Does Taiwan genuinely respect plurality?

By Hsia Hsiao-chuan 夏曉鵑

The word “Taiwan” has recently been popping up more than usual in international news reports, but unfortunately the exposure the country has been getting amounts to a slap in the face for Taiwanese and the government.

Before he allegedly perpetrated the shocking bomb and gun attacks in Oslo, Norwegian right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik posted a video on the Internet in which, besides his undisguised loathing for immigrants, multiculturalism, Muslims and Marxists, he expressed his admiration for Taiwan as a country worthy of emulation because, as he saw it, Taiwan was a successful nation state that had rejected multiculturalism.

When this news spread across the Internet, many Taiwanese made Web posts expressing their resentment and saying that Taiwan was not at all how the Norwegian murderer had described.

Government Information Office Minister Philip Yang (楊永明) quickly issued a statement to the media, in which he stressed that Taiwanese society had always respected a plurality of culture. Yang said that a democratic society should be a tolerant one in which different groups respect and appreciate one another, and that this was the kind of society that the -international community generally took Taiwan to be.

National Immigration Agency officials were also quick to assure the public that Breivik had never been to Taiwan. All this was supposedly to prove that Breivik’s remarks about Taiwan were a baseless misinterpretation.

It is true that Taiwan has never had any incidents of right-wing extremists massacring ethnic minority people or immigrants, but does our society really respect plurality and democracy, as claimed?

I have been engaged in research of, advocacy for and organization of immigrants for many years, in the course of which I have observed the attitudes and actions of official departments at various levels in relation to immigrant spouses — foreigners married to Taiwanese nationals — and migrant workers.

Before 2002, the majority of government departments simply ignored the existence and needs of immigrants. The first departments to pay them any attention were the National Police Agency and the -Department of Health, the former seeing migrant workers as potential criminals, while the latter was anxious to encourage new immigrants from Southeast Asia and China to practice birth control, supposedly out of concern that if they had too many children, it would “lower the quality of Taiwan’s population.”

Since 2002, various government departments have suddenly become interested in immigrant spouses and started promoting various related plans and policies.

This apparent “care” was really a manifestation of the aforementioned mindset that their children would lower the quality of Taiwan’s population, so most of these plans and policies were aimed at “raising the standard of foreign wives” and “lowering the chances of delayed development among their children.”

This kind of mindset, which has penetrated deep into Taiwanese society, finds expression in the words and actions of government officials.

For example, in 2004, then-deputy minister of education Chou Tsan-der (周燦德) openly called for foreign — including Chinese — spouses not to have so many children. Early last year, Hong Wen-yu (洪文裕), a teacher at a high school in Kaohsiung, insulted a female student whose mother was from Indonesia, calling her a “savage” and telling her to “go back to Indonesia.”

This incident drew protests from immigrant rights groups, who filed a complaint of discrimination with the National Immigration Agency based on Article 62 of the Immigration Act (入出國及移民法) and demanded that a review committee be formed to penalize the teacher for discriminatory language and behavior.

The agency, which had already failed to do its duty by neither investigating the matter nor taking action of its own accord, rejected the complaint on the grounds that it was not lodged by anyone directly involved in the incident.

Taiwan’s laws, policies and systems, and the words and actions of its bureaucrats, are still riddled with prejudice against immigrants.

The two examples I have mentioned are merely the tip of the iceberg. This systemic discrimination is a problem that cannot be evaded just by holding festive activities like celebrating the Thai Songkran water festival or by declarations of respect for multiculturalism.

The reason why this discriminatory system and prejudiced behavior by officials can -continue is that similar values are widespread in our society. We hear reports from time to time of incidents such as a gang of drunken college students beating up migrant workers for fun, or calls for migrant workers not to be given the same rights as their Taiwanese counterparts, or television variety shows making fun of immigrants and migrant workers.

There are plenty of people who would like to think that they are not prejudiced against anybody, but when they see discrimination going on they do not say or do anything. They comfort themselves with the excuse that they are just minding their own business, but we should bear in mind that not protesting amounts to tacit consent.

If we really want to refute what Breivik said about Taiwan, we should say a resounding “No” to all speech and behavior that discriminate against immigrants and migrant workers.

In so doing, we can make it clear that we do not endorse the right-wing ideology of Breivik and his ilk.

Hsia Hsiao-chuan is a professor and director of the Graduate Institute for Social Transformation Studies at Shih Hsin University.

Adopted from : Taipei Times Thu, Aug 04, 2011

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