Don’t defend your culture, defend your values

     You can see it any way you want, but for most of us, the language we speak, the culture we have and the land we live in is not the same as our ancestors’. So why do we want to defend this language, that culture or the land that we have had for only a short time? If that culture is really ours, what stops us from bringing it to our descendants? If that culture really is the one of our country, there shouldn’t be any need to defend it as all our countrymen have that culture too. Everytime we think that our culture is under attack, we should remember that there never was only one culture in our country. In the US, most people who are so entangled to their culture and who believe it needs protection are the same ones who want no regulations on the economy. If the idea that only the best and the strongest survive works for companies, why wouldn’t the same process work for cultures?

     When Americans speak about history with me, the fact that their country is so young compared to France always comes up. However, I need to set the record straight. First, America as a place where humans are living in, has existed for thousands of years, just like France. If we consider William the Conqueror to be French, we have to consider Geronimo to be American. Second, when you think about it, most of the things that are considered French today were created in the same time frame as America the country. The Eiffel Tower, the Food, the French language (as we know it today). These are the product of the last 200 years. I’m French, but my family has not even been in France for that long. My father’s family came in France in the 1800s while my mother’s family lived in a tiny French island lost in the Indian Ocean. My parents themselves didn’t even live on mainland France until they were in their twenties. I lived most of my twenties in a neighborhood which was mostly inhabited by descendants of North African emigrations. What’s my culture? You tell me.

     Today, everyone agrees that France is a beautiful country, without questioning that France is the land of the French people. The same individuals might consider that America stole land from the Natives, and so that land is not “American”. But the France of today only exists because French kings killed and stole the land from the previous owners. Moreover, the only reason France is considered Catholic is because we exterminated and forced to exile the Protestants who were here. Time makes us forget the ills of the past. You still have people though, hundreds of years later, who want independence for Brittany, Basque Countries or Corsica. Shouldn’t it be woke to consider these people stripped from their land just like Native Americans? These lands, just like the Native lands are now part of either France or America. These countries are not perfect, but at least, they are free.

     After culture and land, let’s talk about language. I just finished the book “The Story of French” which really is an interesting book. It talks mostly about how French spread and how it can become an even more international language. One story that makes me think is the one about Quebec. The two writers are from there and talk proudly of how Quebec was able to keep “its language”. Let’s not forget that before the French came to Quebec, multiple First Nation languages were spoken there. Why didn’t they decide to return to these languages instead of sticking to French? The language was just used to unite a people that was not well treated by the country they were living in. The protection of French is a political decision, nothing else. Anyway, I am definitely very happy that there is more diversity of languages in North America. But let’s put that in the context of the development of the French language. Do you think that French, the language that they are proudly fighting to protect, would be here if Brittany, Burgundy or Corsica were allowed to keep their local languages over French? Imagine if all these local governments had the right to force their inhabitants to only speak and learn their local dialects. What would have become of the French language? Most languages are based on a dead language. What is considered the French language today is just the dialect which spread the fastest. Is Latin missed by anybody else than Catholic fundamentalist (as if Jesus spoke any Latin…)?

     In the end, does the language that one speaks really matter? In my case I don’t think it should. The only thing that matters is that you can express thoughts and that these thoughts are understood by others. As long as free humans exists, there will always be different languages or dialects. The authors of the book use this story of Quebec to promote the protection of culture. I agree that if you can control who comes in your country you should be able to control what comes in. But this kind of actions can make people believe that the culture is fixed or that countries have only one culture.

     The most relevant example of multiculturalism is the history of the Jewish population. Jews have been present in most countries long before the border lines which exist today. And still, many people living in these countries are anti-Semitic and believe that Jews and their cultures have nothing to do in “their” country. How much of a schmuck do you need to be to think that “Jews will replace you” when they represent less than 2% of the population? I believe the idea of mono-cultural countries spread by many inhibits these individuals to be racist.

     France is seen as being of a certain culture too. When you think of France you think of Paris, baguettes and berets. And many of the French see themselves as being part of a White Catholic Latin culture. The fact that the first “French” king was from a Germanic tribe who only converted to Catholicism to get the thrown doesn’t change that belief. But France is like most free countries, a multicultural place, with regional specificities, especially in its overseas territories. Can we blame foreigners to think of France that way when even French people only think of Reunion Island during the election of Miss France?

     The idea to keep the culture “clean” is dangerous and is only brought for political reasons. The problem is that many people who see themselves as “true [place nationality]” believe in the idea of a mono cultural country. Throughout the years, I had many talks with my own family about so called “problems” with Arabs in France. Their basic argument not to like Arabs in France is that “every time you watch TV, who are the persons creating trouble? Always the same people.” Trouble exists in every corner of the world and the only thing which links these troublemakers is the situation in which they live in. People commit more crime when they are poor, alienated and forgotten. Another argument is that they are “using a lot of Arabic words”. But when we speak French with a lot of English words, it doesn’t seem to bother them as much. Somehow using English words is considered “fashionable”, but using Arabic ones is un-French? How hard is it to see through one’s own bias?

     The whole idea is that their language, their culture, their religion is not ours. Having the French nationality is not enough to make your culture French? Why not? Many people don’t consider Arabs as technically French. Who are they to decide this? Why am I looked at being more French than others? Only because my “cultural background” is closer to the one that the French perceive they have? I dare anybody to tell me that there ever was only one kind of French people in France. There is not a single free country which has only one culture, one language or one peoples.

     Sadly, History repeats itself. Most European countries are now fighting to protect their culture. Many countries who never sought diversity are now shown as examples by White members of the states who did try it. The US, which always represented El Dorado for anybody fleeing persecutions is now nothing more than an illusion. One of the problems is that we see America as a multicultural country when in fact it is a country filled with mono-cultural islands. Look at a map of the US based by race and country of origins and you’ll see what I mean. It’s easy to accept the diversity you don’t live with. Many Americans believe that their Constitutional Freedom is good for themselves but not for the “others”.The US President is ready to shut down the country with the only goal to build a wall that will have no effect at all. America has always been a place where cultures and races coexist. And this is not going to change because of that “tall beautiful wall”.

     Culture is just like a river, it is in constant movement, it has many roots and it breaks in many other rivers. Putting a wall on its path will only hold it for a short while, until it finds a crack and starts flowing again. The only thing that any free country should protect is the respect of human life and the fair treatment of its population. Everything else is just political reasoning which only serves two purposes, manipulating the population and being re-elected. We, as human beings, should not defend culture but values and principles. 

“Today’s Identity is Tomorrow’s prison… Practice letting go” – Sam Kein

 

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