Unity in Diversity not “One People; One nation; One Destiny ROAR

Unity in Diversity not “One People; One nation; One Destiny ROAR

Photo : David de Caires(1937-2008)

The following is a response in 2001 to Mr. David de Caires, then publisher of the Stabroek News, who had delivered a lecture in Trinidad on the "Problems of Nation Building" within the context of the "ethnic problems" in Guyana. His premise in unfortunately still held by most politicians.

“Mr de Caires proposed that "nation building" is a process (or an end) which would address the ethnic problems identified. He asserts unequivocally that while Guyana is a "state" "we are not yet a nation". His "yet" joins him with those who conflate or would conflate nation and state. We contend that this is an extremely dangerous notion since it is this conflation over the past two hundred years, which has been the cause of ethnic conflict to begin with.

Now it is self-evident that groups defined as "different" by their disparate cultures have always existed. And for most of the history of mankind, it was accepted these groups could define themselves by their origin in a particular territory as "citizens" of that territory or state (jus soli) and simultaneously as a "nationality" through their culture and heritage (jus sanguinis). It was accepted that citizens could be of various nationalities and the distinction between citizenship and nationality wasn't merely academic. While all citizens would have all of the rights and obligations of citizenship, each "nationality", for instance, was governed by the personal laws of their culture.

Mr de Caires glosses over England's and France's "territorial" style of nation formation as "not always a comfortable fit" but the fact of the matter is, it is this insistence that all citizens of a particular territory be practitioners of one particular culture that led to the peculiar modern virulent version of ethnicity and nationalism. For those steeped only in western history, we note that in the polyglot entity of the Ottoman Empire, which accepted the distinction between citizenship and nationality, the struggles between the various "ethnic groups" were quantitatively and qualitatively different. It never had the ethnic cleansing phenomenon of some of its modern day "nation-state" successors such as Yugoslavia.

In the modern world, the norms of "equality" and "self-determination of peoples" have become much too pervasive for us to be talking about monochromatic or monocultural "nations". England, France and other western states thought they had "solved" their ethnic problems by forming more or less homogeneous populations at the time they became states. But their ethnic conflicts became two "international" world wars as late as this century. Their minorities were dominated but not stifled.

Mr de Caires even alludes to Britain's attempt to move away from the nation-state equivalence through "devolution" and yet touts the "nation-state" as the ideal. We have to shift our focus of organizing our societies away from wiping out differences towards celebrating differences. The question therefore is not one of "nation building" but of organizing on the principles of autonomy and differences.

The ideal of a "nation-state" evolved in a Western Europe that had been swept over by a Christianity that insisted that there is only one set of beliefs. It reached its apogee in that Western Europe as a means of defusing class tensions during the rise of capitalism since it appears that in its early stage their capitalism generated greater irregularities than in the preceding feudal period. However, we can address the tensions arising out of inequalities and differences by other mechanisms than seeking to blend everyone into some melange of what will always be some group's conception of culture.

As a part of his litany of obstacles to his "nation building" ideal, Mr de Caires claims that in Guyana , "The folk memories of the society begin with slavery and indenture". This statement is certainly incorrect as it relates to Indians and indentureship. Indians who chose to remain in Guyana did not fixate or define themselves by the indentureship experience. It was a period that they endured and then moved on to create a life based on their folk memories of village India within the constraints of their present circumstances. There is no research to show that the folk memories of Indians "begin with indenture."

Seemingly, as a second best compromise, since we cannot seem capable of getting it together as a "nation" Mr de Caires asks, "Can't we survive as a multi-national, multi-cultural state by defining acceptable terms on which to co-exist."

We don't see such a state as a “compromise” but as the only realistic way to build a society where different groups can have a chance of living together harmoniously. “Unity in Diversity”, rather than “One People; One Nation; One Destiny” should be our motto.