Sunday, August 26, 2012

Does Multiculturalism Breed Intolerance?

Do you enjoy different cultures or find them threatening? Either way, what do you do when you witness cruel actions borne of prejudice?

Here's a story that, in this day and age, sounds alarmingly familiar. There was this individual named Breivik. He was a Norwegian who decided Norway was for Norwegians and gunned down seventy-nine unarmed but happy young Norwegians to prove his point.

He was convinced he'd done the right thing. “If we can force the government to break down multiculturalism by killing ‘just’ 70 people that will preserve our values and prevent war in future.”

After leaving the families of these young individuals destroyed, in pain and in unimaginable grief, he stood vulgarly in court facing them and trying to seek his moment of justification, fame and glory.

Most of the victims were the youth wing of the Labour party. 

What a sick, miserable creature to believe he had the right and the justification to kill other human beings to get his message across. 

Here’s what the Huffington post had to say: When Breivik addressed the court, he lashed out at everything he finds wrong with the world, from the Labor Party’s immigration policies to non-ethnic Norwegians representing the country in the Eurovision Song Contest and the sexually liberated lifestyle of the characters ‘Carrie’ and ‘Samantha’ in ‘Sex and the City.’

“These are the ideals that are presented to our sisters and daughters today,” he said. “They should be censored and removed from our society.”

Ask whoever was left to grieve over the loss of family members at his hands and they would repulse and reject his calling them his “sisters and daughters” with all their hearts. He was their killer, and as one victim’s mum put it, she hoped she would never have to see his face again and that he would just disappear from Norwegian society into jail forever.

In my opinion the Breviks of this world are brave at hiding behind guns but weak in their capacity to imagine the grief they cause because of the attention they so desperately seek. If only he'd taken the trouble to read his history books he would have known the huge number of reasons for wars like resources, land, proximity to the sea and craze for power, to name a few. But he saw what he wanted to see - everyone paying him attention and secretly hailing him as a hero. 

Which brings me to what the gunman didn’t like — Multicultural Societies. 

How can we ignore the fact that there are too many Breviks in this world today? Racially prejudiced, homophobic individuals who despise anyone who is different? Some of them subscribe to the view that their culture is the only one to live by. Most of them might dislike the 'hateful' others but here’s the difference between them and the killer. 

On the whole, these folk, prejudiced though they might be, are peaceful and abhor violence.

In most countries today, we have hardcore Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Tamilians, Parsis etc. They might be a handful but they exist. They feel theirs is the only culture that is truly gracious, the only religion that will give them a passage to heaven and theirs is the only language worth speaking. They might live side by side with the hateful others, send their children to the same schools and even work with them but only because they have to. If they do speak about these others, it is only to heap scorn on their ‘strange’ and different ways.

Most of the rest of us are quite happy to live side by side with people from other cultures. We have this easy going attitude of ‘live and let live’ and are comfortable with our differences. What’s more, we feel free to indulge our curiosity for, and enjoyment of, the huge variety of traditions and cultures we live side by side with. 

Here’s a strange phenomenon. We might be easy going about other cultures, but we are proud of our own. Imagine someone trying to criticise anything about our heritage, our khandaan, and see how quickly that puts up our defences. It is curious because, as William Pfaff says, this pride we have in our unique culture cannot be explained away by applying reason or logic. It just is, wherever in this world we may be.

Then why blame someone like the lame excuse for a man, the killer, for trying to preserve that “uniqueness”?

  • The main reason has to be respect for the right to life as enshrined in our constitution. 

Here are two more:

  • Sometimes our liking for individuals is irrespective of culture. When youngsters fall in love with someone from a different culture, ask them what they would give up easily — their desire to preserve their “uniqueness” or their friendship? Take the movie, “Bombay”. I know I wanted the two young lovers to be happy together irrespective of the fact that one was a Hindu and the other, a Muslim. 
  • For most of us, it isn’t someone’s desire to preserve their traditions or culture that is the bigger problem. It is the use of violence to preserve it that disturbs. It goes against our core humanity. To witness carnage and bloodshed sickens us. 

For some, denouncing violence doesn’t mean they are speaking out FOR the immigration of people who they perceive as different, into their country. That is a separate issue. It remains a problem in many countries today, including India. 

In India, we already are a multicultural society. We’ve had people of different cultures, religions (about eight?) and languages (say at least seventeen languages and 5 to 600 dialects?) living side by side for hundreds of years. Peaceful co-existence has always been a major issue. 

And yet, the majority, and the Indian constitution, have believed in peaceful co-existence, respect, humanity and a good dose of humour. Unfortunately, of late, many of our hardcore traditionalists have become loud and abrasive, often resorting to violence to uphold their values and traditions to the exclusion of all others. 

How do we, the secular minded Indians, the ones who don’t feel threatened by the presence of other cultures in our midst, address this ever increasing issue of violence?

We must denounce it. Not to do so is to condone it. To decide we won’t say anything, neither for, nor against, also condones it. 

To condone something that goes against our basic humanity, against our core values, will eat away at what makes us human. 

Let us try and understand why our traditionalists feel threatened and overwhelmed by other communities. Here’s what Bharati, a student of Gyan Shakti College, thinks is their mindset. 

They feel their culture is being swamped and overshadowed.

[To find out what else she thinks, read “Never Mind Yaar” — YA Fiction.] 

Granted, they feel threatened. Now the difficult part — how do we convince the ones who are suspicious or fearful of other races, but abhor violence, to prevent it? Do we give them a ‘peaceful’ alternative to express their racial prejudice? Heavens, no! 

I have no answers except, over time, as they become familiar with the strange ways of others, we hope the feeling might lessen. 

Denouncing violence, even if they feel that their cause is aligned with the violent, is crucial. Violence has come back to haunt and hurt us repeatedly. A productive and prosperous country is brought to its knees because of violence. Young gangs have mauled and mutilated each other and made themselves incapable of enjoying life and nature with healthy minds and bodies. Bringing this fact out into the open might help. An independent judiciary and police might help. Discussions on the end results of the use of violence throughout history might help. Understanding the after effects of violence might help. 

We, the timid and the peaceful, need all the help we can get. We need to gain the courage to speak out against violence. 

A scattered few denouncing violence aren’t as effective as a billion strong force.

We have the numbers. Let our message be heard loud and clear. 



Having said that, we cannot ignore the harsh realities in our (Indian) villages. Landlords exploit labour, the so-called ‘upper caste’ Hindus exploit Dalits — the ‘lower caste’ Hindus, and they have the capacity to band with the police and politicians to keep the minorities and lower castes subdued. Muslims are the target of a certain type of Hindu. It has become worse of late. Judicial enquiries are snuffed out on some pretext or the other. The landed gentry are a law unto themselves. 

And yet, there is hope because an ever growing group of people cannot bear this political-police nexus with the privileged who defy the Indian constitution and have become hardened criminals resorting to violence in order to retain those privileges. 

Some have always had the courage to speak out, but more and more have begun to join forces with them. They have realised that Elie Weisel, Nobel peace prize winner, spoke the truth when he said,



  1. The issue is not about caster color or creed ..what we sow is what we breed .. lust hate greed ... the wanting seed //

    1. If we recognise what is very base in human nature, we can surely acknowledge the highest heights we are capable of reaching and everything inbetween, FS, Photographerno1 and poet too.

  2. Extremely well-written post on the subject of violence arising out of intolerance, KayEm.

    1. Thanks CS. It is what I've thought about ever since the 1980s.

  3. Hey KayEm,

    I just read your complete guest post on Purba's blog.

    It is an ultimate article which raises such issues!
    The problem is everybody feels that their religion is superior and smartest of all.

    We are less motivated to bring up ourselves and our caste/culture/religion rather we try to bring down the others'... we are really in a pity state!

  4. Of course we all feel our religion or our community is wonderful, Medha. And you are right - putting others down to show ourselves in a better light is pitiable behaviour.

  5. Hey dear, thanks for stopping by my blog. I love that you took on this topical subject! Your views and insight is truly brilliant and well research. I am in agreement with you. Here in South Africa, we also have a very multicultural community and everyone lets the other be and practice whatever they wish. After a rocky past, we now have a tolerant present.

  6. H'lo Sam, I enjoyed your photos of Morocco. The world is definitely shrinking and I feel we need to come up with some civilised rules of engagement. Hence this post. Thanks for your comments and for stopping by.

  7. Sometimes, I feel is this what we humans are reduced to...

    Congratulations on the Blogadda pick.:)

    I will search your book on Amazon, want to read it:)

  8. So many of us are okay with other cultures but the ones who aren't seem to be gaining an upper hand. That is what bothered me when I began thinking about this issue. And thanks Saru. Hope you enjoy it.

  9. Congrats on being picked on Blogadda! I read and commented on Purba's blog.

    1. Thanks, Rachana. I always appreciate your inputs - they are thoughtful.

  10. Very well written and in plural societies where multicultures thrive , it is very important to have tolerance to avoid confrontation.This can happen only with maturity in people

  11. Hopefully many of us have tolerance, curiosity, interest, respect for others and especially their lives. But you are right - at least tolerance. Thanks, Rahul.

  12. A lot has to do with the threat of losing one's identity. The threat of being thrown out of our comfort zones...Some us embrace it, some take time to get used to it, and few resort to violence.

    Depravity knows no limits...

  13. Hopefully the ones who enjoy and are not thrown by varied traditions will make an attempt to reassure and calm the others. They are the only ones who can counter the influence of the ones who incite violence. Thanks for your comment, Purba, and thanks for including this post as a guest post on A-Musing.


  14. With all said and done "Mera Bharat Mahan".