Us and Them: Diversity, Division, and a World of Difference is a five-part series featuring talks presented in South Africa, Israel, India, Germany, and Canada -- all countries dealing with the realities of a diverse population. Paul Kennedy speaks with expert observers in each nation — writers, academics, and activists — as they deliver public lectures illuminating their country's ethnic, religious, and economic tensions. The series is produced by CBC IDEAS in partnership with The Laurier Institution.
Monday, June 26
EYES ON THE BACKS OF OUR HEADS: Recovering a multicultural South Africa
Journalist and activist Sisonke Msimang speaks at a former prison complex in Johannesburg which once held Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. The setting is apt: Sisonke believes that post-apartheid South Africa has become imprisoned by its own past — a past whites cannot recall and blacks cannot forget. With both a mischievous sense of humour and sharp historical analysis, she pulls down the old binarism of black and white to make way for a truly multicultural South Africa, one that welcomes other African workers as it embraces its own racially diverse past: "We are learning to scan the wreckage of our history and mine it for gold. To look for the connections between us, even as we walk with our eyes firmly fixed on the horizon. We are moving ever more sure-footed, towards making a South Africa in which we all belong".
Tuesday, June 27
THE NEW TRIBE OF ISRAEL: The immigrant underclass
Anthrolopogist Galia Sabar has devoted her professional life to what she calls the new tribe of Israel: Jewish-African and non-Jewish labour migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees. Her work with these vulnerable communities earned her a distinction that occurs only once every four to five years: the Unsung Heroes of Compassion award, given by the Dalai Lama. Galia believes that Israel must be vigilant about its security. But it also has a moral duty, as a state established for Jews persecuted as "the ultimate Other", to be humane and welcoming to the disadvantaged: "Jewish tradition in its core has mechanisms of living with disagreements. Why can't there be a plural way of celebrating being Jewish, or for the Muslims and the Christians as well? That is something we have to scream out loud! It's a gift that we have. And we have to practise it here first within ourselves -- and then we can export that idea".
Wednesday, June 28
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE STOP ASKING QUESTIONS: Why India must be secular
Political scientist Neera Chandhoke makes a heartfelt argument for a secular India at a talk delivered in Mumbai. Against the growing tide of Hindu nationalism and India's history of inter-religious strife, she draws on Western and Indian thinkers to make the case for diversity — not simply a social nicety, but as a condition for civilization itself. According to Neera, diversity means that a society is continually questioning itself. Those that don't embrace diversity cease to grow and eventually ossify. Yet Neera isn't against religious worldviews. In her vision of a secular state, all religions have a legitimate place. Because all religions seek the truth, none can fully lay claim to having all of it, and therefore there is space left for all: "The opposite of secularism is not communism. It is theocracy". And theocratic states are both violent and stifling, dull places to live -- or as she concludes: "monochromatic".
Thursday, June 29
FIGHTING AT THE TABLE: Conflict as successful integration
Sociologist Aladin El-Mafalaani has a counter-intuitive view of anti-immigrant rhetoric and politics. He sees them as a sign that integration is working. Conflict, he argues in his talk delivered in Berlin, is the necessary consequence of new arrivals at a metaphoric dinner table. The more people taking their place at the table, the more jostling and conflict there inevitably will be. While conflict can of course lead to violence, or even war, conflict in and of itself is neutral. But it's always a stage of maturing societies. And those which have no conflict tend to be top-down authoritarian states which coerce their populations into obedience. He admits that he does have friends who love walls. But — he adds wryly — "they're archaeologists".
Friday, June 30
CANADA'S ORIGINAL PROMISE: Still waiting to be realized
As Canada turns 150, the final talk brings the series back home, with Mohawk education advocate Roberta Jamieson. Roberta was the first woman chief of Six Nations of the Grand River, the first Indigenous woman to earn a law degree in Canada, and she holds an astounding twenty-five honorary degrees. She believes Canada is at a make-or-break historical moment where it has a chance to recast its historically toxic relationship with First Nations for the next 150 years. She sees the hope for that renewal in the very moment of contact between settler Europeans and her ancestors: "Our people consciously decided to share. And we had a choice. We were the majority then. And we made a conscious decision to share. And to help people survive. So I think we still have that choice as Canadians. And I'm very optimistic and very hopeful -- and I'm going to work very hard to see that we live up to that promise".
**The series is produced by Lisa Godfrey, Greg Kelly and Paul Kennedy. Videos by James Cooper.