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Cultural diversity has long been labeled a positive aspect to what it does to one's identity, given that many take for granted that having several cultures which co-exist together only does wonders for the general worldly atmosphere. However, cultural diversity can trigger bad events as well. Often two different societies are in conflict with each other because of the cultural differences which separate them. In that manner the existence of diverse cultures within the same realm can be constructive or destructive, at times even both. This is the reality of the matter. Nevertheless what concerns us is not the past of cultural diversity, but its future. To conceive a better future, the only viable way to look at cultural diversity is that it is constructive, as it builds cultural awareness and enriches people's lives, rendering life a complex mosaic of unique identities.
Culture is of the utmost importance, being a vital component in developing individual's lives, communities and the entire humanity. It is a living receptacle of identities, an essential element of social cohesion and an interface between past, present, and future generations. Culture is also an important tool for social justice, as well as the enhancement of the psychological and mental health of individuals as well as the role of women in society. Thus culture cannot but be constructive. As a matter of fact the controversial issue whether or not culture is constructive is not actually about culture itself but rather people's attitude towards it and its diversity.
The way of thought of people towards culture and identity is best described by Amin Maalouf, in his essay "Deadly Identities". Maalouf states: "These habits of thinking are deeply rooted in all of us, because of this narrow, exclusive, bigoted, simplified conception that reduces the whole identity to a single belonging" (Maalouf 3) which shows how people perceive that culture is not only deeply embedded in an individual's identity but that identity itself also must have one and only one belonging, rather than a unique mixture of cultures or experiences the individual was exposed to. Maalouf continues by saying that "Whoever claims a more complex identity becomes marginalized"(Maalouf 2) which in turn creates bases for walls to be built between cultures and people of different belongings.
Furthermore, people tend to compartmentalize identity, "Half French and half Lebanese, then?"(Maalouf 2), which in turn shows how grave a step for the separation of cultures man has taken in his way of thinking. "The identity cannot be compartmentalized; it cannot be split in halves or thirds, nor have any clearly defined set of boundaries" (Maalouf 2). What Maalouf meant to say was that identity is a single entity bound to be subjected to different experiences which in turn define an individual's identity as being unique and special.
Judith Cofer, in her writing "The Myth of a Latin Woman: I Just Met a Girl Named Maria" explains how people's attitude towards different cultures and different people can inflict pain and isolate on a more personal level. "These things can make you an island-not a tropical paradise but an Alcatraz, a place no one wants to visit" (Cofer 107), and by "These things" Cofer meant the stereotypical behaviors people indulge in.
Stereotypes are created based on some idea of abstractfamiliarity, and they are by definition a commonly held public and general belief about specific social groups, or types of individuals. "'I thought you Latin girls were supposed to mature early,' as if I were expected to ripen like a fruit or vegetable, not just grow into womanhood like other girls" (Cofer 109) or "the Hispanic woman as the "hot tamale" or sexual firebrand" (Cofer 108). Gender stereotypes also had an important role in defining a culture, since every culture had its way of looking at women in their society. In the middle east for example "young, very young girls coming from 'respectable families' whose fortunes had known better times and who for lack of a dowry were un-marriageable. A convent was the most suitable alternative for these would-be spinsters" (Ghoussoub 146).
Turning from a more personal heads on outlook, to a broader more global view on cultural diversity and its effects shows us that if man continues his way of thinking and his intolerance of difference, the world would head into a far more dangerous clash than it already is in. Today our modern world is in a constant cultural clash which is the inevitable truth. Man is forced to conform to fit in a society where he chose to live in order to feel accepted. Dima Hilal in her poem "ghaflah - the sin of forgetfulness" explains how she found herself helpless in the United Stated to help her fellow brothers in the Middle East, "we know we cannot help anyway"(Hilal 132). Hilal also exposes how unconsciously peoples' minds are shaped to conform to the western culture and how they are subtly forced to thinking that the western culture is more beautiful and more sophisticated. "We wish our hair blonde our eyes and skin light; we know Barbie looks better than Scheherazade; we think French makes us more sophisticated so we great each other with bonjour instead of salaam" (Hilal 132). Furthermore a greater effect of cultural stereotypes can be studied on a global scale, war. "Our brothers and sisters spit up blood and teeth and CBS declares them 'terrorists'" (Hilal 132). Terrorism is an example of a very general accusation bestowed upon Arabs and especially Muslims, and ironically in the name of peace wars on "terrorism" were waged.
On the other hand, the blending of cultures is the simple arithmetic of creativity and success in life. Cultural diversity gives mankind the chance to go on a never-ending journey of self discovery, and enrichment of the soul. It also spawns beauty and abundance, giving a new definition of the world we live in. Making the world a more colorful place to live in.
Yet from stereotypes to global catastrophes, and from the compartmentalization of identity to people's way of thinking, a reformation strategy must be built for ensuring a brighter and less dangerous culturally diverse future of the world. First of all, there it is an extreme importance to engaging in a dialogue of international dimensions among civilizations which should be carried out with due respect for the values of moderation, tolerance, mutual understanding, democracy, social justice, mutual respect and equality between nations and peoples, in a way that helps highlight the importance of cultural diversity and its role in maintaining social cohesion and establishing world peace and security. Then we need to begin, on an international level, stressingthe importance of cultural diversity, since no constructive cooperation and genuine intercultural dialogue is possible in our ever-changing world without the principle of cultural diversity being confirmed as a prerequisite for ensuring coexistence and building a future where peace and solidarity prevail. We also need to contribute spreading the values of international and intercultural dialogue, peace and respect for cultural diversity, while on the other hand rejecting all forms of intolerance, extremism, and stereotypical behavior.
Thus as a conclusion, in the current era of fast change and constant developments, the role of cultural diversity is of crucial importance to both identity and the world. Cultural diversity seems to be constructive and destructive at the same time bringing both joy and pain to the world. Yet for a brighter future we must build the bases of a different way of thinking and a different approach towards tolerating what is different. This in turn will help in the conservation of cultures and cultural diversity rendering our world a wonderful and unique mix of colors. In the end if one locks the doors, one only lock himself in.
- Maalouf, A. "Deadly Identities". Les identite meurtrie. Grassat. Translated by Brigitte Caland for Al Jadid. (4, 25)
- Cofer, J. "The Myth of a Latin Woman: I Just Met a Girl Named Maria"
- Hilal, D. "ghaflah - the sin of forgetfulness"
- Ghoussoub, M. "Red Lips"