As I was writing this piece on Multiculturalism, I received a notification from CNN via my phone at 5:33 am on Tuesday, 18 September. This prompted me to amend my opening statement. The notification read, “Suicide car bomb kills at least nine people in a van, near Kabul airport, Afghan official says” Let me park this issue for later.
Now back to my original intro. On the 28th June 2006, Barack Obama delivered a keynote speech at the Call to Renewal conference, under the theme “Building a Covenant for a New America” two years before taking office as President of the United States. This speech stunned many critics.
He was calling on people of different faiths and religions to advance with speed the possibility to live together and share in the future that America provides.
It is not his call for the co-existence of different faiths and religions and to strive for peace that stunned critics more than it was the way he structured his message, making people second guess his real intention.
“Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation – at least, not just”, said Obama almost sending shock waves across the Christian community of the United States and the world. What happened here is that Obama stumbled a bit while delivering this statement, leaving out the word “just” and then corrected himself swiftly ensuring that the message is the same, even though the order of his words was rearranged.
He went on to say “We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation”. Just as his audience thought he was done, he added, “...and a nation of nonbelievers”
Because he was a Presidential candidate and also questions were raised about his own religion and origins, this was suddenly used opportunistically by many who wanted to discredit him, to increase the fortunes of his opponents. The inaccurate version of his speech, omitting the word “just” was deliberately spread across the US and the world.
It is safe to say that Obama’s intention was to promote multiculturalism and multi-faith where it matters not what religion you are but that people could live and prosper together.
There are those who believe strongly that his was to advance cultural hegemony in the United State and giving a hint of what policy direction his administration would take regarding migration, the war in Iraq, and other related matters.
But what happens when multiculturalism runs amok, when the very reason we seek to live together is the reason we discover what is different about each other and express these differences by means of violence and extreme hate?
This provokes the question. Has multiculturalism destroyed the individual cultures in the quest to give life to the idea of the melting pot?
The recent spread of violent clashes between some Muslim nations and the United States citizens, triggered by the anti-Islam film titled “Innocence of Muslims” by a US based producer are example that the quest for pluralism, multiculturalism and multi-faith society is far from realisation.
There is a view that the US government and American leaders in general including the White House contenders Romney/Ryan ticket of the Republicans have taken a wrong and inappropriate stance on the killing of the US ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.
They are accused of being apologetic and soft, in contrast with the US resolve expressed through their national anthem to be a “land of the free and the home for the brave”.
The view is that this calm reaction to these attacks, only expressed through media statements and press conferences condemning the act are a signal of a weak America under the Democrats and a disastrous foreign policy of Obama and Hilary Clinton. Perhaps, a signal that the multiculturalism he advocated in 2006 has gone haywire and compromises American power in the face of a hostile world.
Some believe that had America acted with a bit more aggression in their response to the killing of Ambassador Stevens and three other US officials on September 11, those in Muslim countries would not have gone on a public rampage as we have seen.
The car and suicide bombings in Iraq, Afghanistan and in many parts of the world are not just a radical political message sent by those who have deep hate for America and her cousins, but also are messages of rebellion by those who believe that their religion and culture are undermined by the rich and powerful nations who mostly are Christian and seeking to impose their cultural and religious values on the world.
I believe that faith and culture should not be the source of conflicts, because if we let that happen, we will forever be enemies, with some who hold power and influence driving cultural imperialism with the aim to dominate not just our religious and cultural space, but using religion and culture to dominate the world, politically and economically.
Religious conflicts are not an exclusively Muslim phenomenon. There have been a number of religious conflicts in the world than we care to know. One example of a religion that was met with serious resistance and hostility in the United States is Mormonism.
Anti-Mormons were extreme too in their rejection of the Mormons but the need to root out this sort of intolerance is becoming more necessary as we become societies of many religions and cultures through migration, inter-cultural and interracial interactions.
Going back to the CNN notification, when I had the message this morning, I went to search the details of the bombing and was flooded by chilling reports stating gruesome details about a woman in a vehicle carrying 300kg of explosives who drove into a minibus which was transporting workers causing a wave of blast covering kilometres. I later learnt that eight of the 12 workers were South Africans.
Reports said the woman, like many protesters in Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, Afghanistan, Malaysia and London, was reacting to the anti-Islam film mocking Prophet Muhammad.
Without a doubt, these actions must be condemned with all the contempt they deserve and it remains my view that religious extremists have no place in the world we live in today going forward. Their actions undermine their cause and eclipse terrorism while thwarting the possibility of a peaceful society where multi-faiths and cultures exist. It is also my view that we can reconcile faith with the modern pluralistic society. All we need to do is try.
May the souls of those who died in Kabul today and many others who died before as a result of the anti-Islamic film rest in peace.
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