Friday, February 27, 2009

Our “Magpie Culture”

Renée Loth has written a good op/ed piece in today’s Globe entitled The Yoga Fatwa. (I know! I was shocked, too.)

In it she describes not only the difference between Europe and America in their acceptance of different nationalities, but also points to how capitalism in America helps that integration in our borrowing from different cultures the “shiny items we choose to ornament our lives.”

America's embrace of other nationalities may be part of its democratic character, but it's also accelerated by capitalism: Almost no artifact is too exotic or sacred to be repackaged into a hip new consumer good. I get a catalog in the mail that features sandalwood prayer beads, neti pots to clear the sinuses, and statues of (your choice) St. Anthony, the Buddha, or the Virgin of Guadalupe, conveniently sized for a home altar.

She mentions religiously motivated violent behavior as a failure of assimilation and she counts it as a black mark on the “enlightenment ideals” of Europe; that our own anti-immigration sentiments are in conflict with our “founding values”.

It's hard to imagine, for example, that the question of whether a young Muslim girl can wear a headscarf in a public school would consume the highest levels of American government, as it has not just in Turkey but in Germany and France. It's even harder to imagine that the headscarves would be forbidden.

Guantanamo, English-only movements, and the wall being erected along the Mexican border are only the most recent symptoms. Still, people in New Jersey aren't slaughtering Pennsylvanians over ancient tribal differences. We have football for that.

Ms. Loth uses the Academy Award performance in which Japanese Taiko drummers, coupled with the Soweto Gospel Chorus presented songs from an Indian film as an example of this magpie culture. As I watched the Oscars on Sunday night, I made a similar comment.

Finally, and most importantly, she does not push multiculturalism as a value, but recognizes it as a result of the “easy fluency” with which America embraces other nationalities while retaining its “non-sectarian tradition”.

She actually says it’s “another reason to love America”. While I think there is much more than tradition at work here, I agree.

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