Toronto has been dubbed “the most multicultural city in the world”. Prime Minister Tudeau was the first to launch an official policy of multiculturalism, but Canada was of a “plural society” long before that. Pluralism, in the political sense is extremely positive. It involves a post migration situation where citizens in a country have a shared identify and subscribe to a common conception of the Nation despite being from different ethnic backgrounds. But there is also another kind of Pluralism, the kind J.S Furnivall refers to, where people “mix but don’t combine”. We see this when we think of the fact that there are certain areas associated with certain communities. But we see it much more extremely in Kuwait.
Kuwait has several migrant communities who are needed to build the country and move it forward, but who also themselves need the money and want to be in Kuwait for the economic benefit. This has resulted in a situation where only 37% of population are ethnic Kuwaitis. To ensure they remain an empowered minority, many things which Canada considers basic rights such the ability to own property, obtain a driving licence, or work toward citizenship are reserved as privileges for the elite, ethnic Kuwaitis.
At the same time, there are three discourses in Kuwait that are portrayed as important in the Emirate. This is that society holds dear three layers of people with privileges: Kuwaitis, then Arabs and then Muslims generally. It is clear that Kuwaitis are the most important in their own country, truth but the reality of the other two claims needs to be assessed.
When oil was discovered in Kuwait in 1938, an economic boom followed. Kuwait suddenly needed a mass of workers to build their economy. This coincided with a time when Palestinians were being pushed out of what was formerly Palestine and were desperate for jobs. Palestinian workers moved in en masse to take jobs in Kuwait. But when they came, they brought with them ideas leaning toward democracy owing to their struggle and their context. The Kuwaitis did not want ideas of democracy spreading. It was here the decision was taken to open the country to labourers from India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Pakistan among others.
Therefore, although the official discourse is that Islam and Muslims have an important status in the Emirate in reality, this is not the case. Pakistani Muslims and more so Bangladeshi Muslims often doing the most menial work such as working as house maids and continue to be be subject to abuse. Furthermore, though Islam is upheld as the main prized religion, there is no preaching or move to convert people to Islam as the establishment does not want people to become Muslims because this would mean they would have to, in theory, treat them better, even though in reality they do not.
This division of the labour market is a microcosmic example that shows us that the Arab world and the Muslim “ummah” (or larger family) is not one homogenous block, and certainly not a united one and therefore individual countries and peoples cannot be treated in the same way.
Therefore, when NATO allies are dealing with “Islam”, or the Muslim world, perhaps it is important to remember that these mean different things in different areas to different people. More importantly NATO members should keep in mind they are not facing a battle against a united “Islam” or united hostile “Muslim” states, because Islam manifests so differently in different regions, and sometimes there are few connections or feelings of solidarity between Muslim states seen in the treatment of Pakistani workers in Kuwait.
Indonesia –the largest Muslim country, home to 12.7% of the world’s Muslims is one of Canada’s stronger links in the far east with whom Canada maintains strong and friendly bilateral relations. Indonesia represents a growing market for Canadian good; Canada and Indonesia are engaging in in the promotion and protection of human rights, democracy, governance, pluralism and Counter-terrorism corporations. Business relations are also very strong: Canadian firms have a presence in Indonesia and directly employ tens of thousands of Indonesians and the two countries are cooperating in the areas of financial services, infrastructure, oil and gas sector, information and communication technology, and agri-food products.
Therefore, NATO, when planning its strategies and responses to the unfolding events in the world, must ensure it doesn’t view or fear a world where “Islam” is a homogenous religion, that exists as one growing and uniting force against the West; but rather takes the time to assess the situation, dynamics and contexts of each region, area, and town it is involved in.