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GoetheInstitute

11/05/2006

Let's poke holes!

A podium discussion on multiculturalism and the limits of tolerance at the Pen Festival of International Literature in New York

On Friday, April 28, signandsight.com co-hosted a panel discussion at the New York Public Library as part of "World Voices," the PEN Club's International Festival of Literature. The discussion on "The Limits of Tolerance: Multiculturalism Now," moderated by author Kwame Anthony Appiah, provided the background for an engaging exchange between Turkish German sociologist Necla Kelek, French philosopher Pascal Bruckner and Mexican-American essayist Richard Rodriguez. Below we provide the major contributions to the evening's discussion. Click here for more info and biographies of the participants, here for an article on the event and here to listen to the whole event.

Kwame Anthony Appiah: It's my pleasure to welcome you to this panel on multiculturalism in a transatlantic perspective. I'm particularly glad that we have with us a group of writers from several countries, including our own, who've written deeply and thoughtfully about our topic. Our aim is to have a conversation about the different ways in which questions of the diversity of religious, ethnic, racial and national identity are thought about in the places each of us knows best. How do we think about multiculturalism and toleration? How should we think about them?


ddd"Integration in Germany has failed"
Β© Beowulf Sheehan/PEN American Center
Necla Kelek: I'd like to talk about multiculturalism and tolerance in the case of the Turkish Muslim migrants who've lived in Germany for the last 40 years. 40 years ago, a journey started from a secular, democratic Turkey to Germany. It was to be for a short period of time. Many women also came on their own, non-practising Muslims who didn't wear head scarves. The short stay turned into a much longer one, and now we are 40 years on. My claim is that despite this 40 year journey, the 2.5 million strong Turkish minority has not yet arrived in Germany. Integration has failed. It was to be a journey into modernity. But as the small families arrived in Germany, they grew into much bigger clans. As these families - mostly from rural backgrounds – grew together, they consolidated their traditional Muslim beliefs. They now live collectively in distinct areas of German cities in a parallel world, separate from the Germans. And they receive the support of a worldwide, increasingly organised Islam.

It is true that there are different forms of Islam, but one point binds them all, and that is the Muslim woman. You can recognise the fundamentalism of the woman and her family in the way she wears the scarf and the chador. The republican Turkish woman of the past is now confined to the kitchen and the home. If she does go outside then she must wear the scarf or the chador - the sign of organised Islam. Without a veiled woman, a Muslim man is not a true Muslim. If he has gone to Mecca – on the Hadj – then it is his duty to keep his wife concealed. The woman doesn't have an independent existence, she only exists through her husband, she must do what he wants. That is a basis of this religion. Now in Germany, Turkish families try to get very young brides from Turkey, between 14 and 18, because they are the quickest to adapt to this live and are particularly obedient to their husbands. With these imported brides there is no way of arriving in modernity – by that I mean equality and self-determination. Without the right to decide when they marry, who they marry and if they will marry at all, a modern existence is not possible for these women.


fff"The value is porousness"
Β© Beowulf Sheehan/PEN American Center
Pascal Bruckner: I'd like to start with a few words about one German writer, Thomas Mann. In 1916 Thomas Mann wrote a diary about war. At the time he defended German culture against French civilisation. He thought German culture applied to the soul, and was deeply rooted in the German soil, while what the French called civilisation was in fact something totally mechanical and soulless which referred only to cold reason. That was the opinion of Thomas Mann in World War I, when he was quite opposed to democracy and the values of the allies. Almost 30 later, Thomas Mann was exiled in the States and had taken US nationality. In May 1945 he gave a speech at the Library of Congress in Washington. Of course Thomas Mann was a long-time opponent of Nazism. So you'd think he'd have changed his mind. In fact, speaking to the Members of Congress, he tried to give his own explanation for Nazism. And his explanation is the exact reverse of what he thought 25 years previously. Nazism is the fault of the German culture, which was good in 1916 and had become bad in 1945. Here Thomas Mann demonstrated a deep cultural pessimism. And he thinks that Nazism is a perversion of German interiority, a kind of pathology of German Romanticism. But in fact he hasn't really changed his point of view on politics and Germany, since culture, as opposed to civilisation, still remains his main guideline.

Talking about multiculturalism is in fact a kind of revenge on Romanticism. Let's remember that Romanticism was born in reaction to the Enlightenment. What did the Enlightenment philosophers say? They said culture, languages, races and religion do not really matter. What matters is universal man, abstract man, who with his own reason and intelligence can raise himself above his origin, above his determination. The only evils that the Enlightenment wanted to fight were ignorance, superstition and fanaticism. Against that trend, the Romantics, first French, then German, then English, protested that man himself doesn't exist. We have one very famous reactionary philosopher in France called Joseph de Maistre, who said: I've never met a man, I don't know what a man is. I have met English, German and Spanish men, but man as such does not exist. And that's why the Romantic movement started the national uprising across Europe. And of course the Romantics do not favour the abstract human being, but tradition, origins and race. And they think the human being does not exist if he's not deeply rooted in a past and in a culture.

And I think the issue we're discussing tonight is exactly this. What do we mean by culture? Should we talk of culture in the singular or the plural? Is culture a way to open myself to the outside world? In this way of course it's quite positive. Or is culture a kind of jail in which I'm locked from the first day of my life? I agree with what Ms Kelek just said. If you consider that culture is like your second skin, something you can never be rid of, if you insist that the fact that you were born a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim remains with you your entire life, that you will never be rid of that second skin, then culture is more like a prison than a window. But on the other hand we can consider culture as something that helps me get outside of myself. If that is true, you can compare it to a door that is not closed but open. And so maybe the value we should emphasise tonight is porousness. We all communicate with the world through language, through our nationality. But of course if we consider our roots as an absolute then it's impossible to speak with other men. And so the map of the world will not be like a salad bowl, or a melting pot, it will be like a mosaic, where each piece has to be separated from the other. And I think this is what is at stake in the discussion about multiculturalism.


fff"I'm doomed be be Hispanic."
Β© Beowulf Sheehan/PEN American Center
Richard Rodriguez: My impression is that multiculturalism comes into the United States from the north - and is therefore suspect - illegally across the Canadian border. It was invented by Pierre Elliot Trudeau. So to speak of it as I do tonight is already to acknowledge that I am a child of Trudeau. It is honourable, as a Canadian idea. All Canadian ideas are honourable. It is however not very erotic. Canadians are not famous for their eroticism. It posits the dignity and the specialness of individuals and individual communities. By comparison, there is another philosophy, another way of understanding civic life that is pushing up from the south. In the 16th century, the Indian and the Spanish conquistador met in Mexico. His name was Antonio Banderas. her name was Marina la Malinche. The nature of their eroticism is not clear to this day. The male version has it that he raped her. But there is a sizeable opinion among feminists in Mexico that in fact she had designs on him. And that rather like Pocahontas here in the United States, she begins a sexual drama that the male history is unable to compete with.

Nonetheless by the 18th century the majority of population of Mexico was a mixed race. It was neither pure Spanish, nor pure European. It was Mestizo. The Mexican becomes in that sense the first modern people of the hemisphere. In the United States, where the preference has been into this century to describe the country as white and black – without colour – there has been this reputation of the Mexican in our presence as dangerous to the traditional understandings of our society, as in some way dirty. The adjective "dirty" applies to the Mexican probably more than any other as a pejorative adjective: "dirty Mexican."

And the other quality of the Mexican is that he or she violates straight lines. Mexicans are unable to stay contained within borders. They keep slipping across. There is in fact an illegality that attaches to the Mexican in the United States. Partly I think it is a true reflection that Mexico is a deeply cynical culture. It is a country formed by Catholicism, that accepts the power and the inevitability of Original Sin, of failure, and therefore tolerates corruption with some ease. The United States is a Protestant culture that imagines itself to be innocent and pure. So when you get these two cultures living side by side the result is a city like Tijuana Mexico, which for generations provided Americans with all those impure pleasures that were available after dark. When boxing was illegal on the American side, it was available in Mexico. When gambling was illegal on the American side, it was possible in Mexico. When booze was illegal on the American side, it was available in Mexico. And of course, when the whore was unavailable on the American side, she was more than willing in Mexico.

The relationship continued in the field of labour, less sexual than routine, from 8 to 5. Since about the 1920s Americans have hired illegal Mexican workers. These workers have migrated back and forth. There was a deportation in the 1930s, during the depression years. And then in the 1940s, with the war years, the return of the Mexican labourer. And as this migration continued, the Mexican population in the United States has grown, with native-born children who are more American than they are Mexican. The US tends to see this invasion now as an intrusion into our civic life, an intrusion of illegality. But typically there is no suggestion in any of this Nativism that you hear today that coincidental with the Mexicanisation of New York is the Americanisation of Mexico City. I can take you to the Pyramid of the Sun, not too many miles outside Mexico City, a pyramid that predates the Aztecs by several centuries. If we're careful walking down the steps – the Indians had very small feet – we can take a journey of several hundred yards, where beyond the Pyramid of the Sun is a Wal-Mart.

Richard Nixon invented Hispanics in 1972. And so as a son of Trudeau but also as a son of Nixon, I should accept that I'm doomed to be Hispanic. But I would also propose to you tonight that you look at the people coming into the country from the south. They do not look like Spaniards. They don't look really like they have too much Spanish blood in them. They look like Indians, most of them, making your hotel beds, walking down 5th Avenue speaking Spanish, the conquistador's tongue, his triumph. But in the American scheme of things we don't know what to make of that fact, or that possibility. Because we've decided that the Indian is dead, or has disappeared to a gambling casino in upstate New York. It is not possible that there are millions of Indians coming this way, that we are in the presence of one of the great Indian migrations in the New World. It is nowhere written in our history book. There are now 38 million Hispanics – children of Nixon – in the United States. by official accounts there are 10 to 12 million illegals and the majority – 85 percent – are from Mexico.

One more point: The deeply troubling issue with the Mexican, quite different from the Arab in Paris or Amsterdam or Copenhagen, is that the Mexican is returning to a land that Mexico once owned. In the 1850s the founding culture of large portions of this country was Mexico, the northern end of the Spanish Empire. It is written on the land: San Antonio, Los Angeles. It is written on the description of the land: mesa, rio. There is a suggestion with this illegal migration that something is coming back. That Tucson Arizona in the year 2006 resembles Tucson Arizona in the year 1848, that history is a circle, not a straight line. Within all this Canadian talk of multiculturalism, there is this unsettling fact that history is being restored, that the Indian is returning, albeit speaking Spanish. I met three young men some years ago who were part of an Evangelical Protestant group called "Victory Outreach," in Tijuana Mexico. They told me they were coming illegally to convert the United States of America to Protestantism. And I thought to myself, history is a circle within a circle, and we might find ourselves trapped, if we don't have a roadmap within the labyrinth.


fff"How do we maintain openness?"
Β© Beowulf Sheehan/PEN American Center
Kwame Anthony Appiah: One thing that's struck me so far is that we can focus on two different kinds of questions. One has to do with the response of majorities to the fact of pluralism. The other, especially in Necla's and Pascal's bits, was the question of – either explicitly or implicitly - what it is that makes minorities close themselves off. I mean, what Necla Kelek was talking about in Germany is in part a problem created - for whatever reason - by a sense that some of these Turkish German communities are closing themselves off to the wider Germany. And clearly there's a sense of self-enclosure in some of the French banlieus. I'm wondering whether from the point of view of the minority, the story is: well we closed ourselves off because you didn't open to us. And now you tell us – because it's causing you problems – that we should be open. But if you'd been open when we first arrived, we wouldn't be closed now. Now I think there's a real challenge of how to answer Pascal's question, which is: how do we maintain this openness?


Richard Rodriguez: Talking to European immigrants, particularly from the Third World, It seems to me their complaint against France and Britain and Germany is that they feel these cultures are defined and in some sense finished. And it is their responsibility therefore somehow to adjust to that completed culture, to try to become French, whatever that means. Or to try to become English, which is even more impossible. Because no matter how well you speak the language you never quite will be. Whereas the United States has the slight rhetorical advantage of having since the late 19th century accepted the immigrant as the archetypal figure within the country, and seeing in the incompleteness of the immigrant's journey - that is the immigrant comes to New York from Ireland or from Poland and in the process of leaving the past behind recreates an identity – a renewal crucial to the American identity. The problem now is, however, that you have someone like Samuel P. Huntington at Harvard, who writes this grotesque book "Who Are We" - indeed: who is he? - who believes that we really are a kind of British colony, and that the American experience really has been determined by its European patrimony. And now that the United States is becoming a global culture, as indeed London and Paris have become global cities, how much are we prepared to accept the reconfiguration of our sense of ourselves as a national culture, with these minority cultures? How much are we willing to change? How much are we willing to open the door?


Pascal Bruckner
: I think there is a major difference between America and Europe, and that is patriotism. When you speak of Afro-American, Italo-American, Mexican-American, the important word is American. But you would never speak of "Arabo-French" or "African-French" for the moment because in Europe the nation in itself doesn't really exist any more, because we've had the 20th century, wars between our nations, massacres, genocides, destructions, and today nobody dares to use the words "motherland" or "fatherland", or to use the word "nation". Even in political speech.

So when migrants from North Africa or Sub-Saharan Africa come to France, where do they come? They come to a country where we speak French, but which has lost most of its prerogatives. And this is the situation in Europe. Countries that make up Europe have lost their sovereignty. But Europe hasn't gained any sovereignty. We are now in a kind of a historical in-between. So what is France, exactly, for someone coming from a Muslim country? It's first and foremost a welfare state. Because France has many flaws – especially now – but it's a generous country, with free health care, free schooling. Nobody will let you die on the street if you're ill, which is not the case in the States. But that's it! So people come to France first because they say: Maybe we'll get something from the state. And the state is seen mainly not as a source of authority, but as a service provider. It's very striking when you travel in France, you see signboards: "Here the state is building a highway for you. Here the state is building a bridge for you." This tends to infantilise the French, and also to arouse their anger. Because we always ask: but what is the state doing? The state has to pay! but after all we are the state.

So this is one reason. But nobody can blame the migrants for choosing France for this reason, because we the French live like this for quite a long time now. But there is a second reason why Moroccans, Algerians, Malians choose France: it's because it's a free country. Many women especially come from North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. They want to come to France because we are a secular state – contrary to America. And because whatever this country is, we still enjoy a certain freedom. In France you have the right not to believe in any religion, you have the right not to belong to any church. And I think that is also an advantage. But coming back to what Mr Rodriguez just said: of course in America you have a force which we have lost. One small anecdote: In the 80s I was a visiting professor in San Diego, and one of my Mexican students asked me to come to his citizenship ceremony. It was in a stadium in Los Angeles. There were 1,000 people, most of them from South and Central America. They briefly pronounced a few words on the constitution, raised their hands and they were American. And I said oh my God! I wish France could be like this! Because what is the United States, it's a kind of huge washing machine into which you come from China, Korea, Mexico, San Salvador, and then suddenly you come out American. And that's a force! I wish France could be like that today.


Necla Kelek: Last year when I went to Chicago I was asked, is Germany your homeland? I said, how could it be, even the Germans don't think of Germany as their homeland. The problem is for immigrants that they arrive and they're told: you don't integrate. They think: where should we integrate, this German society we're being told to integrate into is not uniform. That's a problem of history, that nationalism and patriotism don't exist in Germany any more.


Richard Rodriguez: I think in the United States there is a sense in which the culture is manufactured by the marketplace, and that children buy into that in various ways and at various stages, and reconfigure that. But this notion of a phantom France or a phantom Germany is really quite interesting. The young people I've spoken to in these cities really do believe that somehow there is a monolithic thing that's being withheld from them. Whereas if you talk to the immigrant children in the United States, there's a sense of mixture, but it's at a more complicated level. Two differences: one is that this country is so religious. And most of the immigrants are coming in with a high degree of religiousity. The problem is that the official culture in Europe is secular, by which we do not mean simply neutral, but in many cases anti-religious, or at least unsympathetic to religion. Here at this conference, I've only met one person who claims to have any religious affiliation or religious faith. Here we are talking about multiculturalism, but we really belong to a kind of monoculture of atheists from all over the world! We recognise each other immediately. We look at our labels: he's wearing Prada and I'm wearing Versace.

But I think the difficulty in the United States for immigrants is that – and I don't know whether this is comparable to France but we got the pronoun from you, the first person singular pronoun, the I, we got it from the French Enlightenment. We perhaps have taken it farther than any other country has dared. We raise our children to leave home in this country. And the enormous loneliness of immigrants here, who have to leave behind their culture, the ancient cultures, the familial cultures of We, nosotros. And then there's the struggle within that, the American disdain for the immigrant child who does not participate in the Americanisation process as quickly as we want him to, by which we mean he does not become an I as quickly as we expect him to, he does not become Huckleberry Finn as quickly as we expect him to. This struggle which in Europe is becoming increasingly a religious struggle, between religions of the We and a secular state that is defined by individual rights, is I think enormously dangerous, and it doesn't have the exact equivalent here in the United States.

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