Themes: Our Creativy Diversity
A new global ethics
A commitment to pluralism
Challenges of a media-rich world
recasting cultural policies

Bhiku Parekh
A Commitment to Cultural Pluralism

All societies today are multicultural, and need to find ways of reconciling the demands of unity and diversity. Without unity, they cannot hold themselves together, take and enforce collectively binding decisions, and generate a spirit of community. As for diversity it is not only inescapable but also enriches and contributes to the collective well-being of society. Besides human beings are culturally embedded, and respect for them requires that we also respect their cultures.

Since both unity and diversity are important, each limits the other. We should not aim at so extensive and deep a sense of unity that no space is left for diversity, nor tolerate so wide and deep a diversity that the society gets fragmented and cannot effectively pursue common interest.

The multicultural society can reconcile unity and diversity only if it does not confuse unity with uniformity and seek comprehensive cultural uniformity among its members. It should evolve its unity out of its diversity by encouraging its cultural communities to evolve a plural national culture that both reflects and transcends them. Such a multiculturally constituted and constantly evolving common culture both unites them and gives them secure spaces for growth. Since different communities have helped create it, they are able to identify with it, and can be expected to feel both attached to and proud of it. The plural national culture should permeate all areas of life and shape its overall ethos.

If a multicultural society is to create such a culture and be at ease with itself, it needs to take five sets of measures. First, it should not subject its cultural communities to intended or unintended discrimination, should show them equal respect, and give them equal opportunity to flourish. When the communities are territorially concentrated, it should also devolve power and give them a measure of self-government. Far from undermining its unity, such autonomous units give it cultural and emotional depth.

Second, a multicultural society should ensure social justice and equal access to political power to its minority communities, and encourage inter-ethnic and inter-religious co-operation in all areas of life, especially the political. A common sense of belonging can only be built up in the course of working together for common goals.

Third, the institutions of the state, especially the civil service, the army, the police and the judiciary should be completely impartial and insulated against ethnic and religious pressures. If they are corrupt or partial, minorities are tempted to take the law into their own hands.

Fourth, a multicultural society should encourage its members to take an open-minded and expansive view of their cultural identity, so that they not only do not feel threatened by but positively cherish cultural differences. When one's religious or cultural identity is defined in exclusive, static and rigid terms, one fears close contacts with others and finds it difficult to live with them in peace.

Finally, it should evolve a national identity which does not exclude or delegitimise any of its communities. If they are to identify with it, it should be spacious enough to make room for them. Wherever possible, national symbols, rituals, events, etc. should reflect the multicultural character of the society. The society should be so defined that it belongs to all its citizens and not to its dominant ethnic or religious group.

Since multicultural societies are new in history, we do not yet know how to manage them. UNESCO therefore has a vital regional and global role. It should encourage studies of the causes of conflicts in such societies and the best ways of anticipating, containing and hopefully resolving them. It should highlight the lessons of good and bad policies followed by different societies in educational, political, cultural and other areas, and set up regional departments of multicultural studies. It should set up or help set up forums to bring together opinion-leaders in conflict-stricken countries, and aim to build up a respectable team of distinguished individuals to chair and guide them. UNESCO should also offer guidance on such matters as multicultural text-books, museums, academies, programmes of teacher training, and regional and even global arts and cultural festivals. In these and other ways it can act both as a clearing house of existing ideas and a catalyst of new ones.

"A commitment to pluralism"
Ria Lavrijsen
Livio Sansone
Bhikhu Parekh
pijltje.gif (895 bytes) A new global ethics
pijltje.gif (895 bytes) A commitment to pluralism
pijltje.gif (895 bytes) Challenges of a media-rich world
pijltje.gif (895 bytes) Recasting cultural policies
General introduction
our creative diversity