Wednesday, August 09, 2006

On Nationalism and Multi-Culturalism

Yesterday I wrote about the recommendations of the QCA regarding Education in Britain. See the post "Right and Wrong etc."

Here is a second topic. The Times quotes that QCA as suggesting the following:

The requirement to teach Britain’s “cultural heritage” will also be removed. The present version states: “The school curriculum should contribute to the development of pupils’ sense of identity through knowledge and understanding of the spiritual, moral, social and cultural heritages of Britain’s diverse society.”

So let us just reject nationalism, patriotism and the like! Who cares about the heritage of one's country?Now I know that I left the UK 15 years ago, and yet, I strongly believe (to paraphrase the Mishna in Avot) that one should know "from whence one came." A person should value the rich traditions and the worthy cultural heritage of the culture in which he lives. Britain would lose out in a devastating manner if the British lost pride and faith in their traditions and Historic figures simply because they became forgotten, irrelevant and ignored!

Once again, if we do attempt to be balanced, we should ask ourselves whether there is not some place in a country of many immigrant groups, for a multiplicity of identities. We should have a tolerance of dress, accent, food-style, of basic personal identity along with allegiances to place of origin and cultural mini-communities. Jews have formed sub-communities all over the world, and in these close-knit cultural nests, they have frequently thrived. IS the melting pot such a boon? Why should a society try to assimilate the constituent ethnic communities? Each to his own! Vive le difference!

But here, I would like to make a distiniction. Each society has to have certain values, certain ideas in order to hold it together. Every nation must have a certain glue that consist of language, a heritage, maybe certain dress and foods, certain mannerisms; a national culture! And one must be proud of it. America is known as a melting pot, and indeed contains Italian, Polish, Latin American, Jewish, Japanese and Russian ethnic groups. And yet there are grand ideas of what is America. The Freedom and Democracy that make America great. Sweden is a very tolerant liberal country and yet has a clear sense of its own identity.

There cannot be a obfuscation, an eclipse, of national identity and pride in an effort to respect the different identities of the sub-communities in society. Because if the ethic of acceptance and respect is the course one sets, and if that becomes the exclusive compass of a society, then that trajectory leads a society to a place in which there is an absolute loss of self. Then we are talking about national suicide, a country who loses its shared purpose, its collective identity.

There must be a healthy balance between these two values: tolerance and respect for difference on the one hand, and a healthy, coherent, productive, vocal, proud, colourful national culture on the other.

In my beloved Israel, there are groups on the left who are so cosmopolitan, so in need of belonging to the community of nations, the global village, the liberal world, that they are virtually blind to any issue that defines us as what we are: A Jewish State. They wish to remove any law that reflects a Jewish identity in the name of equality, tolerance and Human Rights. This in areas of citizenship, the Sabbath, the Pork Law in Knesset, and many, many other issues that come up. Some have even suggested changing the National Anthem because it is a Jewish National Anthem, and "How can an Arab identify?"

On these discussions I have no doubt where I stand. In the public sphere, in our national education system, we must instill a knowledge of Israeli History, of Judaism. We must inculcate a love for these things and a pride in this identity. Students must become familiar with the literature and great discoveries in the world of Jewish philosophy, the Bible itself, to the Chalutzim and the bio-technologists of today's bio-tech start-ups.

And incidentally, I believe that this is a prime factor in National Security. Soldiers will fight to protect a country that they love and cherish, value and respect. Moreover, the sorry state of Yerida is also a symptom of the phenomena of total ignorance and discredit of all that is good in Israel and Judaism. If you value none of it, then why not go to New York or Paris. And indeed, many do. We need to reverse that tide.]

And none of this has even an ounce of contradiction with the importance of tolerance for all. Part of that proud Israeli-Jewish culture should be the value of "love the stranger" which instructs us to respect every human being precisely because of the honour that is conferred upon him by his very existence in the "image of God" his very humanity. We believe in that too. As Jews.

So don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. Nationalism is not the enemy of tolerance. A healthy national culture will empower all citizens to live up to something, to seek purpose and to sense the value of life. Through it they will have the strength to rise to the national challenge and to achieve individual greatness.

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