Intervention by the Very Rev. Dr. William A. McComish, Emeritus Dean, Geneva Cathedral
Conference on the topic « Multiculturalism: A contribution to Peace ? »
United Nations Office Geneva • Room XIX (19), Geneva, September, 2011
Multiculturalism is more than a contribution to peace, there will be no peace on earth without multiculturalism.
As a protestant minister of religion, I must make my own position clear, there will be no peace without multiculturalism. I welcome a multicultural world because I believe that God never intended to make us the same ! Humanity is white and black and brown, humanity speaks hundreds of languages. Humanity is male and female, young and old. This diversity is not a weakness, rather it is our strength. We are made more adult by our contacts with people who are different from us. People who are different give us new insights, help us to look at things a different way, help us to question and to better understand our own beliefs. This is a healthy cross-fertilisation that we see in all nature.
The ideal is that we all retain a clear idea of our own identity, while appreciating that of our neighbours. Knowing other people and their identity puts our own beliefs and conduct into perspective. I would never have understood Protestantism if it were not for the Buddhist, muslim and jewish elements in my own family.
I welcome multiculturalism, not simply because it is the state of much of the world but because I believe it is Gods wish that we should be multicultural. We see this in Christianity in the Book of Acts and in the gospel of St Luke, where we see the apostles in non-aggressive contacts with older religions and where we see Jesus refusing to countenance an attack on a Samaritan village. It is not, for me, a simple toleration of an existing situation, it is to rejoice that God has created us different. I am not neutral to the spread of multiculturalism, seeing it as an inevitable spread in a modern world, rather ,I work for it actively.
In Geneva, where it is possible to find schools with children of over one hundred nationalities, we have long understood that we are strengthened in our understanding of the complexity of humanity, and thus in God’s creation, through dialogue with our neighbours. In 1999 the main religions present in Geneva, Christian (of various kinds) Islam, Jewish, Baha’I, Hindu and Buddhist as well as representatives of civil society, UNHCR, UNHCHR, CICR, signed the Geneva Spiritual Appeal in St Pierre Cathedral, this text calls upon :
« Because our personal convictions or the religions to which we owe allegiance have common a respect for the integrity of humankind.
Because our personal convictions or the religious to which we owe allegiance have common a rejection of hatred and violence.
Because our personal convictions or the religions to which we owe allegiance have common the hope for a better and more just world.
Representing religious communities and civil society we appeal to the leaders of the world, whatever their field of influence, to strictly adhere to the following three principles:
1) A refusal to invoke a religious or spiritual power to justify violence of any kind,
2) A refusal to invoke a religious or spiritual source to justify discrimination and exclusion;
3) A refusal to exploit or dominate others by means of strength, intellectual capacity or spiritual persuasion, wealth or social status.
Grounded in the Genevan tradition of welcome, refuge and compassion, our appeal is open to all whose convictions are in accordance with these three demands. »
In the years since 1999 we have seen a vast degradation of world peace. With a rise of multicultural societies we have seen a rise of conflicts based on identity, and identity is often as much “religious” as racial or political. At the close of the Cold War, conflicts based on clashes of identity were rare and seen as hangovers from the past, Northern Ireland, Palestine, Lebanon, Nigeria. Now they are everywhere.
Multiculturalism has powerful enemies. There are, of course, many elements involved in this but I should like to identify two.One is the attempt by Huntington to identify the “Clash of civilisations” in which he makes gross oversimplifications about people’s identity. He seems incapable of understanding that there are protestant Irish, Muslim Swiss, Hindu Argentinians. This would not be important in itself if this book had not become a kind of bible for the extreme right.
This leads me to the second of my two identifiable enemies of multiculturalism. This is the conservative religious/right wing political complex that is responsible for much violence, hatred and violence in the world. The most potent enemies of multiculturalism are fundamentalist religious movements allied to dictatorial, racist or far right wing political movements. You need only to read the testament of Breivik, the perpetrator of the massacre in Norway to understand this. Brievik describes himself as a fundamentalist Christian who wants to cleanse Europe of multiculturalism and especially islam. If you regard Breivik as a madman or a criminal you are missing the point. Read his work and you will see that he considers himself to be in a new politico-religious movement linked to conservatives in the USA and elsewhere. The fundamentalist “Christian” movement in the USA of the Moral Majority has not lost any of its force with the rise of the Tea Party, and I note that two Republican candidates for the presidency come from this milieu. Michelle Bachmann, who says in public that the hurricane Irene was the judgment of God against the Obama presidency, and Rick Perry, supported by the innocently named American Family Association but which has the same programme as Breivik.
There are fundamentalist movements in all religions. In Islam (Al Quaida) in Judaism, even Buddhism and Hinduism. These are everywhere exclusive, only one version of the “truth” is permitted, all seek political power, all are anti-feminist. And all, I believe, are enemies of multiculturalism.
Thus I conclude this very short speech, I believe that a multicultural world will be one of peace, tolerance, civilisation. A world dominated by fundamentalist religious movements combined with far right politics would be a new Dark Age, since it would stop dialogue, intellectual and religious freedom, democracy, freedom of the press, human, especially women’s rights.
After a lifetime of working for a multicultural world I call on you today to work for a multicultural world. It is not to bee seen as one possibility among sereral, it is the only way forward.
Author: Rev. Dr William A. McComish
Emeritus Dean, Geneva Cathedral
Dr. McComish is a Presbyterian minister in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Protestant Church in Geneva. He received his BA degree and MA in history and political science from Trinity College, Dublin. He also holds a doctorate in divinity from the University of Geneva. In 1997, he was appointed dean of Geneva's St Pierre Cathedral, where he organized various interfaith services. He was also the general treasurer of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.
He has written two books: his doctoral thesis entitled The Epigones (Pittsburgh, 1989) and Permettez-moi de m'expliquer (Geneva, 2003). His main interest is in contemporary religious history, and he acted as chairperson of the group who wrote the Geneva spiritual appeal in 1999. His other activities include participating in the World Economic Forum and lecturing in a number of universities.