October 18, 2005
The Many and Diverse Issues of Diversity

By Richard Reeves

CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- I assume most Americans have figured out that we did not do as well as we thought we could in Iraq because of our dreamy American conviction that everyone is like us or wants to be. That was summed up, perhaps a bit crudely, in a recruiting poster for the History and Current Affairs Club at the University of Cape Town. The headline read:

"Do you want to be totally IGNORANT about the world you live in?"

Below that was a huge, grinning photograph of the president of the United States.

Meanwhile, in Egypt and Turkey and Saudi Arabia, "working mom" Karen Hughes was visiting the Middle East for the first time in her life, telling Muslim women that she knew what they really wanted to be were soccer moms working for the leader of their country and getting million-dollar book advances to write about it. For some reason those ladies, hand-picked for their pro-American inclinations, were not buying it. My favorite was the physician in Saudi Arabia who responded to Hughes' declaration that she knew the Saudi ladies really wanted driver's licenses like hers from Texas, by saying she ran her own hospital and hired a man to drive her around.

Ah, Karen. History has not ended, no matter what Americans write about the triumph of democracy and market capitalism. Globalization, the idea that we are all nothing but consumers of electronics and entertaining ideas, is not the big issue or trend of our times. The big issue is diversity, the question of how very different people co-exist with each other as they come together in more complicated societies. Sunni and Shia Muslims and Kurds finding some way to co-exist in mission-accomplished Iraq is a relatively simple problem compared to many others around the world.

In its own way, Great Britain, junior partner in the Western effort to Americanize Iraq, is a far more diverse society, dangerously diverse, than the Arab country we invaded in post-Crusader ignorance those many months ago. One of the most talked-about plays in London this season is "Playing With Fire" by David Edgar at the National Theater. It is like one long city council meeting in a northern industrial town where the industry has gone and been replaced by little more than Pakistanis looking for a better life in the Christian world without giving up the family values and other virtues of Islam.

The story: Politically correct Labour Party officials arrive with plans, money and power to force and encourage multicultural diversity among natural adversaries fighting over the spoils of a declining local society. There are nice touches in the town, council ordinances printed in Urdu, a red-white-and-blue, cowboy-hatted Pakistani drummer in a British country-and-western band.

The result of all this enforced goodwill, on stage, is fire, riot and murder. In real life, a conservative think tank, Civitas, has blamed London's recent terrorism bombings on "hard" multiculturalism policies.

South Africa, cry the beloved country, is not only one of the most diverse countries around, with 11 official languages and a stark history of repression of diversity, it is also now perhaps the most politically correct. The press adviser to the mayor of Cape Town, a black man, was fired last week for saying blacks were "culturally superior" to "coloureds," citizens of mixed race.

None of this is really new. Long before apartheid separated blacks out of South African society, there were such measures as forbidding the speaking of French in churches in the 19th century because the good Dutch pioneers of the Dutch Reformed Church (the church I grew up in) welcomed French Protestants (Huguenots), but worried that would bring separatism if they were allowed to practice their old ways.

The clash of old ways and new is what often divides different kinds of human beings -- and there is never easy assimilation. That is the issue, that is what our leaders were too ignorant to understand when they went to war one more time to make all people alike.

Copyright 2005 Universal Press Syndicate

Richard Reeves

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