A symphony of sense and tolerance

2010-10-26 00:00

“The ugly voices of prejudice are still around us, amplified by the economic crisis, broadcast by extremists and people with closed minds. We must drown them out with sweeter sounds — tunes of tolerance, symphonies of sense.”

These poetic words were made by Ban Kin-Moon, the chief executive of the world government, the United Nations, to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France. He made the point that the forces of evil are becoming louder and bolder. These include voices of intolerance of immigration of east Europeans and Africans into a Europe that is increasingly uncomfortable in its multicultural skin. It is seeing a spread of a brand of conservativism that threatens to rip apart its value system founded on human rights, cultural expansion, tolerance and so forth.

Last week, German chancellor Angela Merkel made a startling admission that the idea of an open and multicultural Germany is a pipe dream. She conceded defeat of the ideal Germany at the hands of ultra right-wing extremists, homophobes, and pessimists. France, Belgium, and the Netherlands have all sought to please right wingers by outlawing the head scarf worn by Muslim women because it is seen as a blemish on a Western culture that has come to respect the position of women in society.

European authorities are abetting those who preach that Europe will be overrun by immigrants who will blemish the purity of their culture. They are helping reject the interface between their civilisation and those driven by Islamic, Arab, African and eastern European cultures.

Right wingers are fundamentally opposed to the meshing of cultures to form a kaleidoscope that reflects the new or emerging world created in part by the migration of about a billion people around the globe. They ignore the fact that with declining populations and growing economies, Europe and most of the West will need to open their borders to get the labour and skills their economies need.

Incidentally, while populations in the north-Atlantic zone are ageing fast, populations in the global south are growing.

Ban sought to make the point that the off-tune chorus of hatred and exclusion needs to be countered by a symphony of sense and tolerance. He argued that the latter is morally superior, being the basis of the global consensus that followed two world wars with the UN as the custodian.

He suggested that the ascendancy of the orchestra of nay sayers will see Europe go up in flames, destroying half a century of successful work done following World War 2. He quipped: “Let us never forget that hatred of the other lay behind the last great upheaval in Europe.”

The fear is that no nation and community of nations can survive if built on intolerance and fear of others. It would be a community perpetually divided and in conflict. Within such a global environment, the UN and other intergovernmental organisations would probably collapse, thus robbing the world of important united forces at a time when the most prominent global challenges are transnational and require united action.

If this seeping divisive behaviour undergirded by exclusive nationalism is allowed to blossom, the survival of the current international system and its constituent parts are under threat.

The attempts to keep non-Europeans out of Europe and non-Americans out of the United States are bad for Africa in particular. Its migrants bring billions of U.S. dollars in remittances. They build critical infrastructures in countries like Came­roon, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. Recent research also suggests that African diaspora communities are helping to build economic linkages between Africa on the periphery and the centres of the global economy. Africa call ill-afford to lose these wealth-creating networks.

However, the challenge is that the symphony of sense will need a competent and widely acclaimed conductor in the hot seat at the UN. The UN secretary general is the number-one global public servant and has to enjoy legitimacy on all sides of the UN family.

Ban, who took over from an intelligent and widely supported Kofi Anan, is seen as a stooge of the superpower. He has not shown any appetite for reforming the UN into a centrepiece of the symphony he is proposing.

The symphony of sense will require South Africa as an emerging power to work harder in building its national unity and improve its acceptance of immigrants. It has to find the right formula for the integration of immigrants, one that places the UN offices in South Africa at the centre of public policy response to the migration question.

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