Multiculturalism and Democracy, Fr Emmanuel Denima, mccj

By Fr Emmanuel Denima, mccj

We live today in a globalized society which is characterized by diversity of cultures, religions, languages, political ideologies etc. There are in world 185 independent states containing over 600 living languages groups and 5000 ethnic groups. There are very few countries where people belong to the same ethnic group and speak all the same language. South Sudan alone is composed of 64 nations, ethnic groups or tribes besides other many foreigners from many different cultures living in the country.

Life in such society is often characterized by different kind of tensions between various communities, cultural groups, different religions and brief between minority and dominant cultural or religious groups. In many parts of the world, minority groups are increasingly demanding their rights to be recognized, to be granted their rights to keep their language, to practice their religion without restriction and interference, to keep their cultural identity and political autonomy etc. For having peace and stability, modern democracies must address this issue of the rights and claims of minority groups.

Which political system can provide an adequate answer or lay down a solid foundation for the integration of various minority groups in the modern society which is often characterized more and more by sharp social and cultural divisions and endless violence?

In his philosophical reflection, the Canadian Philosopher Will Kymlicka presents the politics of Multiculturalism as the solution. Multiculturalism as a political doctrine defends the ideal of unity in diversity of cultures for the sake of peace and harmonious development. It defends above all the rights of culturally minority groups. According to the liberal doctrine of Multiculturalism defended by this author, the politics of multiculturalism has the task of accommodating national and ethnic differences. It is a big step toward a more tolerant and inclusive democracy.

Even tough diversity is more and more seen by many as something positive, being the source of mutual enrichment, however it gives rise to series of important divisive questions. The modern society is composed of minority and majority cultures that often clashes over language rights, regional autonomy, political representations, education system, land claims, access to economical and other natural resources, and many other issues… In some African countries, bigger ethnic groups can be considered majority culture. Smaller tribes are minority groups. There are often suspicions if not an open hostility or war between various ethnic groups. Politically motivated armed conflicts between communities have caused genocide in some countries like Rwanda, Sudan… Some minority groups often feel marginalized or excluded from political and economic life. They tend to resist against forced assimilation and marginalisation.

Modern democracy mainly defends the right of the majority. Minority groups who are often ignored or marginalized are now asking to be recognized. Some minority groups have even chosen to defend their rights by armed struggles and terrorism which is often accompanied by violent and bloody repression from the dominant ruling parties. In consequence the world, which is now a field of confrontation between the majority and minority cultures, has become more and more violent. How to find morally defensible and politically viable answers?

Both the old established Western democracies as well as the African new democracies are all facing crises due to clashes between cultures and civilizations. How to overcome this crisis? Some scholars like Will Kymlicka have seen multiculturalism as a key and solution to these challenges of modern democracies. The democratic system which fosters people’s participation in social and political life remains the best political system. However, there is need of a new form of democracy which goes beyond the view and choices of the majority. We need today a multicultural democracy which takes into account, the claims and demands of minority groups. Multiculturalism heals some sicknesses of modern democracy which is becoming more and more oppressive because of exclusion, domination and the tyranny of majority groups.

The new and integral evangelization requires missionaries to work hard for social and political change by fostering civic education which includes education to democracy and multiculturalism. True evangelisers are the defenders of the rights of minority and marginalized people. The ideal of a truly democratic and peaceful society can be achieved if – and only if – people, in spite of the diversity of their cultures, religions, races, tribes manage to realise that they are all created to live together as sisters and brothers. Diversity and differences are sources of enrichment rather than division and antagonism. Let us remember the dream of Martin Luther King that one day all people will stand and realize that they are all created to live together as brothers and sisters. And he said “We hold this truth to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”