31 May 2016
Living as we do at a time when identity-based politics has become the norm the world over, it is hardly a surprise that religious identity has likewise been commodified.
Since the 1970s, we have witnessed the rise of a form of identity politics where the attachment to, and promotion of, one’s own ethno-cultural identity has become commonplace – from the promotion of “negritude” by Francophone African intellectual-activists such as Aime Cesaire and Leon Damas; to the “Asian values” debate of the 1980s-90s.
The global marketplace has been able to adapt itself to these new trends and developments with ease, and so by now it is hardly a novel thing to encounter expressions of Asian or African essentialism in commodified form: We talk about “Asian food”, “Asian fashion”, “Asian architecture” et cetera in a manner that somehow presupposes there is such a thing as an ostensibly-definable “Asia” to begin with. And having presented “Asia” as a “thing”, it is just a simple logical step away to state that there are also “things” that are Asian, and can be marketed as such.
This poses a particularly tricky question that needs to be addressed: In an age of near-global commodification, how do we study cultural and ethnic difference, and how do we navigate the complicated map of plural multiculturalism?
The irony of multiculturalism today is that in many multicultural contexts, groups demand universal recognition of their particular identities, and seek to foreground the particular on universal terms. And so, community A – which may hold certain cultural practices to be unique and essential to it – demands that all other communities respect their values, though that same community may not be able to deal with, or accept, the values and norms of communities B, C and D.
… Farish A. Noor is an associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.
GPO / Online / Print
Last updated on 31/05/2016