It is a great pleasure for me to be able to address you today on a topic that is so relevant to so many of the developments that are shaping the world in the 21st century.
People who imagine that ethnicity and religion are artificial hang-overs from a regrettable and unlamented past are deluding themselves.
They are still central to the lives of billions of people throughout the world.
On the one hand, they provide us with much of our meaning, purpose and identity as human beings.
On the other, they are at the root of most of the conflict in the world.
The questions that I would like to address today are:
- How will we be able to maintain cultural and religious identity in a rapidly globalising world?
- How will we deal with the conflicts arising from clashes between diverse cultures and religions?
- How will different religious and cultural communities within the same countries be able to live together in peace, toleration and mutual respect?
We derive much of who we are from the cultures to which we belong, from the languages that we speak and the religions in which we believe – or do not believe.
The world’s rich diversity of cultures, languages and religions provides the multi-coloured threads from which the glorious tapestry of human experience is woven.
They are an integral part of who we are.
- Our languages play an important role in moulding our identity.I sometimes wonder whether our thinking processes are influenced by the syntax of our languages. It is almost impossible to imagine the Italian national character coupled with the German language – or the German national character arising from the French language.
- In a similar way our cultural heritage impacts virtually every aspect of our lives – including the food we eat; our fairy tales and literature; our manners; our sense of humour; the games we play and the festivals that we celebrate.
- For billions of people throughout the world, religion is the lens through which they view the universe.It is the foundation of their values and the primary source of meaning in their lives.
We have numerous overlapping identities – all of which contribute to our uniqueness as individuals. For example:
- I am FW de Klerk, a human being.
- I am a male.
- I belong to the De Klerk and Coetzer families.
- I am a member of the Gereformeerde Kerk.
- I am an Afrikaner.
- I speak the Afrikaans language.
- I am a South African.
- I am an African.
- I am also a member of the great Western European culture.
- I am a citizen of the world.
None of these identities is mutually exclusive. All of them enrich me and make me who I am. I am proud of all of them and ashamed of none.
These identities are all central to our human dignity – the enjoyment of which is perhaps the most fundamental of all human rights. A core objective of national and international law should accordingly be to protect us in the enjoyment of all the identities that make us who we are.
But unfortunately, this is often not the case.
The reality is that although language, culture and religion are central to our being, they are also at the root of most of the conflict in the world today. Since the beginning of this century there have hardly been any wars between countries. Virtually all conflict is now within countries between cultural, religious and language communities.