The Culture-Oriented Country... the Larger Identity

The Culture-Oriented Country... the Larger Identity

Looking at the conflicts small and big alike which engulf the world today reveals that they, without exception, are provoked by ideological, sectarian, ethnic and linguistic differences, as well as the widening gap between the identities living in one particular country. After careful examination we find out that such conflicts are motivated by domestic and foreign economic and political interests which use these differences as a pretext for achieving their ends: control and domination. This brings up the question: Why doesn t the culture of one nation become a larger home which embraces all such different identities which combine under the umbrella of culture as the larger identity? That s the key question in a world where there are repeated calls for alienating, and being isolated from others as the enemy who should be destroyed.

It may be worthwhile from the outset to say that, contrary to what many forces, particularly in the West, try to stress, disagree-ments and conflicts are not the exclusive property of Arabs and Muslims; it has always been in the genes over the ages. In most countries in Europe, e.g., there are communities with different religious beliefs and traditions inherited from earlier, and passed on to later, generations. In many periods of history, such practices provoked conflicts among different Christian communities or between Christians and Jews over many centuries. Immigrants to the continent, particularly during the second half of the 20th century, with their religious and cultural mix created further tension among the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Buddhist communities, escalating into acts of violence, sectarian killing and ethnic cleansing. Africa is another example of ethnic cleansing in the 20th century in which millions were killed and destroyed.

It is my firm belief that absence of the principle of equality is the crux of the problem, when particular communities claim that they have an ethnic advantage over other communities, despite the amazing scientific discovery about human genes and the relationship between intelligence on the one hand, and ethnicity and colour, on the other. Published in the Nature Jenetics journal and contributed to By Francis Collins, the architect of the genome project, proved that all humans share about 99.9% of the DNA, and the negligible rest accounts for more differences among members of the same ethnic group than all humans at large.

The grave mistake that the state makes as far as culture is concerned is to ignore the differences among its communities and deny them their rights of cultural practices.

Culture is not limited to language but is comprehensive enough to cover arts, literature, customs and traditions, as well as religious practices. All that is only possible in a civil free and democratic state in which communities observe the state s independence, and the state protects citizens overall cultural freedoms and provides such a political and economic infrastructure that combines all these identities in a diversity for unity melting point, and not the other way round.

Like some other sociologists, Andreas Folisdal in his book Minorities Rights addresses the key issue of the awareness of certain individuals of the need to change cultural inclinations and religious opinions, a conflict that has continued since man s creation. What is important here is that the state should not impose the will of such individuals. People live in peaceful coexistence within their communities and observe established customs and traditions. But the rise of such individuals with divergent opinions should not let the state use force to criminalize them, but a civil free and democratic state should protect them from racial discrimination in life and work just because they are different.

I ll cite two examples in Britain. The first concerns the slaughter of animals. Under the 1967 poultry slaughter law and the 1979 abattoir law, Muslims and Jews may slaughter poultry and animals in abattoirs in the traditional manner which permits them to eat meat but contravenes the law of humanitarian slaughter. Though 88% of the British people voted against religious slaughter, the government allowed non-Christians to exercise a religion-related right, and the majority failed to impose their opinion because of state-protected communities freedoms.

The second concerns the exception made for turbaned Sikhs in Britain. In 1976 the Parliament exempted Sikh motorcyclists from wearing crash helmets, voting in favour of this controversial right to protect Sikhs religious freedom, as the regulations enforcing wearing helmets violates religious freedom under the European Human Rights agreement.

Similarly, many NGOs rose whose charters led to curtailing the authority of the state and abuse of the principle of sovereignty to violate citizens rights, and we now hear about trials for crimes against humanity, which has expanded the scope of freedoms.

If religion is the main source of conflict, what the famous historian Edward Gibbon said in his book The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire seems to be appropriate. The various systems of worship in the Roman Empire were looked at by all as equally proper while philosophers regard them, without exception, as incorrect. Roman rulers considered them equally useful. In the Roman Empire, therefore, not only did religious tolerance prevail, but religious harmony reigned as well, in contrast to the persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire at the rise of Christianity.

As we promote a non-religious state, i.e. not involving religion in politics, a state which embraces democracy, we have to admit that democracy is not just a reason for acknowledging difference; it is a political system based on mutual trust, moral obligations and no discrimination.

The Maghrib: The Tamazight (Berber) case

In our Arab region, Tamazight (Berber) rights and cultural characteristics is a major issue in the Maghrib. During the last two decades Morocco has taken considerable steps which granted them rights they have long been demanding.

In 1994, the late King Alhassan II called for integrating Tamazight into education programmes, and an evening news bulletin in Tamazight dialects appeared on TV. In 2001, King Muhammad VI announced the foundation of the Royal Institute of Tamazight Culture, which led after just two years to the experiment of teaching Tamazight at 120 schools and adoption of the Tamazight alphabet which received international recognition in 2004. In 2008 the Royal Institute published Tamazight Grammar Reference and a Tamazight TV channel project was planned in 2009. These Moroccan initiatives prompted other countries with Tamazight communities to follow suit. Algeria established a Tamazight Academy and a Supreme Council for Tamazight. The death of the Libyan dictator represents a turning point and a hope for the Tamazight community in Libya to enjoy their cultural rights.

I m of the opinion that integrating the Tamazight community into society could not have been imposed by force, as the rights are essential principles enshrined in constitutions.

Language, e.g., is a basic right. In our educational institutions we learn European languages, such as English, French and German, and allow foreign communities to teach their own languages. Arab Gulf states allow Asian communities to teach Hindi, Urdu and Filipino to their children, as how can we deprive communities who form part of our countries of the basic right of teaching their languages to their children?

European colonialism imposed its language on education curricula, aware, as we are today, that language attaches citizens to their land and culture. That s why French, e.g, was a place of cultural exile for Arabs in their own country. Learning Arabic is a duty for all Arabs, but learning local languages as a second or third language enhances communication at national level and attaches children to their homeland. Such an oral and written heritage, a basic ingredient of the cultural identity, can only be preserved by preserving its language, which enriches national culture.

More importantly, then, is preserving the state s sovereignty on the one hand, and maintaining the identity of different cultural communities, on the other.

The Republic of Iraq: the Kurdish affair

The independence of language we call for does not mean separation from land, since the rich, diversified cultural mosaic across the Arab world requires the promotion of unity whose power stems from diversity. What I m specifically referring to here is the Kurdish affair in Iraq, as the rights granted to the Kurds do not at all mean considering and/or responding to the calls of division of the one homeland.

The Kurdish issue does not concern Iraq alone. The number of Kurds in Turkey is estimated at 15-20m living on 29% of Turkish territory. In Iran and Iraq their number is 9-12m and 6-8m living on 12% and 29% of Iranian and Iraqi territory respectively. In Syria and the former Soviet Union their number is 2.5m and 1.5-2.5m respectively. There are about 10m immigrant Kurds worldwide who speak 18 different Kurdish dialects. Political disagreements led to a war between the Kurdish Workers Party and the Kurdish Democratic Party in 1994, which means that if left unresolved, disagreements can divide the one nation. It also means, e.g., that choosing a unified Kurdish language helps ensure cultural rights.

To conclude, the rights of the Kurdish and Tamazight populations may be granted without affecting states established rights of unity, as favourable responses to separatist calls can divide today s 200-country world into over 2000 scattered political entities, which is theoretical chaos and absurdity and an improbable assumption.

Sudan between independence and separation

Under the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium Agreement of 19 January 1899, Sudan was placed under British-Egyptian rule from the legal print of view but was actually under unilateral British rule.

The 23 July 1952 revolution in Egypt led by General Muhammad Neguib was greatly welcomed by the Sudanese people who looked at its leader as half Sudanese due to his birth, childhood and study at Wadi Halfa, then joining Gordon College in Khartoum and his intimate relationship with the people of Sudan.

Gen. Neguib s position on the Sudanese issue was completely different from those of pre-revolution Egyptian parties which for seven decades defended Egypt s king s sovereignty over Sudan. Neguib supported Sudan s right of self-determination and signed a mutually favourable agreement with Abdul-Rahman Almahdi, leader of the Umma Party on 29 October 1952 during his visit to Cairo. Neguib then convinced Sudanese parties to unite under the umbrella of the National Unionist Party and signed an agreement with their leaders to that end in his home on 3 November, and Ismail Alazhari was chosen leader of the party which won the majority of seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

But the absence of Neguib from the political scene had a negative impact on the Sudanese who looked at him as a symbol of unity of the two countries. Following a national referendum on independence, the Sudanese PM Alazhari declared the independence of Sudan in a historic session of Parliament on 1 January 1956, telling MPs that he had received recognition of the independence from Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Egypt s PM and Selwyn Lloyd, the British Foreign Secretary.

Fifty five years on, and again in a referendum for the southern Sudanese, and for reasons the South said did not respect its cultural rights, the South separated from the North, a terrible historical disaster which we hope will never recur in the Arab world.

The separation of South Sudan from the North is the most striking example of he result of non-recognition of natural cultural and ethnic differences in Sudan which suffered long from civil wars, and there are sill border disputes and conflicts which threaten the safety of the Sudanese.

A world of immigrants

We live today on planet of immigrants. Not a single country is without immigrants as workers, family residents or exiles. It will be good if immigrants to democratic countries do not face criminal charges if they follow their practices in worship, clothes, food and communication so long as these do clash with the countries of immigration s laws and regulations.

All communities have groups with varying degrees of diversity in religion, language, ethnic minority and cultural practices, as Cocathas says in his book Cultural Tolerance, which requires criteria for regulating interaction among them.

Americanism, which requires immigrants to the USA to adapt, including learning English, in order to ensure financial success, does not apply to countries like Germany which grants nationality to those who do not speaks German. But the rights we are not talking about may not involve nationality but concern the cultural practices of various communities.

I should refer here to the rights granted to expatriates from around the world in the Gulf Arab countries, which vary from country to country, but, on the whole, represent equality in the rights of worship, practice of cultural traditions, education and sharing in society according to its needs, and nobody is punished because of their divergent cultural inclinations.

The civilized world preserves rare endangered species of plants and animals in special reserves, wildlife parks and greenhouses. Don t rare cultural minorities deserve equal treatment?!

Let culture be a home which protects diversity and difference. Let civil free democratic countries be the home of different identities, for unity is in diversity, and respecting cultural pluralism protects such diversity.

(Translated by Dr Shaaban Afifi)


Sulaiman Al-Askary

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