Saturday, October 28, 2006

Dealing with diversity…

Mankind like never before is grappling with its inability to deal with diversity.

Some deal with it through division. We can see today how the coalition with its initial vision to bring democracy to Iraq is quivering on the methods to do it within a country that has strong ethnic diversity. The coalition seems to find solutions in dividing the country along sectarian lines to deal with the diversity.

Half a century ago the world saw, when the great imperial British India was brought down to its feet by its peasants, that the peasants were grappling on how to deal with religious diversity and they found the solution in superficially dividing the country into two countries for each major religious group.

We have seen our in old South Africa, diversity in color was dealt with using apartheid rule. In United States of America too till a few decades ago had the diversity in color been dealt with through division of space, opportunities, endowments etc along lines of color.

We can name many more examples of 20th century and today where solutions to deal with diversity was found in divisions. The question is whether the outcomes were as desirable as predicted. Indeed the answer is a clear no and it is evident through our human experiences especially in the last hundred years that you can never divide and find harmony in a diverse environment.

In the same period of time, we have seen how some tried to deal with diversity by trying to remove diversity and to make things identical. We have seen how in some countries or regions, e.g. Thailand, Philippines etc where the ethnic minorities were forced by their state to be combined with their ethnic majorities hereby not allowing them to have their own self-determined system that is modeled by them and which is built on their indigenously ethnic considerations. In other regions or countries we have seen how the state have attempted aggressively to deal with diversity of religion within their public space and political space by opting to desacralize the space in the name of secularism.

Again we can name many more examples in 20th century and today where solutions are forced upon systems to deal with diversity through delineating diverse factors by makings things identical. The question again is have the outcomes turned out as predicted. Again the answer is a clear no. Unless we humans and our systems are truly identical, we cannot achieve identity across space, systems, processes or environments.

Then what can be the solution to address diversity? God clearly states that diversity is a blessing.

"Do you not see that Allah sends down from the clouds water, then brings forth with it fruits of different kinds (or colours). And in the mountains there are streaks, white and red, of different colours, and some intensely black. And of people and animals and cattle there are different colours likewise. Only those of His servants fear Allah who possess knowledge." (Holy Quran 35:27-28)

And from His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and your different languages and colors. Surely in that are signs to all the worlds[Quran 30:22:]

O people! surely We have created you of a male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other; surely the most honorable of you with Allah is the one among you most careful (of his duty); surely Allah is Knowing, Aware.[Quran 49:13]

In other words it implies diversity is not a curse or evil or bad thing. At the most it may be only a challenge. Therefore the question is how to deal with this challenge and not try to seek solutions in divisions or in making things uniform (undoing God’s predestined sense of diversity in His creations).

God also clearly states He despises disunity and divisions. Therefore the solutions to diversity clearly lies in seeking unity through integration without undoing the diversity. Therefore the calls by European leaders for immigrant populations to give up their native identity and adopt “European” identity is ludicrous. Instead the solutions lies in seeking a moderate and middle way to the diversity and where its virtually impossible to reconcile differences then effort must be made to allow the diverse factors to co-exist. There must be a will to see that the end is a reconciliation of diversity and differences and not dominance.

Likewise the solution for the problems in countries such as Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma , China, Israel, etc which arise due to diverse ethnic/religious/language differences, lies in reconciling the differences through finding ways to allow the different systems to coexist. That precisely has been the technique employed to achieve peace in Acheh, Indonesia which conflict dates back for more than two decades at the cost of economic backwardness and human lives.

The question of veils and headscarfs also begs the same solution. Indeed within every religious or ethnic group there is a diversity of attire donned by individuals. It is foolish to assert that the diversity of such attire, if permitted in schools and public space, will affect integration. When two individuals of diverse backgrounds, clothe themselves differently, they only are establishing their identity in a much stronger sense and there will be a clear and conscious understanding that each other will not behave, react the same as oneself and that the other will not require the same opportunities, definitions of space, treatment etc as oneself. Establishing a strong sense of identity allows the other to know who you are and hereby allows the other to treat you, respond to you, react to you and interact with you accordingly.

When there is no strong sense of identity of the diversity, then there is a false sense of uniformity. This is the dangerous phenomenon because then two diverse individuals will then develop a false sense of uniformity and expect each other to behave like the other and when differences arise due to their diversity, tensions and disappointments start to arise and one will try to impose on the other. I have gone through this experience first hand in a number of systems and countries in which I have lived in and made the conclusions after looking at how in traditional systems such as my grandparents, they were able to establish strong sense of identity and yet be able to reconcile their differences and live in harmony and peace that we desire today for our world and space.


At 3:15 PM, Blogger saedah said...

A great read again. I agree that eliminating diversity is not the answer. Quite sometime back one of our MPs suggested that we look for common spaces within the diversity. I did wonder at that time if we could find any. But lately we have seen more and more of these common spaces being identified and at times... created. And they have provided opportunities for interaction and integration...which in turns form the platform for better understanding and greater appreciation of the diversity. My two cents worth. :-)

At 5:36 PM, Blogger ney_reed said...

i truely apperciate your two cents.

in the issue of finding common spaces within diversity, we have to first understand how much of common spaces exist within diversity and then we need to understand what we need to do in spaces that are not common in diversity.

indeed there are probably as much, if not less, common spaces as there are not. therefore this solution of finding common space is half past six approach. having said that it must still be pursued except that that alone will not be a solution at all.

since the issue of how to deal with one another in spaces that are not common within a diverse environment, remains unresolved, it will continue to strain relations, create suspicion and mistrust and even affect interaction within common space to the extent of trivializing it to be superficial.

there again the ultimate solution remains in embracing diversity. there are many ways of doing this. one of the best if not the best methods is "live and let live". in the most exceptional circumstances where it creates tension to even allow that, then the solution lies in having the diverse factors define their own exclusive space for that activity or change etc.

the problem today lies in mainstream journalists, politicians, secularcrats, culturalists, conservatives and liberals refusing to practise that "live and let live" approach. this fundamentally requires tolerance and they basically lack it totally.

i will encourage you to try to find books on india on his pre-colonial era where it very successfully managed its vast diversity throughout different ages of hegemony and systems. then when you look at india today we can see how those factors that contributed to India then achieving harmony amongst its hugely diverse population and geography no longer exist enough to create the huge problems and troubles within india's vast diversity.


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