Posted on September 2, 2004

Better To Embrace Diversity: UN (Australia), Aug. 28

NATIONS around the world are better off embracing diversity than fighting multiculturalism, the United Nations said today in what it called a myth-shattering new report.

“There is no trade-off between diversity and state unity,” the UN Development Program study said, offering up a salvo in the global debate over how to cope with multiple ethnic groups under a single national flag.

It said the quickened pace of international migration meant cultural diversity was “here to stay” and that countries had to accept and promote that diversity or face reduced freedom, development and stability.

“Choices like these — about recognising and accommodating diverse ethnicities, religions, languages and values — are an inescapable feature of the landscape of politics in the 21st century,” it said.

“Struggles over cultural identity, if left unmanaged or managed poorly, can quickly become one of the greatest sources of instability within states and between them — and in so doing trigger conflict that takes development backwards,” it said.

“People want the freedom to practise their religion openly, to speak their language, to celebrate their ethnic or religious heritage without fear of ridicule or punishment or diminished opportunity,” it said.

The study said “intolerant movements” are increasing and becoming a prominent force in national politics, citing far-right parties in Europe, hate crimes in North America and attacks on Christian churches in south Asia.

Last year, one in five groups that carried out terrorist attacks were seeking religious domination or ethnic cleansing, it said.

It said two nations in three have at least one minority group that accounts for at least 10 per cent of the population, and that 175 million people worldwide live outside the country of their birth.

“In many countries, the poverty of immigrant groups divides society. It gives rise to anti-immigrant movements and accusations that immigrants are unwilling or unable to be productive members of society,” it said.

“State support to address socio-economic exclusion of immigrant groups is therefore a critical part of building social harmony.”

Policies like affirmative action have worked in India, Malaysia and the US, reducing the inequality between ethnic groups, the report said.

The report claimed to debunk “myths” that policies which recognise cultural identities and encourage diversity lead to conflict, fragmentation and weak development.

“There is little empirical evidence that cultural differences and clashes over values are in themselves a cause of violent conflict,” it said.

Instead, ethnic clashes instead tend to be driven by economic inequalities and struggles over political power, land and other economic assets, the study said.

This economic and power gap was behind the coup in Fiji, the long-running Tamil-Sinhalese conflict in Sri Lanka, and the violence between Tutsis and Hutus that erupted in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, it said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who contributed to the report, said the decision to recognise both the Dari and Pashto languages in his country’s new constitution would help Afghanistan on the road to democracy.

“Recognising our diversity, while affirming our nationhood, will further solidify the foundations of a democratic Afghanistan,” he wrote.