Tuesday, August 23, 2011


 "He who reveals to us the meaning of our mysterious inner pilgrimage must be a stranger of another belief and another race." Mircea Eliade, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries.  
 E. Ethelbert Miller asks: "In an interview with Geffrey Michael Davis you mentioned that you were an integrationist. What does this term mean in 2011?
What are the challenges of integration and multiculturalism?  How might these terms (concepts) differ?  Some European leaders believe multiculturalism has failed?  Do you agree with this?  Might America fail too?"

There are several reasons why I have always been an opponent of separatism and a supporter of integration, and these reasons share in common the same kernel of truth: namely, our lives are all already integrated.
First, on the individual level, I believe Guy Murchie when he writes in The Seven Mysteries of Life: An Exploration in Science and Philosophy, that "There is no such thing as a pure race, nor any race of men on Earth that is unrelated to other races...In fact, no human being (of any race) can be less closely related to any other human than approximately fiftieth cousin, and most of us (no matter what color our neighbors) are a lot closer...The world's children are your children and mine, and not only spiritually but genetically as well...Your own ancestors, whoever you are, include not only some blacks, some Chinese and some Arabs, but all the blacks, Chinese, Arabs, Malays, Latins, Eskimos, and every other possible ancestor who lived on Earth around A.D. 700...It is virtually certain therefore that you are a direct descendent of Muhammad and every fertile predecessor of his, including Krishna, Confucius, Abraham, Buddha, Caesar, Ishmael and Judas Iscariot...And as cells metabolize and circulate in the body, so do bodies and their genes circulate throughout humankind, joining everyone to everyone else at least once in fifty generations, so that not only does the ancestry of each of us include all fertile humanity of fifty generations ago, but our descendents fifty years hence in turn will include every living being."
Finally, Murchie says, "It is a great absurdity of the so-called race problem in the United States, for instance, that anyone who admits having any African or Hebrew ancestry is classed as a black or a Jew regardless of his or her appearance...When it gets to be realized someday that there is no absolute criterion of race, that all of us literally have some white, some black, some yellow and some other kinds of heredity, the race issue may well fade away into the notebooks of anthropologists where it belongs."
Secondly, on the level of culture I believe that down through human history, the 100 million years we have existed as a humanoid species, our cultures have interpenetrated, borrowing from and enriching one another. As Murchie writes, "Even this book, written by an American, is made of paper invented by the Chinese and printed with ink evolved out of India and made from type developed largely by Germans using Roman symbols modified from Greeks who got their letter concepts from Phoenicians who had adapted them partly from Egyptian hieroglyphs."
 And, thirdly, as a Buddhist, I believe in pratitya samutpada or "dependent origination," (expressed in the formulation, "this coming to be, that is; in the absence of this, that does not exist"), which tells us that nothing can arise independently, a condition of interconnectedness that Thich Nhat Hahn refers to as "inter-being."
 As a concept, "multiculturalism" as I understand it (and I have lectured on this subject in Germany, Portugal and Indonesia) differs from the rendition of integration that I've offered in the preceding paragraphs. To be honest, when people generally use the term multiculturalism, it is in such a way that this concept is only vaguely defined and has soft and blurry edges. What people mean to say (I think) is that each culture has its integrity and in a democratic society different cultures should be able to exist together. Ideally, the aim of a multicultural educational curriculum would be to give students (or citizens) an appreciation for different cultural orientations.
 In an informative post on The Moderate Voice (TMV) dated January 12, 2010, columnist Jerry K. Remmers addressed French President Nicolas Sarkozy's efforts to start a national dialogue on French identity. Remmers quotes Sarkozy as saying, "Nothing would be worse than denial" that the French and Europeans "feel that they are losing their identity." In France, Remmers points out, there are "three million Muslims who are essentially segregated in isolated conclaves and discouraged by the unions and a caste system to assimilate into the culture" after moving legally "to France from former French colonies after the arrival of Turks, Italians, Spaniards and eastern Europeans who were brought in after World War II to rebuild the nation."
  "Sarkozy's government also banned girls from wearing burkas and head scarfs in schools," wrote Remmers. "The purpose was a direct charge at Muslims to do more to blend into French society." On the subject of immigration, the columnist quotes his brother Lee, who has lived for 30 years in a small town outside Paris, and observed that, "Many Muslims are making a statement. Their appearance labels them as different, not of the same culture of their hosts. It would be unfair to put all in the same pot, but I think a fairly large number, especially the young, are showing these external signs as a  form of f---all of you. The Muslims do have cause for being angry since they are discriminated against. They tend to live in poor neighborhoods, many only 1 generation away from the boondocks of Algeria or Morocco, primitive customs, poorly educated, and high levels of unemployment. It is something of a vicious circle...Some of the older generation practice old country customs like slitting the throat of a goat or a lamb for their big religious meals (Muslim equivalent of Thanksgiving or Christmas). Butchering an animal in an apartment or in the communal garden does not endear them to the non-Muslims in the neighborhood."
 Recently, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that multiculturalism had "failed" in Germany. Perhaps in response to this conclusion that stirred up such controversy and discussion, an August 21, 2011 post appeared on a site named "Facts about Germany." This post, which seems to be on a promotional site created or sanctioned by the German government, states that "Lots of immigrants work as unskilled laborers, as Germany recruited workers in particular for simple activities. Studies have revealed that immigrant families in Germany have difficulty climbing the social ladder or improving their economic situation. Nonetheless, over the past two decades progress has been made with regard to integration...Since 2006, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel has held an Integration Summit, which representatives of all social groups impacting on integration, including immigrant organizations, attend...It contains concrete goals as well as over 400 measures for government, business, and social players. This way a network of 'education patrons' is being built up; so far more than 5,000 have become involved, supporting children and young people from immigrant families in their education and vocational training. More than 500 companies and public institutions with over four million employees have joined 'Charter of Diversity'."
 I leave it to the leaders and people of European countries to decide if multiculturalism has failed in their societies. I do not see evidence that efforts in support of cultural diversity have failed in America, despite the fact that we have the occasional lunatic (and rather isolated) "Christian" preacher burning the Koran as a publicity stunt, and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer wrongheadedly signing a bill that targeted for criticism the Tucson school district's Mexican-American studies program. Clearly,  there are numerous ways that we, as Americans, can improve in being more tolerant of difference and the cultural "Other" who, as Mircea Eliade stated, can assist us in better fathoming our inner as well as outer pilgrimage through this life.
(With thanks to educator/writer Sharyn Skeeter for her help with some of the research in this post.)

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