Article 2

Multiculturalism vs Extremism

(Written in 2005 after the Cronulla riot in Sydney and on calls to review Multiculturalism in Australia)

  • We must not forget that global events and external conflicts beyond the control of Australia are influencing the extremists’ attitude as well. Hence, we must not deal with it as if we can solve all the problems here in Australia.
  • Whether multiculturalism exists or not there still be difference and conflict of opinions and values in a democratic society. Multiculturalism therefore can not be regarded as the cause for diverse values or conflict of opinions in Australia.
  • Extremists in any culture or society are the people who have rejected the teaching of true religions, the commonly shared opinions of the majority of people, the rules of law and anything else that mainstream society hold dear and respect. Since multiculturalism respects and promote and uphold these principles of the mainstream. It is incompatible with the extremists.
  • Extremists exist in all over the world and in places where there is no multiculturalism at all. It’s a global problem, to blame multiculturalism for the existence of extremist views is grossly unfair and defying reality.
  • Multiculturalism, like democracy itself, has allowed cultures, beliefs and value systems to be expressed in the open thus allowing us to know what is going on rather than hidden away. Thus, reduces the level of risk to society. If anything, it acts as a protective rather than a risk factor.
  • Suppression and forced conformity policies elsewhere in the world have not make their society any safer. On the contrary, they made it worse.
  • It’s easy to criticize and to call for abandonment of Multiculturalism, but its critics have failed to provide any remotely credible alternative. Multiculturalism was not meant to be a perfect framework, but it is the best answer we have got to promote an open, tolerant, harmonious, fair and just society with diverse cultures, religions, races and migration history like Australia. It has been constantly evolving and improving as our nation grows and faces new challenges, this is just another chapter and challenge which will be overcome by its strength and correct common sense philosophy.
  • Under the principle based on the rules of law, when opinions are spoken or designed to incite hatred or violence, no matter who the person is and what religion he or she comes from, it’s a criminal act and it is not a multicultural act. It has got nothing to do with multiculturalism but everything to do with the law. We already have laws to deal with and to jail if need be those who are deliberately or constantly doing such actions. We must make sure that the extremists are aware of our uncompromising position when it comes to inciting hatred or promoting violence no matter who they are.
  • The “us” and “them” type of attitude during a difficult time will only result in isolating, alienating and pushing people who have absolutely got nothing to do with the extremists and who are already with us towards them. We are, therefore, loosing the important battle of “heart and mind” before we even win anything yet.
  • If the whole purpose of our wars in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan is to  bring and promote democracy, freedom of choice and peaceful co-existence of races and religions then  by  criticizing  the very thing that make it possible in Australia: Multiculturalism, we are running the risk of gross contradiction.
  • Multicultural policy, by and large, has been serving and protecting Australia extremely well against extremism of any kind. It provides a strong protective means for our society against the causers that may push people towards extremism. Causers such as: racism, injustice, inequality, intolerance, bigotry etc…In times of danger and divisiveness, our best defense is to rely and to strengthen our protective factors NOT to abandoning it.
  • It’s like a toothache, only when it’s aching do we realize that we’ve got teeth and how precious they are. But we do not ask the dentist to take out the whole teeth that we’ve got, instead we deal with the one that causes pain and try to save it, if we can. We also do not blame the pain on other teeth either. Multiculturalism is like that. They are our teeth, our reality, our only mechanism to function well. All human societies, cultures and religions have extremists among them: these people are their toothaches regardless their society is monoculture or multi-culture. We must react rationally, calmly, collectively and above all with unity in order to win over the bad teeth or to contain or remove them.
  • Multiculturalism, like democracy, is resilient and tolerant towards individual or group freedoms. But like democracy, it does not mean anarchy or infringement on the freedom and the rights of others to have a peaceful, safe and harmonious life.
  • Like democracy, multiculturalism can easily accommodate normal and healthy debates, critics and expressions of any views from anyone within its society whether they are leaders or ordinary citizen. However, in times of war, and particularly in this type of war against terror, these freedoms must be acted with great responsibility and great care to avoid giving ammunitions and fuels to the extremist elements. We must all remember this is NOT an ordinary time. Extraordinary times requires extraordinary behaviours, caution and responsibility from our leaders and citizens.
  • With and only with greater unity, can we hope to win this war against the force that wants to tear us apart, of having us attacking one another rather than THEM. They would be a biggest winner if we tear down all our best human defenses: our tolerance, acceptance, understanding and respect for each other. More than ever before, we must strengthen our human defense against them by strengthening these values and our unity. Let’s unite.

Phong Nguyen
Chairperson, Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria

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