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?

Courtesy -
The majority of Norwegians let Breivik know he wasn't brave, just weak. Why? He gunned down 79 Norwegians – all helpless, all innocent, all harmless and full of LIFE and fun. To my mind his reason for destroying their lives and those of their loved ones was warped - he wanted people of his kind to live in his country and no one different. So he killed people of his kind. This reasoning sounds like it is from a slightly deranged terrorist if ever there was reasoning from one. Kill my own kind to save the world from the different others.

In his mind, the end, that of letting the world know his point of view, justified the means. The means were his plotting for over a year, then putting his plan to kill, into action. He snuffed out their young lives, destroyed their families by causing them unbearable anguish and then stood vulgarly in court facing the victims’ families trying to seek his moment of justification, fame and glory.

He said he was against the policy of multiculturalism and for letting 'Muslims into Norway'. "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." 

He felt the victims were being indoctrinated for multiculturalism by their leaders – the Labour party. Most of the victims were the youth wing of the Labour party.

What a worm; what a warped mind; what a disgraceful, sick, miserable creature to believe he had the right 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.

Which brings me to what Breivik didn’t like - Multiculturalism. 

There are many in this world who subscribe to the view that their culture is the only one to live by. Most of them might despise others who are different but they are peaceful and abhor violence.

In India, we have hardcore Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Tamilians, Christians, Parsis and in fact, hardcore traditionalists in every community that lives in India. 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 have always lived 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 our defences up. It is curious because 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 trying to preserve that “uniqueness”? 

There are many reasons. Many of us grow up understanding that 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? When I watched 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. The majority of Norwegians spoke out against Breivik for that very reason.

They spoke out against the violent methods he adopted to highlight the “problem” which isn’t to say they spoke out FOR the immigration of people who they perceived 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 been an issue with us way before it became an issue for some other countries. For many countries, their problems of trying to assimilate people of different physical appearances and from different religions and cultures started in earnest after WWII. It is fairly recent.

In India we've had our Breiviks. But on the whole, to date, the majority has believed in peaceful co-existance, 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 issue? 

First and foremost, 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 says, you'll have to read "Never Mind Yaar". 

To solve the issue of violence because of racial prejudice, we have two options. First, 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. 

As Elie Weisel, Nobel peace prize winner said, "We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." 

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

Second, we've got to give our non-violent but communal minded Indians every opportunity to speak out against violence within their ranks. I think they understand only too well that these are two separate issues. One needs resolution but the other - violence, needs swift and sure punishment. 

Finally, we need ongoing, knowledgeable and civilised discussions. It has come back to haunt and hurt us repeatedly. Open discussions and debates by experts on various fronts might throw up a few urgently needed ideas to stem the growth of intolerance.  

Also a Guest Post on Purba's Blog, A-Musing. 



  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. For more thoughtful comments please go to Purba's blog - the link again

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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:)

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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

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

  13. 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...

  14. 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.

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