Wednesday, August 03, 2005

From many, one 

American conservatives often bemoan the failings of multiculturalism and many problems associated with the way the United States absorbs and deals with migrants. Not being a resident, I can't comment from personal experience and observation how much there is to the conservative critique (and I use this term broadly, seeing that perhaps the two most prominent recent book-length treatments of the topic come from life-long Democrats, Victor Davis Hanson and Samuel Huntington), but whatever the failings of the American model, it's being increasingly held up as an example of a more successful strategy vis-a-vis minorities than that pursued throughout Europe.

It's not just disenchanted Euro nationalists and nativists who are turning their attention to the American melting pot. The "Guardian: columnist Jonathan Freedland in today's issue also looks longingly across the Atlantic:
America works because it emphasises not only diversity but the ties that bind, too. It encourages a hyphenated identity - think Italian-American - but insists on both sides of the hyphen. In Britain, liberals especially have striven so hard to accept that people are Scottish or Jewish or Asian, they may have forgotten that they are also British. For bothness to work, you have to have both.

In other words, we let the Britishness part of the equation lapse. We were frightened of it, fearing that it reeked of compulsion or white-only exclusivity. But Britishness, like Americanness, need not be like that. It should, by its nature, be open to all. And yet it does entail some common glue: rule of law and tolerance, for a start.
It's sad that it has taken the violent wake-up call of terrorism to force rethink of racial relations, immigration policy, multiculturalism and national identity, but it often taken nothing less than such a shock to the system to wake the sleepwalker. In the end, trying to recreate on a smaller scale the macrocosm of the whole world within the microcosm encompassed by national boundaries is bound to end in tears.

A few years ago, the Australian government ran a campaign celebrating diversity and multiculturalism, whose jingle went "We are one, but we are many." However admirable in its sentiment, I thought its writer has gotten things the wrong way around: instead of telling us that we are one nation but we come from many different countries, the jingle should have underlined the fact that while we come from many different countries, we are one nation - that is, it should have emphasized and turned our attention to the unity rather than the diversity aspect of our national identity.

That's why I think America's motto, E Pluribus Unum, from many one, is exactly on the money rather than the jingle, which translated into Latin would go, E Unum Pluribus (since I don't speak Latin, apologies if I murdered it, but you get the point).

We know well enough that we are all different, and we don't really need to be reminded too much of that fact - what does need constant reminders are the things that unite us as community.


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