Thursday, September 06, 2007


I am so inspired to write an entry right now on Multiculturalism. This is after being thoroughly mind-fucked by my readings on political theory. This has got to be the first time I actually realize that there are so many things that actually go on behind a word. A simple word Multiculturalism creates such a furore in the academic world.

A brief introduction to how this process of Multiculturalism originate will have to bring in categorical discussions. Different regions saw different people arriving at their shores after World War 2. In Western Europe, a lack of natives to do 'dirt jobs for low pay' meant that they had to open their borders to people who are willing to do them. This created an influx of Muslims into the continent. These people from the Middle East did not just start arriving in European shores after the World War. Pre World War saw a colonialist policy that brought many Muslims into Europe as well. Most notable of this act were the French. After conquering territories in Africa, they brought the people there home.

The colonialist are also to blame for developments in Asia. In Southeast Asia, Malaya and Singapore were victims to such influx of migrants. The colonialist were largely ignorant of different cultures and sub tribes amongst the Malays. This ignorance allowed them to class them under one 'ethnic group'- Malay. The colonialist refused to differentiate between Javanese, Boyanese, Malays etc. An implementation of the identity card was suffice for the colonialist. Hence, today when Singaporeans flip to the back of their ICs, you will see the category Race. If you carefully inspect the cards of the supposed ethnic group of Malays, you would see not all the Malays you see are Malays. Some of them are from Java, Sumatra, Boyanese etc etc.

Similarly, I cannot fathom how the Chinese did not get categorize according to their province. We hail from Guangdong, Fujian, Chaozhou and whatnot but there are never any indications of our dialect at the back of the ICs. A case of double standards perhaps?

The case of Multiculturalism is indeed very complex. There is the Liberal theory of Multiculturalism that defines this concept in liberal terms. Academics like Kymlicka argue that there should be rights for minority groups that exist in societies today. And that means they should be granted cultural recognition and grants to sustain their activities. This view is immediately debunked by Kukathas who insist that these minority groups have no rights to state funding. Instead, there should merely be an act of toleration to these groups instead.

Of course, a finer line has to be drawn towards what constitute these 'minority groups'. A clearer definition can be posited by dividing them up to indigenous peoples, immigrants and refugees. In the case of Australia, this division is evident. Kymlicka argues that indigenous people should be granted rights and recognition for their respective cultures. He immediately changed his stance towards immigrants. This is because immigrants are argued as having known the culture of a certain country before they migrate. Hence, they have no right to demand a right to practice their own culture in their new country. Kymlicka uses the term 'voluntary migrants' to express his point.

Kukathas immediately jumps on this point and questions if indeed all immigrants to a certain country are 'voluntary'. This is where he highlights that there are instances where there may be refugees. Refugees seek a new homeland because they have been forcefully removed from their original one. So does this group of migrants deserve a right to practice their culture?

Another point of contention then boils down to the concept of liberal theory. The battle shifts to autonomy, common standpoint and toleration. Kymlicka emphasizes strongly on the individual right of a person to choose his destiny. That means should a person want to leave the religion of Islam, he or she has every right to. Even if it means that he or she has committed an apostasy. This view is not shared by Kukathas. He believes that there must never be an 'established 'we' against these cultures. What he means is that no one has the right to have a moral standpoint from which they have the authority to judge other cultures. What makes a minority culture worst than the majority culture? And vice-versa? As a liberal society we have to be tolerant of a diverse range of cultures. This is because we do not have the right to say another culture is wrong just because they are different from us.

As a result, much as the principle of autonomy is essential in Liberal theory, the principle of tolerance is very essential as well. In fact Kukathas argued that Liberal theory should be built on the foundation of tolerance.

Indeed, I agree with Kukathas. We are not in the position to judge others. Certainly not from any moral standpoint. Yes, we should allow people the freedom to choose which culture they want to immense themselves in but ultimately we cannot tell others which culture is right for them. Hence, the need to tolerate.

A questionable hole in Kukathas argument I feel is in the area of tolerating non-liberal groups but not funding them in anyway. I mean if we cannot have a moral standpoint to judge other cultures and have to tolerate their presence, it means that we have to provide funds for them as well right? In Kukathas argument of not having a moral standpoint to judge other cultures he is actually shooting himself in the foot with the above statement. Who are we to judge if other cultures deserve state funding or not? If there is tolerance, it will mean equity for all. Funding or not.

Ok, I rest my case.

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