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Ian Buruma writes about politics and culture for a variety of major publications—most frequently for The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Corriere della[…]

Looking for a model of successful multiculturalism? You could do worse than former European colonies such as India and Indonesia.

Question: Is tolerance staging a comeback?

Ian rnBuruma:  Well of course it is not dead, but what has happened is rnthat tolerance which we on the whole used to regard as a positive term rnmore and more has become a very negative one, and that those who are rnafraid that the West or Europe in particular is going to be Islamized, rnthat Europe is going to end up as Eurabia or that we’ll be swamped by rnintolerant Muslims and so on, tend to see tolerance as at best rnindifference, at worst a sort of cowardly appeasement and collaboration rnwith Islamic fascism.  I think that is very regrettable because rntolerance in the sense of being able to live with people whose opinions rnor values you may not share, as long as everybody abides by the law and rndoesn’t start you know slitting each other’s throats I think is rnnecessary. And you can’t demand—and the United States is a good example rnof this—that the entire population shares exactly the same cultural rnvalues, it’s impossible, nor should one demand it.  I mean diversity is rnpart of the societies we live in.

Who does multiculturalism hurt?

Ian Buruma: Well multiculturalism, if it is simply a rndescription of a society which consists of various different cultures rnand languages, is one thing.  We live in such societies.  rnMulticulturalism as an ideology that somehow supposes that or promotes rnthe idea that people should stick to their own culture and not integratern or assimilate I think is wrong. But I think as an ideology it is rncertainly on the way out.  I don’t think that that many people believe rnin that anymore.  I think that when you think of it in that dogmatic wayrn it harms minorities because they’re not encouraged to learn the skills rnor the languages that would allow them to take part in the societies andrn the economies in a way that would be beneficial to them.

How have former British colonies dealt with the phenomenonrn of multiculturalism?

Ian Buruma:  Well India is rather a good example of a rnplace which has institutionalized multiculturalism in the sense that it rnincludes a population of very different cultures and even ethnicities rnand I don’t just mean Muslims and Hindus.  There are a huge number of rndifferent languages in India and so on. And somehow it works even thoughrn there are instances of violence and tensions and it is a democracy rnthat's hugely problematic, but it works.  They’ve found a way of dealingrn with it that actually probably the West in its more hysterical moments rncould learn something from.
rnIndonesia likewise. It was only a nation state because of... because thern Dutch colonial history made it that.  I mean it is highly diverse.  It rnhas only just become a democracy and showing many tensions, but I think rnagain one probably we should be paying more attention to Indonesia rnbecause it is the country with the largest Muslim population in the rnworld and when people say Islam in incompatible with democracy they rnshould take another look at Indonesia.

Question: Are rnurban-rural divisions a source of violent culture clash in Europe?

Ian Buruma:   Well the violence that comes from radical rnIslamists for example is sometimes blamed on a clash of civilizations rnthat somehow different traditions, one a non-Western one, one a Europeanrn one, are sort of violently clashing.  I think that is a mistake.  It’s arn mistake in analysis, because the people who drop bombs in the London rnunderground for example are not guest workers from little villages in rnAnatoli or the Rif Mountains in Morocco.  They’re people born in Europe rnand raised in Europe who often grew up not knowing much about religion. rnAnd I think they indeed are often in a kind of no man’s land, which is rnvery often true of second generation immigrants, where they are rnalienated from the culture of their parents or grandparents and feel rnrejected for one reason or another by the country in which they grew up.rn And of course they’re vulnerable, particularly vulnerable, to violent rncauses.  All young people are vulnerable to them, but they are perhaps rnespecially vulnerable.

Recorded April 21, 2010