When I gave my PhD keywords at the Sorbonne, back in the good old 1990s, ‘multiculturalism’ had to be entered in the Sorbonne database! I have recently visited California

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and even though Multiculturalism has a real meaning in Europe and especially in Geneva where I live, I witnessed the true meaning of this coexistence of the various languages and cultures. Of course, all isn’t yet totally bright under the Californian sunshine, but there is a mutual acceptance of each other. In the slide show, apart from snapshots from downtown LA, you’ll find some depictions of its multicultural landscape…and one picture of Geneva…I let you bet on the one! You can also see the LA Public Library and its only preserved floor which is now dedicated to children’s books. As you will maybe see, Spanish has a full section while the “international books” have just a shelf, sometimes half a shelf…sometimes three shelves such as French! Of course, you will find the same thing in Geneva multicultural library and by the way, a much better coexistence (in downtown Geneva….not necessarily in Renens or in the outskirts of major Swiss cities) of “circles”, as we define ourselves rather than communities! This may include the French expats, the International Civil Servants….and the traditional and linguistic communities! When the news of the anti-islamic movie came out, I was still in LA and the immediate reaction of all informed people was that it couldn’t be a real movie, let alone one made by an Israeli. Californian society immediately rejected the alleged author as one of its many loonies but the generally accepted consensus was that this news wasn’t worth the ink, although Tariq Ramadan finds ways to disagree. I persist to think that in Europe, however, the reaction was less clear from the society as such, until some clearsighted moslem opinion leaders such as Dr. Dalil Boubaker, here with a blond version of myself some time ago,Hassen Chalghoumi, and Malik Chebel voiced a clear concern from the silent majority about the exactions of extremists who highjacked Islam and manage to get a rather benevolent ear from their fellow Moslem brothers.As Franz-Olivier Giesbert indicates:

L’islamisme et l’antiaméricanisme sont les deux mamelles d’une pathologie qui continue de se développer dans le monde arabe et s’invite, avec quelques braillards salafistes, jusque dans nos quartiers chics. Les 3/4 des Egyptiens étant convaincus que l’attentat du 11 septembre contre les Twin Towers est l’oeuvre d’un complot fomenté par la CIA, le mot pathologie ne paraît pas vraiement inapproprié. Nous sommes tous les enfants de notre Histoire et il faut rechercher les racines du mal dans le sentiment d’humiliation et le complexe d’infériorité qui ronge une partie du monde arabe où l’islam a tôt fait, comme d’autres religions, de se sentir agressé par la modernité. Mais, devant lui, ce n’est pas une raison pour tomber dans l’angélisme acculturé, la nouvelle idéologie dominante.(…) Les perroquets de la bien-pensance ne nous autorisent qu’à rappeler à l’ordre l’Eglise catholique, à qui, pourtant, la société semble échapper peu à peu. Ils nous interdisent, en revanche, d’interpeller l’islam, corseté dans une posture victimaire, sous prétexte qu’il ne faudrait pas le froisser. C’est tout ce qui leur reste du christianisme, cette stratégie de l’apaisement. Au premier soufflet, ils tendent toujours l’autre joue.” Giesbert, F.-O. (2012). La fin d’une époque. Le Point. Paris: 7. (please ask for translation in the comments section, otherwise, I’ll assume you understand French).

We are all responsible for what is happening under our very own eyes. This feeling of alienation from other communities, this building up of walls within our own (or what people assume is our own). As a multiculturalist before the word was exposed in my country, I wonder how I am going to choose between my various identity constituents. Should I feel French, Jewish, descendent of Holy Land rabbies thus entitled to return to Israel, descendent of Berbers or Tunisian Jews, Tunisian (my mom’s nationality), Maltese (my dad’s family ties), Tuscan (my great-grand ma’s origins are in Livorno)….Swiss (I’m the proud mother of two Swiss citizens after all)….I can simply agree that we should support and welcome all those who are proud of their multiple identities and who consider themselves as world citizens. This is probably what I like best about my friend and colleague, Renford Reese (see more about him on my Afro-American Perspectives page and on my posts on my PEP experience) and that’s why, having been presented with his really special novel I wrote the following review on Amazon:

This review is from: Hong Kong Nights: A Story About Art, Love, and Life (Kindle Edition)

Hong Kong being one of my favourite cities in the world, the title and cover attracted my wildest imagination…but I wasn’t prepared for so much insight both into the LA “chalktown” desperation and African-American feeling of alienation in the USA and at times even in my beautiful HK. Reese takes you literally by the hand into his tale of love, life, art and cultures. You will see Hong Kong inside out in this encounter between expats, Hongkongers and the many ‘helpers’ who make this City so unique as a crossroad between East and West. The seemingly impossible love story between Marshawn, a young African-American and Cassy, a high class Hongkonger is a tale full of dispair, hope, insights and sensuality. I’m a fast reader but this story needed to sink in…took me two weeks to finish it as I wanted to sip every word, get every feeling, enjoy every encounter and suffer this pang of guilt when I read the way we, “Caucasians”, appear in the eyes of a young Afro-American. A ‘must read’, digest,re-read, and share with all your students and friends. And I beg Reese for a sequal…in Europe? click here for the Amazon link.

To complete this review, here are some exerpts from his book, also to be found in my bibliography under R:

Dédicace: “In the Spirit of Michael Jackson: “Make this World a Better Place” ” 121: The rest of the world developed on the back of Africa. Now look at us. The children of the Diaspora are rootless and at the bottom rungs of society wherever we go. People hate us and despise us in our own country. Dez reflected, “I remember a couple of years ago one of my African professors was invited to give a lecture in the New Territories. He invited me to go with him. He discussed the Chinese presence in African and Chinese relations with Sub-saharan African countries. The talk was insightful and engaging. There was substantive back and forth during the Question and Answer part of his lecture at the very end. It was a good event. I remember they invited us to dinner on the 15th floor of one of the big hotels over there. There was a white Ph.D. student from California who was doing his dissertation research on the issues that were discussed. He was fascinated by the talk and told my professor so. 122: He hung around with us so long that my professor asked him if he wanted to join us for dinner. When we got to dinner, there were 5 Chinese hosts, me and my professor, and the Ph.D. student. They raved about the lecture to my professor before we took our seats. The Ph.D. student walked in a bit late and introduced himself. At the table, it was embarrassing. In fact, there are few times that I have been more embarrassed in my life.” “What happened?” Marchawn asked. Dez continued, “After the white Ph.D. student showed up and introduced himself, we all sat down to eat. About 80% of the focus was on him and his reserch. The Chinese hosts had almost forgotten about my professor. One of the hosts sitting beside the student kept staring at him and eventually said, I kid you not, “Mr. Charlie if you were a woman, I would want to marry you” (…) “So was the professor angry that most of the attention was focused on someone that wanted to be like him”? “He diden’t seem bothered at all, which bothered me. He seemed totally content with how things unfolded. If you were him, wouldn’t you have been furious”? Marshawn said, “That’s a good question. I think I would have been more like the professor. I don’t know what he was thinking on the inside, but I think I would have been more like him. ” 123: (…) It really dawned on Dez after Marshawn’s comments that, although they vibed and shared the same interests, they really did come from two different worlds. Marshawn’s simple explanation of why the professor might not have been mad showed a type of wisdom that only came from poverty, pain and struggle. Although he had been exposed to poverty and had lived a temporary experiment in poverty, Dez suddenly realized he lacked Marshawn’s authentic perspective. Dez started to discuss big picture issues. Well, people talk about China being the world’s next superpower. China’s hegemony will be restricted”(…) “The British Empire was successful , in large part, because people admired the British ways. People in the colonies liked the British Accent, the demeanor, the air of sophistication, the worldliness of the British. When America replaced the British after World War II, it replaced the British sophistication, with the American free spirit. 124: “In each case, the British and the Americans have inspired people to want to be like them. America has mainly done this through its exports of popular culture to every pocket of the world.” “I see what you’re getting at. The dinner table experience showed you that the Chinese are still idolizing the West” “That’s exactly my point, my friend. How can we be a superpower like the U.S. has been when our wormen are lightening their skins to be like Caucasian models and when, even our intellectuals, are fawning over whiteness?” “So China’s hegemony will be restricted. 128: (…)”I have always wanted to be proud of my country.” “So what happend?” “I don’t know, I think that pride has to come naturally. We had to pledge allegiance to the American flag in school. We sing our national anthem at all the sporting events. I don’t sing it with pride and I never pledge my allegiance to the flag with pride. I don’t know too many people where I’m from who felt America cared about them enough for them to take pride (…). We are Americans because we were born there. That’s it. 129: I have resentment because we’re phony, contradictory and hypocritical. We preach one thing and practice another. We have a man in office right now that happens to look like me; he’s trying to do the right thing but people won’t let him.(…) I got mad love for him because I know where his heart is. The homies in the set had a party the night he won. At the same time, they know nothing was going to change for them because America will not let him make dramatic changes. Everything has to be watered down. The man inherited so much chaols but yet the people wan to constantly blame him. (…) “I just think that we have misplaced priorities in my country (…). All this talk about winning the war on terror (…)we have over 14,000 homicides per year and we’re spending billions of dollars trying to root out Al-Qaeda.(…). In Chalktown, am I more likely to get killed by Al-Qaeda or aby a rival gang? So where should our resources be going?” 130: “So I’m curious, when you have events like the Olympics, do you pull for your country?” “Yes, 100% of the time, when it’s swimming, gymnastics, basketball, or the horsback compeltition. I always pull for th U.S. (…) I know it sounds strange, but most people I know are like me. It’s a love-hate relationship we have.(…) 131: “I do have some resentment because we’ve got over half the kinds that look like me dropping out of inner city high schools. You got young black men like me being incarcerated in jail or prison at 6 times the rate of someone who is white for the same crime. You got jobs that could be coming to the ‘hood” being shipped overseas. Why should I salute the American flag and sing the anthem with pride?” 139: “We’re on the same page but as my nanny in Cape Town used to say, we were baptized in different water.” “What do you mean by that”? We’re different. We grew up different. We’ve had different experiences. He grew up harder than we can ever imagine, Trek. What it took him to survive the streets of L.A. and the minefields in his community we can never understand. (Reese, R. (2010). Hong Kong Nights. Atlanta, Darby Printing.) Click here to get to Renford’s homepage to get a grasp at the diversity of engagements and of the extent of his talent.

Let me simply conclude on the necessity we all fully assume our diversity and address the Islamic Intolerance directly as does the picture below posted on FB from Tunisia…and let me give you a bit of hope too, as the founder of Academie Sans Frontières, an informal movement as you may know. I have to thank my colleague Michel Mskika, a peace and cultural dialogue activist, for posting the link to a very interesting op’Ed by a former Saoudi Commander in chief who basically states the following:

Thirty-nine years ago, on Oct. 6, 1973, the third major war between the Arabs and Israel broke out. The war lasted only 20 days. The two sides were engaged in two other major wars, in 1948 and 1967.
The 1967 War lasted only six days. But, these three wars were not the only Arab-Israel confrontations. From the period of 1948 and to this day many confrontations have taken place. (…) On the anniversary of the 1973 War between the Arab and the Israelis, many people in the Arab world are beginning to ask many questions about the past, present and the future with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The questions now are: What was the real cost of these wars to the Arab world and its people. And the harder question that no Arab national wants to ask is: What was the real cost for not recognizing Israel in 1948 and why didn’t the Arab states spend their assets on education, health care and the infrastructures instead of wars? But, the hardest question that no Arab national wants to hear is whether Israel is the real enemy of the Arab world and the Arab people.

The author, Mr. Al-Mulhim, states that he decided to write this article after seeing reports about horrible massacres and events in several arab countries and he adds:

The common thing among all what I saw is that the destruction and the atrocities are not done by an outside enemy. The starvation, the killings and the destruction in these Arab countries are done by the same hands that are supposed to protect and build the unity of these countries and safeguard the people of these countries. So, the question now is that who is the real enemy of the Arab world?
The Arab world wasted hundreds of billions of dollars and lost tens of thousands of innocent lives fighting Israel, which they considered is their sworn enemy, an enemy whose existence they never recognized. The Arab world has many enemies and Israel should have been at the bottom of the list.

Abdulateef Al-Mulhim then insists that “The real enemies of the Arab world are corruption, lack of good education, lack of good health care, lack of freedom, lack of respect for the human lives ” I let you read his full paper to be found if you click on this link as it’s really worth reading totally, but let me give you his conclusion, which, in a way, is mine for as long as I’ve been blogging, although I am fully committed and dedicated to the two-States solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution:

 Israel now has the most advanced research facilities, top universities and advanced infrastructure. Many Arabs don’t know that the life expectancy of the Palestinians living in Israel is far longer than many Arab states and they enjoy far better political and social freedom than many of their Arab brothers. (…)
Now, it is time to stop the hatred and wars and start to create better living conditions for the future Arab generations.

Al-Mulhim, A., S. O. 2012, et al. (2012). Forget Israel. Arabs are their own worst enemy. Arab News. Jeddah.

Even the bearded hooligans of the French Suburbs, despite what they may have been led to believe, are fully cosmopolitan. In their blood runs Jewish, Roman, Greek genes they’d better cope with, just as we, so-called Caucasians, have to admit we don’t necessily deserve a praise for our attitudes towards other minorities, as Ren’s book clearly reminds us .


PS from Renford, the author:

I read the blog. Your comments, like you, are insightful, engaging, and refreshing. The inclusion of the HKN excerpts were perfect…the particular dialogue that you chose is powerful. I think you effectively gave the readers a complex landscape in which to examine the issues of race, class, cultural hegemony, and diversity…wonderful/beautiful my friend.

One thought on “California, Hong Kong and multicultural perspectives

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