International Multiculturalism Symposium

Comparative Multiculturalism from Transnational and Global Perspectives


Immigration debates and the rise of human mobility in many European and North American countries, but as well in Australia and New Zealand reflect a number of transnational discursive productions, such as the perception of porous national borders, socio-economic insecurity, and rising political instability. As a response to this rise in immigration flows and human mobility, many émigré-societies have heavily relied on multiculturalism as a social policy response to deal with settlement's related issues of new immigrants. The symposium will also explore different issues such as the meaning of citizenship, social justice, intercultural tensions and related social problems.

However, more recently, multiculturalism has come under attack and gradually started to retreat as a socio-political concept for dealing with cultural and religious diversity in the wake of today's economic difficulties and security risks and the rise of human mobility. Indeed, multiculturalism is now being undermined by stronger discursive practices, which tend to encourage a commitment to particular mainstream values of national identity. Within this retreating version of multiculturalism, whose discursive trajectories seem to move from cosmopolitanism to assimilationism, migrant communities in Western émigré countries, as well as western nationals with visible and invisible non-western markers, are increasingly engaging and challenging notions of representations, national belonging, and cultural identity.

This symposium features a number of prominent international scholars who will discuss and present their latest research and reflections on multiculturalism. Among others themes, the participants will address the following key issues:

  • Rethinking multiculturalism in/for the context of 21st century
  • Transnational multiculturalism
  • Multiculturalism and cultural representations
  • Visibility/invisibility of racial, cultural, and religious minorities in émigré societies
  • The state of multiculturalism and indigenous communities
  • The contradictory manifestations of multicultural ideologies and the ethics of political membership


Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh - Deputy Director, National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies, Asia Institute, The University of Melbourne, Australia 
Paper: Islamophobes and Islamists Unite: Multiculturalism and the question of the Silent Majority

Associate Professor Sirma Bilge - Associate Professor of Sociology, Université de Montréal, Canada
Paper: Secularism, sexual exceptionalism and the new politics of belonging in a 'vulnerable' nation: Rethinking the 'multicultural dilemma' through contemporary Quebec

Professor Gary Craig - Professor Emeritus of Social Justice , The University of Hull, United Kingdom
Paper: Exclusion and assimilation: the lot of Britain's ethnic minorities

Professor Kevin Dunn - School of Social Sciences, University of Western Sydney, Australia
Paper: Transnational identity, affiliations and citizenship in Australia: Comparing four immigrant groups

Associate Professor Michele Grossman - Associate Dean (Research), Faculty of Arts, Education and Human Development, Victoria University, Melbourne
Paper: Resilient multiculturalism? Diversifying Australian policy thinking about community resilience in disasters and emergencies

Professor Paul James - Director, Global Cities Institute, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), Melbourne, Australia
: The Flatness of Modern Diversity: From Assimilation to Ontological Cleansing

Dr Hannah Lewis - Research Fellow, Leeds Metropolitan University, United Kingdom
Paper: From multiculturalism to community cohesion: a local UK case study

Professor Paul Morris - UNESCO Chair of Interreligious Understanding and Relations in New Zealand and the Pacific, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
Paper: Religious Diversity in New Zealand: Education, Employment and the Media

Associate Professor Elizabeth Rata - School of Critical Studies in Education, Faculty of Education, The University of Auckland, New Zealand
Paper: Multiculturalism and Progressive Politics

Professor Zlatko Skrbis - Dean, UQ Graduate, The University of Queensland, Australia
Paper: The 'Veil' and the Limits of Multiculturalism


Professor Fethi Mansouri
(Symposium Convenor and Co-Chair) 
Director, Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation 
Chair, Migration and Intercultural Relations 
Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia

Professor Boulou Ebanda de B'béri
(Symposium Co-Chair) 
Founding Director, Audiovisual Media Lab for the Studies of Cultures and Societies 
Professor of Media and Cultural Studies, Department of Communication
University of Ottawa, Canada

Dr Vince Marotta
Deputy Director, Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation
Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia

Mrs Chippy Kurian Sunil
Coordinator, Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation
Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia




Islamophobes and Islamists Unite: Multiculturalism and the question of the Silent Majority

Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh and *Joshua M. Roose
Deputy Director & *PhD Student and Researcher, National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia

A great deal of contemporary public and academic debate has centred on the level of compatibility between 'Islam' and the 'West' as if the two are mutually exclusive entities. This debate has been particularly vociferous in multicultural nations such as Australia and the United Kingdom where tolerance and acceptance of cultural diversity has become state policy since 1970s. Multiculturalism has been officially celebrated as enriching the nation. Arguments voicing polarised political positions have often been the loudest and received considerable exposure in this debate. Populist politicians, commentators and quasi-academics portray western Muslims as a 'fifth column,' intent on destroying the fabric of western culture. They constitute one side of a proverbial coin. The other side is occupied by Islamist groups and individuals who reject the 'West', and its system of government (most notably democracy and multiculturalism), as the arch enemy of Islam. In recent years however, a number of Muslim intellectuals in the West have challenged this Huntingtonesque world view in the public domain, taking issue with the essentialist depiction of Islam and the textual interpretations of the Holy Book. They constitute a voice of moderation for Islam and present a strong case for the compatibility of being Muslim in the West.

Whilst a burgeoning level of academic scrutiny is being focussed upon moderate Muslims, this paper also notes the absence of academic literature on a large part of the Muslim population whose public life is not necessarily guided by their religion. This group is unrepresented in the public debate on Islam and is often ignored. Yet they could constitute the majority of Western Muslims. This paper poses a number of questions about the role of Islam in multicultural societies, with special attention to the implications of ignoring the silent Muslim majority.

Shahram Akbarzadeh is Professor of Asian Politics (Middle East & Central Asia) and Deputy Director of the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Shahram is the founding editor of the Islamic Studies Series, published by Melbourne University Press and a regular public commentator on Central Asia, Iran and Islam in the West. Professor Akbarzadeh has produced key reports for the Australian Research Council (ARC) on Australian based scholarship on Islam and also for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) on Muslim integration in Australia. Professor Akbarzadeh is currently leading the Australian component of an ARC grant examining Citizenship and Belonging amongst Muslims in Australia and the United Kingdom.

Joshua Roose is a PhD Student and Researcher at the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Joshua's work examines the key social influences upon identity construction and expression amongst young Australian Muslim men. Joshua's most recent work was the presentation of a paper titled The Future of Islam and Australian Multiculturalism at the 2010 Australian Political studies Association Conference.

Secularism, sexual exceptionalism and the new politics of belonging in a 'vulnerable' nation: Rethinking the 'multicultural dilemma' through contemporary Quebec

Associate Professor Sirma Bilge
Department of Sociology, Université de Montréal, Canada

In the past decade the language of gender equality and sexual freedoms has become pivotal to western immigration/integration debates, giving rise to a new brand of rhetorics of exclusion in which women's rights and gay rights are construed as the core civilizational values of the west, whilst migrant communities, particularly Muslims, are cast as a threat to them. Tackling these new ways in which cultural differences, proximities and cleavages are conceptualized through nationalized and racialized sexualities, my paper traces the ideological (re)generation of Quebecois nation through its 'sexual exceptionalism', which incorporates the language of women's-and-gay rights into the national narrative, in a time of 'crisis' of Quebecois version of normative pluralism, interculturalism. 
My analysis of recent fiery debates on the extent to which minority religious accommodation should be practiced reveals how the language of secularism effectively mediates the articulation of feminism and gay activism to the newly re-configured cultural nationalism, whilst representations of Quebec as a minority nation, latecomer to modernity, whose survival is exceptional and precarious, justify its anti-pluralist stand and calls for muscular protection against religious others and their sexual archaism.

Though following the broader dichotomous frame of contemporary western 'sexual exceptionalism', opposing a sexually liberated, feminist and gay-friendly "modernity", "Us", to inherently patriarchal and homophobic pre-modern Others, who are either to be excluded from our civilized space or to be reformed, Quebecois rhetorics of exclusion also display significant specificities that pinpoint to newer temporal contradictions within the national narrative and underscore ambivalences and internal inconsistencies in the location of gender and sexualities vis-à-vis nation and nationalism.

A tenured associate professor of sociology at Université de Montreal, where she teaches the sociology of ethnic relations, gender and sexualities and postcolonial theories, Sirma Bilge is also the founder and the director of the Intersectionality Research Unit that existed at CEETUM (Centre for Ethnic Studies of Montreal Universities) between 2005-2010. She is an elected member of the Executive Board of the Reseach Commitee (RC05) on Racism, Nationalism and Ethnic Relations of the International Sociological Association (ISA), as well as an elected regional representative for Canada within the ISA Research Committee (RC32) on Women in Society. Her current work engages with the intersections of social formations of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and class, and examines precisely how notions of national/ethnic sameness and otherness articulate themselves through gender and sexual regulation. She co-edited (with Ann Denis) a thematic issue for the Journal of Intercultural Studies (February 2010) on "Women, Intersectionality and Diasporas", and (with Barbara Thériault) a special issue for Sociologie et Sociétés, on "border-crossers". She recently organized (with Paul Scheibelhofer) at the XVIII World Congress of Sociology in Gothenburg a double session on "Confronting the Politics of Racialized Sexualities" (i. On regulating minority gender and sexualities; ii. From hetero- to homonationalism) which is to be transformed into a collective publication in the course of the next year. Some recent publications are:

  • Bilge, Sirma. 2010. "Beyond Subordination vs. Resistance: An Intersectional Approach to the Agency of Veiled Muslim Women", Journal of Intercultural Studies, vol. 31, no.1, pp. 9-28.
  • Bilge, Sirma. 2010. "...alors que nous, Québécois, nos femmes sont égales à nous, et nous les aimons ainsi": la patrouille des frontières au nom de l'égalité de genre dans une "nation" en quête de souveraineté", Sociologie et Sociétés, vol. 42, n° 1, pp. 197-226.
  • Bilge, Sirma & Olivier Roy. 2010. "La discrimination intersectionnelle: la naissance et le développement d'un concept et les paradoxes de sa mise en application en droit antidiscriminatoire", Revue Canadienne Droit et Société, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 51-74.
  • Bilge, Sirma. 2009. "Théorisations féministes de l'intersectionnalité", Diogène, no. 225, pp. 158-176.
  • Bilge, Sirma. 2008. "Between Gender and Cultural Equality", in Engin F. Isin, (ed.), Recasting the Social in Citizenship, University of Toronto Press, pp. 100-133.

Exclusion and assimilation: the lot of Britain's ethnic minorities

Professor Gary Craig
University of Durham, UK

Britain's stance towards ethnic minorities has been janus-faced: developing an increasingly repressive and restrictive stance towards immigration, and – supported by a strident media - portraying minorities and migrants as undermining British culture and values, 'sponging' on the welfare state. Immigrants have been characterised as 'cunning', 'loathsome', 'unprincipled' and likely to 'swamp' British culture. Domestic policies of successive governments apparently balanced this stance with 'community'-based initiatives, from race relations policies, community relations policies to present community cohesion policies. These have not fundamentally addressed the racism inherent in immigration policy and practice and more widely. The consequence is that the welfare of Britain's minorities – measured by outcomes in every branch of welfare provision – has largely been disregarded by the British state. Despite some liberal initiatives aimed at improving the lot of Britain's minorities, the racism inherent in policy and practice persists and recent UK governments have been more concerned with assimilation than multiculturalism, and they face continuing social exclusion and social injustice.

Gary Craig is Professor of Community Development and Social Justice at the University of Durham, UK and Emeritus Professor of Social Justice at the University of Hull. He is an Associate Fellow at the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation, where he has led the team working on issues of modern slavery. His main research interests cover 'race' and ethnicity, the Third Sector, community development, local governance, poverty and exclusion. His latest book is International Social Policy (Second edition, Palgrave, 2008) with a book on Child Slavery Now appearing in October. Main contact email

Transnational identity, affiliations and citizenship in Australia: Comparing four immigrant groups

Professor Kevin M. Dunn
School of Social Sciences, The University of Western Sydney, Australia

Transnationalism can be a description of these activities, which include correspondence through various modes of technology, telephone contact, e-mail, sms/text, and other forms of emotional and economic links. Transnational networks have become spaces of socialisation for immigrant populations, including a variety of movements and communication. Transnationalism is also a subjectivity, manifest as dual nationalities, senses of belonging, and notions of home. And these subjective dispositions can be associated with specific and complicated legal belongings or citizenships. Transnational subjectivities are popularly thought to be facilitated by those transnational social fields and acts. Data from a telephone survey of 1197 Greeks, Turks and Chinese (from HK and from PRC) in Brisbane and Sydney, are used to examine the relationship between transnational identity, movement, and communications. This research highlights the modes and frequency, and pressures of movement and communications between the four migrant groups and their "home". Cross-community comparisons provide an insight into the culturally varied responses to, and legacies of, international migration. The paper charts some of the political and policy challenges of transnational world. Finally, the paper reviews some of the insights to be gained from comparative research, including the emphasis it gives to the structural conditions of immigrant experiences and subjectivities, and the bulwark it offers against generalisations.

Professor Kevin Dunn (BA (W'gong); PhD (Newcastle); FNGS), is Professor of Human Geography and Urban Studies, School of Social Sciences, at The University of Western Sydney. His areas of research include the geographies of racism, immigration and settlement, Islam in Australia, and local government and multiculturalism. Recent books include Landscapes: Ways of Imagining the World, and his recent articles are published in Society and Space, Ethnicities, The Australian Geographer, Studia Islamika, Urban Studies and the Australian Journal of Social Issues. He is a Fellow of the New South Wales Geographical Society and President.

Resilient multiculturalism? Diversifying Australian policy thinking about community resilience in disasters and emergencies

Associate Professor Michele Grossman
Faculty of Arts, Education and Human Development, Victoria University, Melbourne

Even in countries like Australia that demonstrate a strong public commitment to cultural pluralism and social cohesion, ethno-cultural 'difference' can be seen as a risk or threat to national security and values at times of political, natural, economic and/or social crises. Australian government policymakers have attempted to counter this trend by focusing strongly on 'community resilience' as a key element in countering extremism and enhancing emergency preparedness and response. Explicit engagement with Australia's cultural diversity sometimes flickers on this agenda – for example, through the Australian Emergency Management Institute's recent suite of projects with CALD communities (2006-2010).

However, a primary conclusion of the AEMI's joint four-year program with the Australian Multicultural Commission is that CALD communities are largely 'vulnerable' in the context of disasters and emergency management and need to be better integrated into majority-culture models of theorising and embedding community resilience. The focus on vulnerability and the need for stronger national integration echoes Derek McGhee's recent critique of Britain's Strength in Diversity framework, which he suggests beats a retreat from multiculturalism by using a 'variety of "civic integration" masquerading as a two-way ("host" and "migrant") integration strategy' (2008: 88). The sense of retreat is further reinforced by the silence in recent national frameworks on Australia's multicultural fabric when discussing 'community resilience' in relation to emergency and disaster service provision, education, and communication.

This suggests a superficial, even tokenistic tribute to cultural diversity that does not embed diversity comprehensively at the levels of either conceptualising or resourcing 'community' resilience. Such an approach fails to acknowledge the varieties of 'resilience capital' that many culturally diverse individuals and communities may bring with them when they resettle in new environments by ignoring the question of what 'resilience' actually means to those from culturally diverse communities. In so doing, it also avoids the critical task of incorporating intercultural definitional diversity around the concepts of both 'community' and 'resilience' used to promote social cohesion and the capacity to recover from disasters and crises. How might we do differently in thinking about the broader challenges for multiculturalism itself as a resilient transnational concept and practice?

Michele Grossman is Associate Professor and Associate Dean (Dean Research and Research Training) in the Faculty of Arts, Education and Human Development at Victoria University in Melbourne. Originally trained as a researcher in literary and cultural studies, after fifteen years of researching and publishing on Indigenous Australian writing, representation and culture she turned toward social research on refugee identity, settlement and intercultural relationships, with a particular focus on the experience of Sudanese refugees. 
Michele's current research interests relate to CALD youth, community resilience and cultural diversity. Her recent research projects, such as Don't Go There: Young People's Perspectives on Community Safety and Policing (with J Sharples, 2010) have focused on CALD youth perspectives in relation to policing, gangs and street violence. In 2011 she will be hosted by Victoria Police (Youth Affairs Unit) and the Office of Police Integrity for a collaborative research project exploring operational police perspectives and attitudes toward culturally diverse youth in Victoria. 
Michele's latest essay, 'We are all learners now' (Griffith REVIEW 29: 2010, 137-147), on her relationships within the Sudanese refugee community in Melbourne, has been nominated by its publisher for an Australian Human Rights Commission Award and will be broadcast as a radio documentary by ABC Radio National later this year.

The Flatness of Modern Diversity: From Assimilation to Ontological Cleansing

Professor Paul James
Director, Global Cities Institute, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), Melbourne, Australia

'Diversity' and 'multiculturalism' have become a positive concepts held up against those of 'homogeneity', 'sameness' and the other synonyms of an undifferentiated whole. However, the new tolerance, acceptance, and even glorification, of the 'diversity' of the content of social life hides a deeper process that has allowed the flattening out of different forms of social life to continue apace. Sometimes this occurs in subtle ways; sometimes in brutal ways. Sometimes it is about issues of political difference; sometimes it goes to heart of ontological difference—that is fundamental differences in the form of life. In the contemporary context this is most pressing in relation to tribal and traditional ways of life as flat modern multiculturalism is used as a way of turning difference into the differences that make little difference—a modern bazaar of different culinary expressions, clothing and colours.

Paul James is Director of the Global Cities Institute (RMIT) and Director of the UN Global Compact—Cities Programme. He is on the Council of the Institute of Postcolonial Studies. He is author or editor of twenty-four books including Nation Formation (Sage, 1996) and Globalism, Nationalism, Tribalism (Sage, 2006). He has been an advisor to a number of agencies and governments including the Helsinki Process, the Canadian Prime Minister's G20 Forum, the National Economic Advisory Council of Malaysia, and the Commission on Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor. His work for the Papua New Guinea Minister for Community Development became the basis for their Integrated Community Development Policy.

From multiculturalism to community cohesion: a local UK case study

Dr Hannah Lewis
Leeds Metropolitan University, UK

The language for managing cultural relations in the UK has changed. Multiculturalism as a concept and practice has been under attack. The new language emphasises broad concepts: equalities, community cohesion, diversity and community involvement. Support for maintenance of distinctive cultural identities has been questioned; media and politicians have negatively influenced the debate in which Muslims are frequently presented as particularly 'risky'. These changes are felt and managed at the local level by local authorities and the voluntary sector, and through partnerships between them.

This research looked at the situation in a northern city that reflects national trends. 'Equalities' and 'community cohesion' have taken over as the dominant concepts, coupled with an emphasis on individual civic participation. Promotion of good community relations conflicted with other, often national, policies and discourses that stigmatise British Muslims and that create barriers to integration. This has led to a de-emphasising rather than 'retreat' from multiculturalism. Such shifts may now be given fresh and increasing momentum from the change in central government to a centre-right coalition and could be a portent of trends to come in Australia. 

Hannah Lewis is in the Carnegie Research Institute at Leeds Metropolitan University investigating the role of leisure for new migrants. Her research interests include migration and refugees, 'community', UK immigration and asylum policies, and methods and ethics of researching mobile populations. Her PhD (University of Hull) an ethnographic study of community which explored everyday associational life among refugees accommodated in Leeds under the compulsory dispersal system. Hannah has conducted research on migration, integration, the destitution of refused asylum seekers, housing and volunteering for academic, governmental, statutory, and voluntary sector organisations.

Religious Diversity in New Zealand: Education, Employment and the Media

Professor Paul Morris 
UNESCO Chair of Interreligious Understanding and Relations in New Zealand and the Pacific, Victoria University, New Zealand

Abstract:In the last two decades New Zealand has been dramatically transformed from unique and largely Christian bicultural nation into a multi-religious country with a bare Christian majority and a third of the population declaring 'no religion'. Starting from the attempt to explain the rapidly changing religious demography, this paper explores the impact and implications of this new religious diversity for social cohesion, social stability, biculturalism and the changed role of religion in New Zealand. The focus in section two will be on three domains: education; employment; and, the media. The final section will explicate the relationships between multi-religious and multicultural diversity and the relationship of the two to biculturalism as the basis for a discussion of future trends and tensions in New Zealand.

Professor Paul Morris is UNESCO Chair of Interreligious Understanding and Relations in New Zealand and the Pacific at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand where he is Programme Director for Religious Studies. Professor Morris' published research ranges from biblical studies to religion and politics in New Zealand. His recent publications include: New Rights/New Zealand (2005), Religious Diversity in New Zealand (2007, 2009); Religion in New Zealand Schools (2010); Religious Diversity in the New Zealand Workplace (2010); The Lloyd Geering Reader (2007) and Religion and Identity in New Zealand and Malaysia (2005). Earlier publications include award winning collections of New Zealand spiritual verse, Stranger in a Strange Land (2002) and Spirit Abroad (2004); Religion, Modernity and Postmodernity (1998); Detraditionalisation (1996); A walk in the Garden (1992), The Values of the Enterprise Culture (1992); and, Living Religions (1994). His current research is on religion, politics and human rights in the Pacific island nations, and on a monograph provisionally entitled, Democracy, Diversity, and Dialogue exploring the impact of increasing religious diversity on democracies, focussing on education, employment, media policies and politics.

Multiculturalism and Progressive Politics

Associate Professor Elizabeth Rata
School of Critical Studies in Education, Faculty of Education, The University of Auckland

Abstract:The taken-for-granted progressive nature of multiculturalism has been questioned in recent years. While cultural politics in all its forms: multiculturalism, biculturalism (in New Zealand), and indigenism, are aspects of the modern project, do such politics support the progressive goal of redistributive social and economic justice? Could in fact cultural politics contribute to that goal or does progressive politics require the assimilationist modern nation-state? I explore these questions by examining the nation-state as the site for the classed worker and the liberal-democratic citizen to argue that progressive politics has its source and its strength in the contradictions of that class-citizen dialectic. Culturalism, on the other hand, supports the weakening of the liberal-democratic nation-state by contributing to the politics of localisation; the flip side of globalisation's neo-conservative interests.

Elizabeth Rata is Associate Professor in the School of Critical Studies in Education at the Faculty of Education, The University of Auckland. Her research is about the political economy of social change, with particular interest in the effects of globalisatin on ethnicity and socio-economic class. Her major work, A Political Economy of Neotribal Capitalism, was published in 2000. In 2006, she co-edited (with Roger Openshaw) Public Policy and Ethnicity: The Politics of Ethnic Boundary Making (Palgrave Macmillan), and in 2009, co-edited The Politics of Conformity, (also with Roger Openshaw). She is currently completing a book on the political economy of knowledge in education.

The 'Veil' and the Limits of Multiculturalism

Professor Zlatko Skrbis 
Dean, UQ Graduate, The University of Queensland, Australia

There have been a number of highly public controversies surrounding the use of garments by Muslim women to cover themselves in public. This issue came to most prominence in France where the ban on Muslim women wearing the burkha has made it into the parliament. The views on the issue differ widely and they polarise the public: on the one hand there are those who see any such covering as inconsistent with the logic of republican secularism or feminist conceptions of freedom; on the other there are those who see any prohibition of these practices as impractical, as impinging on personal liberty and choice or even as counterproductive. Using 'the veil' as a shortcut term for the broad range of such garments, while acknowledging the diverse forms of covering practices, this paper explores why such intense controversies erupt whenever the topic is mentioned. It argues that these controversies represent a symbolic boundary of 'safe' multiculturalism, characterised as much by its readily available declarations of appreciation of diversity as its inability to depoliticise culture.

Zlatko Skrbis is the Dean of Graduate School and Professor of Sociology at the University of Queensland. He is the author of Long-distance Nationalism (1999) and Constructing Singapore (2008, with Michael Barr) and The Sociology of Cosmopolitanism (with G. Kendall and I. Woodward, 2009). His recent publications include papers in the Sociological Review, Ethnic and Migration Studies and Australian Journal of Political Science.

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