The Pros And Cons Of Cross Culturalism

We are all descended from one single Black man/ape of Africa, scientists tell us today. In a few decades there will be so much cross breeding between races, that the future Man/Woman will be neither Black, nor White, but most probably a blend of the two (is the perfect man a coffee-colored Indian then?), others claim…

There is no doubt that we are moving towards a multi-ethnic, cross cultural world, where barriers of color, nationality, caste or countries will be more and more blurred. The European Union is the first step towards a Western – political, economic and social – cross-culturalism. Eventually, the countries of South Asia, which like Europe share much in terms of history, ethnic origin and customs, will have to tread the same way and find a structure – SAARC or another body – to progress towards a borderless unity, if they want to put an end to the bloody and costly confrontation that we are witnessing today. But is cross culturalism the ultimate answer to man’s eternal bickering, warring and division? Maybe we should have a look at two examples near us in South Asia and see how they fared.

The first one is Sri Lanka, which has seen over the centuries intense cross culturalism, because Ceylon, often called the “isle of beauty”, has always been a tempting prey for sea-faring invaders. And indeed, successive colonizers, from Arabs to Africans, from Portuguese to Dutch and finally, British, preyed on the tiny, defenseless island. The major factor how the different communities of Ceylon reacted to invasions is religion. There are four religions in Sri Lanka: Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. The majority of Sinhalese are Buddhists and by nature a fun-loving, gentle people. Thus not only did they hardly resist these invasions, but often, many of their women, mingled freely with the foreign intruders. The result can clearly be seen today on the faces of many Sinhalese women folk, with their African-curled hair, fair faces or Arabic features. The same is true of Christians. On the other hand, Hinduism, with its strict caste hierarchy, which in the old times forbade too much contact with outsiders, particularly sexual contact with foreigners, prevented Sri Lankan Tamils from mingling with their invaders and there was little cross culturalism.

What are the results we see today? Many Sinhalese seem to have lost their sense of identity, their feeling of being a collective being, to the point that when the British came, they collaborated wholehearted with them and had to be handed back their independence on a platter, for want of a real freedom movement. Today, democracy and western institutions are frequently a flimsy cloak that the Sinhalese wear. Lurking underneath the pleasant, sometimes servile attitude towards Westerners, is a sense of hopelessness and a terrible violence. And in reality, since independence, Sinhalese politicians must have been some of the least farsighted of the entire subcontinent: nothing is made in Sri Lanka, everything has to be imported and only tea, tourism and Western grants help the country survive.

The Tamil Hindu community on the other hand preserved its identity, its racial purity and its culture. And even though the North of Sri Lanka, where the majority of Tamils live, is much more arid than the South, Tamils were often better at studies and more hard- working than the Sinhalese, (although one should not generalize). This was quickly noticed by the British, who frequently gave Tamils preference for jobs and university grants, thus angering the majority Sinhalese. Hence all the problems today between the Tamils and Sinhalese. Muslims, it should also be noted, most of them Tamils, also kept themselves aloof from invaders, although for political and religious reasons, they have allied themselves today with the Sinhalese.

The second example which we can easily observe, is the case of mixed couples: an Indian girl and a Westerner, or vice-versa. In principle, how can you find a better example of cross culturalism: the best of western culture, its thirst for material perfection, its power of reasoning; and the best of India with its innate spirituality, tolerance and gentleness? In practice however, things do not always go that well. There are two problems: often in any couple, one sees that one dominates the other. The same is true of two cultures: which one is going to dominate? The Western or the Indian culture? In the case of Sonia Gandhi, for instance, we can see that although she has married an Indian, and externally adapted the ways of India, like wearing a sari and speaking Hindi, it is actually her Christian and Western culture which appears to dictate the way she looks and deals with India.

This is also very clearly perceived in the children of a mixed marriage. Which culture is going to predominate in them? Again if we look at the children of Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi, we see, that although, for being politically correct, there is a certain outer show of Indian-ness, particularly at election times, it is the Western and Christian outlook which predominates. Pryanka has married a Christian and Rahul had at one time a Western girlfriend. Statistically, 98% of cross culture kids choose on their own the western culture, because it is more predominant at the moment, more easy to adapt, more attractive in an immediate way.

My own Indian family is pretty westernized and there has been quite a few inter-marriages with Westerners within the family. All the kids of these mixed marriages have emigrated to the States or to Germany and have lost what little contact they had with their own culture. And their children will be even more Americanized or Europeanized and less Indians than their parents. How much do they lose when they decide to forego their Indian-ness? Certainly, they lose in terms of social responsibility, family bonding, and spirituality. Stress, depression, suicide even, and lonely old age, might become their lot in later stage, even though the easiness and flashiness of Western life might satisfy them for a while.

I have to count myself one of the lucky ones, as I have a wonderful wife, Indian in many ways, but with a certain westernized outlook, which does not make me feel that our cultural differences cannot be bridged. Also, I am probably one of the few Western writers/journalists living in India, who has adopted Indian culture and spirituality, while retaining a western body and mind. And ultimately, this is why I think that the Hindu concept of dharma, which recognizes, accepts and encourages the world’s diversity, while emphasizing that one should stick to one’s own culture and customs, might be the ultimate answer to a true planetarian cross-culturalism. And not one that aims at making this planet a uniformized, one- culture, one-race, and one-color world. Unity in Diversity – and not Unity in Uniformity – is the Hindu answer to our divisions and wars.

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