Just as cultures vary widely across the world, so do approaches to multiculturalism. Not every multiethnic or multicultural society operates in exactly the same way, so multiple frameworks are required to understand multiculturalism in various societies.
In “Postcoloniality, Race, and Multiculturalism,” the introduction to Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore (2009), Daniel P. S. Goh and Philip Holden argue that the race-based models of multiculturalism that currently predominate in Singapore and Malaysia derive from colonial systems of racial categorization that have become entrenched in the societies and politics of the nations (3, 6-8). In order to understand how multiculturalism in Singapore and Malaysia differs from Western multiculturalism, Goh and Holden define it as postcolonial multiculturalism, and the citizens of Singapore and Malaysia as postcolonial actors (2, 4). The authors define postcolonial actors as those who “have no choice but to negotiate the colonial legacies of racialization and transform them into postcolonial multiculturalisms” (4). They understand multiculturalism in Singapore and Malaysia as different from multiculturalism in many Western nations because of their continuous grappling with a colonial legacy.
I am intrigued by the fact that multiculturalism in Malaysia is based on ethnic categories that were imposed during colonial rule. Goh and Holden point out that the official categories of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Others (CMIO) were originally implemented by the British, who believed that people in Malaysia had “‘no clear conception of race’” (4-5). All of these ethnic groups were present in Malaysia and Singapore when British colonization began. This contrasts with the way multiculturalism is represented in the U.K., where immigration, primarily from formerly-colonized nations, has changed the ethnic makeup of the nation. Anti-immigration groups depict England as an ethnically homogenous place being “invaded” by “other” ethnicities, while those who support multiculturalism still expect those who are not white and ethnically English to culturally assimilate. Interestingly, the ethnic categories considered in both national contexts derive from British ideas about what constitutes race and ethnicity and how people should be categorized. British colonialism has played a large role in the way multiculturalism is conceived and practiced around the world.
Goh, Daniel P. S. and Philip Holden. “Postcoloniality, Race, and Multiculturalism.” Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore. Routledge, 2009, pp. 1-8.
If there’s ever an appropriate time to speak your mind casually, it’s with your friends, when you can be your most uncensored. However, the thoughts we share casually might often be derived from unconscious stereotypes. In Kamila Shamsie’s 2017 novel Home Fire, the character Eamonn is the son of Britain’s Home Secretary who is known for his rigid stance against British Muslims involved in terrorist organizations and who has suppressed his own personal Muslim upbringing. Eamonn is also romantically involved with Aneeka, who wears a hijab and whose twin brother has left England to join ISIS in Syria. In the novel, Eamonn’s friends begin to mock his involvement with a more traditional practicing Muslim woman, utilizing the literary device of hyperbole to tease him. Through the crafting of Eamonn’s character, Shamsie exhibits how difficult it is to adhere to two separate societal expectations of culture.
In one particular scene, Eamonn meets his friends in a park for what ends up being a laid-back sort of intervention on account of him spending much of his time with Aneeka over them. Eamonn is jokingly judged by his friends for beginning to “act” Muslim, contributing to the notion that if he wants to fit in with his British friends, he needs to act less Muslim, and more standardly British. His friend Mark jokes, “Twenty-something unemployed male from Muslim background exhibits rapidly altered pattern of behavior, cuts himself off from old friends, moves under the radar. Also, are we sure that’s an evening shadow rather than an incipient beard? I think we may need to alert the authorities” (Shamsie 84). Another friend goes on to joke that they haven’t lost him completely because he is still drinking alcohol. This phrasing in particular suggests that Eamonn’s supposed shift toward becoming more Muslim culturally sparks an influx of culturally essentialist jokes by his British friends.
The hyperbole stating that “we may need to alert the authorities” connotes that any linkage to Muslim tradition must be something worthy of reporting as suspicious behavior (Shamsie 84). In passing this exaggerated implication in a casual, joking manner, Eamonn’s friend Mark helps illuminate how commonplace it is to assume that a British individual with strong links to Muslim identity becomes an internal enemy to England.
The effect of hyperbole in this example directly correlates to the understanding of Eamonn’s friends regarding British and Muslim identity. Individuals such as Aneeka’s brother, who isolated himself from his family and defected to ISIS, act as a scapegoat for the type of cultural stereotyping people have about British Muslims. Anybody in England with any sort of Muslim identity becomes immediately stigmatized as dangerous when there is an “altered pattern of behavior” (Shamsie 84). While Eamonn’s friends might be exaggerating in their joke about alerting the authorities, their joke is a harsh reality for Britons who feel a need to protect and separate Britain from Islam.
Shamsie, Kamila. Home Fire. New York: Riverhead Books, 2017.