Wednesday, August 03, 2005

"The single wish to be together"

"Both-ism" is a coinage used by Jonathan Freedland in his column today and in conversation with Tariq Modood and Nick Clarke on The World at One when discussing the apparent choice of either multiculturalism or unified national identity facing Britain.

It was striking how pessimistic Modood was. Attempts to reach out to extremist elements in Britain, who accept neither their British identity nor much of their (usually) Pakistani heritage but rather embrace an ideology of international jihadism, are bound to fail, he said.

Freedland agreed, and without skipping a beat said the point was to look at the formation of the next generation.

At best, then, we're looking at the work of many years.

Freedland's comparatively breezy optimism may be needed in the circumstances. But I'm not sure it is better founded conceptually than David Hayes's striking case for either/or (see this post).

Hayes describes the second of his two options, radical multiculturalism, as akin to the Ottoman settlement. This was of course replaced in 1923 by a secular regime.

But could a different model, drawing on an analogy with India be more useful? India has the world's second largest Muslim population (well over 100 million - or 10% of the total population) and a secular constitution that makes special provision, as
Rajeev Bhagrava has so usefully described for a non-specialist readership.

Also, it may help to go back to Abdelwahab Meddeb's Islam and its Discontents, written shortly after the atttacks of 11 September, 2001. Meddeb quotes Ernest Renan:

If religion divides men, reason brings them closer... There is only one single reason. The unity of the human spirit is the great, consoling result that comes from the peaceful clash of ideas, when one pust aside the opposing claims of so-called supernatural revelations. The covenant of good minds of the whole Earth against fanaticism and superstition is on the surface the act of an imperceptible minority; at bottom it is the only convenant that lasts.

Meddeb writes that Renan's pamphlet Qu'est-ce qu'une nation? reminded him that: "the nation is not founded on linguistic unity, not on the community of faith or on geographical continuity or sharing of history. It is based on the single wish to be together".

How wide can and should the bounds of such a nation be set? In a globalised world does it require planetary humanism (maybe centred, in an apparent paradox, on the local and specific as described by Bill McKibben, Robert Macfarlane and others?). How much appeal does and can such a vision have in the face of the psychopathologies stalking this century in a ghastly echo of the worst of the last?

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