation (2008), Radicalisation Processes Leading to Acts of Terrorism, (Brussels & Luxembourg: European Commission), http://www.ec-ener.eu/views/local/uploads/documents/expert_group_report_violent_radicalisation_final_july_2008.pdf, 19 March 2012

Helmus, Todd (2009), ‘Why and How Some People Become Terrorists’, in Paul K. Davis and Kim Cragin, eds., Social Science for Counterterrorism: Putting the Pieces Together, (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation), pp. 71-111, http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG849/, 19 March 2012

HM Government (2011), Prevent Strategy, (London: Home Office), http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/counter-terrorism/prevent/prevent-strategy/prevent-strategy-review?view=Binary, 9 March 2012

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Husain, Ed (2007), The Islamist, (London: Penguin Books)

Kirby, Aidan (2007), ‘The London Bombers as “Self Starters”: A Case Study in Indigenous Radicalization and the Emergence of Autonomous Cliques’, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Vol. 30, No. 5, pp. 415-428.

Meer, Nasar & Modood, Tariq (2009), ‘The Multicultural State We’re In: Muslims, “Multiculture” and the “Civic Re-balancing” of British Multiculturalism’, Political Studies, Vol. 57, pp. 473-497

Neumann, Peter & Rogers, Brooke (2007), Recruitment and Mobilisation for the Islamist Militant Movement in Europe, (London: International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation), http://icsr.info/publications/papers/1234516791ICSREUResearchReport_Proof1.pdf, 19 March 2012

Sageman, Marc (2008), Leaderless JihadTerror Networks in the Twenty-First Century, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press)

Thomas, Paul (2009), ‘Between Two Stools? The Governments “Preventing Violent Extremism” Agenda’, Political Quarterly, Vol. 80, No. 2, pp. 282-291

Vidino, Lorenzo (2010), Countering Radicalization in America: Lessons from Europe, (Washington: United States Institute of Peace), http://www.usip.org/files/resources/SR262%20-%20Countering_Radicalization_in_America.pdf, 18 March 2012

Wiktorowicz, Quintan (no date), Joining the Cause: al-Muhajiroun and Radical Islam (Rhodes College research paper), http://insct.syr.edu/uploadedFiles/insct/uploadedfiles/PDFs/Wiktorowicz.Joining%20the%20Cause.pdf, 19 March 2012



Sleepwalking Into Segregation?

As part of our series on multiculturalism, Patrick McGhee questions Trevor Phillips’ statement that we are ‘sleepwalking into segregation’. 


trevor philips. sleepwalking into segregation[dhr]

In 2005, the now outgoing Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips (pictured), responded to the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London by suggesting that Britain was ‘sleepwalking into segregation,’ adding that ‘we are becoming strangers to each other and leaving communities to be marooned outside the mainstream’. Phillips’ warnings about the dangers of segregation were met with scepticism by academics citing a lack of evidence behind his claims, but his arguments have unfortunately been more broadly undermined by the wider preferential views he has expressed towards religion over secularism.

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph last year, Phillips expressed concerns about growing criticism of religion, commenting that ‘faith identity is part of what makes life richer and more meaningful for the individual. It is a fundamental part of what makes some societies better than others in my view’. He later added that religion is ‘an essential element of being a fulfilled human being’. The statements overtly suggested a superiority of faith over non-faith, not only as a means to live an individual life, but to excel as a society. These views have prompted condemnation from the British Humanist Association, and are disappointing given Phillips’ supposed commitment to equality. Crucially, the comments are also symptomatic of a wider imbalance between religion and the state. As Phillips himself has since suggested, far from facilitating improvement, the prioritisation of religion in society can often have dangerous consequences for both societies and the individuals within them.

There are numerous instances of religious interests denying important medical treatment to those most in need. Just this week, doctors have argued that faith in miraculous solutions is directly undermining efforts to ease the suffering of terminally ill children. Meanwhile in Russia, the trial of three punk band members over a protest at Moscow’s central Orthodox church has paid a disproportionate amount of attention to often farcical spiritual testimony at the expense of a fair trial. Both healthcare and the judicial process are aspects of society that have repeatedly been undermined by religious interference, frequently with the support of a close relationship between church and state. Perhaps most relevant to Britain and the debate around multiculturalism, however, is the issue of faith schools.

A piece for The Guardian by the chief executive of the British Humanist Association Andrew Copson makes the case against faith-based schools, citing exclusivity and fraudulent teachings as evidence that they are detrimental rather than conducive to human fulfillment. In this sense, educational institutions formed around religious traditions are directly and necessarily responsible for the segregation Trevor Phillips talked about. Separating young people into religious categories can promote lasting division and undermines the idea of real community. Instead, only a series of insular units are offered, and young people are often required to accept the tag they are given. More broadly, this system suggests that religion serves some special moral or intellectual function that cannot be performed adequately by schools unsupported by religious doctrine.

It is this notion of the moral superiority of religion that individuals such as Trevor Phillips have openly supported. It is claimed that societies are better or worse depending on how spiritual they can be, and that attempts to critique religion or its doctrines must be an attack on society itself. In reality, placing a protective shield around religion hinders our understanding of different faiths because it prevents open discussion around the merits of each tradition and its role in society. Institutions requiring objectivity, such as medical care, justice and education do not benefit from the intrusions of any special interest. If we are unable to make responsible judgements about how spirituality and faith affect these institutions, we risk failure in the pursuit of human well-being.

Just as political opinions should be open to scrutiny and criticism, so too should religious traditions, and while we are bold to desire diversity, we should not assume that faith is off limits to debate. If this assumption is not dispelled, we may yet become strangers to one another: Trevor Phillips’ preference for religion is contributing to our communal sleepwalk into segregation.

#2: Multiculturalism & The British Dream?

In this episode of Debrief, part of a week-long series on multiculturalism, Jamiesha Majevadia is joined by David Goodhart, Director of the London-based think tank Demos.


Brick Lane Multiculturalism


You can subscribe to our podcasts on iTunes.

David & Jamiesha discuss issues of multiculturalism, racism and extremism in Britain. Is Britain, to use Trevor Philips’ words, sleepwalking into segregation? Is there a ‘Muslim problem’ in the UK? Is Islamophobia as rampant as we are led to believe?


David is the director of Demos, a London-based think tank. He is editor-at-large of Prospect magazine, which he founded in 1995 and grew into Britain’s leading current affairs monthly. An established broadcaster, author, commentator and journalist, David regularly contributes to some of Britain’s leading newspapers including the Guardian, the Independent, the Times and the Financial Times.