Friday, October 03, 2008

There's Nothing Easy About Pluralism And No Simple Answers

By Daphne Bramham, Vancouver Sun

Pluralism is difficult and few are more acutely aware of that this week than Jordan Smith, whose jaw was wired shut this week following an unprovoked attack on Davie Street where he was walking hand-in-hand with his boyfriend.

Nirmal Singh Gill's family knows how hard it is as well. Gill was beaten to death a decade ago in Surrey by five neo-Nazi skinheads.

Hate-based crimes are rarely reported in Canada. But fear of difference cuts many ways and people who are attacked often won't report.

Pluralism is something Canadians chose. Canada is a multicultural, multi-ethnic and religiously diverse country and has been since the merging of French, English and aboriginal people.

But Canada is not unique. There's scarcely a country that is homogeneous. What sets countries apart is how they deal with pluralism.

Malaysia, where I spent most of the past month, also boasts that it is a multicultural country. Unlike Canada, the 51-year-old country suffered both race riots and internal guerrilla warfare in the 1960s.

It has an official policy of separation and segregation in dealing with its four major ethnic groups, which are also differentiated by religion in the officially Islamic country. The majority of Malays are Muslim. Chinese and indigenous people are mostly Christian and the Indians are mainly Hindu.

The Muslim Malays (bumiputras, as they are called) are favoured when it comes to jobs, university enrolment and government contracts. The government requires publicly traded companies to have a minimum of 30-per-cent "bumiputra equity." There are separate schools for different races and race-based political parties.

But these policies now appear to be threatening not only the viability of the current government, but Malaysia's peace and stability. And so far, the government's response has not been to amend its policies. Rather, in its desperation, it is jailing its critics.

In mid-September, Ahmad Ismail (a Malay politician from the ruling UMNO coalition) described Chinese-Malays as power-hungry immigrants and "squatters."

Ismail completely ignored the fact that many Chinese-Malays' ancestors arrived several hundred years ago.

Even though Ismail's comments put the fragile government coalition of Malay, Chinese and Indian parties at risk, he refused to apologize. His only punishment was to have his party membership suspended for three years.

But within days of his comments, two journalists -- one from a Chinese-language daily and another from the influential online Malaysia Today -- were jailed under the draconian Internal Security Act, which allows for 60 days detention without trial. Also arrested on the same day was a Chinese-Malay(sian) member of parliament whose alleged offence was supporting some constituents' request that a local mosque lower the volume on the daily calls to prayer.

All three were accused of inciting racial tensions.

Read the whole report HERE

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