Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Faulty epistemology in Sri Lanka

The debate about ‘multiculturalism’ takes on a particular urgency in Sri Lanka. Nira Wickramasinghe reports that the debate there is on whether Sri Lanka is “a multicultural country where all ‘ethnic identities’ should be equally recognised and protected” or “a Sinhala Buddhist country where other identities (principally the Tamil, though there is a significant Muslim population in the country too) are subsumed in this larger Buddhist culture and hence need only to be tolerated”.

She argues:

While I accept the need for respect and space for all forms of identity, I feel we should try to move away from an overtly cultural understanding of identities. The curse of multiculturalism is that while providing for more freedom and recognition to the group or community it is a closure in that it denies the contingency and ambiguity of every identity. Multiculturalism cannot help but essentialise the fragment. …
Much debate on how to resolve the ‘ethnic conflict’ in Sri Lanka is dominated by a faulty epistemology where it is assumed that each group ‘has’ some kind of culture and that the boundaries between these groups and the contours of their cultures - namely the Sinhalese and the Tamils - are specifiable and easy to depict.

So, essentialising the cultural fragments in individuals leads towards fragmenting the essence of the country.

People often complain that party-based democracy (despite its practical merits) provides too sparse and stale a choice of set menus. The same is true of community-based culture. Across the world, nations are diverse in their populations; people have to accept this. But we have to do so without neglecting the human diversity to be found within individuals.

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