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