I just took a quick look over at this essay, Culturalism: Culture as political ideology, which attempts to define a new way of looking at intolerance.

Culturalism is the idea that individuals are determined by their culture, that these cultures form closed, organic wholes, and that the individual is unable to leave his or her own culture but rather can only realise him or herself within it. Culturalism also maintains that cultures have a claim to special rights and protections – even if at the same time they violate individual rights.

It’s useful to think anew about how culture, particularly cultural differences, are used to structure comprehension of conflict.  The “clash of civilizations” seems to draw overt battlelines where only small quarrels may exist.  However, a few things concern me about the essay. First, equating liberal multiculturalism with conservative ethnocentrism misses a crucial point: the former may sow the seed of future conflict by making culture deterministic, the latter seems to read conflict into existing relationships.  Second, calling nationalism a subset of culturalism gets the story backwards.  Our contemporary view of cultural determinism may be able to encompass nationalism (and avoid the dangerous historical associations with nationalist movements and imperialism), but it was nationalism that would seem to have driven our understanding of why culture are not compatable.

However, I think the authors put too much emphasis on determinism when incompatability of cultures may be more important for the political ideologies that interest the authors.  We could look at a larger set of anti-immigrant political groups who view culture as an either/or proposition.  The individual is not confined by their native culture, but s/he must make the full transition from one to the other.  All vestiges of belonging to a minority must be dropped.  Integration is possible, but it does not bring cultures into contact with one another, and indeed reinforces their incompatability.


Le Monde carries a curious biography of Marek Edelmann, one of the last survivors of the the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (he was also a member of Poland’s Solidarity Movement, and a subject of the documentary Avant la Bataille). Edelmann is considered a hero of the uprising, but largely doesn’t figure into the history of Israel, as do others who resisted:

Docteur de l’opposition, dissident perpétuel, révolté infatigable. Israël, où il s’est rendu quelques fois pour voir ses amis, reste sa bête noire. Le commandant en second de l’insurrection du ghetto de Varsovie n’est pas aimé en Terre sainte. “Edelman n’y a pas bonne presse, convient Elie Barnavi, ancien ambassadeur d’Israël en France. Il est un héros incontestable, mais dans la mémoire collective israélienne, il reste un juif diasporique. Dans le conflit idéologique qui structure le pays, le vrai héros soutient le projet sioniste. Le vrai héros du ghetto, pour Israël, c’est Anielewicz.”

Doctor of the opposition, perpetual dissedent, tireless revolutionary. In Israel, where he goes sometimes to see his friends, he is but a bête noire. The commander of the second insurrection of the Warsaw Ghetto is not loved in the Holy Land. “Edelmann had bad press … He is indisputably a hero, but in the collective memory of Israel, he remains a diasporic Jew. In the ideological conflict that structures the nation, the true heroes support the Zionist project. The real hero of the Ghetto, for Israelis, is Anielewicz.”

Putting aside the ideological differences between Edelmann (who was much more of a Bundist) and Zionism, his exclusion from Israeli history seems rather arbitrary. Had he died before he could opine about Israel, he would have been granted recognition in a forefather of the nation. Had he found return to his place of origin (say Thessalonika) impossible, he would have accepting Israeli nationality out of necessity.

Recognition as a hero arbitrarily requires the ability to nationalize him. Edelmann is exceptional, perhaps, only in that he cannot be retroactively nationalized, like the Joans of Arc, who could hardly be defenders of the French Republic. These more distant figures are more capably transnational and transhistorical simply because they are mute on the spatial and temporal boundaries between nations.