By M.S.N. Menon
We thought that the white man would ultimately accept the black man as his brother. We were wrong. There is no sign of it yet. First, the whites tried assimilation. It failed. Then, they tried multiculturalism. It too failed. Will the whites now go back to their old identities? To nationalism? If so, how will it affect the world of other colours?
Migration of black men was the direct result of colonialism. And colonialism was the white man’s creation. Today, the white man is in a dilemma. He cannot throw out the migrants. Nor can he keep them in. What worries the whites is not the loss of their colour alone, but of their way of life, their heritage, and their culture, through the continuous influx of migrants. America tried the ‘melting pot’ to assimilate the European migrants, but it was not willing to put the black man into the pot. As a result, assimilation failed. In Britain, they tried the Macaulay experiment. It did not work either. Of late, both America and Britain have been working on multiculturalism. But its cost is prohibitive. India is the only near-successful model of multiculturalism. But it has paid an enormous price.
After 9/11, the entire multicultural experiment in the West has come a cropper. It marked the triumph of Samuel Huntington and his prophecy of the conflict of civilisations. In his latest book, he calls upon the whites to give up their multiculturalism experiment. Today, migrants are suspects everywhere. What is worse, the white nations are unwilling to accept the migrants as full citizens. They say that the migrants destroy their national identity.
One people, one language, one religion, one culture—this was the ideal of all tribal societies. Perhaps there is no tribal society left today. We have all become multi-tribal or multicultural. But we do not know how to live in a multicultural society. Prof. Bikhu Parekh, an authority on multiculturalism, says: “There is little sign that we have even begun to grasp the enormity of the problem before us, let alone explore ways to tackle it.” Very true!
This is truer of India. Here is a country of the greatest diversity. It is a mosaic of the human race, and by its own volition. But it does not know where it is going. In the meantime, others are determining its destiny. The Pope threatens to Christianise Asia. And the Islamists threaten to Islamise the world. And Christians in India say that they have a fundamental right to wipe out the Hindu civilisation. They quote the provisions of the Indian Constitution.
Huntington’s new book Who are We? The Challenge to America’s Identity deplores the erosion of American identity. He wants it to be built around 1) Christian religiosity, 2) English language, and 3) Anglo-Protestant culture. His logic is simple. He says: “America cannot accept the word (migrants) and yet remain America. Other peoples cannot become Americans and still be themselves.” You cannot pick holes in his argument. In fact, this has been the argument against conversions, if only we knew. But we didn’t. Now that the white man has given it his imprimatura, it must be more acceptable to our secularists.
The alternative, says Huntington, is nationalism “devoted to the preservation and enhancement of those qualities that have defined America since its founding.” He is in favour of two classes of citizenship.
The UNDP was so alarmed by the stand taken by Huntington and the American conservatives that it devoted this year’s annual report to a refutation of Huntington’s stand. The report, titled Cultural Liberty in Today’s World, was done under the supervision of Amartya Sen. But Sen failed to meet the concerns of Huntington. Is India listening? There is much to listen to, for we have serious problems with our multiculturalism. Hindus have only India to work out their destiny. If this is denied, the Huntington formula may well become an alternative.