>French should consider an eclectic model
(November 11, 2005, The Ithaca Journal, finally I found this article!!)
It is rather naive to think or propound that in today’s world, a society can remain monolithic – in religion, color, language and culture. The country that just a few months ago, smirked at the debacle caused in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the United States, has now its own underbelly exposed. The knives of discord would surely cause serious scars on it, if not tear the social fabric apart with the crisis is allowed to continue.
As France arrives at its ‘moment of truth’ the question is how the crisis originated. Was it an invasion by alien cultures overnight that ripped French suburbs for days now and rendered the Republic frustrated? Some deep reflection already hints it is a result of grave inequality practiced for decades, masked under the notion of “secularism” and “social integration”.
It seems, increasingly however, this form of Western secularism is running into problems in addressing emerging religions and communities whose followers become a critical mass in society. The stubbornness with which France responded to the recent hijab (headscarf for Muslim women) issue is a case in point.The option might seem to lie between choosing either a stricter (read dogmatic) treatment of ‘troublemakers’ or, devising short-term populist measures. But there are other long-term options available to us.
I genuinely think, France, at this critical juncture of a defining historical moment, must look either to the west or to the east and make an eclectic choice.In the west, the United States with Affirmative action as its cornerstone could serve as a proactive model for resolving the present crisis. Unless the cruel history of slavery in America was acknowledged, understood, written and read about and condemned, America would not be what it is today. Given that race relations are still stressed, to justify democracy above all other things, Affirmative Action acts as a beacon of light.
Looking to the east might present France with a rather novel framework, or help others that live in constant fear that their elite white Christian societies are about to be run down by blacks, browns, Muslims, Africans, Arabs, Asians, Polish plumbers, Turkish nurses et al – the list of so-called aliens can be endless.In the east, I am talking about India – the largest democracy in the world and one of the most complex societies of our times. The Indian constitution, adopted in 1950, had the foresight to create a public space for most minorities, religions, ethnicities, tribes, languages and even castes.
It is true violent religious conflicts, language and caste riots have plagued India time and again, as has decades of terrorism. But in the larger scheme of things, it is a country that has successfully prevented balkanization of its territory, maintained a strong national identity and has fiercely remained a secular democracy since its inception.For a billion-strong country with about 300 spoken languages, eight or nine major religions (not counting the several animistic faiths), numerous caste-based economic structures, and people of all color and looks, this secular post-colonial nation has done rather well for its 50-odd years, considering how several post-colonial countries still flounder or depend on larger powers.
Most of the Indian civil society certainly understands and accepts differences. It does not balk at people displaying Muslim headscarves, Sikh turbans, Hindu tilaks, Jewish yarmulkes or Christian crucifix signs; or at a Muslim president, a Sikh prime minister, an Italian-born (woman) Christian ruling party leader, and at prudent policies that help so-called “low-caste” leaders to challenge the hegemony of the upper classes.
Most of our French friends however, shudder at the thought of ‘quotas’ or ‘reservation’ for the underprivileged, which they think is an anathema to French socialist ideas. But acceptance alone can produce multiculturalism or diversity. India, historically a giant diversity workshop, can be a model of peaceful coexistence within the boundaries of a nation state.Why bother about such a model? Because, it successfully blends all values; two, inevitable worldwide migration of human beings cannot be stopped by exclusionist policies. As the West once sought out new lands to further its nascent capitalist interests, it now needs to accept the tide in its own direction. That is why, French-born Algerians, Moroccans, Egyptians, Tunisians, Mauritanians etc., will always be French. They can eat their Camembert cheese or drink Beaujolais as well as everyone else in France. The name or the color of skin will not sour that cheese or curdle that vin rouge.