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Sundries
...a sweatshop of moxie

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Multi-Culturalism

(Welcome Tim Worstall, and belatedly but still warmly, PeakTalk readers!)

As conversation swirls around Europe regarding multi-culturalism vis-à-vis immigrants' acceptance into the greater society, one wonders why it's easier for some cultures to accept people who have more outward shows of "foreignness" than others.

The recent debate in France regarding the wearing of the chador, voile or veil, to use its many terms, has however, more to do with the French insistence of respect of its code of laïcisme, or that of the lay over the religious, even when the religious is the dominant Christian expression.

Not all matters can be explained by a society's liberalism or tolerance to its more visible minorities, either.

Holland has long been considered one of Europe's more "progressive" and vivre et laisser vivre cultures, and yet the recent Theo Van Gogh assassination put paid an entire country's view of itself as being especially integrating of their resident-minorities.

It seems not everyone is on the same multi-cultural page.

But some countries are...

...or, they have an easier time of it, even if the road has not always been so smoothly paved. Some people concentrate on the journey, when often it's the destination which should be the focus.

In the United States, many court battles have been fought over the right to keep a headscarf for drivers' licences. As always, States' rights prevail as to what is legal or not, so what can be legal in Alabama may not be in say, Florida.

But though the wearing of religious clothing in public schools is not a given (based on the individuality of each school system, even each school itself), it is far more common in the United States to be tolerant of religious strictures, since I conjecture that US public schools have always had to compete with non-secular, private schools, whereas many European countries did not.

Private or independent schools are a rarity in many European countries since the second World War, especially in Scandinavia. Increasingly though, they are on the rise precisely because of these religious reasons.

At Oxford University, St. Hilda's, the only all-female College still extanct, often caters to the daughters of Muslim fathers whose religion prohibits the mixing of genders in the Halls of Residence and with Faculty.

Coincidentally though, this has allowed women to pursue an University degree in Britain, if accepted, without flouting their religious laws -- something which State-funded, co-educational Universities, which are the norm in Europe, cannot boast.

However, in the case of still available all-female educational institutions, it is true to say that this is a happy coincidence of circumstances, than a pre-meditated regulation.

Long considered insular as a people, the complex and fraught British separation of classes spilled over into religions and ethnicities, at once dividing, but by its division, also allowing people to keep virgin their customs, without the need to mix into the mainstream culture.

Alienation, or how distant immigrants feel in relation to said cultures, is a delicate subject, and yet often no matter how relaxed and tolerant a society, feelings of worthlessness and hostility still arise.

The reason is not simple, but I believe it has a lot to do with acceptance of differences by both sides. That's one reason, easily arrived at, without much problem.

The other difference maybe that immigrant cultures have a self-view simply, by definition, unavailable to what I call, parent cultures.

When everyone is a descendant of a foreigner, in some way or another, not even the colonising power can lay proper and definitive claim to a country, such as the British in North America.

It should come as no surprise then, to find out that the first black man to receive the covetted Victoria Cross, Britain's highest decoration for valour, should have been a Canadian sailor -- in 1857.

Hall - William ….. FIRST black man and FIRST Canadian sailor to be awarded the Victoria Cross which he earned in 1857 in the Relief of Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny

And although it should be noted that in Britain, black soldiers were incorporated into the Army as early as 1662, the elite Regiment of Guards, in which my father served as a Coldstream Guards officer, did not have a black Guardsman until the 1990's.

UPDATE: Please note that Tim Worstall and his readers make pertinent corrections, and add commentaries of historical relevance here, which however, I will leave intact for now.

Indeed, Capitain Justin Butah was the first black Guards officer, commisioned to ride escort to the Sovereign in the third millenium -- the year 2000.

It may well be that when you have a traditional or accepted visual of how things have always been, that the shock of the new is simply too much for some to handle.

This may be why many consider this photo of a black Guardsman wearing the prestigious Blues & Royal uniform...



...somehow incongruous to those unused to the sight, because it's simply never been seen before to date -- whereas this Sikh Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman (with female Mountie colleague) may seem perhaps surprising, but not jarring somehow.



After all, the Regiments of Foot Guards, which date to at least 1665, therefore have a longer visual history of some 340 years with which to associate mental images, than say, the equally prestigious Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which date to 1873 -- a "mere" 125 years to form the same impressions.

A word about Sikh RCMP officers.

Like any cultural tugs-of-war, it was not always legally authorised to wear the dastaar, or Sikh turban, which all Sikh males must wear.

When the officer pictured joined the RCMP, there were over 195,000 Canadian petition signers who were against the wearing of the turban with the traditional red serge jacket of the RCMP -- and this legal battle was only decided quite recently in 2003, by the Supreme Court of Canada, the proviso being that the turban must match the colours of the uniform so as not to distract from its inherent purpose: uniformity.

Said Officer Baltej Singh Dhillon:

Having been able to wear the turban in RCMP meant an acceptance into Canada's mainstream. To be allowed to wear the turban is a clear indication of getting accepted. I just wanted to join the RCMP as an officer and to be able to work with equal respect and dignity in every way.

It is precisely this tricky matter, of being distinctive from the norm, that is at the heart of integration and acceptance in any culture.

And yet, this Sikh officer, who belongs to a people often called "the world’s most visible minority", also made clear his intentions to his adopted homeland, to which he emigrated from Malaysia.

We are thankful for the acceptance given in the country and, at the same time, we also must make a promise to the country -- that we will stand on guard to make Canada a better place for all to live.

These are not the words of an embittered, disillusioned man, weary of protracted legal battles to preserve his identity. These are the words of a proud Canadian, ready to lend his new country his all, including his loyalty.

The onus of integration must always lie first with the immigrant, who at least theoretically has chosen a new life trajectory than the one to which he or she was born.

Whatever the reason, that is the outcome.

That acceptance of newcomers by the receiving country is in and of itself, already a sign of its good faith cultural openness, and should always been seen as beneficent -- yet as an exception, not the rule.

There are too many countries which are closed societies, which prevent the kind of immigration taken for granted historically by those in the Americas, and more recently in larger quantities, in Europe.

Very rarely does one hear cries of racism levelled at these countries, and quite the opposite -- religious, ethnic or cultural reasons are often given for not accepting foreigners into the mainstream of their countries, and often their very presence is seen as insulting or demeaning to the wider whole.

Others even praise this as preserving what makes them unique, or at least, that one should respect their values.

But why is one more worthy of being accepted, and not the other?

There is only one major reason for that, and that reason is as mentioned, the strength of how a culture perceives its own values.

If a culture is too weak, or too gelatinous, more conflict will arise than tolerance because the native culture will see its particularly national characteristics erode -- a question of perception, as much as reality.

Too much weakness, but also too much strength, with no "give", and it leads to intolerance, hostility, suspicion, as well a sense of superiority/inferiority, and the possibility of fifth-columnism, in each case.

For true multi-culturalism to work, distinctiveness need not mean alienation, so long as both the dominant culture and the immigrant believe that its national traditions are its strengths, not its weaknesses, as in the case of France and her stringent protection of her native culture.

Moreover, the goals of each society must be co-equal with its newest integrants, for multi-culturalism to stand a chance.

Plainly stated, these goals must at some point be accepted by all parties, in as much totality as each generation can accept them to reduce the shock of cultures colliding internally.

Multi-culturalism is very much a new spin on a very old idea, but one which nationhood -- a relatively new off-shoot in the political imagination of man -- injects its own stamp each time.

That stamp is one which will either make forever distinct sub-cultures, or to enrich the wider one by their mutual respect and integration.

Both scenarios are possible but none are feasible if both exist conflictually at the same time.

(Even then, on paper, they can exist, so long as one part of the whole does not wish the whole ill)

It is not a fault a culture asks, even demands this of its own people.

It is for its very survival which should be the concern of all -- its survival assures that of yours' and your descendants' --, and which ranks as the greatest reason for immigration, because you chose it as your new home, that it must do so.

This is the real question mark yet unanswered by multi-culturalism and its ideals: plurality, or unity.

Which is it to be?

9 Comments:

  • I have first hand knowledge, that the Household Cavalry had its first black soldier in 1969. This came about when the 1st Royal Dragoons amalgamated with the Royal Horse Guards. I know, because the man in question, issued me with my bedding when I first got to the regiment. If I recall correctly, he retired with the rank of CoH (Corporal of Horse)

    You are also mistaken. The man on a the horse, is not a Life Guard. He is a Blues and Royal (RHG/1D) and not by the way, the man previously mentioned above.

    By Blogger Anoneumouse, at Thu Aug 11, 09:15:00 am GMT-4  

  • Thank you for posting this important detail, Anoneumouse.

    You can believe that I searched online and looked at the regiments' in questions sites (since my father left the Coldstream Guards long long ago, and wouldn't have insider info), without joy.

    I will certainly change the Blues & Royal label, and make a note to come here for concrete info about the black Guardsman (Dragoon though he started out as).

    Would you happen to have a link so that I post that as well?

    Finally, I'm delighted you've come here, and on that note, I'd like to ask if you have any points you'd also like to raise on the general topic at hand.

    The Guards information was pertinent, but only part of a very wider point I was making, of course.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Thu Aug 11, 01:46:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Alien Culture
    Foreign Culture
    Political Culture
    Common Culture
    Acceptable Culture
    Xenophobic Culture.........All valid in a multicultural society
    Murderous Culture
    Religious Culture
    Artistic Culture
    Racial Culture
    Gay Culture

    Should we respect the culture of live yoghurt

    By Blogger Anoneumouse, at Thu Aug 11, 02:41:00 pm GMT-4  

  • That reminds me of a joke.

    Question: "whats the difference between Canada and Yogurt?"

    Answer: "Culture" :)

    By Blogger Renato, at Thu Aug 11, 02:49:00 pm GMT-4  

  • "As always, States' rights prevail as to what is legal or not..."

    It's not actually "always". Our Constitution grants the federal government authority over a finite list of areas, and leaves the rest to the states and the people.

    The question of where, exactly, the line is drawn on any given issue has always been a hot legal topic, with a general trend over time towards greater federal authority. It's a real morass. The "Federalism" that people talk about is, very roughly, a view that favors keeping significant power with the states, for Constitutional reasons as well as a preference for a relatively divided and decentralized government.

    Sometimes the feds can get their way anyhow: For example, they tax all of us, and give some of the money to state governments as highway funds. They can attach strings to that money; as I recall, it was used as a club to impose a nationwide highway speed limit of 55 mph a couple decades ago (but that's gone now). Stuff like that drives libertarians bonkers, but it's the way politics works.

    I'm not a constitutional scholar, nor even a lawyer, so the above may be even more confused and/or misinformed than I think it is.

    By Blogger P. Froward, at Thu Aug 11, 03:10:00 pm GMT-4  

  • 1973 RAF Laarbruch in Germany (former RCAF base then taken over by RAF?)we had a Sikh Sgt who wore a turbn in a very fetching RAF blue with the badge dead centre.

    2000. A Sikh Officer cadet with London OTC - turban in dark green for parades, and camouflaged for exercises!

    The big problem with Sikhs though was the fact that they wore beards and this lead to difficulties when doing NBC as the gasmasks did not have proper seal on the face. They said that during a war they could get a dispensation but not during peacetime.

    Mean buggers - the British base security guards in Hong Kong before we left were all Sikhs.

    By Blogger David, at Thu Aug 11, 04:40:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Anoneumouse: There sub-cultures within the wider-culture that can certainly be mentioned in your, erm, followup. You know, the more I think about this, the more I like the topic...book, anyone?

    Renato: It's a shame you don't like yoghurt, as I do. :)

    And what's up with American yoghurt...it's thicker than the one I am used to, from the largely drinkable variety in the UK and around the world.

    Ahhh, Lahsi. I may not like many Indian foodstuffs, but Lahsi milk rules.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Aug 12, 12:38:00 am GMT-4  

  • Hello Professah!

    No wonder you're despondent if you live in Slough...although anything is better than Hull, voted today, the UK's worst city (true...all too true).

    Thank you for your correction of the States v. Fed rights, although I think I'll leave as is, so that people can point and snigger at my perfidious mistakes (hi Tim!).

    And nice blog of your own. I especially liked your blogpost on Noam "Where's Yassar?" Chomsky, and his algorithm of hooey.

    Come back soon, now, y'hear.

    (Sorry, I was channelling Rosalind Carter for some reason)

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Aug 12, 12:43:00 am GMT-4  

  • I'm glad you stopped by, David.

    Question: is it true most regiments deny the wearing of full-facial hair, even frowning on moustaches?

    I do see you have a bushy Kitchenerian brush of your own, so perhaps I've got the end of another wrong stick -- but my father said his CO ordered him to shave off his attempt at a moustache early in his CG career.

    I know the Royal Navy don't mind beards, but moustaches are a no-no.

    And oh BTW, the Sikhs are nothing compared to the cantankerous Gurkhas.

    Mind you, as the most decorated regiment in the British Army, they might just have a right to be.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Aug 12, 12:48:00 am GMT-4  

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