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Friday, 11 March 2011






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Oscillating European perceptions

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is the latest to join a chorus of Western leaders who have censured multi-culturism as a 'failure'. Despite upholding 'freedom' as a founding principle of the modern French nation, the French President in a televised interview, has maintained that," I do not want a society where communities co-exist side by side. France will not welcome people who do not melt in to a single community.

We have been too busy with the identity of those who arrived and not enough with the identity of the country that accepted them". These comments brought the French President in line with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Former Australian Prime Ministers John Howard and Kevin Rudd and the former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maznaz who have previously expressed their reservations on multi-culturalism.

Sarkozy's statement is widely considered as a sign of exasperation over French Government's recent attempts to stamp French nationalism over its five million strong Muslim population. Official reports show that Muslims account for approximately eight percent of France's population making France the European country with the largest Muslim population. However the Muslims in France still have no representatives in the French Parliament.

Nicolas Sarkozy

Angela Merkel

David Cameron

Kevin Rudd

European leaders

The problems experienced by the French President is not something new even though the European leaders have only realized now the difficulties involved in nation building when the nation comprises people with diverse inclinations in beliefs and values. This is the dilemma of many a nation that inherited multi-cultural nations as a result of, either colonial racial mixing policies, import of slaves labour, or import of indentured labour, for European commercial expeditions. The difference however is when a small and vulnerable country like Sri Lanka makes attempts to integrate minorities into the mainstream it is considered either 'hagemonistic' or 'majoritarianism' whereas now when the European leaders realize this the hard way, 'melting in the minorities' becomes a prerequisite for cohesive and pragmatic nation building.

During medieval times people lived mainly as tribes or monolithic nations and hence they had one language and one religion within their community obviating clash of values and customs. They fought with other nations and tribes but yet at the end the strong prevailed over the weak either through elimination or assimilation. Thus the monolithic nature of the nation was maintained. In the recent European history Bismark made Germany into nation by assimilating and diluting minorities.

Indigenous people

However, the 15th and 16th Centuries, which the European nations term as 'age of discovery' changed all that. The European expeditions brought slave labour from Africa, subjugated much of Asia and colonized sparsely populated countries like America and Australia, driving the indigenous people into extinction. Even in the countries they subjugated, different communities were intermixed to suit the commercial enterprises of the master with little regard for the different beliefs and values of the subjects.

This jumbling up of different nationalities/communities with centuries of subjugation however bestowed a legacy of conquest on the European masters.

At the point of independence almost all these subject nations had privileged minorities who would be cultural and linguistic aliens in an independent nation.

Hence most of them were readily absorbed by the European colonialists creating rainbows in skin colours, cultures and faiths within their own nations.

But these differences, up till recently were looked at with a sense of pride by these European nations as conquering inheritance of their proud past. But now with gradual change of national and religious fortunes the one's proud exhibits of the European leaders seemed to be increasingly turning in to liabilities.

National population

Political scientist Walker Corner has conducted a survey on the homogeneous nature of various nationalities that inhabit this world.

His survey has revealed that of the 198 nations in this world there are only 12 nations that could claim to be 100 percent homogeneous.

Of the balance another 26 nations could claim to be 90 percent homogeneous.

This makes only 20 percent of the nations in this world to be homogeneous or nearly homogenous. Then there is another 20 percent of nations where the majority makes up between 75-89 percent of the national population.

In another 23 percent of nations the majority makes up between 50-75 percent of the population. This leaves a balance of 37 percent nations where the majority is less than 50 percent of the national population. This makes multi-culturalism a reality and assimilation for nation building a necessity.

When a country is economically powerful and internationally stable the minorities may not think of pushing for their own identities and values as they have little hopes of realizing such aspirations.

On the other hand when a nation is weak and internationally vulnerable the minorities may not have much regard for the centre and thus they may even flaunt a bagful of grievances hoping to work themselves in to stronger position than their numbers suggest.

There are also informal groupings of people on religious and ethnic grounds that often transcend national boundaries.

International level

With modern communication and travel these polarizations could always pose serious threats to national integration.

As an example Tamils are not just a hapless minority in Sri Lanka but a section that shares a common linguistic and cultural base with a community that inhabit 67 other countries.

The Muslims too are not an isolated group of people but section that share a common belief with people in 42 other countries.

Therefore such polarizations at international level creates national instability and it becomes worse when powerful nations pass strictures on smaller nations against their attempts to assimilate their minorities calling those as 'hagemonistic' or 'anti human rights'.

Thus then, is it any wonder that Sri Lanka had such serious problems in its post independent nation building during the past 63 years?

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