Flag-map of South Africa.
Image via Wikipedia


Yesterday, while trawling through cyberspace, I came across a blog on culturism.  Now, the gentleman who writes the blog has a PhD from New York University and on an initial glance I was somewhat infuriated by his blog and his claim to not be a racist.  But, after careful consideration, I realised that he may just have a point.  Now, the first question is that do we as Westerners even have a culture?  Aren’t we more what one would consider a hodgepodge of various European cultures descended and migrated together over time?  And that’s when I realised that is exactly what our culture is.  We may not be able to clearly define it, but our lack of definition and traditionalism is where our sense of culture lies. 

Now, the next question is – what is the difference between culture, race and nationality.  Now, the author, Dr. John Kenneth Press, poses an interesting question, why is it a conflict of interest for an American Muslim to fight in Afghanistan?  I mean, surely one is an American first, then a Muslim?  Or is it a Muslim first, then an American?  I’m from South Africa and here we have 11 official languages and various cultures – but we are all South African.  And if we had to cater for each culture first and foremost, we would lose our identity as a country.  So, it then stands to reason that we need the boundary of a country to define us first.  Then, once that boundary is established, we can the define ourselves by race, religion or any other definition we would like to use. 

In South Africa, we try to cater for each of the 11 official languages, but on a practical level this simply is not possible.  We cannot have government documentation printed in all 11 official languages (imagine the cost), or schools catering to all 11 official languages.  And although the government does attempt to address this issue by allowing people to communicate in what they feel comfortable with, practically the top four languages (Zulu, Xhosa, English and Afrikaans) is what is used. 

So, if the country of our birth, or the country we now reside in, is the boundary by which we can define ourselves, then within that boundary I can define myself by religion or culture.  In some countries it is very easy – in Spain, there is a 90% chance that you’re Catholic and culture and religion are so entwined that the definitions of both are the same and therefore easy to express.  Another example would be a Jew living in Israel.  Being a Jew and being an Israeli essentially is the same thing. 

However, it’s not always so easy in colonised countries where there are immigrants, natives and travellers all seeking refuge in that country.  And that is where the issue of culture becomes a question and a concern.  My culture – as in being a white Westerner living in South Africa – is very different to a rural black person living in the countryside.  And as we both have equal rights, whose culture takes precedence when it comes to schooling, housing, hospitals, etc?  As an example, many Muslims demand Halal food to be served at work or school functions.  However, I am not a Muslim.  So, why should I be forced to eat something I do not believe in to cater to one culture or religion that I am not a part of?  So, does my culture take precedence, or the rural black person living in the countryside, or the dogmatic Muslim who insists that their culture is the most important?  And how does this affect us if we are all South Africans? 

As much as what we would like to use country as a boundary definition first and foremost, issues of religion and culture are too strongly embedded in us to put aside and put our country first.  So, religion and culture and how we define ourselves will also be a battle of wills.  I think though that because I am quite happy for a Muslim to be Muslim, a Jew to be Jewish, etc, I would like the freedom to be what my culture as a Westerner allows me to be.  Whether I am living in South Africa or anywhere else in the world.  Yes, if I happen to move to Saudi Arabia (as an example) of course I need to respect the country I am living in first and foremost, but that doesn’t change who I am. 

And being a Muslim living in a Western country won’t change who they are. 

The real battle comes into play when I expect Muslims to behave how I understand they should (of course women can become doctors, lawyers or dentists) and they expect me to behave how they think I should (no, I do not eat Halal meat). 

Isn’t the real answer in allowing each of us to be true to ourselves and giving each culture, religion and nationality the respect it deserves?  Why do we want to force people to do things the way we want them done?  Wouldn’t it be an ideal world to allow a Muslim to be a Muslim, a Jew to be Jewish, and they – in turn – allow me to be what I am.  Without any expectations?  How wonderful that would be. 

The Baby Mama 


2 thoughts on “Culturism

  1. Here’s my 5c (for what it’s worth). Most of us are born into a faith – my parents are Christian and therefore I am Christian and so on. Roughly speaking you don’t really have that much of a choice as to your faith as a child and only when you become an adult do you have the knowledge and freedom to convert to Judaism or Islam for example. Typically though most people remain within the faith into which they are born.

    Similarly with our nationalities. If you’re born in South Africa odds are you live here for most if not all of your life. However a country gets to define itself. South Africa is a Christian country that is tolerant of other religions. Therefore in my mind Christianity gets to affect the culture of South Africa (which is why women don’t have to cover up when they go out etc). If you choose to live in the UAE then that is your choice but as a Christian living in a Muslim country you can’t cry Christian rights as it was your choice to live there.

    I think this makes sense? You can choose your religion and you can choose where you live but you can’t force where you live to accept your religion for itself.


    1. Some would argue that you can’t choose your religion, but in reality, I think, you can. You often hear of Christians converting to Judaism, and vice versa. And some would argue that South Africa is not a Christian country, but a secular country and that Christianity is just one of the many religions vying for attention here. And others would say that being a Westerner does not necessarily mean you are a Christian although in all likelihood you grew up as a Christian. I think, though, that freedom is the true ingredient here – freedom to allow you to be who you are, irrespective of culture or religion, but you giving me that same freedom. Its when one culture or religion demands rights that they are not prepared to give to others that problems arise.


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