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10 October 2013
Deakin University's Professor Fethi Mansouri has urged Australians and the global community to embrace cultural diversity if they want a cohesive and peaceful society in his inaugural address as UNESCO Chair in Comparative Research on Cultural Diversity and Social Justice.
Professor Mansouri said Australians needed to move beyond just accepting migrants and difference to accepting that with each new influx of migrants society itself changed and as a result they needed to see the new migrants as equal and valued contributors to society.
“We need to go beyond acknowledging cultural difference and accept that there are positional differences as well,” he said.
“Injustice in modern society is not just about the distribution of material resources but also the position individuals find themselves in when they are starting out.”
Professor Mansouri said issues of recognition and democratic participation needed to be considered if injustice was to be rectified.
“A cultural minority is not just defined in terms of numbers, it’s about any group that is being subjected to an arrogant and derogatory cultural approach,” he said.
“For example we have seen this recently in the Australian elections, women may have the formal right to stand for office, yet they are often poorly placed to exercise that right, and even when they do make headways as we saw in the new government, you can end up with one single woman in the whole new Abbott cabinet.
“So such injustices therefore are a function of the various ways in which contemporary democracies deny or don’t value legitimate differences among people.”
Professor Mansouri said that supporters of such injustices would argue that everyone should be treated the same, men, women, black, white – the classical colour blind approach.
“In this approach, anything could be justified,” he said.
“You can see this in France, in the northern suburbs of Paris, the North African migrants live in the most atrocious of conditions, you are not even allowed to talk to them (in a social scientist capacity) about identity because the French law is sensitive to issues of religion, ethnicity and culture, and therefore they are all supposed to be equally French.
“It’s all supposed to be colour-blind, yet their situation is extremely negative and vulnerable and the government should be doing something about it at the policy level, yet no one is allowed to touch the issue.”
Professor Mansouri said that in a cohesive society governments and civil society organisations played a key role in ensuring the wellbeing of all its members, not just those classified as formal citizens.”
“In a cohesive society, people share a common sense of identity and belonging and strong and positive relationships can be developed by people from different backgrounds in all public spheres,” he said.
“Such societies enable people to engage constructively in defining public policies that affect them directly.
“This is the key to effective policy change.”
Professor Mansouri added that reconciling cultural diversity and social cohesion must be a priority for the research community and policy makers.
“It is not just about protecting the cultural rights of migrants and minority groups,” he said.
“It is about ensuring cultural diversity is recognised and harnessed as a cross cutting dimension of both social justice and human progress.”
Professor Mansouri said the application of ethical governance of cultural diversity must extend from traditional cultural domains to include education, media and communication, economic structures as well as judicial and political institutions.
“The reality is cultural diversity cuts across all public policy areas, therefore it must penetrate and shape all domains of public policy,” he said.
“Only then can we ensure it does not produce tension and conflict but generates inter cultural understanding and social justice.”
Deakin Media Relations
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Alfred Deakin Professor and UNESCO Chair in Comparative Research on Cultural Diversity and Social Justice Fethi Mansouri.
Interested in Professor Mansouri's views? Read his blog