The dream of World peace continues to elude us. It seems that, contrary to the optimism of nineteenth-century social science, that multiculturalism would lead to intercultural understanding and acceptance as modern societies formed around differences rather than homogeneity, especially as modern forms of education and communication technology took hold, we are not yet open or ready to accept diversity and difference in our societies. While we may enjoy the wider choice of cuisines and the occasional cultural display of art, craft or dance, our fears of loss of identity, especially heightened in times of economic hardship played on by politicians and the media, clearly show us to be less than enthusiastic about embracing a pluralistic society. The twentieth-century alone spawned some of the vilest examples of ethnocentrism and xenophobia. These sprouted among some of the world’s most diverse societies, invariably impelled by their better educated populations. The Holocaust resulted from centuries-old European anti-Semitism thatbecame progressively worse as Jewish populations became more embedded in European societies’ infrastructure and as educational forms in Germany and elsewhere reacted to the neo-liberal sentiments anticipated by nineteenth-century social science. Similarly, South African Apartheid represented a particularly harsh and cruel reaction to the issue of racial difference by the better educated but powerful minority population.
While these particular aberrations were eventually corrected at great human cost, the twenty-first century is hardly characterized by instances of outstanding success in dealing with intra or inter-societal difference. Not only are there the stark examples of Jerusalem, Sudan, Somalia and Sri Lanka but, moreover, in the heartlands of Europe, North America and Australia, there persist issues of alienation, lack of educational attainment and healthcare access, and sometimes blatant and violent forms of victimization meted out to minority populations. These latter states, by and large, pride themselves on their social inclusion policies that are often institutionalized in their laws but, nonetheless, spawn endemic problems in dealing fairly with matters of difference. In Europe, there are problems around immigration and the rights and incorporation of minority communities, including Muslim populations. In the United States there are the ingrained issues around the provision of justice and fair treatment to Black, Indigenous and Hispanic populations. The protests over the proposed construction of a Mosque near the Ground Zero site in New York, even though religious freedom is protected by the constitution, is a recent example of this. In Australia, there are similar issues of access, equity and justice for Aboriginal and non-native English speaking peoples. The hate mail received by Ken Wyatt, the first Australian Aboriginal to win a seat in the House of Representatives in the recent elections when voters discovered his indigenous background, and the use of the Asylum Seekers issue as a political football between both major parties in the recent election, highlight this fact.
It seems that we are better at formulating social inclusion policies and anti-discrimination laws than in effecting the ideals that lie behind them. There is a lesson here for twenty-first century planning that we need more than optimistic sentiment and idealism; we need highly practicable models of how to deal with difference and so to effect social inclusion.