Multiculturalism - A Contribution to Peace?

September 2011- Geneva, Switzerland
At-the-UN/Geneva/International-Day-of-Peace-2011
By: Carolyn Handschin

Commemorating the International Day of Peace

Marking International Peace Day, WFWPI as a lead organizer, and seven partner NGOs held a conference at the UN and the University of Geneva on the theme: "Multiculturalism: A Contribution to Peace?" Conference co-sponsors were the Permanent Missions to the UN in Geneva of Republic of Indonesia, and Republic of the Philippines, International Organization for Migration (IOM), ASEAN Foundation, Universal Peace Federation (UPF), Geneva Interfaith Intercultural Alliance (GIIA) and Fribourg Peace Forum (FPF). The topic, multiculturalism was triggered by words of several European Leaders, including Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel who stated in Potsdam earlier this year that Germany's attempt to create a multicultural society has "utterly failed." In Munich, in a speech attended by world leaders, British Prime Minister David Cameron criticized his country's longstanding policy of multiculturalism. "Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream," adding later, "We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they (citizens) feel they want to belong".

Government and Migration

The Opening session began with a young Philippino/Swiss singer, Ms. Lica de Guzman, who sang "All I Want to Be", expressing the hope of young people to realize great ideals in this globalized world. Speakers included former head of ECOSOC and of the Human Rights Commission, Dr. Makarim Wibisono. As Executive Director of the ASEAN Foundation, he emphasized interreligious and intercultural dialogue, cooperation and respect of human rights as prerequisites for facing the huge influx of migrants throughout the world. Dr. Yong Cheon Song, UPF's Chair in Europe explained that today's world cultures grew from religious roots. Any strategy for peace must include fostering dialogue and cooperation among religions and cultures. Ambassador Evan P. Garcia of the Philippines, expressed appreciation for WFWPI's work including in Geneva with the Model UN "Interreligious Council". "We consider ourselves as one of the primary movers in interreligious dialogue and cooperation for peace in the world."

Ambassador Robert Vandemeulebroucke of Belgium noted ongoing scare mongering about migrants taking health care, taking jobs, depressing wages and threatening demographic balance. The attitude of many migrants in Europe that "you can come here and remain the same", faces increased criticism and has given rise to many narrow minded populist parties. But many migrants are productive and economically active contributors to the wellbeing of their host nation.

Ms. Monica Malek, Office for Integration, Dept Ministry of Justice and Police, Switzerland conveyed greetings from the Hon. Simonetta Sommaruga, Federal Councilor and Minister of the Department of Justice and Police of Switzerland. She described Switzerland's 1.7 million immigrants, 22% of the population. A third of marriages are bi-national. Co-existence between Swiss nationals and immigrants generally works well. A fruit of the Swiss immigration act from 2004 is general mutual respect and tolerance. Migrants must learn one Swiss language. This creates equal access to education and jobs. Recent troubles arose when populist parties launched an initiative against building minarets. The government underestimated fear of "islamisation" of the country, especially by radical groups. The vote outcome showed people deciding against the government in this matter.

Former Minister of Defense in Netherlands, Dr. Willem Van Eekelen, commented that "greying" Europe badly needs migrant workers. He offered a vision of cooperation between as many nations and civil society organizations (NGOs) as possible. The current UN is an inter-governmental organization that reflects post world war II when governments and states primary duty was to protect their own people. Nevertheless the EU has transformed relations among European nations. No one thinks of war between European nations any more. "Our most cherished freedom has its limit where we infringe on our neighbor's freedom. Migrants also need to respect the society that receives and hosts them."

Multiculturalism, Women and Development

Minister for Disarmament and Humanitarian Affairs of the Philippines Mission, Dr. Jesus Domingo, chaired the session. Ms Blandine Mollard -( IOM Gender Issues Coordinator) explained that female migrants face unique difficulty because their lives are often controlled by harmful practices that violate rights: forced marriage, genital mutilation etc. These women are often invisible. The media focuses on negative aspects of migrants, but the great economic and social contribution that women make should not be forgotten. The money sent home can raise entire communities out of poverty, while they forego their own comfort. This affects the view of women in their communities of origin and children who benefit from the generosity of their extended family members.

Ms. Nicole Heydari from USA, of Mexican and Iranian parentage, a Masters student in International Development at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna was in Afghanistan for development work, building bridges between US forces and the Afghan people. Afghans easily expressed complaints to her, allowing her to find solutions. Identifying shared values forms the basis for intercultural and interpersonal cooperation. In Afghanistan, a third of the National Assembly are now women. A quota created this transformation but proper training to ensure qualification is also crucial.

Ms Carolyn Handschin, WFWP-Europe President and Deputy Director of the WFWPI UN Office described WFWPI founding and Japanese volunteer teams appointed to over one hundred countries, twenty years ago. These volunteers supported local women's development initiatives, believing that women's innate talents and life experiences are needed to create community cohesion and peacebuilding. After identifying local needs, available resources and innovative leadership, volunteers developed projects and programs. Many were institutionalized. The WFWPI "Bridge of Peace" programs focus on reconciling historic enmity (political, ethnic, religious) and forged hundreds of peacebuilding projects that counter the forces of disintegration in our societies. In Europe, WFWPI "Dignity of Women" campaigns and "Human Rights and Dignity" educational tools that empower women as leaders and policy influencers have been developed and implemented. This brings women of different cultures and life experiences together in solidarity. A recent focus is young women's leadership training. WFWP chapters have activities in support of UN MDGs, Poverty Eradication, and a Culture of Peace to resolve pressing problems and provide girls and women of grassroots areas opportunities to think, act and influence globally.

Youth Special Model UN Session on Multiculturalism and other Sessions

At the Model UN session, young women played roles of UN Secretary General, IOM Director General, UNESCO Director General. A mock session of a hypothetical "UN Interreligious Council" was played by youth representing their faiths. They debated solutions to multiculturalism's image crisis and gave recommendations. Ms. Handschin, coordinator of the youth program, ensured that over half the Council members were young women. Neelam Rose, representing Islam, who leads a youth NGO, "Say No to Racism" in UK, described how, against a background of soaring youth unemployment and mistrust of police and state, people of faith stood together to defend their businesses and places of worship during the riots in UK. Many young people reaked havoc, but many youth also cleaned up the streets. The funeral of three young Muslim men who died protecting shared communities, attracted 20,000 people of all races, religions and ages. Facilitating dialogue between races and religions and investing in young people are important lessons learned. See report at www.giia.ch.

The final session was on Educational Programs and Institutions. An insightful presentation from IOM,'s Christiane Aghazarm, informed on vast misinformation about migration that often places responsibility for problems on migrants rather than on inadequate policies. IOM is cooperating with media, to create education tool kits that provide the human face to migration, training community and religious leaders to help navigate issues people face. Mr. Jack Corley, Chairman of UPF in UK, reported on over twenty years of experience in Russia and China, with UPF's Character Education programs. He shared his experience on identifying common values in societies recovering from breakdown of their previous value systems, without hurting people's sensitivities. Ending the session, Ms Ruveni Wijesekera from the Swiss Academy for Development (SAD), reported on Sport and Play programs in Sri Lanka that include inter-ethnic dialogue to build trust and empathy among two struggling communities.