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T. Walsh: Peace and Security in Multicultural Societies

Address to Eurasia - Europe Conference on
Peace and Security in Multicultural Societies at a Time of Global Crisis

Moscow, Russia
April 6-7, 2012

We have been discussing multi-culturalism, and at the center is the tension that exists between unity and diversity. On the one hand, we experience the phenomena of economic globalization, the rise of transnational movements in both civil society and the private sector. On the other hand, we also see evidence of a growing trend toward the affirmation of particular identities, coupled with a resistance to being absorbed within a larger whole. These communitarian tendencies are, to some extent, a reaction to the universalist or assimililationist aspects of globalization.

Finding a correct balance can be challenging. On the one hand, the state must uphold the rule of law and equal respect for the rights of all citizens and groups. Particular groups also have a responsibility to respect both the authority of the state as well as the rights of other individuals and groups. When either the state or any particular group overreaches or fails to live up to its own responsibilities, problems emerge.

It is very important that we can both affirm diversity and multiculturalism within any particular country, while also recognizing that we must also affirm that which binds us together. Drawing from my own experience in the United States, I would suggest that national unity has been enhanced by two factors: (1) The concept of “one nation under God” has continually reminded Americans, despite many setbacks and failings, and despite our diverse origins, that we are all children of one God. In other words, while theologies can divide us, the idea of God, as a unifying origin, can bring us together. (2) Americans are a people who have not resisted intermarriage across lines of ethnicity, nationality, religion, and, more recently, race.  This acceptance of exogamy has contributed to unity among Americans.

A third area that is equally important is the area of interfaith dialogue and understanding, coupled with the development of curricula in our public and private schools that avoid interfaith polemics in favor of promoting respect, appreciation, and cooperation of the diverse religions in our various nations.

Due to immigration, transportation, and communications we are increasingly exposed to the great plurality of cultures, nationalities, religions, and political ideologies that make up our world, and even our local communities. It is important that we digest this plurality, and even affirm it, while at the same time avoiding the slide into a cultural and moral relativism that abandons the quest for truth, absolute values, justice, and peace.

The post-Cold War era brought a global resurgence of both identity politics and, often closely linked, religious activism. These trends were out of synch with secular, universalist trends, and yet they are very likely here to stay. Finding the way to embrace diversity while also embracing the need for common ground and overlapping values is imperative. In this respect the multicultural society must respect the rule of law of legitimate, democratically elected governments. Government in turn must serve as a just and honest broker, treating all citizens fairly, regardless of their religious, ethnic, or cultural background.

UPF has continually advocated the concept of humanity as “one family under God” to underscore our shared humanity, our common spiritual origin  and destiny.