I have just arrived in Ottawa, Canada, as a visiting professor hosted by the Audio Visual Lab for the Study of Culture and Society, and only a few hours ago delivered my first public seminar about the transnational practices of migrants in multicultural societies.
Yesterday, I was interviewed by local radios on the broader topic of migrant settlement policies and what Canada and Australia had in common and also where their respective policies differed.
However, the most interesting media interaction happened to me in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen, a leading newspaper here.
What was rather surprising about the interview is the reporter’s questions about the very contentious issue of domestic law and whether this needed to be amended in some cases to take into account cultural practices of the specific migrant communities.
It’s been almost eight months since the first Arab dictator, ousted President Ben Ali of Tunisia, fled the country under unprecedented popular uprisings signaling a snow-ball effect that has swept across North Africa and the Middle East like a political tsunami.
Since then, events in Egypt led to similar outcomes with the spectacular demise of President Hosni Mubarak and the subsequent initiation of his trial in Cairo. Indeed, these are tense times to be in power in the Arab world as the fear and prestige of office all but disappeared amid popular demands for political reform and genuine accountability.
Events in Libya have in the last couple of days developed to the point where the rule of maverick self-appointed doyen of Arab and African leaders, Colonel Gaddafi, has all but collapsed relinquishing the capital Tripoli to the rebels and the political leadership of the transitional council.
This is an extract from my keynote address at the Iftaar Dinner Function’ hosted by Deakin University and the Australian Intercultural Society at Deakin Prime, 12 August 2011
Current debates in many western countries seem to suggest that the current tension surrounding Muslims is essentially linked to the perceived incompatibility of Islam and Islamic values with values associated with liberal secular democratic states.
Being in Tunisia post the revolution, one can not help but notice the explosion in political debates every where, the public fora held on a daily basis, the endless Q&A programs on all TV and Radio channels, the print press saturated with opinion pieces and open letters and most of all of internet-based social media following every new development and value-adding to it with its own analysis and recommendations for action.
Truly, the scene at the social and political levels have totally transformed.
Of course, there are challenges in this first-ever Arab nation to successfully dislodge a dictator by peaceful means.
First and foremost, has been the security challenge or how to restore a degree of confidence and trust in a police force that for the past half century was seen as the oppressive arm of the authoritarian regime of the dictatorial president.
While in Barcelona for a scoping conference to set up a new research institute for the UN 'Alliance of Civilisations', I was asked how it is that culture should be looked at and taken more seriously in economic debates.
My take on this complex question is not a simple one. In fact, we can argue easily that a lack of appreciation for cultural specificities can easily derail the best development programs even those with the best of intentions. This is a no brainer!
But we can also argue that the prevalence of 'intercultural tensions' and conflicts can damage a country's efforts to improve its lot economically. We can look at countries in Africa, the Middle East and South/West Asia to realise this.
The movement of people from their countries of origin to another country seeking a more secure and better life is not a new phenomenon and is not likely to diminish any time soon.
The prevailing wisdom in migration scholarship and policy circles is that people move either in a voluntary or un-voluntary capacity. In other words, there are waves of migration driven by purely pull factors in the form of better living standards in economically more prosperous countries.
Forced migrants, on the other hand, are represented as those who usually leave their countries of origin because of push factors relating to insecurity, oppression, sometimes even environmental concerns.
But this distinction does not change the fact that migrants, either forced or voluntary, undergo similar challenges during the actual time of movement as well as when trying to adapt and settle in a new country.
As I landed in Paris yesterday and was greeted with the very ethnically diverse workforce at Charles Degaulles Airport, I could not help thinking about the current polarised debates of migration, race and racism in French polity and across Europe.
Indeed, and for the last few weeks French society has discovered that apparently even their once cherished football (soccer) national team did not escape the politics of ethnicity and identity. It was revealed that there discussions and plans to limit the number of African and Arab junior players in French football clubs and sports institutes as a way of preserving the presence of 'white' players at elite levels.
The story implicated even current national team coach Laurent Blanc (ironically his name translates to ' Laurent the White'!!) and descended French society into yet another dark episode of implicit institutional racism that is often swept under the carpet.
I write this blog a few hours before I take off for Barcelona where I will be one of the invited speakers at a scoping conference organised by the United Nations University for the establishment of an International Institute for the Alliance of Civilisations. The UN Alliance of Civilisations (UNAOC) was set up in 2007 on the recommendation of a High Level Group Report (November 2006) that saw the critical importance of such forum managed out of the UN Secretary General office.