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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 04-Mar-11


Friday 04-Mar-11

Multiculturalism or integration

I went to a RSA lecture last week in which a proudly Jewish woman, whose parents had both survived the holocaust, talked about her life and her surprise when she married a Gentile. It was an insightful talk about what it is to be Jewish and how marrying outside her faith widened her horizons, as well as those of her husband. I noted the recent criticisms of multiculturalism and asked if the way forward for society was integration and, taking things to their logical conclusion, whether one day 'Jewishness' might lose its meaning. All I got only a rather confused answer about needing to talk. I suspect the notion of the extinction of separate religious identity was too uncomfortable. Of course it's not going to happen any time soon, but the question remains about where cultural integration would lead.

At the other end of the spectrum, multiculturalism has been criticized as divisive and the UK prime minister has recently made comments that were not welcomed by all quarters. But the fact remains that there are communities who are vigorously opposed to one another, and where the term 'bloody foreigners' is sadly heard and probably thought far more often again. Even their internal disputes are seen as un-British: only recently there was a running and bloody battle between rival Albanian Kosovan gangs in broad daylight in Trafalgar Square. It was shocking front page news and does nothing for inter-cultural regard.

It's a tricky question. When people come to live in your country, should they set aside their cultural heritages and become 'British' or 'American' or whatever? Or should they keep to their own cultures and social groups, marrying only within in order to preserve their language and cultural ways? The 'Brits abroad' are no paradigm and there are 'little Englands' spread around the globe where ex-pats pretend they're still in dear old blighty as they socialize with one another and fail abjectly in fitting in with the locals. It's a way down from the Empire, but the linguistic effects are still felt. On a recent trip to Greece I was perplexed to see bilingual signs, in Greek and English. English speakers abroad have no need to learn the local lingo, it seems. Perhaps by way of American TV and movies too, but the world seems to want to speak the weird mixed-up language used in this small island.

Personally, I like both integration and separation. We should first learn to live in peace with one another, respecting each other whatever race or creed. And if one moves to another's country, respect includes taking on the local culture. If I moved to Greece, I'd not only want to learn Greek but also Greek ways. I might also want to sustain some aspects of my history. In practice, I'm highly cross-cultural. I come from Wales, which the English (Normans, really) conquered 800 years or so ago and have dominated ever since. Yet we live in peace and sort out differences on the rugby field rather than in street fighting. We are both integrated and separate. We have Eisteddfodau and Welsh television but converse largely in English.

It can work. I just hope others can also find such a practical peace.

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